After a promising November, the San Jose Sharks have fallen back down toward the division basement after a loss in Nashville. Losers of five straight, the Sharks head back to SAP Center for a seven-game home stand with three lengthy breaks. Maybe somewhere in those two-, three-, and four-day respites from hockey the team will figure out how to introduce some consistency into their routine. So far this year, that word has eluded the Sharks. Last night’s on-edge contest against Nashville, the road-trip boxscores and season-long standings are evidence of that fact.
Despite grinding out a nil-nil tie in the first period against Nashville, the Sharks deserved a worse fate. A 5-on-5 shot map of that opening frame can do more than 1,000 words ever will, so we begin there.
At 5-on-5 during the first period, the Sharks took just three shots on goal. Full-strength play wasn’t the only sign of impending apocalypse. The team’s struggling power play sent fewer pucks on net than did the penalty kill (albeit in one-third the amount of minutes). Keeping the visiting team in the game were a handful of saves from both their goaltender, as well as skaters, brushing pucks off the goal line just in the nick of time.
The first intermission locker room speech must have been stirring. The Sharks took to the ice in the second a new team altogether. At 5-on-5 during the middle twenty, the Sharks took six shots on goal and allowed just one. Their shots were generally of the high-quality variety, too, generating nearly three-quarters of an expected goal. And, though they did not score, the second-period power play looked much improved from its first-period iteration. After generating nearly nothing early on, the 5-on-4 units took three shots on goal in just over two minutes.
During the penalty-filled third period, the Sharks returned to their misbehaving ways between the whistles, too. Though the middle frame promised to bring a positive late-game outcome, San Jose reneged on their own vows, allowing 10 shots on goal in just 7:41 of 5-on-5 play and taking just three.
When the penalty boxes were filled, the Sharks fared somewhat better. At 4-on-4 San Jose took four unblocked shots and limited the Predators to just two, though those two were of the up-close-and-personal variety. The four unblocked shots the Sharks took were also high-quality, giving the visitors arguably their best chances all evening.
Impressively, the Sharks generated a rate of about 7.9 expected goals per hour of 4-on-5 play. That rate would be good for fourth-best in the league were it sustained over the course of the entire season, suggesting that hope may be on the way for San Jose's floundering man-advantage.
On an individual level, a select few carried play for the entire team. Just six skaters were on the ice at 5-on-5 for more shots than the Predators, and seven skaters helped the team to a decided advantage in shot quality.
The Sharks’ 1B line of Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc helped the Sharks outshoot Nashville 6-2 at 5-on-5 and also held serve in the shot-quality department. Noah Gregor continued his impressive rookie season, helping the fourth line of he, Melker Karlsson and Dylan Gambrell to a slight shot-volume advantage and a decided shot-quality mismatch.
Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Marcus Sorensen likely made the Predators’ players’ eyes light up with excitement each time they took to the ice. In nearly six minutes of 5-on-5 time with that trio on the ice, the Sharks managed just one shot at 5-on-5 and allowed 12. Fortunately, those three kept the bulk of Nashville’s attempts far from Martin Jones’ crease. The team blocked five of those 12 shots and kept the seven unblocked tries to mostly harmless locations.
On the backend, the initial Brenden Dillon and Brent Burns adventure went poorly. In nearly seven-and-a-half minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, the Sharks were outshot 11-3, a deficit that included a 0-6 shot-on-goal margin and a goal against. It remains shocking that the coaching staff deems it necessary to put Burns over the boards for one-third of every game.
Behind that mess, the Sharks were expected to allow 0.87 goals at 5-on-5. Martin Jones gave up one, but it’s difficult to fault him for that small sliver of below-expectation play. At all strengths, Jones allowed two goals on 2.7 expected goals, another impressive outing from a goaltender who has been at least less bad of late.
Last night, the Sharks game was a perfect illustration of the team’s season to date:
- At 5-on-5, the skaters generated a rate of just 34 unblocked shots per 60 minutes, a number that would be league-worst by a bit.
- Those unblocked shots were mostly harmless, amounting to a collective 1.87 expected goals per 60 minutes, another league-worst number.
- The team played well for one period and poorly, or only about average, for two.
- Only half of the forward lines were positive contributors.
- Brent Burns continued to be a major liability in terms of outshooting his opponents.
If Martin Jones has indeed turned things around, then the Sharks can steal more games than expected. But if the team's 5-on-5 and power play performances don’t improve, the second half of this season will be difficult indeed.