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Despite concerns about scoring, the Sharks are fine

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They haven’t been scoring lately, but we can chalk some of that up to bad luck and small sample sizes.

Florida Panthers v San Jose Sharks
Brent Burns might be the poster boy for the Sharks’ identity so far
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 3-1 defeat from the Boston Bruins on Saturday night was just another reminder that the San Jose Sharks remain mired in a goal-scoring slump. They’ve scored 11 goals in their last six games. They scored five of those goals in one game against the Vancouver Canucks — two of which were empty-netters and one of which was a penalty shot with the team already up four goals to none.

San Jose has been outscored by five goals at even strength (5v5) and has scored just 45 percent of all even-strength goals in games they play, a figure that ranks sixth-worst this season. Fans and media alike seem to be reaching for the panic button, wondering if and when Doug Wilson will stir the pot by dealing for a scoring winger.

While the team certainly has its weaknesses, the worrying over a lack of goal scoring seems mostly unfounded. A quick and dirty comparison of the offense during the DeBoer years shows a lot of the same.

San Jose Sharks offense
The San Jose Sharks offense remains good this season, despite worries about goal scoring

Adjusted shots for % and expected goals for per 60 minutes from corsica.hockey.

High-danger scoring chances per 60 and high-danger shooting % from naturalstattrick.com.

So far this season, the Sharks are putting more pucks on net at even strength than they have during the previous two years of the DeBoer regime. One can expect the team to score at a slightly higher rate this season than they have in the past. Their high-danger scoring chance generation remains the same, though they are finishing those chances at a slightly higher rate than they did during the last two seasons. The percentage of shots San Jose takes is the best it’s been under this coaching staff by nearly a full percentage point — that number is important because (of the readily available statistics) it best predicts future goal scoring.

During the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, the Sharks underperformed their expected shooting percentage on unblocked shots by about 0.5 percent. This season, the team is underperforming its expected shooting percentage by nearly two percentage points, the worst in the league. During the 2015-16 season, the Sharks scored 52.7 percent of even-strength goals. During the 2016-17 season, that number was 52.8 percent. Given the percentage of shots the Sharks attempt, one might expect them to score closer to 52 percent of all 5v5 goals, not the 45 percent clip they’re scoring at today.

Here’s another slightly different look at the same idea:

Adjusted for shooting talent, the percentage of expected goals a team generates is even more predictive than the percentage of shots attempted of future scoring. This adjustment suggests the Sharks’ shooting talent is somewhat of a concern. However, even when adjusted for less-than-stellar shooting ability, one might still expect the Sharks to score closer to 55 percent of all even-strength goals. A quick look at shooting talent of individual players on the DeBoer Sharks shows a team that has been mostly average (relative to the team, not the league) at finishing.

San Jose Sharks shooting talent
The Sharks haven’t lost any special shooting talent

Only four players have laced up skates for the Sharks between 2015 and 2017 and shot more than one standard deviation above what was expected of them, based on the team average. Nikolay Goldobin and Ryan Carpenter’s elevated numbers here were likely due more to a small sample size of ice time than anything. Mirco Mueller is bad at generating a positive shot differential, so even if he is some kind of blueline shooting savant, his teams are less likely to score goals with him on the ice in the long run. Most of the team, including Patrick Marleau, was about average relative to the Sharks’ team average.

Barclay Goodrow continues to underperform what is expected of him based on the opportunities he receives. He might be a bad finisher. Timo Meier underperformed last season, and is still underperforming this year, but has so far improved his shooting from his rookie year. Joonas Donskoi is outperforming his expected shooting percentage by about six percent this year. In effect, the team this season is mostly comprised of players who seem capable of shooting above what is expected of them. The team’s underlying offensive numbers are still there, and they’ve jettisoned most of the poor-shooting skaters. Their shooting percentage is likely to rebound as the season progresses, even if they don’t make any changes to the lineup.

It’s also important to note that during the six-game scoring slump, the Sharks faced a handful of good goalies. 67 goalies have played at least 100 minutes of 5v5 ice time this season. Here are how the five goalies the Sharks failed to score on have ranked in those categories so far this season:

Andrei Vasilevskiy: 21st save percentage above expected // 8th in goals saved above average
Anton Khudobin: 2nd // 3rd
Jonathan Quick: 7th // 2nd
Ryan Miller: 5th // 17th
Roberto Luongo: 40th // 42nd

Of that group, only Luongo has been below average this season. Of those five goalies, Jonathan Quick put up the worst save percentage (all strengths), a cool .939. Even in the near future, during the Sharks next six-game stretch, we can expect the team to turn its goal-scoring woes around, at least somewhat. Here are their next six opponents and how those teams rank in expected goals against per 60 minutes and percentage of shots attempted:

Anaheim: 23rd score- and venue-adjusted shot attempts percentage // 27th expected goals against/60
Arizona: 29th // 25th
Las Vegas: 17th // 15th
Winnipeg: 26th // 7th
Philadelphia: 12th // 5th
Florida: 18th // 14th

A look at the team’s schedule during the slump and in the near future shows how much of goal-scoring can be impacted by a string of games against good teams and/or good goaltenders.

Ryan Miller, as we’ve seen, has been solid this season. John Gibson, if he plays, has been average. The Arizona goalies have been average to very bad. Oscar Dansk and Malcolm Subban have both been very good in limited time, and Marc-Andre Fleury has been average. Connor Hellebuyck has been about a top-15 goalie this season, and Brian Elliott has been very good. It would not be surprising to see the Sharks reverse their fortunes against the Cats this time around. Only one of these teams, the Flyers, combines both good goaltending and above-average shot and goal metrics. The other teams should offer ample opportunity for goal scoring.

The Sharks lack high-end shooting talent this season, unless one of the younger players emerges. However, even that fact doesn’t account for why the Sharks are scoring 10 percent fewer of the goals than one might expect them to be scoring. Teams and players go through scoring slumps all the time. When a team with good underlying numbers suffers through rough patches, it’s always a safe bet to assume at least part of that is due to bad luck.

The Sharks are fine. Remember that whatever the coming scoring turnaround is credited to, the Sharks have always been good this season and just a tad unlucky recently.