It’s no secret that the Sharks are struggling to score this season. They currently sit 22nd in the NHL in goals scored (97) and 20th in goals per game (2.49). Out of the teams that are sitting in a playoff position in the standings, only Ottawa and Boston have scored fewer goals than the Sharks. For a team that on paper looks to be one of the deepest teams in the league and is also one of the top possession teams as well, the offense has been a mystery. I’m going to try my best to explain some of the reasons why this team simply cannot find the back of the net.
Lower Shooting Percentages
During the 2015-16 season, when the Sharks were 4th in the NHL in goals scored, they had the league’s seventh-highest shooting percentage (9.5% according to Sportingcharts.com). This season, that number has fallen to a paltry 8.2% (per Sportingcharts.com), the seventh-worst in the league.
This regression is mostly seen in drops in shooting percentages for the Sharks’ top forwards. Joe Pavelski went from 17% last season to 10% this season, Joe Thornton went from 15.7% to just 5%, Joonas Donskoi saw his drop from 10.3% to 7.4%, and Joel Ward regressed from 15.2% to 6%, just to name a few. It’s not just these players either. Almost the entire team has experienced a drop in their shooting percentage. While some players like Thornton and Ward have gotten older and are no longer in their prime, that isn’t sufficient enough to say why the entire team has regressed. There is seemingly no reason why a player can easily score one year and be so snake-bitten the next.
The good news is that there is good reason to believe that the forwards will emerge from their struggles so far this season. It’s not as if last year’s team had much higher shooting percentages than years prior. For most of the forwards last year, their shooting percentages were normal compared to their past performance. Additionally, the Sharks are really, really good at producing scoring chances. According to Corsica.hockey, the Sharks are seventh in the NHL in scoring chances for per 60 (SCF/60) at even strength with 9.41, which is also the highest in the Western Conference. The Sharks are also fourth-highest expected goals for per 60 (xGF60) and also have the highest in the Western Conference in that category as well.
Power Play Struggles
For a team that has a historically great powerplay (the Sharks have four of the best power plays since the 2005-06 season aka the Thornton/Marleau era), the Sharks have been unusually bad with the man advantage. The Sharks currently sit 20th in the league on the power play, converting on only 16.4% of their power plays so far. Given that the Sharks can somehow have Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, and Brent Burns all on the same power play, they should be one of the league’s best on the power play.
However, it just hasn’t played out that way this season. For whatever reason, that top line just hasn’t been as effective as it was years prior. I imagine that they’ll turn it around, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to watch. Looking at the fancy stats, the Sharks are currently in scoring chances for per 60, 12th in expected goals for but only 23rd in actual goals for. This would mean that, much like their 5v5 scoring, their power play has underachieved. It’s still not at the level of its previous performance, but it’s comforting to at least know that things should improve.
This hasn’t been a major issue per se, but it is still something worth mentioning. For most of the season, the Sharks have been missing one of their key cogs to their offense: Tomas Hertl. This also goes with the power play struggles, but the Sharks dearly miss the Czech forward. With Hertl, the Sharks have four versatile, quality centers and don’t have to have Tommy Wingels or Micheal Haley center the fourth line. The Sharks have been eaten alive in the faceoff circle this season, and Tomas Hertl could really help them in that area. The second power play also hasn’t been particularly effective without Hertl either. Without Hertl, the Sharks are still a very dangerous team. With Hertl, however, the Sharks’ forward depth is among the league’s best.
While other forwards like Melker Karlsson have missed some time, the Sharks have been fairly lucky with injuries to their forwards. However, as of late, their defensemen have had a nasty case of the injury bug. Four of the Sharks’ top six defensemen have missed at least one game this season. Fortunately, the Sharks do have a few options behind them, but it certainly hasn’t helped the offense any. Aside from Brent Burns, who really should win the Norris Trophy this year if he keeps playing like this, the Sharks aren’t getting a whole lot of offense from their blueliners either. For a team that likes to shoot the puck from the blueline, I feel like they should have more points on the board.
With recent offensive explosions against the Oilers and the Red Wings, things are looking up for the Sharks’ offense as of late. Still, even if the Sharks revert back to their form from earlier in the season, this is still a very good team that plays solid defense in front of stellar goaltending. If the Sharks can get Tomas Hertl back and score goals at even a reasonable pace, this team should still be hunting come spring.