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The Daily Chum: What zone starts tell us about the Sharks

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We see who gets the toughest assignments for San Jose.

San Jose Sharks v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Looking at relative possession numbers can be a good way to get a feel for how a member of the Sharks is playing this season, but it can’t tell you everything. That’s because Pete DeBoer, like most NHL coaches, puts his best players on the ice in tougher situations than others.

DeBoer doesn’t match lines with the same intensity that Todd McLellan does (which you might have noticed on Friday night) but he does make sure Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun see the toughest competition every night. You certainly noticed that during the Stanley Cup Final and it shows in their relative possession numbers, which usually put them near the worst on the team.

Obviously Vlasic and Braun aren’t the worst possession players on the Sharks. So how can we get a data-driven look at the roster to confirm or deny what our eyes are telling us? Corsica.hockey has us covered with a neat set of graphs that combine players zone starts and their quality of competition and teammates. Let’s start with the latter.

Here’s the gist: The further to the right on the chart a player is, the more of their zone starts are offensive vs. defensive. Paul Martin and Brent Burns get a lot of offensive zone starts because the pairing generates so much scoring for the Sharks while Micheal Haley gets so much action there because he’s a weaker possession player.

On the flip side, Braun and Vlasic get almost all of their zone starts on the defensive side of the ice. The further towards the bottom of the chart a player, the weaker their teammates (based on their average ice time). That same logic will apply to the next chart with the only difference being the quality of opponents shown and not teammates.

Like we thought, Braun, Vlasic, Joe THornton and Joe Pavelski see the toughest competition while Haley sees the weakest. Just about everyone else sees similar competition. That makes sense given DeBoer’s general feelings on line matching: in other words, he doesn’t do it much.

The color of the circles refers to the corsi-for percentages with red being lower and blue being higher. The size of the charts refers to the TOI% of the player. These charts mostly confirm what we already knew: DeBoer is much more likely to match defensive pairings than forward pairs, with the exception of heavily sheltering Haley.

DeBoer is also not afraid to give his best forward line a lot of offensive zone time in an effort to spark the San Jose offense. That was true last season, too. In fact, it’s actually interesting to see how similar this chart is to last season’s.

At least among the core players, DeBoer has primarily done what he did last season in terms of usage. Yes, the Sharks have made some lineup changes in order to try to spark scoring but the San Jose head coach has left the big guns to do what they do best. That’s a good move.

Don’t worry, we’ve got real hockey back tomorrow.