I want to start with a preface: Points per game can be a useful tool when evaluating offensive talent over a big sample size. When talking about a single season, and especially when discussing a half season, it’s good for bar talk but not much else. So that’s all this is: a little bit of fun and nothing to take too seriously because of how much shooting percentage (read: luck) affects these numbers through just 30+ games.
Cool? Don’t freak out, please. We all know the Sharks aren’t scoring as much this season as last year. San Jose is averaging 2.49 goals per game after averaging 2.89 goals per game a season ago. Shooting percentage plays a role there as it’s down to 8.1 from 9.5 last year. That’s an impact of 15 fewer goals which is significant in a league that sees its average goals per game drop season after season.
Ready to see the numbers now? Alright. Here we go. This spreadsheet (it’s not a chart, Kevin, don’t freak out) shows players who played at least 10 games last season and have played at least 10 this season. Their 2015-16 points per game are in the center column and 2016-17 in the right with the differential in the far right. The first spreadsheet is sorted by points per game, the second by differential (since we care more about who’s scoring, not who’s most improved, really).
I think you can learn a lot about the Sharks this season by looking at Joe Thornton. He is third on the Sharks in points per game but has taken the second-biggest hit to his totals from last year. That’s partially due to how great he was last year; a 36 year old scoring at a point a game pace is freaking great, but it also speaks to San Jose’s scoring struggles.
Meanwhile guys like Micheal Haley are scoring twice as much as a season ago, but that doesn’t help the Sharks much overall because it’s still not very much. My guess is part of the focus on players like Matt Nieto and Joonas Donskoi comes when the big guns aren’t scoring at the level we’re accustomed to. Thornton isn’t getting benched (and he shouldn’t be) so coaches try to send messages to other areas of the lineup.
Those struggles extend to guys like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, someone we don’t hold to the same offensive standard despite how much time he gets on the power play. Right now Vlasic has more 5v4 time than everyone on the Sharks other than Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Thornton, Pavelski and Patrick Marleau. He has more 5v4 points (3) than Mikkel Boedker (1). That’s it. Vlasic is tied with David Schlemko and Couture and trails five other players in 5v4 points.
My point isn’t to pin anything on Vlasic, it’s that as the Sharks’ offensive woes go on we should make sure we’re looking in the right areas. Shooting percentage is the primary culprit here, but with the power play struggling to find the back of the net making changes on the second unit might be a good option. The Sharks have the luxury of making changes if they want to. Now we’ll see what they do with the New Year upon us.