Sharks Out of Water: 2013 on the Road

The story of the San Jose Sharks this season was a sparkling record in the friendly confines of the HP Pavilion SAP Center.  But what is often skated over by the Sharks brass was a poor showing on the road.  The Sharks had the worst record on the road of all teams that qualified for the playoffs in 2013.  At 8-14-2, the Sharks only earned 18 points out of a possible 48 as visitors.

Antti Niemi Sharks Road
The white jerseys were not friendly this season (Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE)

Scoring Struggles on Road

The Sharks were hardly a high-powered offense anywhere in the league.  With only 116 total goals this year, they only earned 24th place in that category.  But they were even worse on the road.  San Jose only managed 48 goals in road games which was only better than two other teams.  These difficulties made them a -18 on road games in 2013.  As far-fetched as it sounds, goals are what win games.

In a way, this stat can be attributed to opposing teams’ gameplans.  Being on the road allows coaches to match the players they want against the Sharks’ top scorers.  With so much of the offense coming from so few players, (only three men had double digit scoring numbers) opponents could focus their best defensive groups on those scoring threats.

Shot Blockers Disappear

In total, the Sharks are the second best shot-blocking team in the NHL.  The road seems to make the Sharks wither at the blue line.  They drop all the way to 21st in blocked shots.  On the road, the Sharks only blocked 325 all season, a 150 shot difference from the Sharks at home.  While this stat does not get the love from the analysts that goals for and goals against does, it nonetheless affects defensive performances.  The Sharks gave up 22 less goals at home (45) than they did on the road (67).

Antti Niemi Falters on Road

Brown and Niemi
Niemi’s Vezina numbers did not come from road games

To say that Niemi was a poor goalie on the road is a step too far.  But he definitely was not nominated for the Vezina because of his play away from home.  His goals against average jumps to 2.56 in road games, which is good, but nothing legendary.  It would match what Roberto Luongo posted all season.  His 1.83 GAA at home, however, would have put him at the second-best in the NHL.  Compare that to veterans Jimmy Howard (2.12 versus 2.15) and Tuukka Rask (1.91 versus 2.10).  Goalies like these rise to the occasion on the road much better than Niemi did.

Save percentage tells a similar story as Niemi’s numbers away from Silicon Valley fell from .934 to .912, a 22 point difference.  Coupled with the stat that Niemi faced around the same number of shots on average whether on the road or at home, shows his performance was not the result of a heavier work load.  He faced 80 more at home in 3 more games which came to just over 28 shots per game at home and on the road.

Power Play Slows Down

Joe Thornton put his playoff letdown behind him with a career high 17 points. (Photo by Herman Von Petri).
(Photo by Herman Von Petri).

The power play represents a strange dilemma in the game of hockey.  Utilize the advantage to score and spark your team to swing momentum.  However, if you do not score, the other team may earn a boost and use that very momentum against you.  The Sharks again had two different units depending on the geographical location they were playing in.  On the road, the Sharks earned a 14.9% power play percentage but boosted it over ten points to 25.6% at home.  Again, with only five more opportunities on the road, these percentages are significantly different.

A power play on the road does not wipe away the road disadvantage at the faceoff dot.  Starting the man advantage chasing the puck after losing the draw kills time.  Special teams average less possession on the road for this very fact.  However, this still does not excuse the massive difference.  The Sharks must improve this aspect to become more successful in years to come.

Can Hockey Players Be Shy?

What makes the Sharks turn into minnows away from The Tank?  Maybe the Sharks are just timid on the road.  Shy play away from home may explain some of the issues with scoring.  Lack of aggression and speed on the puck make the Sharks a very average team in today’s NHL.  San Jose won games due to their ability to move the puck quickly and efficiently.  The fans at HP Pavilion SAP Center may have been the thing to bring the shy guys out and push the pace.  There is something depressing about laying a big hit down to roaring silence from a rival crowd.