Sharks Gameday: Monkey! Knife! Minus The Bear!

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4:00 PST
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28-19-6, 62 points 29-15-10, 68 points
6th in Western Conference
5th in Eastern Conference

Television
CSN-CA (HD)
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
Japers Rink
Washington Post

I'm sick of talking about the blueline. Over the last eighteen months I have drank from the Sea of Black Tears freely, bathed in its murky shallows, and waged a war that makes the Black Tear Rebellion pale in comparison. It has been a plight on my soul. It has turned me into a zombie slave whose only desire is to fight for a cause that I have no control over.

Podcast topics. Countless articles. Hundreds of comments, numerous conversations in bars, in restaurants, in friends living rooms, the list goes on and on. I literally have to fight the urge to check Twitter before I go to the bathroom in the morning. I have sacrificed bodily functions in order to stay "informed" on "the news of the day" when that "news" consists of "rumors" which are being tossed about like a monkey hurling feces at a window. At least he took the time to relieve himself. It's hard to not be a little jealous of that.

The food price index hit an all-time high last month. And here I am concerned over the lack of top three defenseman in San Jose. Books like "HOT: Living Through The Next Fifty Years on Earth" are on bookshelves, and here I am looking at defenseman on the trade market. My future, and the future of this country, are being decided today in a city the Sharks are playing a game (a game!) in tonight, but I pay it no heed. It's just a convenient hook for a story, a transition into a punch line that's about to travel through your optic nerve to your brain when this upcoming period indicates a break in the action, the culmination of a complete thought, gently prodding you to read along.

All that mental neurosis? Hell, it's only natural we take a trip down the well-worn road of defense once again.

Instead of trying the same fruitless wraparound attempt that always gets stymied* by the goaltender's outstretched left pad however, I'm taking the puck to the periphery and throwing some harmless scoring chances your way. A few statistics that have intrigued me this season but don't necessarily hold the "truth." As Scott Patterson taught me, even the most brilliant mathematical minds of our age can't find absolute truth, and a slight miscalculation can bring global economies to their knees. That reference doesn't really serve any purpose other than to inspire you to Google his name and read the book. While you're at it, Google Harry Markopolos, splurge a little on some lit-er-a-ture, and dig into some fascinating reads this weekend. It's far better than the coverage you'll be getting here.

*I think the only time in my life I ever use the word "stymied" is when I'm talking about a goaltender making a save.

Make the jump for your regularly scheduled programming if you haven't already decided your time would be better spent microwaving a hot pocket for breakfast.

Bolded intros are the new black. Let er' rip.

The Curious Case of Kent Huskins. Did you know that goaltenders have managed to play extraordinarily well when Kent Huskins is on the ice over the last two seasons? During 09-10 Nabokov and Greiss put up a .931 EV SV% when he was on the ice, and this season, Niemi and Niittymaki have produced a whopping .943 EV SV% with Huskins out on a shift. His totals this season are good for first on the team, and along with Jason Demers (.938), is far and away the best on the team (Wallin is third with a .919). In his only other full season in the league (ANA, 07-08), the Ducks goaltending trifecta of Giguere, Hiller, and Aubin went (wait for it, and I'm not talking about another parentheses)...951 at evens. In 08-09 he inspired a .941. Those are ridiculous numbers to put together over a four year span.

There's so many factors that go into this (quality of competition, statistical variance, skill, mind control perhaps), that making full sense of this phenomenon will not occur in our lifetime. How a depth defenseman achieves these numbers (lucks into these numbers?) despite making some questionable decisions in his own zone is beyond me.

In The Zone. We've talked about zone starts already this season, so you should have a basic idea of what they tell us-- which players Todd McLellan views as his best defensive stoppers that can handle tougher situations. To no surprise of mine (and many of yours I'm sure), Marc-Edouard Vlasic leads the team with 53.8% of his faceoffs coming in his own end, and Boyle is seeing the best offensive chances of the bunch. What's peculiar to me is that San Jose has only one defenseman (the aforementioned Dan Boyle) who has gotten above 50% of his even strength starts in the offensive zone. Every other San Jose defenseman has seen the majority of their draws defensively. I plan on crunching the numbers later in a micro-stats piece, but I'm pretty sure the Sharks are on pace for the highest percentage of defensive zone starts under Todd McLellan. On a very basic level, it makes their excellent faceoff numbers (2nd in the NHL at 53.4%) all the more important.

Parade To The Penalty Box. Along with being an excellent band name, parading to the penalty box is always a good thing to look out for when analyzing a blueliner's ability to help his team. Niclas Wallin is the worst on the team with 1.1 penalties taken per 60 minutes of ice time, and Jason Demers is second worst with 0.8. The best defenseman in this category? You guessed it, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has taken a measly 0.2. Defenseman generally don't draw many penalties, but it is interesting that Douglas Murray leads the defense with 0.7. He and Vlasic are the only two defenseman in San Jose to draw penalties than they take.

"Grab your f***ing sack, get in someone's face, and compete!" As the immortal words of Capitals assistant coach Dean Everson taught us, competition is the thread that binds every successful team together. So which Sharks have seen the highest quality of competition this season at even strength? From first to worst the list goes Boyle, Murray, Vlasic, Demers, Huskins, and Wallin. No surprises outside of the fact that Brine Time has seen a slight decrease in his usual role as defensive stopper, as well as the fact that $4.2MM is allocated to two San Jose defenseman that see sheltered minutes. I guess that really isn't a surprise though. More just a brutal reminder.

A goal saved is a goal earned. Per sixty minutes of ice time, here's how San Jose breaks down in terms of 5v5 goals against-- Boyle, Murray, Vlasic, Wallin, Demers, Huskins. This falls right in line with the quality of competition numbers (i.e. defenseman who see tougher competition have given up more goals against) for the most part, outside of Niclas Wallin who has posted a 2.37 GA/ON per 60 despite being last in quality of competition. Oh hamburgers.

A goal scored is a goal saved, or something like that. I was never very good at transitive properties. Per sixty minutes of ice time, here's how San Jose breaks down in terms of 5v5 goals for-- Boyle, Demers, Murray, Huskins, Vlasic, Wallin. No real surprises there either. Boyle and Demers move the puck well, Murray piggybacks with Boyle, and the rest of the defenseman are offensive black holes.

Nitty Nitty Bang Bang. Antero Niittymaki practiced yesterday, and while he probably won't suit up for the game, looks to be recuperating from his nagging groin injury. It's something I'm sure the Sharks will be watching down the stretch as the loss of Al Stalock means that there is very little NHL-ready talent available for San Jose to call upon. Tyson Sexsmith will be joining the Worcester Sharks for the duration of the year, so there's yet another name to look out for in what has quickly become a carousel of backup goaltenders riding the pine*.

*That sentence is funny because carousels were made out of wood, meaning the term "riding the pine" serves as an illusion to riding on a carousel as well as sitting on the bench.

Prediction: Sharks win 5-4. Goals by McGinn (goals scored in Worcester still count right?), Heatley, Demers, Couture, and, what the hell, Hamburgers (if Wellwood scores, that counts). Kent Huskins is on the ice for all four goals against, but since they come on the powerplay, his EV SV% isn't effected. Whatagamer.

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