Heading up to Thursday you're going to hear a lot about how both the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks are good possession teams. What we mean by this is that they control the flow of play when the game is tied or close, sending more shots towards the opponent's net than they give up towards their own.
This idea of possession is shown in a statistic called Fenwick %, which measures shots on net as well as missed shots. It has very good predictive power over the long run and helps us to understand which teams are superior to others in putting pressure on the other team and spending more time in the offensive zone.
The reason we look at situations at even strength is because the majority of the game is played in that state, and the reason we look at when the score is close or tied is because when a team is trailing they will outshoot the leading team. This is due to a myriad of aspects-- the leading team is content to chip pucks out, wants to keep shifts short to avoid having tired players on the ice, and doesn't take as many chances because they don't want to give up odd-man opportunities.
In both quantitative and qualitative aspects, Fenwick% should be considered the most important aspect of the game of hockey besides scoring goals. Sure it may be a little intimidating with all the seemingly fancy numbers and names, but for those who have had the opportunity to explore them I think it's a pretty basic idea-- teams who spend more time in the offensive zone have a better opportunity to win games because they have a better opportunity to score goals. It's really that intuitive.
Heading into this series the Blues were 1st in the NHL in Fenwick Tied, and 1st in the NHL in Fenwick close. In comparison, the Sharks were 8th in the League in Fenwick Tied and 7th in the NHL in Fenwick close. This tells us that both San Jose and St. Louis are very good teams at controlling possession, but St. Louis is probably better-- in fact, the Blues are the best team in the NHL in Fenwick close since the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks team that pretty much ran the table on their way to capturing their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
However, and this comes with a few caveats of course, St. Louis' possession metrics have taken a bit of a dip in their last fifteen games as we can see in the chart below. I have also included San Jose's numbers in that time frame as well.
Chart and analysis follow the jump.
San Jose Sharks & St. Louis Blues at Even Strength (Last 15 Games)
|Team||Record||Shots Tied||Fenwick Tied ||CORSI Tied||Shots Close ||Fenwick Close||CORSI Close|
What this is telling us is that the St. Louis Blues struggles in their last 15 games are reflective of a drop in possession. As of late, they haven't controlled the play like they did during the majority of the season.
A lot of times you can point to puck luck or variance or bounces of whatever you want to call it as a reason for a team's struggles, but for the Blues this seems to be an issue that might have deeper roots. I wouldn't call it a glaring weakness (as their possession numbers are still fine in some respects), but I think the notion "the Blues entered the postseason at a less than optimal level" is accurate and relevant.
San Jose on the other hand is hovering around what they did this season.
Now the caveats-- in a 15 game sample a lot can happen, and by no means is it more reliable than a 82 game sample set. There's variance here that's getting lost in the numbers. I think it's fair to say that the Blues are probably going to be better in this series than they were in the last 15 games, both due to the fact that they are now completely healthy as well as the fact that they may have been coasting a bit in the last 15 games as a playoff spot was all but guaranteed.
But by all accounts the San Jose Sharks have been playing "playoff hockey" for the last two weeks in a desperate fight to clinch a postseason berth. Usually you'll see teams run out of gas when that happens in the latter rounds, but it does seem to have its benefits early in the postseason even if the majority of that benefit is largely anecdotal and not necessarily statistically relevant.
Long story short? The Blues haven't been the behemoth that their season has made them out to be during the last 15 games.
But they are still an immensely talented team that probably poses the biggest threat to San Jose's playoff hopes in the Western Conference.