It’s a tale of two teams.
In October, the San Jose Sharks went 4-8-1. They were arguably the worst team in hockey.
So far in November, San Jose has gone 7-3-0. They’ve been arguably one of the best teams in hockey.
The score and venue-adjusted underlying stats at 5-on-5 support this narrative — to a point.
A little past the quarter mark of the season, it’s hard to figure out what to make of this Sharks squad. But some intriguing trends and numbers have emerged — let’s take a gander, from up front to Martin Jones.
On the way, perhaps we’ll answer some questions, such as is Barclay Goodrow for real? What’s going on with Joe Thornton? And how can Martin Jones be so good on the penalty kill, but so bad at 5-on-5?
The captaincy hasn’t been the only void that Couture has filled in Joe Pavelski’s place. After Tomas Hertl, Pavelski was San Jose’s second-most used faceoff man. The right-handed Pavelski was also the team’s primary faceoff man on the right side — the left-handed Hertl took the bulk of the left side draws.
With Pavelski gone, Couture is taking, on average, over four more draws a game, going from 7.5 Faceoffs Per Game last year to 11.8 this season. Couture trails only Hertl’s team-leading 17.3.
However, Couture hasn’t replicated Pavelski’s success, winning just 46.9 percent of his draws this year, down from Pavelski’s 53.2 last season. Historically too, Couture is not a great faceoff man, winning just 48.4 percent of his career draws.
So this might be a small area where the Sharks can eventually look to the outside for improvement. Like Hertl, Couture is left-handed, meaning San Jose doesn’t have a reliable right-handed strong-side faceoff man. At the moment, Dylan Gambrell is the team’s only right-handed pivot.
Like I said, it’s a small concern for a team with much larger problems.
Another notable Couture stat is the fact that he hasn’t scored a power play goal so far this year. That should correct itself shortly, as his individual shot and scoring chance rates at 5-on-4 are in line with past results.
It’s easy to dismiss Goodrow’s six 5-on-5 goals — tied for the team lead with Kevin Labanc — and 19.4 overall shooting percentage as “puck luck.”
After all, Goodrow came into this season with an underwhelming 8.2 shooting percentage. For what it’s worth, however, the versatile forward enjoyed a 14.4 shooting percentage in the AHL.
This suggests some shooting talent that might be getting unlocked at the NHL-level. At the very least, while Goodrow is miscast in the top-six, the 26-year-old might be a legitimate third-line forward in the years to come.
One scout, however, countered, “I still see him as a solid fourth-line player on a deep offensive team ... Wouldn’t put my money on him scoring 20, more around the 10-15 range.”
Another scout noted, “The pace is not sustainable. Of course, anything can happen, but 15 goals will still be a stretch.”
This scout added, touching on Goodrow’s elevated AHL shooting percentage, “I watched him a bit in the AHL. He was less of a skill guy than he was hard-working and strong.”
According to this scout, Goodrow scored more of his goals in tight in the AHL, “He can get to the net better versus smaller, younger and weaker defenders in AHL. Has more trouble versus NHL defenders who have a great defensive stick and strength. He’s not a talent that can beat a defender with dynamic talent, speed or strength near as much as he can in AHL.”
This doesn’t bode well for San Jose’s reliance on Goodrow in a top-six role.
Couture or Hertl are commonly considered San Jose’s most important forwards, but Kane deserves mention too. He leads all forwards with 19:50 Time on Ice Per Game, up from 18:25 last year. He’s indispensable in all situations.
Notable, of course, is how Kane has taken Pavelski’s net front position on the top power play unit. Kane’s seven power play goals — already a career-high — is well on the way to matching Pavelski’s 12 from last season. He also leads the league with four tipped goals.
Interestingly, Kane’s 0.45 Penalties Drawn Per 60 is a career-low, well below 2016-19’s combined 1.06. It’s just pure speculation, but did referees take notice of Kane’s preseason rant against linesman Kiel Murchison? For what it’s worth, Kane’s 1.06 Minor Penalties Taken Per 60 rate is also a career low.
Labanc was the Sharks’ most productive power play forward — his 5.91 Points Per Game at 5-on-4 over the last two years leads the team. He’s off to a slow start this season at 2.73.
However, the underlying numbers suggest that Labanc isn’t hurting the top power play unit. With the playmaker on the ice, San Jose’s power play is experiencing healthy Corsi (124.8 this year, 117.6 last year) and Expected Goal Per 60 (9.83 this year, 7.84 last year) rates at 5-on-4.
Marleau has provided a shot in the arm for a shallow forward corps, but his shot attempt rates have continued to drop. Last year, he suffered decade-low Individual Corsi and Shots Per 60 rates:
Those figures are still sliding in San Jose, as Marleau is attempting just 8.34 Individual Shot Attempts and 5.33 Shots Per 60 at 5-on-5.
What does this mean? For one, the 500-goal scorer’s value doesn’t appear to be so much his shooting now. To his credit, Marleau has adjusted, contributing in other ways.
Meier’s lack of production this season has caused much consternation, but his Individual Shot Attempt and Scoring Chance rates at 5-on-5 are level with previous years, suggesting that goals are coming. It’s on the power play where Meier’s underlying stats are most concerning:
What’s going on with Meier’s reduced shooting and high-danger scoring chance rates? Let’s get back to this later.
Radil has been maligned from all corners this season, punctuated by Peter DeBoer opting to play a seventh defenseman over him in Las Vegas on Thursday.
It’s a far cry from last year, when Radil showed enough to earn himself a one-way contract.
One clear area of decline in Radil’s game is his propensity for attacking the net. Last year, the 6-foot-4 forward averaged 7.58 Individual Scoring Chances and 4.1 High-danger Corsi Per 60 at 5-on-5. This season, those numbers have fallen to 3.97 and 1.49, respectively.
Sorensen is shooting enough, but he’s scored only one goal in his last 15 games.
Considering he and Joe Thornton form the backbone of the third line — and Thornton hasn’t scored a goal yet this season — this is indicative of San Jose’s lack of forward depth.
Thornton about to cross uncharted territory: If he doesn't score a goal tonight, at 22 games, it'll be his longest goal-less streak to start a season since his rookie year (1997-98, 21 games)— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 20, 2019
We’re at 23 games and counting now.
The Hall of Fame playmaker hasn’t made up for this goal-scoring drought with assists either.
The last time Thornton failed to eclipse double-digit points through the first 23 games of his season was his sophomore campaign in 1998-99 (2 goals, 6 assists).
While it’s not fair to compare the 40-year-old’s current production to his prime seasons, that double-digit mark was also easily attainable in the immediate past: After 23 games, Thornton had 15 points in 2015-16, 13 in 2016-17, 15 in 2017-18, and 12 last year.
One cause for this diminished production is Thornton’s one power play assist this season. As you can guess, this isn’t the norm for Jumbo.
Using Couture as a proxy — Thornton and Couture have played little together on man-advantage over the last two years — you get a sense of the gap between San Jose’s two power play units right now, in terms of production.
This wasn’t the case last season.
It’s not fair to lay this all on Thornton — obviously, the second power play unit has lost a lot of talent, from Kane’s promotion to Gustav Nyquist’s departure. Adding Marleau and Dylan Gambrell to this group hasn’t been a net gain yet either.
All these events may also be related to Meier’s aforementioned power play struggles.
But regardless, it’s fair to wonder how close the 40-year-old is to the finish line. One scout intimated that Thornton, already not the most fleet of feet, has lost even more speed this year. While Jumbo has certainly never relied on his speed to dominate, the biggest, strongest skater still needs to be able to keep up.
Burns has taken 11 minor penalties so far this season, after 12 all last season. While last year’s 12 was an outlier — Burns averaged 22 from 2015-18 — this current penchant for penalties is a trend that should correct itself.
Of greater concern is the drop in Burns’s shot rate at 5-on-5:
This is also a concern with Karlsson:
I wrote about this issue with San Jose’s star defensemen in late October — while Burns’s figures rose in November, Karlsson’s have kept dropping.
I believe this is indicative of a Sharks squad that still hasn’t found its way entirely.
A point shot-based offense that isn’t producing point shots isn’t on the road for long-term success.
One of the great mysteries about Jones is how he can be so effective on the penalty kill and so deficient at 5-on-5.
This season, Jones’s 4-on-5 Save Percentage (.924) is actually higher than his 5-on-5 (.869). Even last season, Jones was last in the league in Save Percentage at 5-on-5, while being in the top third at 4-on-5. Since Jones joined the Sharks in 2015-16, his .892 Save Percentage at 4-on-5 is seventh in the league (of 51 qualified goalies, 500+ 4-on-5 minutes).
“Most stuff that comes on the power play comes in zone, from a set-up, a standard set-up for most teams. If you’re more successful that way, you’re probably reading the play. You’re able to see the play develop, coming from a fairly standard power play set-up. Most teams use the same power play,” a former NHL goaltender offered. “They’re just better at playing in-zone plays than plays off the rush ... Almost a stationary set-up, really.”
This goalie added, about Jones’s penalty-killing success, “He’s experienced, been in the league for a while. Penalty kill, there’s a predictability to it. You start to know who the shooters are, where they’re setting up.
“He’s a fairly conservative goalie with his positioning. He’s not going to be out aggressively attacking the puck, so that probably bodes well for the lateral plays that are going to happen on a power play.”
This doesn’t help the Sharks at 5-on-5, but might shed some light on how Jones fits San Jose — and how he may not.