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Striking Stats: Sharks at the Quarter

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Nov 11, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) skates out of the Shark head ahead of their game against the Calgary Flames at SAP Center at San Jose. Andrew Villa-USA TODAY Sports

It’s good news, bad news for the Pacific right now.

On one hand, while the division boasts three teams with a positive goal differential, goal differential by division paints a bleak landscape:

  • Central: +42
  • Atlantic: +28
  • Metropolitan: -11
  • Pacific: -59

On the other hand, in terms of both 5-on-5 Score/Venue Adjusted Corsi For Percent (CF%) and Scoring Chances For Percent (SCF%), there are four Pacific teams in the NHL’s top-11. The San Jose Sharks are second (56.98) and first (56.82) in these respective categories. The Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes are the other division rivals that own strong underlying stats.

As for 5-on-5 Adjusted Expected Goals For Percent, there are also four Pacific squads in the league’s top-10. San Jose is also second (56.41), while Vegas, Calgary and Edmonton offer promise.

Here are some other striking Sharks stats at the quarter mark of the year.

Team

San Jose is routinely lumped in with the “heavy” California teams like Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Led by Joe Thornton and company over the years, there’s no doubt the Sharks have been able to overpower their opposition down low more often than not over the years.

So it might be surprising to learn that San Jose, during Pete DeBoer’s tenure, ranks 28th in the league in Hits. Los Angeles and Anaheim are first and second, respectively.

This year, San Jose is 25th.

The caveat, of course, is that Hits are a highly subjective stat, at the mercy of trackers in every NHL building. That said, the Sharks are 29th in the league in Away Hits from 2015-19.

DeBoer explained, “It’s how your team is built. If you have a fourth line like Clutterbuck, Martin and Cizikas, that’s going to be a big part of your identity.

“We try and play defense by pressuring the other team all over the ice. In order to pressure the other team, you have to keep yourself in play. You can’t get tied up running after a big hit. It’s not that we don’t emphasize it, but we don’t emphasize it as much as putting pressure on and getting the puck back.

“We emphasize pressure defensively and offensively. We emphasize shot blocking. There are other gritty parts of the game that we concentrate on.

“If a great player who finished every hit became available, we wouldn’t turn him down. It’s not something where we say we don’t want guys who do that, but if you’re going to play in our system, you have to be able to pressure and get the puck back.”

Forwards

Rourke Chartier has the sixth-worst PDO (out of 591 qualified players, 100+ minutes at 5-on-5) in the NHL. His .899 is dragged down mostly by an 86.54 On-Ice Save Percentage. Perhaps not coincidentally, Chartier was sent down to the Barracuda last week.

In each of the last four seasons, Joe Pavelski has led Sharks forwards in Time on Ice (TOI) per game. In what might be a changing of the guard, Logan Couture leads all Sharks forwards this year in this category (19:33). That said, Pavelski trails closely (19:11).

Evander Kane has taken the most minor penalties on the team (10), but he’s mitigated that by also drawing the most (11).

Kane also leads all San Jose forwards in 5-on-5 shot attempts. In fact, his 23.84 Individual Corsi For per 60 is second in the league (out of 591 qualified players, 100+ minutes at 5-on-5). His previous high was 21.2 in 2012-13.

Considering this career-high pace, Kane was asked if he was going out of his way to shoot more this year. He responded, “I feel like I haven’t been getting a lot of shots, honestly.”

The much-maligned Melker Karlsson is, without a doubt, much valued on the penalty kill by the coaching staff. He’s the third most-used Sharks forward on the penalty kill (1:29 shorthanded TOI per game), behind Couture and Tomas Hertl.

Karlsson, along with the other fourth-line perennials, is charged with an unequal share of Even Strength Defensive Zone Starts. His percentage of Defensive Zone Starts (dZS) to Offensive Zone Starts is the most difficult among all Sharks. His 57.5 percent dZS is a far cry from Joe Thornton’s team-easiest 33.3.

Karlsson could stand to improve his forwards-worst -5 Penalty Differential.

Kane, naturally, is San Jose’s most physical forward at 2.0 Hits per game. Would you be surprised to learn that Kevin Labanc is the team’s second-most physical forward (1.1 per game)? This is nearly triple his figure from last year (0.4).

Labanc said this physicality is his own addition to his game, not something the coaching staff pushed for, “I’m sure they love it as much as I do. I did it a little bit before, but I got away from it. Now I’m getting back to it. It gets you in the game when you’re throwing the body around.

“Defensemen, they don’t like it when guys are on the forecheck, hit them. That’s why I added it.”

However, Marcus Sorensen, who sits next to Labanc in the room, joked, “Stats lie.”

With 12 goals, Timo Meier is enjoying a star-making season. Meier has been helped by 1.19 5-on-5 Rush Attempts per 60. This figure is 11th among all qualified forwards (out of 386 forwards, 100+ minutes at 5-on-5). For the Swiss star, this is a dramatic increase from last year’s 0.51.

”I’m doing the same things,” commented Meier. “It’s obviously going easier than it was before.” That sounds like a player who’s simply coming into his own.

Nobody has more Deflected/Tipped Goals than Joe Pavelski since 2009-10. At 58 and counting, Pavelski is being chased by Corey Perry (56), Wayne Simmonds (53) and Patric Hornqvist (50).

In related news, Pavelski’s Average Shot Length has dropped dramatically. His current 18.2 feet is more than nine feet closer than last year’s 27.8. His previous career-close was 24.9 in 2014-15.

The captain explained, “That’s the goal, to always get as close as we can.

“There may be a little bit of an outlier because I’ve been net front the entire year on the power play. I haven’t varied at all from the flank or the D, whereas in other years, I have been out there.

“5-on-5, I’m definitely gravitated toward not just throwing the puck at the net from a distance. Sometimes, you can create if somebody’s there, but if nobody’s around, it’s a pretty unpromising shot.

“It probably started when I began playing with Jumbo 4-5 years ago. If he finds you, you don’t want to just be throwing pucks.”

Marcus Sorensen is seventh in the NHL (out of 604 qualified players, 100+ minutes) with a +8 Penalty Differential. This is proving to be a legitimate skill from the sophomore Swedish winger. His 1.9 Penalties Drawn per 60 over his last two seasons leads all Sharks.

“I’m trying to use my speed, trying to use my skill to beat them one-on-one,” offered Sorensen.

At a slight 6-foot-0, 181 pounds, rookie Antti Suomela doesn’t look like your stereotypical net-crashing forward. Regardless, he’s second among San Jose forwards with a 6.32 5-on-5 Individual High-Danger Corsi For per 60, trailing only Kane.

“This is normal,” noted the Finnish import. “I go around the d-man’s back, so it’s hard for them to defend me. It’s my game.”

The rookie added, “I have to be stronger. It’s a lot of cross-checking in the back.”

Joe Thornton recorded his first Primary Assist last night, after coming up empty in his first 12 games this year. Since 2007-08, when this statistic was first recorded, the longest that he’s gone without a first assist is 14 games in 2008-09.

Just for some context, Thornton is fourth in the league with 329 Primary Assists since 2007-08. Ryan Getzlaf leads with 348. First assists are like goals for a playmaker of Thornton’s ilk.

Defensemen

Speaking of Primary Assists, Brent Burns leads all defensemen in 5-on-5 first assists (7). He’s on a career pace; his previous high was 15.

Burns and Erik Karlsson, not surprisingly, rank second and sixth respectively in Individual Corsi For per 60 among all defenders (out of 211 qualified, 100+ minutes).

Brenden Dillon fills the physical void on San Jose’s blueline; his 2.0 Hits per game lead the team.

There was a lot of talk about Erik Karlsson's 20-game goalless streak, which was finally snapped on Saturday. But perhaps more surprising, Karlsson has yet to draw a penalty this year. Karlsson has never drawn less than 15 penalties in a full season. The defenseman’s longest such previous streak was 23 games in 2013-14.

Drawing some penalties will mitigate Karlsson’s team-worst -7 Penalty Differential.

Notably, Karlsson’s goal on Saturday was scored off a slapshot. That’s interesting because the blueliner went away from this weapon last season. After averaging over a slapshot per game in every season before last year, Karlsson clocked 0.65 Slapshots per game in 2017-18. This season, Karlsson is back to blasting a slapper per tilt.

“I don’t know why that is,” offered Karlsson. “Depends on sticks I have, how I feel, how much time you have.”

Drew Doughty has played 20+ minutes in a game for 348 consecutive regular season contests and counting. That’s the most among active players and a testament to his importance to the Kings. When Karlsson skated 18:54 on November 11th against Calgary, that snapped his streak of 414 straight 20-minute plus games.

Goaltending

Martin Jones sports the worst 5-on-5 (.879) and High-Danger (.752) Save Percentage (Sv%) in the league (out of 26 qualified goalies, 500+ minutes at 5-on-5).

However, Jones has managed to post a spectacular .924 Penalty Kill Save Percentage. He’s seventh in the NHL (out of 34 qualified goalies, 50+ penalty kill minutes).

While that’s a tiny sample size, Jones has consistently been a strong performer on the kill. Since taking over the reins as San Jose’s starter in October 2015, Jones is fifth (.890) in the league in PK Sv% (out of 43 qualified goalies, 100+ games).

(Stats as of 11/20/18, courtesy of Corsica, Hockey Reference, Hockey Viz, Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com and Sporting Charts.)