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Small Sample Size: Scoring chances and zone starts against the Minnesota Wild

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These things were related as the Sharks collapsed.

Los Angeles Kings v San Jose Sharks Photo by Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

I’m a big fan of Kevin Labanc, but hoo-boy did the forward get roasted in the scoring chance department against Minnesota last night. He, along with linemate Logan Couture, finished with a team-worst 28.57 and 37.50 scoring-chance for percentage, respectively.

That means when they were on the ice only 28 percent and 37 percent of the scoring chances that took place went in favor of team teal. For a pair of guys who otherwise look pretty darn good, that’s a serious problem. That’s about the way the whole night went as the Sharks dominated in shots on goal but didn’t do well in possession, especially in the third period.

Take a look at the following charts from hockeystats.ca to see what I mean. The first chart is shots on goal, the second is corsi and the third is scoring chances. All three are at all strengths and I haven’t messed around with any of them. Black is the Sharks, teal is the Wild. I know.

The Sharks dominated the first, slightly edged the second and were slightly edged in the third. What gives? Simply put, this is a small sample size oddity. As the header of this article suggests, I’m starting a new series where I explore parts of games that don’t indicate wider trends but at least bear mentioning.

Back to scoring chances, though. Why did noted great players like Labanc and Couture have such a bad night while players who aren’t at the same caliber like Haley, Tommy Wingels and Melker Karlsson find their way to the right end of the spectrum? There are a few factors at play here.

First, quality of competition plays a role here. Second, the fourth line gets deployed in the offensive zone much more than it gets played in the neutral zone. That’s what I want to hit on in this post. Using stats from naturalstattrick.com, I made the following graph. In it, I have the percentage of faceoffs taken in the offensive zone vs. the percentage of scoring chances for the Sharks while the player was on the ice. I think you’ll see at least a trend.

Then again ... maybe not. After running the numbers it appears that some players probably benefitted (Dylan DeMelo) and others were probably hurt (Labanc and Couture) others didn’t get great zone starts (Micheal Haley and company) and still managed to get scoring chances. Some of this could speak to competition (and probably does regarding the fourth line) but don’t take that as criticism; it’s anything but.

One of the Sharks’ strengths this season is its depth. My criticism of dressing Haley aside, he’s a better player than the 12th forward the other team dresses on many nights and he certainly was last night. While San Jose’s collapse leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and their possession game left something to be desired, the Sharks are banged up enough that surviving until they get Marc-Edouard Vlasic and company back is enough.