It’s difficult to watch a game and commit each play, or even how one player performed, to memory. In an attempt to record what my eyes think they saw, I tried to focus on a handful of players, namely defenders, in the first period. My eye test told me Radim Simek did a good job a handful of times closing the gap between him and oncoming forwards in the neutral zone.
It seemed that, despite the Sharks shot advantage, the Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun pair spent more time than not in their own zone. Braun seems to have one way of operating: Do the safe thing and move the puck up ice. He doesn’t seem to be interested in receiving the puck on break-ins or wheeling back around to try to make a better play.
On the penalty kill, quick jumps by Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier seemed to provide an explanation for the team’s overall performance. The Sharks are aggressive at the blue line, which might explain why they are good at limiting power play shots around the perimeter of the zone (the team allows the fourth-fewest shots against at 4-on-5). Those outbursts help the Sharks’ penalty kill create the fifth-most scoring chances at the other end. When the aggressors fail to create turnovers, however, it makes it easier for the other team to create their own chances: San Jose allows the 10th-highest rate of scoring chances against at 4-on-5.
The in-game numbers, also courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, seemed to agree with what our eyes likely told us: that San Jose dominated most of the period.
The team controlled 76 percent of all 5-on-5 shots after adjusting for the score and the venue. The Sharks’ leading pair, Vlasic and Braun, saw only 28 percent of all 5-on-5 shots while on the ice together.
In the second period, San Jose struggled to continue their early-game shot advantage. At the time of Mattias Janmark’s goal, San Jose had taken just 46 percent of all 5-on-5 shots in the frame. The goal wasn’t necessarily along with the run of play, however.
Dallas’ equalizer came during a sleepy portion of the second period, a moment in time on either side of the Sharks’ power play, when neither team could quite navigate the neutral zone. It was a bad change by San Jose, but it was a punctuation mark on what was already a poor 20 minutes for the boys in teal. Vlasic and Braun continued to sink, utterly submerged, floundering in their own zone. After two periods, San Jose had taken just 32 percent of all 5-on-5 shots with those two on the ice together.
In another alarming sign, the Sharks’ coaching staff appeared to take boss Pete DeBoer’s reshuffling of the Titanic’s deck chairs to heart. Unfortunately, they seemed to make changes to a power play that was playing well and producing chances. Before tonight, at 5-on-4, the team had taken the league’s fourth-highest rate of shots, fifth-highest rate of unblocked shots and generated the league’s third-highest rate of scoring chances. It sure looks like the coaches tried to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place.
The game’s second half was not entirely sour-tasting. If the team’s fourth line is essentially a revolving-door tryout to see who can support Melker Karlsson’s antics, then the combination of Barclay Goodrow and Kevin Labanc appeared, at least for one night, as capable suitors. The trio helped the Sharks to the best shot differential of any unit, eliminating the Stars by collecting 85 percent of all adjusted 5-on-5 shots through the first two frames.
When all was said and done, San Jose walked away from the ice experiencing some major déjà vu. The team took 59 percent of all 5-on-5 shots after adjusting for the score and venue. Yet, the Vlasic and Braun pair were only able to help the team generate 38 percent of all shots.
In their matchups, DeBoer’s matchup pair lost consistently. The streak of blue squares up this chart above their names show that against each and every Dallas Star they found themselves facing, the pair allowed more 5-on-5 expected goals than they generated. That’s about as hemmed into one’s own zone as it gets. Behind the defense corps, Martin Jones was almost precisely average, posting a save percentage just 0.1 percent above expected, and saving 0.03 goals above average, according to Corsica. Different opponent, same story. Average for Jones would mean a return to normalcy, and a welcome development after the first two months of his season.
The Antti Suomela, Evander Kane and Joonas Donskoi line struggled, generating a paltry 36 percent of all scoring chances and gettin outshot by as many as six. Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski acquitted themselves nicely, racking up about 60 percent of all 5-on-5 shots. Simek and new partner Brent Burns played well together, helping San Jose take 62 percent of all 5-on-5 shots and limiting the Stars to just six shots on net in 10 minutes together.
This game was more of the same from San Jose — a team brimming with talent that can’t seem to overcome bizarre decisions by its coaching staff. While the shot differential counter suggests a bit of a turnaround might be on its way, the continued battering the team’s shutdown defense pair continues to take does not bode well for the team’s long-term chances.