Sharks fans are especially sensitive to being let down. With all the hype coming into this season, Monday’s 4-0 spanking by the John Tavares-less New York Islanders felt like too much disappointment, even for a Monday morning, even for game number three. Still, discerning fans noticed that Monday’ game was just another in a pattern.
The San Jose Sharks have dominated hockey games this year and not necessarily won those games.
How about a little proof? When Melker Karlsson and Brendan Dillon are leaders of the team in possession stats for a given game, it is very likely that the Sharks had the most heinous of off-nights. However, when those statistics actually show that both were leaders with Corsi-for percentages (CF%) over 75 percent each, well, the Sharks must have laid a whoopin’ on someone, right? For many games, the answer is going to be yes. Not for Monday. For Monday, the following CF% possession chart that would otherwise be a thing of beauty, was instead an aberration:
The Sharks clearly dominated possession, ripped off 35 shots, yet no one could beat Robin Lehner. This wasn’t a case of a lackluster performance. This was a case of not finishing. Finishing is a numbers game and shooting percentage is a finicky beast. Dominating play to this extent though will win more games than not. Everything else being equal, its a volume-of-chances thing. Were those chances quality opportunities? You tell me.
That’s a high volume of quality chances right in Lehner’s grill. Fire away from there with impunity and pucks will go in the net. Which brings us to last night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers (Hint: Pucks went in the net).
If the heat map for Monday’s game shows us shots in Lehner’s grill, I’m not sure where to explain where shots tonight were in relation to Brian Elliot. I guess “by him” is probably the most accurate, but the poor guy did make 40 saves. By the look at tonight’s shot map, the San Jose Sharks had basically set up camp in Elliot’s crease. In fairness to Philly, they got a reasonably fair share of their 33 shots from in close too. Just not in that close.
To be clear, these two games were far more similar than their scores would indicate and the outcomes are not simply a product of the additional 13 shots on goal by the Sharks versus Philly or a product of the difference between Lehner and Elliot. In fact, the Sharks were better against the Islanders in possession numbers than they were against the Flyers (see below) but took fewer shots and although they were getting good looks, they weren’t all over the net like they were in Philadelphia Tuesday night.
The moral of this story is that chances rule and that quality chances rule even more and that lots of both will win you games more often than not. Monday night was a “than not.” Tuesday night was the “more often.”
The onslaught against the Flyers Tuesday night started when Logan Couture blocked a shot, then took a 2-on-1 (with Tomas Hertl) himself and went five-hole just 3:17 into the first. After not scoring against the Isles, it was a sigh of relief to be sure.
If at this point you got up, highly satisfied, to get yourself another refreshment, you probably missed Labanc’s neutral zone takeaway, then toe-drag shot around a defender which turned into a rebound which turned into another Joe Pavelski hand-eye clinic as he got underneath the rebound mid-air and popped it into the net.
This happened 11 seconds after the previous goal, or what is loosely referred to in San Jose Sharks lore as “a Hoffman.” The second-best part of the play (behind the scoring part) is watching Kevin Labanc play with moxie. To call his early season play “encouraging” is to understate the statistical significance (his 68.5 CF% going into tonight’s game) and the empirical evidence. It is not hard to see why Labanc is quarterbacking the second power play unit and playing top-six minutes.
Half a period later, Elliot figured if he couldn’t save goals before they went into the net, he’d try saving them after.
Sadly for Brian this accomplishes nothing. Sharks up 3, Pavelski with 2 of them. Not shown in its entirety is that this puck was delivered courtesy of Kevin Labanc and yes, it was an intentional pass, and yes, it was positively Thornton-esque.
Four and a half minutes later, Braun would launch a point shot that was knocked down by a Flyer stick, only to have it flutter toward Evander Kane who was by himself to the right of the goal. As Kane turned his skate to stop the puck, the puck conveniently careened into the net for the fourth first period goal on 23 shots.
Five minutes into the second period, the Flyers finally broke through, courtesy of a Gostisbehere bomb through a crowd on the power play. But the Sharks went back to work, eventually getting another from Kane on a beautiful wrist shot as he waltzed into the high slot after a great feed from Vlasic just as their own power play ended.
In the third, Tomas Hertl joined the parade, knocking down the Erik Karlsson point shot in front of Elliot, then depositing it with authority.
While the replay above does not show the Karlsson point shot, this is the kind of play we should expect to see on repeat all year. With Burns and Karlsson both firing at will and getting pucks through, players like Timo Meier, Hertl, and Pavelski who all go to the front of the net and who all have good hands in close, could all have highly productive years. 6-1 Sharks.
Speaking of Meier...
What’s not to like about this goal? It starts with Karlsson and Labanc combining to chip the puck out of the zone — Labanc flipping the puck to an open area — and ends with Meier not only showing his hustle, but his hands, as he beats Elliot (yes he was still in the game for some reason) with the old how-do-you-do.
And finally, for good measure, Barclay Goodrow got the two-point conversion on a short-handed play made entirely of his and Marcus Sorensen’s hustle. An errant Flyers pass on the power play got behind both defensemen and made it almost the entire length of the ice before Sorensen raced down, intercepted it, then sent a cross-ice alley-oop to Goodrow who slammed it home. We’d show you the goal but apparently Twitter doesn’t believe that the eighth goal of a game by a fourth liner is worth creating a gif for. Take our word for it, it was pretty.
As the highlights (and the score) would indicate, the game was all San Jose.
For Sharks fans, it was nice to see an outcome commensurate with the stats. Like both losses to the Ducks and Islanders, the Sharks dominated most areas of the game. This game, though, the percentages played out more normally.
The Sharks really don’t play a top NHL team until they meet the Nashville Predators on the October 23. In the meantime, they get to work out the kinks of their new offense and their new power play. With some time under their belts, it is reasonable to expect some regular domination to continue, but with the results coming in turn. Chemistry takes time. But if this game is any statement, when that chemistry comes, the NHL has been warned.