Despite a lackluster 8-13-3 record, there are a few surprising statistics you wouldn’t think a team like the San Jose Sharks would possess. In fact, the underlying numbers to be mentioned are evidence of a much more competitive Sharks squad than in the past three seasons. While the team’s glaring deficiencies strongly overshadow the great signs of progress, there are obvious signs of improvement. As clear as this team’s struggles are, this piece isn’t meant to beat a dead horse. Rather, it’s intended to magnify these lesser-known numbers, all of which have been a pleasant surprise among an otherwise difficult start to the season. Here are three surprising stats from the young 2022-23 campaign.
Sharks Have Played in 13 One-Goal Games
It may be hard to believe, but over half of the Sharks’ outcomes have been one-goal nail-biters. The real issue, as revealed by their 4-6-3 record in such games, is their inability to close out periods and games at an equally alarming rate. This includes surrendering the lead more than eight times in the final five minutes of periods, many of those astonishingly occurring with less than a minute remaining.
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Being on the wrong side of the majority of those one-goal games has very much dictated the story of the Sharks’ season to this point. At this pace, their record in close games could reflect their overall record by the season’s end. Bearing that in mind, keep a wary eye on how they fare in one-goal games the rest of the way.
The Sharks Have Averaged 3.68 Goals per Game in Their Last 16 Games
One thing’s for sure, the Sharks’ struggles of late are not due to the same scoring woes that plagued them in their first five games. After a disturbing 1.89 goals-per-game average in their first five, they have amped up the scoring considerably with a 3.68 goals-per-game average in their last 16 at the time of this publication. So much so that they’ve risen their goal production from the ashes of dead last in the NHL to 13th with 75 tallies. The re-emergence of Erik Karlsson and increased secondary scoring are largely to thank for that increased production.
Considering the Sharks exhibited no such ability to score goals through any stretch last season, this improvement is a sigh of relief. Couple that with the fact that they have yet to infuse more than one rookie into the lineup this season, and this goal-scoring consistency could be a sign of good things to come. The question is, how far will they have to fall before they give in to the temptation of allowing their top prospects a shot in the top six? (from ‘Sharks avoiding temptation with top prospects, but for how long,’ San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 28, 2022).
Sharks Have the 1st-Ranked Penalty Kill in the NHL
This may not be a surprise to Sharks fans considering the penalty kill has been one of the lone bright spots of the past three seasons. However, that trend has continued thus far in 2022-23, standing alone at the top with a 91.2 penalty-kill percentage.
That’s 7.7 points higher than the second-ranked Boston Bruins. What makes this statistic so surprising is the fact that they’ve often looked better shorthanded than they have 5-on-5. If the Sharks can figure out how to inject their tenacious penalty-killing structure into their even-strength play, they could be onto something.
Healthy Balance Between Aggression & Attention to Defense Is Key to Success
Twenty games in, the Sharks have flipped the script on their goal-scoring woes in the 2022-23 season. However, that’s come at a cost, with San Jose currently possessing the fifth-worst save percentage. It’s evident that their new style of play is taking some getting used to. That’s the primary reason for their inflated goals-against average of 3.58 this season compared to last season’s 3.27.
The difference is a more aggressive defense at the offensive blue line intended to keep plays alive. Though it has resulted in innumerable odd-man rushes, the fault doesn’t lie with the defense. Contrary to popular belief, an aggressive blue line doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on the back end to produce offense. In Quinn’s structured system, it’s often the forwards’ lack of communication, missed assignments, and dreadful defensive awareness that are to blame for their defensive lapses. Take this play, for instance:
In this play, Karlsson (out of camera view) is coming back after battling down low behind the offensive goal line to keep the play alive. With him up in the play, it’s Tomas Hertl’s job to cover the vacated middle when the puck enters the neutral zone as Mario Ferraro slides to cover Jaret Anderson-Dolan. This is an assignment he’s very late for, forcing Ferraro to suddenly defend Anderson-Dolan and Blake Lizotte on a 2-on-1. After the pass to Lizzote down the middle, Hertl continues to give him a lot of room to drive the net, deterring Ferraro from stepping up to the puck carrier, Anderson-Dolan.
Ferraro plays this very well defensively, keeping the puck to the outside on a shot James Reimer certainly should’ve had. The problem is that he has to cover Hertl’s responsibility, too. Therefore, what should’ve ended with Ferraro stapling Anderson-Dolan to the boards upon entry, ends up in a mini 2-on-1 up high because Hertl is puck-watching very nonchalantly on his wide-open assignment.
These are the types of plays that will continue to haunt the Sharks until their forwards fully commit to their backchecking and defensive responsibilities. It’s those missing simple details of the game that cause them to be so inconsistent for long stretches. All forwards need to get on the same page for a full 60 minutes for this team to have success. Positives don’t mean much if they don’t bring results. The clock is ticking on the Sharks to turn things around before Mike Grier is forced to make some drastic changes.
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