Revisiting the Sharks' performance when trailing

When the Sharks trailed by two goals last season they led the league in Fenwick. Sustainable?

In the 2012-13 season the San Jose Sharks trailed opponents by two goals in 16 games -- a third of their regular season contests (ew). When the 10 opponents in question led the Sharks by a two-goal margin they allowed San Jose to post a league-best Fenwick of 66 percent - 3 percent higher than the second place team, the New Jersey Devils.

San Jose’s prodigious lead-chasing pushed them to ninth-place finish in Fenwick close with a score of 52.41. But what caused the Sharks to turn it on when down two goals? Particularly after they posed a barely-above-average 58.48 Fenwick when down by two goals in the 2011-12 season. The first place I looked was the strength of competition; as you might recall, the Sharks trailed the god-awful Columbus Blue Jackets by two goals THREE TIMES in the regular season last year.

Columbus posted a Fenwick of 41.88 when leading by two goals, which is just a couple of percentage points below the average. That means opponents notched a Fenwick of 58.12 when trailing the Blue Jackets by two goals -- something that probably didn’t happen much to teams not named the Sharks last year. What of the other teams the Sharks trailed by two goals?

ANA 49.96 46.96 40.42 51.93 57.66 48.21
CBJ 44.43 41.88 42.71 52.11 55.8 45.39
CGY 48.05 43.1 41.49 51.32 49.1 48.22
CHI 53.85 55 55.91 61.27 51.35 55.8
DAL 47.91 39.62 45.27 49.36 57.26 47.25
EDM 43.2 45.12 42.82 48.61 49.25 44.48
L.A 57.11 46.13 54.56 57.38 61.42 57.35
MIN 47.74 42.96 48.27 51.37 61.45 48.68
PHX 49.81 44.63 47.76 55.99 50.81 50.23
STL 54.19 39.8 51.64 54.24 50.5 53.91

Of the 10 teams listed, five of the 10 are above-average when leading by two; even if by just a few points. Not a single team is bad enough at protecting a two-goal lead on average to allow a team to put up the gaudy numbers the Sharks did in this situation.

The average Fenwick of the 10 squads when leading by a couple of goals is above average at 44.52 -- but that doesn’t take into account that the Sharks trailed teams worse in these situations, like Columbus, more than once.

If we take that into account and include Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix and Dallas twice -- and Columbus three times (THREE TIMES! I can’t get over that) we get an average Fenwick of 44.63; so an even better Fenwick than before.

Of the 16 games in which they trailed by two goals, they won just two of them, despite the incredible Fenwick numbers. The first was the incredible third-period comeback game against the Coyotes on Jan. 24 and the second came against Edmonton on March 20.

What made this run particularly surprising is that the Sharks were not great in this area in the past couple of years. Over the past three seasons San Jose posted a Fenwick of 58.48 in 2011-12, 52.1 in 2010-11 and 60 in 2009-10. Two of those years were above average, but not by anywhere near the amount that the Sharks posted in the lockout-shortened season.

The Chicago Blackhawks have the highest Fenwick when down two goals in the past five years as they posted an incredible 70.51 in their cup winning season of 2010-11.

The Sharks’ jump in this category could be due to anything from a small sample size (which at least plays a role -- we can blame Gary Bettman for this, too, right?) to the emergence of power forward Brent Burns.

Burns trailed only Dan Boyle in Corsi relative (14.2 and 15, respectively), and landed in the top 40 in the league in the category last season. His relative Corsi the year prior was just eight, in comparison. That put him in the 85 spot amongst skaters who played over 60 games in 2011-12 (I set the bar at 30 games for the 2012-13 season). Joe Thornton led the squad with a Corsi Relative of 14.9 that year, good enough to be seventeenth in the league.

What makes the Sharks’ dominance when down by two goals peculiar is their lack of dominance when down by just one goal, an area they were below average in last year. San Jose posted a relative Corsi of 52.46 last season, nearly a full percentage point below the average of 53.39. It was in part their average display in down-a-goal situations that left them with a basically league average adjusted Corsi of 52.57 percent.

Perhaps last season was fluky -- I certainly hope trailing to the Blue Jackets by two+ goals three times was -- but while we’d all prefer to not see the Sharks trail by two goals, it’s nice to know they throw on the afterburners when they do. I guess.