SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 19: Joe Pavelski #8 of the San Jose Sharks puts a shot on goal against the St. Louis Blues in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on April 19, 2012 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Three days on, it's safe to say the dust has pretty much settled on the shortest postseason in San Jose Sharks history. The Stanley Cup parade plans have been scrapped, the Scott Nichol sweaters burned in effigy and that Marc-Edouard Vlasic own goal purged from our collective memory. Still, I'm guessing people remain interested in discussing what exactly went wrong and who deserves to be railed against in Jeremy Roenick's next insightful column. Regular readers know that I tracked scoring chances for each game of this series and, in this post, I've compiled that data on both a team and individual player level in an effort to provide additional perspective and try to answer some of those questions.
Scoring Chance Area
I thought it might be helpful to go over what exactly constitutes a "scoring chance" since it's a fairly subjective term. I record a play as a scoring chance when it results in an unblocked shot attempt (which means missed shots count) from the bounded area of the ice seen below:
However, if there's a substantial screen or a considerable amount of puck movement that causes the goaltender to move laterally preceding the attempt, I'm usually more lenient with the location. Overall, though, I try my best to stay as faithful to the criteria as possible to ensure my biases don't affect the data.
With that out of the way, we can move on to discussing how the chances panned out over the course of this series:
Scoring Chances by Period and Game State, Series Totals
The Sharks controlled possession at even-strength in this series for the most part and while, thanks to the Blues' stingy defense, they weren't always able to turn possession into chances from the scoring area they were able to earn a greater share of the EV chances over the course of the series by a slight margin. However, correcting for score effects yields somewhat less flattering numbers as the even-strength scoring chances were 20 to 18 in favor of St. Louis when the score was tied.
Of course, special teams is where the series was lost for the Sharks on the scoreboard but, interestingly enough, that wasn't really the case in terms of generating chances. For every two minutes of power play time the Blues had in this series, they generated an average of 1.2 scoring chances while the Sharks generated 1.27 chances per two minutes of PP time - as close to even as you're likely to see in a five-game series. The difference, just as it was at even-strength, was the rate at which the two teams converted those chances into goals.
Between the two teams, there were four goals in this series that weren't recorded as chances - the aforementioned Vlasic own-goal from Game 2, Alexander Steen's power play goal from the right point that held up as the winner in Game 3, Colin White's goal from above the right faceoff circle in Game 3 and Andy McDonald's empty netter that closed out the series in Game 5. So that leaves 11 Blues goals and 7 Sharks goals that came off scoring chances, meaning St. Louis converted on 12.5% of their EV chances while San Jose scored on 10.2% of their chances at evens (remove the two 6v5 goals and that drops to just 6.4%). St. Louis converted 29.4% of their PP scoring chances while the Sharks converted just 10% of theirs. Call it goaltending, the brilliance of Ken Hitchcock, systemic penalty killing failure on the part of the Sharks, or just the massive amount of variance inherent in a five-game sample size - the difference in this series was clearly not either teams' ability to control play and create scoring chances, it was in the vastly disparate rates at which those chances ended up in the back of the net.
Scoring Chance Types
I classified the scoring chances in this series as different "types" to the best of my abilities. Power play and shorthanded chances aren't denoted by anything other than PP and SH, so this table is even-strength only. Transition chances are scoring chances that occur within seconds of an offensive zone entry by the attacking team, odd-man chances are transition chances where the attacking team has more players involved in the play than the defending team, rebound chances are self-explanatory, forecheck chances are scoring chances directly resulting from a forecheck by the attacking team, possession chances are chances generated as the result of any type of zone time, cycle or offensive-zone faceoff and "steal" chances are chances that directly result from a defensive-zone giveaway by the defending team.
As we'd expect given the style of play each club employs, the Blues had a greater share of the transition opportunities while the Sharks had more success turning offensive-zone puck possession into scoring chances. I haven't done this for nearly long enough to have enough data to prove which types of chances are most effective but common sense dictates that odd-man rushes and rebounds are converted at a higher rate, making it no wonder there were so few goals scored at even-strength in this series.
On-ice Even Strength Scoring Chances, Forwards
Numbers in this chart are even-strength only. SCF and SCA are scoring chances for and against, repsectively, while that player was on the ice with SCF% the percentage of scoring chances for that player was on the ice during, out of all chances for and against. TOI is even-strength time on ice over the course of the series while SCF/15 and SCA/15 are scoring chances for and against for every fifteen minutes of EV ice time - SCD/15 is the difference between the two.
Joe Thornton was a force to be reckoned with in this series. He was probably the best player on either team during these five games and he absolutely pulverized the Blues in chance differential even while exclusively lining up against their top six. On the other end of the spectrum, Patrick Marleau just wasn't very good at even-strength. He had quite a bit of defensive responsibility, especially when split from Thornton for the final two games, but finishing 0.500 in chances is an uncharacteristically poor performance given what Marleau is capable of. Of course, the main thing to keep in mind is that it's only five games - this isn't validation of the unfounded narrative that Marleau "chokes" in the playoffs, considering everything he's accomplished in the past.
San Jose's one glaring issue from Day 1 of training camp all through the year was the lack of anything resembling a competent third line and that problem reared its head again in this series. Galiardi, Moore and Mitchell weren't able to win their battle against St. Louis' bottom six while the usually reliable Desjardins line inexplicably crapped the bed, adding to the Sharks' struggles. Going into the series, I believed the Blues' offensive depth, while solid, was a tad overrated as guys like Chris Stewart, Matt D'Agostini, Nichol and old man Arnott aren't all that difficult to play against. I still believe that but the Sharks' bottom six certainly made it look tough in this series. Speaking of, I set an arbitrary 25 minutes played threshold for this chart so for anyone interested in Michal Handzus or Brad Winchester's numbers (doubtful), both finished +1 at evens in limited action (Handzus with 5 SCF and 4 SCA; Winchester 1 SCF and 0 SCA).
On-ice Even Strength Scoring Chances, Defensemen
It's been a strange year for Jason Demers. After a brilliant 2010-11 campaign that culminated in Mike Babcock referring to him as the Sharks' best defenseman during the second round playoff series between San Jose and Detroit a year ago, Demers stumbled out of the gate this season and was never really able to recover. He was making poor reads, losing coverage, repeatedly turning the puck over when attempting to move it out of the zone - he looked lost for the most part and it was in stark contrast to how terrific he'd been the year prior. As a result, the Sharks were heavily outchanced and outshot with Demers on the ice and he had one of the worst Relative Corsi ratings of any regular defenseman in the NHL around December. It wasn't until the coaching staff experimented with a Demers/Burns pairing that Jason's game started to show signs of turning around. When the team finally went into full panic mode in an attempt to make the playoffs, they paired their two young right-handed puck movers in Demers and Justin Braun and the results were excellent down the stretch. As you can see from the table, Demers continued his strong play into the postseason, all of which hopefully indicates he'll once again be the top four defenseman he displayed shades of in 10-11.
Douglas Murray was brutal at times in this series and it's not out of the realm of possibility he was playing injured. Still, it's been a rough season for him that was accentuated by the unmitigated disaster of the Murray/Burns pairing the coaching staff regrettably used throughout this series. In the regular season, when Murray and Burns were on the ice together at evens, the two combined for a terrible 46.6% Corsi percentage, compared to a 55.9% Corsi for Burns when he was paired with anyone else. Zone starts explain some of that (this was the first year of Murray's career that he began greater than 50% of his EV shifts in the defensive zone) but it might not be a bad idea for the Sharks to find a better defenseman to pair with Burns this offseason.
On-ice Power Play Scoring Chances For
Hey, something that doesn't make Marleau look terrible! The thing that stands out to me here is the extent to which the second unit failed to generate much of anything in the way of dangerous opportunities despite ample time on the man-advantage.
On-ice Shorthanded Scoring Chances Against
|Player||EV Chances||PP Chances||EV Chances/60||PP Chances/60||Total Chances|
In addition to recording who was on the ice for each scoring chance I also make a note of whose stick the actual opportunity came off of. This table shows those numbers, split between EV and PP and then with the raw numbers from all game states combined in the final column.
Marleau's goose egg at evens was obviously a significant reason the Sharks weren't able to generate more offense in this series. Without checking, I'm 99% certain Marleau didn't have a single five-game stretch this season where he failed to record a single even-strength scoring chance.
Pavelski and Couture had a ton of great looks in this series but combined for just one goal between them. When your three best snipers are either snake-bit or ineffective to the point of producing just one tally over five games (and that too in a 6v5 situation with the game all but decided) you're just not going to win many of those games.
Head-to-Head Even Strength Scoring Chances
This matrix makes it incredibly obvious why Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock attempted to get the matchups that they did when having last change. Hitchcock was dead set on matching Backes up against the Thornton line while McLellan preferred Thornton versus Berglund - the scoring chance results from those matchups couldn't have turned out any more different.
There's a bit of concerning stuff here from a Sharks perspective - as mentioned earlier, the bottom six really took in the teeth from just about everyone on the Blues side but of course especially disappointing was their inability to win the chance battle against St. Louis' bottom six who they spent the majority of their EV ice time against. The fact that Scott Nichol and B.J. Crombeen outchanced every Sharks line they played against is probably the worst of all and thoroughly embarrassing.
Another takeaway I had from looking at this is just how amazing a defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has developed into. He won almost every single one of his matchups, often by a substantial amount while logging some of the toughest minutes on the St. Louis blueline. If I had a Norris ballot, he would undoubtedly have been one of my finalists if not the outright winner and he'll be a big part of the Blues' playoff run from here on out.