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2018 NHL Playoff Series Preview: San Jose Sharks at Anaheim Ducks

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How many sticks will Corey Perry break the next two weeks?

January 21, 2018; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm (47) plays for the puck against San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture (39) during the third period at Honda Center.
QUACK QUACK
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A number of Hockey Twitter stats people have publicized their models’ projections for the first round of the 2018 NHL Playoffs. While a few give the Sharks a solid edge, Vegas believes this is close to a 50/50 proposition. Here are a few probabilities so you can settle your stomach a bit before Thursday’s series opener:

Though these models vary, they generally agree that San Jose has a good chance of defeating one of their Southern California rivals in the first round. Let’s take a look at why these models might be so high on our favorite stick-puck team.

Team overview since trade deadline

The trade deadline is an arbitrary cutoff line. A lot of people like to use the past 25 games to get a sense of how the team has performed. We’re using the trade deadline here because that’s when rosters solidified. Since the deadline, the Sharks have played 19 games, and the Ducks have played 18, so the sample size here isn’t ideal, but it’s not too far off of the 25-game mark.

5v5 score- and venue-adjusted shot (all shots) differential, AKA Corsi (We use shot differential because that was first established as being metric the most predictive of future goal scoring):

San Jose: 50.9% - 11th
Anaheim: 50.5% - 12th

Not a lot separates these two teams here. Looking at how these teams’ have progressed over the season in terms of shot differential shows a slightly different — and more alarming for San Jose — story.

The Sharks shot differential has been trending in the wrong direction
@matt_barlowe

This graph pretty clearly shows the Sharks getting worse and worse in terms of controlling shot differential. It hasn’t impacted them terribly — they finished with 100 points, won eight games in a row and didn’t have a ton of trouble scoring at 5v5 down the stretch — but it doesn’t bode well for future goals if Corsi is still important.

Ducks are trending the other way
@matt_barlowe

The Ducks, while still pretty average of late, have been building in the right direction after some early-season struggles. Their inability to get past the average mark was no doubt due in part to plenty of injuries to important players. Cam Fowler’s loss recently hurts, but his shot differential relative to his teammates was pretty average. They will miss him defensively, however.

As we learned in March, scoring chance differential might be a better indicator of future goal scoring than shot differential. Natural Stat Trick has those numbers for us from the last month plus of the season.

San Jose: 53% - 8th
Anaheim: 49% - 19th

If scoring chances are a better indicator, then the scales have tilted slightly in San Jose’s favor. We can also look at two expected goals models which, while they haven’t been found to be more predictive than shot differential, can help corroborate or refute the scoring chance numbers we see above.

This graph shows roughly the same thing scoring chances do
@matt_barlowe

This graph of one expected goals model shows about the same as the scoring chances show. From late February through the end of the season, the Sharks’ expected goal differential was positive, at least until Evander Kane was hurt and missed a few games at the end of the season.

Uhoh
@matt_barlowe

This graph goes along with what the scoring chances numbers say. The Ducks were fairly bad at generating a positive expected goals ratio for most of March, then skyrocketed up to end the season, and it all amounts to about average. It will be scary for the Sharks if the Ducks’ upward trajectory here continues into April.

Corsica.hockey’s expected goals model shows San Jose collecting 57 percent of all expected goals since the trade deadline — the best mark in the league. That same model has the Ducks at 49.3 percent — 18th-best. All of those numbers tell fairly similar stories. What we aren’t sure of yet is whether the direction each team seems to be trending in: down, for the Sharks and up, for the Ducks, will be the direction in which each team continues during this series.

San Jose Offense vs. Anaheim Defense

Since the trade deadline, San Jose’s offense has produced the following results:
Expected goals for per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time (Corsica model): 2.64 (3rd)
Scoring chances for/60 (Natural Stat Trick): 31.3 (4th)

In that same time frame, the Ducks’ defense has put up the following numbers:
Expected goals against/60: 2.42 (23rd)
Scoring chances against/60: 30.8 (25)
Shots against/60: 57.1 (11)

Visually, we can see how the Sharks’ offense in terms of unblocked shots compares to the Ducks’ defense (both of these charts show season-long data):

Lotta Burns but a lotta goal-front action, too
hockeyviz.com
Sharks should fit in nicely there!
hockeyviz.com

It looks as though the Ducks allow plenty of unblocked shots right in front of their goal mouth, which happens to be exactly where the Sharks generate a lot of their offense from. What is most interesting is the dearth of shots the Ducks allow from either point. Do they just block a lot of shots by defenders, or are their wingers quick and able to force blueliners to send pucks back in deep?

Outside of the Ducks’ top pair of Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson, their defensive prospects are fairly bleak. Even the team’s shutdown line of Ryan Kesler, Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg isn’t particularly great at shutting opponents down.

Kane and Pavelski will have their work cut out for them
hockeyviz.com

These two play most of their minutes against opponents’ top-three forwards by ice time. That means Pavelski and Evander Kane will have their work cut out for them. If Manson and Lindholm are assigned the Pavelski line, you can be almost certain Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Mikkel Boedker will see a lot of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, whose line isn’t a slouch defensively.

If those top units play to a stalemate — they likely won’t. Good players find a way to impact the game — it will be up to the very talented offensively line of Timo Meier, Chris Tierney, and Kevin Labanc, AKA the Kids Table line, to put the biscuit in the basket.

Anaheim offense vs. SJ defense

Since the trade deadline the Ducks’ offense has produced the following results:
Expected goals for/60: 2.35 (12th)
Scoring chances for/60: 29 (12th)

Since the deadline, the Sharks’ defense has offered these numbers:
Expected goals against/60: 1.99 (3rd)
Scoring chances against/60: 27.7 (16th)
Shots against/60: 60.2 (22nd)

The expected goals against number here appears to be an outlier. Still, it looks like a just-above-average Ducks offense taking on an average to below-average Sharks defense. Visually, they look like this:

Such a weird pattern
hockeyviz.com
Sharks do mostly a good job until teams get close
hockeyviz.com

The Sharks block quite a few shots, which is why you see those oceans of blue at the top of their defensive zone. Unfortunately, they also allow plenty of opportunities in close to their goal. The Ducks have a bizarre pattern of shots along the right side of the zone, but the Sharks seem fairly adept at limiting those chances.

At home, Pete DeBoer employs Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and the Logan Couture line against opponents’ top competition. Right now, that looks like this:

Not bad
hockeyviz.com

That looks pretty average. Plenty of blue, plenty of red in a smallish sample size. That the shutdown unit keeps the front of the goal mostly clean is the most important part of their role. Likely matched up against Perry, Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, that group will have to dig deep to keep the Ducks off the board. San Jose has generated 31 scoring chances per hour, good for fourth-best in the league. That Ducks top line generates 33 scoring chances per hour.

As a team, the Ducks’ offense and the Sharks’ defense don’t seem very imposing. Winning specific match ups — the Sharks shutdown unit vs Perry and Getzlaf, and Kane and Pavelski scoring against Manson and Lindholm — will be the way to eliminate Anaheim.

Goaltending

It sounds as though John Gibson might be back for the playoffs. Still, we’ll look at all four goalies for this match up.

Corsica measures 5v5 goals saved above average (GSAA) per 30 minutes:
John Gibson: 0.52
Ryan Miller: 0.78

Martin Jones: 0.2
Aaron Dell: 0.17

The site also looks at the difference between a goalie’s actual and expected save percentage (dSv%):

John Gibson: 0.97% (10th out of 64 goalies with at least 600 minutes)
Ryan Miller: 2.11% (3rd)

Martin Jones: -0.39% (48th)
Aaron Dell: 0.17 (28th)

Here are all four goalie’s numbers at all strengths (out of 69 goalies with at least 600 minutes):

John Gibson: 1.74 dSv% (9th) // 32.5 GSAA (2nd)
Ryan Miller: 2.6% dSv% (1st) // 19.25 (9th)

Martin Jones: 0.68 (21st) // 11.54 (17th)
Aaron Dell: 0.58 (23rd) // 4.51 (28th)

Here is another goaltending model that uses and expected goal model and controls for rebounds:

John Gibson is elite. Martin Jones, not so much
crowdscoutsports.com

When controlling for rebounds at 5v5, John Gibson profiles as elite this season, and Martin Jones is more of a top-15ish goalie, at best.

Same story for backups
crowdscoutsports.com

The story is the same — albeit with larger error bars because of smaller sample sizes — with the teams’ backups. Anaheim has a clear goaltending advantage here.

Special teams

We’ve talked at length about the Sharks’ special teams in this space, but we’ll give a little refresher for the Sharks, as well as introduce the Ducks’ penalty-related units.

Since the trade deadline, the San Jose 5v4 power play has produced the following:
(Corsica)
Expected goals for/60: 8.2 (7th)
Difference between actual and expected shooting percentage on unblocked shots: -2.3 (27th)

(Natural Stat Trick)
Unblocked shots/60: 82.9 (6th)
Scoring chances for/60: 68.7 (3rd)

The Anaheim 4v5 penalty kill has responded thusly:
(Corsica)
Expected goals against/60: 5.2 (5th)
Save%: 88.5 (11th)

(Natural Stat Trick)
Unblocked shots against/60: 70.8 (13th)
Scoring chances against/60: 50.2 (14th)

The Sharks PP has been good
hockeyviz.com
This looks like an easier draw visually than numbers-wise
hockeyviz.com

San Jose should be able to exploit the left (from the offensive perspective) faceoff dot for some high-quality shots.

During the same stretch, the Anaheim 5v4 power play has done the following:
(Corsica)
Expected goals for/60: 8.7 (3rd)
Difference between actual and expected shooting percentage on unblocked shots: -2.9 (29th)

(Natural Stat Trick)
Unblocked shots/60: 72.2 (22nd)
Scoring chance for/60: 50.7 (18th)

Meanwhile, San Jose’s 4v5 penalty kill has allowed these rates:
(Corsica)
Expected goals against/60: 6.6 (14th)
Save%: 88.6 (10th)

(Natural Stat Trick)
Unblocked shots against/60: 78.3 (20th)
Scoring chances against/60: 47.2 (7th)

Visually, these numbers look like:

Scary!
hockeyviz.com
Don’t let the Ducks down the left side
hockeyviz.com

Based on location data, it appears as though each team’s power play is well equipped to handle their opponents’ penalty kill. From a pure numbers perspective, San Jose’ power play has remained pretty amazing, and the Ducks’ penalty kill just mediocre. If San Jose can shot closer to their expected shooting percentage, special teams will be in their favor. Even if they don’t manage to regress toward their expected shooting percentage, San Jose likely has the special teams edge.

Keys:

  • The 5v5 assessment of the teams being even sounds about right. Unfortunately, it looks as if the Sharks might be falling off at the same time the Ducks are peaking. However, there’s no evidence that trends like those carry into the postseason. If anything, the Sharks’ ability to generate expected goals and scoring chance ratios at a better rate than the Ducks gives them the advantage here.
  • From a match ups perspective, Evander Kane and Joe Pavelski will see a lot of Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm, and the Kesler line. Perry and Getzlaf are sure to see plenty of Vlasic, Braun and the Couture line. Those match ups probably lean in Anaheim’s favor, as the Sharks’ shutdown unit hasn’t been all that impressive. An undercard match up to watch will be the Sharks’ third line of Timo Meier, Chris Tierney, and Kevin Labanc. Explosively offensively, inept defensively, they’ll square off against Adam Henrique, Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie, an equally dangerous depth line for the Ducks. The Sharks’ entire bottom-six offers a formidable opponent for any team’s depth forwards and defensemen, and it is these bottom-of-the-roster matchups that give the Sharks a slight edge in this category, as a healthy Kane and that top line have shown they slow down for no one.
  • Goaltending belongs unequivocally to Anaheim. This is rather unfortunate, as hot goaltending and shooting can carry teams deep into the spring.
  • Special teams could go either way, as well. Though numbers suggest San Jose’s power play is more likely to break through Anaheim’s penalty kill than vice versa.

With the exception of goaltending, each of these key matchups could go either way. It’s easy to see why Vegas and statistical models alike see this as an even matchup. The models that favor San Jose likely weigh offense heavily, as it is there where the Sharks excel and where the Ducks offer more meager results. The average series goes six games, but with the better team on the road and swallowed whistles later in series — negating a Sharks’ advantage — I wouldn’t bet against this going the distance. Winner-take-all game seven in Anaheim should be exciting.