Despite the 4-1 final score, the Sharks' season-opening victory in Calgary yesterday was anything but a cakewalk. San Jose looked sluggish and outmatched in their first period of game action since April 2012 and were somewhat underwhelming in the final frame as well, when they were content to protect a two-goal lead rather than push play.
That game was a pretty good example of the fact that, despite insistence to the contrary, the scoreboard does sometimes lie. At least in the sense that looking at a box score alone isn't always going to give you a decent indication of what transpired over the course of a hockey game. This is where all those fancy stats with the weird names that we love so very much on this site can come in handy. We can look at the underlying numbers to guide our view of the Sharks' performance yesterday, both at the individual and team level, and figure out what needs to change going forward.
Usually, the great Vic Ferrari of timeonice.com (and the sadly defunct Irreverent Oil Fans) has a host of scripts that can instantly parse the NHL's play-by-play reports for data on things like shot differential and player usage in every game. Unfortunately, those scripts, as well as the one I used last year to tabulate scoring chances, aren't live just yet. So instead I dug through the PBP sheet myself and culled these numbers as well as matched up the chances I tracked with who was on the ice at the time.
Corsi, which you can read in-depth explanations of here and here, is a team's shot differential (including not only shots on goal but missed shots and shots that are blocked as well) when a certain player is on the ice. As with all stats, it needs to be paired with the context of how a player is used in order to provide the most benefit, but it's useful because it tracks very closely with puck possession, informing us in which zone a player spent his time.
Scoring chances are a bit more subjective. Essentially, I record a play as a "scoring chance" when it involves an unblocked shot attempt from the bounded area of the ice seen in this diagram. 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. While chances generally line up with Corsi in the long run, shot quality can play a significant role in determining single-game outcomes. Scoring chances essentially operate as a check on Corsi to verify whether the team generating more shots is getting those shots from dangerous locations. Without further ado, here are the Sharks' Corsi and chance numbers from the season opener:
|Player||TOI||Corsi +||Corsi -||Corsi +/-||Chances +||Chances -||Chances +/-|
- As Mike pointed out in the comments, Todd McLellan and the Sharks' coaching staff distributed even-strength ice time pretty evenly among their top three lines. This was presumably motivated by a combination of the team's poor start and an eagerness to ensure everyone got their legs under them in the first game of the season. Ultimately, though, giving Handzus more 5v5 ice time than Thornton may not have been the greatest decision.
- Speaking of that third line, they got smoked. By eye, it didn't appear they were all that awful yesterday—Wingels in particular had a few impressive shifts in the second and third periods—but the numbers tell a different story. With last change, Bob Hartley salivated at the chance to send Sven Baertschi and Mikael Backlund over the boards when the Handzus line was on the ice and the two young talents were able to do substantial damage in those head-to-head matchups. Help us, Scott Gomez. You're our only hope.
- The top six, on the other hand, fared much better in terms of possession and chances. Hartley made the curious decision to switch from primarily matching Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay against the Thornton line for a period and a half to allowing the likes of Matt Stajan and Roman Horak to skate against them. San Jose's top trio capitalized, with that second Marleau goal partially thanks to some terrible defensive reads by Horak.
- Matt Irwin started in the offensive zone a lot and played exclusively with Dan Boyle (and, by extension, the Thornton line) but those possession numbers are fantastic.
- It's only one game but these numbers somewhat confirm some of the concerns I had about the Vlasic/Stuart pairing. They log a lot of tough minutes and acquitted themselves nicely in the defensive zone, but neither of those players has a great handle on puck movement and the team is likely going to continue to get hemmed in its own end when they're on the ice. Reunite Vlasic with Boyle, pair Irwin and Stuart and leave the third pairing as is and I think the defense does a lot better.
- Douglas Murray looks a lot better here than I expected him to after watching the game.
- As you can see, the chances don't entirely line up with the possession numbers; the Sharks' top six are all well in the black in terms of Corsi but Joe Pavelski is the only player on the entire team who did better than break even as far as chances were concerned.
- The special teams data didn't look all that interesting so I didn't include it this time around, but let me know if you have any specific questions about it.