In December, the Sharks just might have turned their season around.
Entering the month, the team was struggling in every area. Unable to put a string of wins together, San Jose was dropping points left and right. They had to go to overtime to beat the Islanders, they dropped the points to the Avs, the Blues and Blue Jackets, just to name a few. They were still winning the big games - wins against the Kings and Blackhawks are memorable. But on other nights, the Sharks looked powerless and disinterested. None of the losses were more telling than the one on November 26th, when Canucks beat the Sharks in Vancouver, 6-1, in what at that time was perhaps the worst game of the season.
With 15 games in 31 days (10 of them on the road!), the month of December thus became crucial for the Sharks. On December 1st the team was 12th in the conference with an ugly record of 11-8-4. When we throw away loser points, the Sharks were only winning 47% of their games. The team responded with a good month of hockey, winning 10 of the 15 games and jumping to 4th positing in the West and 53% overall winning percentage. If we add the win on January 1st, the Sharks have now won 11 out of the last 16 games.
Remembering how important December was going to be for the team, I kept detailed individual statistics for the team. Numbers don't always tell the full story, but when we break them up into periods of time, certain patterns begin to emerge. Here are 10 key observation about the team based on these statistics.
- This one wouldn't surprise you - Logan Couture was by far the best player in December, in just about every statistical category. He lead the team in goals (10), points (14), +/- (+7), was 2nd behind Marleau in shots on goal (42) and in case you haven't noticed - he led all forwards in blocked shots (14). He was also second on the team in takeaways. The kid does it all for this team.
- Patrick Marleau lead the team in overall shots in December. He had 47 shots on goal and 41 missed shots. Pavelski likely would have led in that category if he didn't get injured towards the end of the month. All that shooting only led to 8 points in December. Compare it to Couture's 14, on close to the same number of total shots (72). Keep trying, Patty.
- Dan Boyle was 3rd on the team in overall shots (39 SOG and 26 MS).
- Boyle continues to log mad minutes every night. His average 27:17 ice time in December isn't news to anyone in the league. But what's amazing is the number of shifts. He took 395 shifts in December. The second person behind him is Joe Thornton with 348. Lots of jumping over the boards, eh, Dan?
- Did it seem like Vlasic had a turnround in December? He sure did. He posted 7 points - almost as much as Marleau (8), lead the team in blocked shots (35 - ouch!) and was +3. He had 0 points and was -4 in November. He still needs to work on his puck possession, as Vlasic lead all d-men in giveaways in December (10). But this happens when one logs in close to 22 minutes a night against league's top lines.
- Jamie McGinn is not the points producing machine. It's no shock, seeing how he only had 14 shots that reached the net in December. But he does well in all other areas. How about team leading 38 hits in December? That's 10 more than the next person, Ryane Clowe, who logs in 6 more minutes on average every night. Scott Nichol also has 28 hits. Or how about McGinn's 100% faceoff percentage in December?
- Not the best month for Thornton/Heatley/Marleau. Statistically, only 30 points combined for them. Where their stats stand out in a bad way even more are giveaways - 47 in December. Top three Sharks players in giveaways in December? Thornton (20), Heatley (16) and Marleau (11). Scott Nichol has 0 giveaways in December. No wonder Drew Remenda loves him almost as much as Chris Pronger.
- One positive for Joe Thornton - he lead the team in takeaways (18). We don't associate Thornton with good defensive play, but this season, this is one aspect of the game he got better at. He works hard in the corners - where he earns a lot of those takeaways. He's also better at forecheck. He also only took three penalties the whole month. If not for Couture's strong defensive play, Thornton would have been Sharks' best Selke player in December. Who would have thought that a season or two ago? By no means Joe is a defensive liability.
- With all the injuries, 28 Sharks players played for the big club in December.
- Finally, let's touch on the goalies. With 10 starts, Niemi saw more time than Niittymaki. He also saw most of the losses (4 in regulation, and one in OT vs just one regulation loss for Nitty). But he also posted better save percentage - .919 vs .889 for Nitty. Another strong month by Niemi just may turn him into a starter as we get closer to the spring.