For the first time in franchise history, the Sharks swept a playoff series. While their four-game triumph over the Vancouver Canucks wasn't quite as spotless as it looked on the scoreboard (is it ever?) there were a number of positives to reflect on and draw from. As the Sharks await the identity of their second-round opponent, here's a look back at their series against the Canucks through the lens of scoring chances with an eye towards what went right (a lot), went went wrong (not a lot) and what adjustments the Sharks can look to make heading into either Chicago or Los Angeles.
Scoring Chance Area
It's probably best that I 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
A lot has been written about the substantial disparity in power play opportunities between the teams over the course of this series. I think the Canucks have some legitimate beef here, especially considering the nature of the series-deciding penalty and how it seemed that nearly every borderline call swung in the Sharks' favor. But it's clearly a fallacy to suggest the Sharks won due to officiating incompetence alone and, to their credit, I don't think many members of the Canucks media or fanbase are making that argument.
By the chances, San Jose crushed Vancouver at even-strength in this series which is particularly interesting because they didn't really control puck possession. The storyline of this series more than anything was the Canucks' collective inability to turn offensive-zone time into quality looks at Niemi. I think the Sharks' defense deserves a good deal of credit for this, especially in denying Vancouver transition opportunities and frequently forcing dump-ins that the Canucks forwards were often unable to convert into scoring chances at evens.
|Goalie||Dangerous Shots Against||Dangerous Shots Stopped||Dangerous Shot SV%||Other Shots Against||Other Shots Stopped||Other Shot SV%|
I think it was Thomas Drance of the quintessential Canucks Army who first came up with the idea to denote scoring chances as being on goal or missing the net in order to evaluate goaltenders on how efficient they are at turning away so-called "dangerous" shots. Above is a count of "dangerous" shots, or scoring chances that were also shots on goal, faced by each of the three goalies who spent time between the pipes in this series, the number of those shots they stopped, their overall save percentage on dangerous shots and analogous numbers for the non-dangerous shots they faced in this series.
Before delving into goaltending performances, what jumps out at me here is that, as lopsided as the Sharks' overall scoring chance advantage was in this series, their edge in the quantity of those chances that were on net was even greater. I'm of the mind that defenses don't really have much of an impact on whether or not a chance they allow misses the net or lands on goal in the long run (and there's some compelling evidence to back that up) but it's possible that's a real effect over a short series. Just as likely, the Sharks were also a tad fortunate. Regardless of the causes, if you're only allowing an average of 6 shots on goal from the scoring area a night you're likely to win far more games than you lose, especially when you're generating 15 a game at the other end of the rink.
So while Niemi's overall numbers were sparkling, I wouldn't really characterize him as being the reason the Sharks won the series. San Jose's defense (and a dearth of penalty kill situations) made his life considerably easier over the course of these four games. On the Canucks' side of the ledger, while Joe Thornton's comment following Game 3 that the Sharks felt lucky not to face Luongo seemed like knife-twisting at its finest, it was also largely true. When Luongo was called upon in this series, he was tremendously reliable for Vancouver and pretty clearly their better goalie.
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.
The raw numbers alone don't really paint the entire picture in a series where each Sharks forward line was tasked with a significantly different role. Regardless, there's some interesting stuff here when viewed in context. After some uneven play down the stretch in the regular season, the Joe Thornton line did a terrific job in this series generating offense galore in protected minutes.
While the Couture line's performance looks underwhelming, the minutes they were playing ought to be noted. That trio was hard-matched against the Sedin twins for the majority of the series and each of Marleau, Couture and Torres started nearly 70% of their non-neutral shifts in the defensive zone at evens. And yet the Sharks still allowed fewer chances against per 15 minutes with Marleau on the ice than any other forward save Gomez. On an unrelated note, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the Sharks won't miss Adam Burish at even-strength during the second round.
On-Ice Even Strength Scoring Chances, Defensemen
Raise your hand if you thought Scott Hannan would lead the Sharks defense in scoring chance +/- in this series. Put your hand down, you liar. Amazingly, the pairing of Hannan and Brad Stuart not only wasn't the unmitigated disaster it looked poised to be given their time as a tandem late in the regular season but were a big reason the Sharks were able to advance. Granted, the coaching staff protected them as much as they could, starting Hannan in the offensive zone nearly 70% of the time and Stuart nearly 60% but they still logged quite a bit of ice time against Ryan Kesler's line and defused that unit as an offensive threat. I'd still put Jason Demers back in the lineup when healthy, given the years of evidence that Hannan isn't quite the player we saw in this series, but Hannan's play here at least makes it a debate.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun were aces in this series, taking on the Sedin twins every night and winning that matchup. We've known Vlasic is capable of this for years but Braun really began to emerge in the season's back half as more than simply a passenger on this pairing and was very effective at turning play the other way throughout this series. Expect them to see a steady dose of either Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Toews in Round 2.
On-ice Power Play Scoring Chances For
How ridiculously good was the Sharks' power play in this series? They generated nearly a scoring chance per minute with Logan Couture on the ice. The top unit as a whole was amazing and probably the biggest reason the Sharks dusted the Canucks off in four, but the second unit had their share of quality looks as well, generally off the stick of Raffi Torres. While I can't say I'm rooting for the Sharks to draw Chicago in the next round, you have to like the power play matchup there. San Jose was first in the league in power play shot rate during the regular season while Chicago was 27th.
On-ice Penalty Kill Scoring Chances Against
Vlasic and Braun's impressive showing at evens carried over to their work on the penalty kill. Credit where it's due: Burish shut the Canucks out in his time shorthanded. I'm guessing Wingels replaces Burish's minutes during the second round although I wonder whether T.J. Galiardi would be a better fit with Wingels relegated to mop-up duty alongside Desjardins.
Individual Scoring Chances at Net
|Player||EV Chances||PP Chances||EV Chances/15||PP Chances/15||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.
A year makes a big difference, apparently. After failing to register a single shot an goal at even-strength against the Blues last spring, Marleau was back in vintage playoff mode, generating five chances at evens and twelve overall. Also, hopefully everyone who yells at Joe Thornton for not shooting the puck more is happy now. He seemed to be making a conscious effort not to pass up chances from the scoring area and the last two goals in this series were a direct result of him firing away.
Head-to-Head Even Strength Scoring Chances
(Click to enlarge)
If I could distill this behemoth of a post into one chart, it would be this one. Special teams aside, the Sharks won this series because their even-strength gameplan was executed to perfection. Their shutdown unit of Couture, Marleau, Vlasic and Braun were expected to at least play the Sedins to a draw; they ended up doing even better than that. Couture's deployment was supposed to open up easier minutes for the Thornton and Pavelski lines, which they were able to expertly exploit.
I think those criticizing the Sedins for their performance in this series are missing the point; while the twins could have certainly done a better job turning possession into chances, it was the Kesler and Roy lines that really let the Canucks down with their performances at evens in this series. As we've learned in the aftermath of so many Sharks playoff failings, the big guns seem to always draw ire for lackluster showings by players further down the lineup. The Sedins are getting the Thornton/Marleau treatment in Vancouver now while the Sharks advance after a series in which everything went their way.