Sharks Gameday: Anatomy of A Losing Streak



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The San Jose Sharks, fresh off a 3-1 loss against the dominant St. Louis Blues in which they failed to record an even strength scoring chance for 35 minutes of play (seriously), are in a slump that is every bit disturbing as it is inconceivable. It's rare for a team with this much talent on the roster to struggle so mightily for such an extended period of time, especially when that team is the San Jose Sharks and the San Jose Sharks are anything but a regular season pushover.

Going off gut instinct and general vibe, this recent streak definitely feels more dangerous then when they backed into a President's Trophy in 2009 and almost certainly has eclipsed last year's six game losing streak in January due to the fact that so many games remained on the schedule and, well, we all know what kind of tear they went on following it.

Glory days. The Boss was right because they sure as hell passed us by.

Everyone is well aware of San Jose's disappointing road trip in which they went 2-6-1 over the span of 17 days, but I think there's a case to be made that this current streak can be traced back to a 4-3 loss on January 15th against the Chicago Blackhawks in the United Center. The Sharks sputtered into the All-Star Break with a 2-3-1 record, dismantled the Blue Jackets and Stars by a combined score of 11-2 immediately following the break, but have gone 4-10-1 since.

In other words, San Jose is 8-13-2 in 23 games since January 15th, a 64 point per game pace spread out over the course of an entire season (!!!). On January 15th they were 4 points behind Vancouver with 4 games in hand. Now it's a 17 point spread with 2 games in hand.

Certainly not the best of runs. So what gives?

Thanks to the power of Vic Ferrari's Time On Ice we can run through the slog and find out where San Jose's underlying numbers lie-- lie being a reasonable word in this case, as unfortunately they've been fine on a team-wide level considering the results.

Specifically we'll be looking at even strength numbers in close games (which are defined as being one-goal leads/deficits early in the game and tied late), tied games (herp), and overall (derp) to see if there's anything we can hang our hats on as San Jose does their best to salvage a Pacific Division title in a year where just making the playoffs is anything but a guarantee.

23 games, January 15th to present day apocalyptica, solely even strength situations.

Let it ride.

First, some context--shots % is the percentage of shots for and against, Fenwick % is the percentage of shots directed towards each net minus blocked shots, CORSI % is the percentage of all shots directed towards each net, save % is the percentage of shots San Jose's goaltenders have saved, shooting % is the percentage of shots San Jose has scored on, and PDO is the sum of their save % and shooting % (PDO regresses to 1000 the more data you acquire).

San Jose Sharks: January 15th-March 6th (Even Strength Situations)

Situation Shots % Fenwick % CORSI % Save %
Close 53.9 53.8 51.2 .895 5.2 947
Tied 55.0 54.5 52.8 .872 5.2 924
Overall 54.3 54.2 52.1 .906 5.9 965

The first thing that jumps out at you here is the obvious. San Jose has received some porous goaltending from Antti Niemi, who has logged a .902 SV% overall in this time frame, and shot at an absurdly low rate, especially when one considers the talent on their roster and historical numbers from both this season and last.

In other words, they either haven't been going to the high chance scoring areas (which data from The Neutral over this time period suggests isn't the case) or they've been getting stymied by good goaltending across the board to go along with missing shots they'll usually make because of bad luck or bouncing one off the chest instead of going top cheese.

Outside of this however, San Jose has performed much in the same way they did before this nasty 23 game streak. To illustrate this, let's look at the data (41 games of it) that stretches from the beginning of the season to January 14th. It may be hard to remember, but San Jose went 25-11-5 during that time frame and looked well on their way towards competing for the Presidents' Trophy.

So what has changed recently? Well, not much, except for goaltending and shooting percentages.

San Jose Sharks: October 8th-January 14th

Situation Shots % Fenwick % CORSI % Save %
Close 52.6 52.0 51.3 .931 7.4 1005
Tied 52.8 52.3 51.9 .918 7.1 989
Overall 54.1 53.4 52.2 .937 7.1 1008

Again, you look at these numbers and get a pretty good idea of what is going on here-- during the first part of the season San Jose was pushing the play in the same type of manner (their "possession" numbers are actually better in close and tied games during their last 23 games for whatever reason, and don't say it's because they're playing from behind because close games and tied games control for that) but they were getting goaltending and they were making their shots.

To put it in simplest terms possible, the San Jose Sharks are performing at roughly the same level as they were at the beginning of the season when it comes to possession. They are outshooting, putting more pressure, and spending more time in the offensive zone than their opposition. These are good things to see compared to a situation where they fall off the map by these metrics, and indicate that this team still knows how to play a game they've worked oh so hard to convince us they forgot.

If there's anything to hold on to in the midst of this run it is that.

This of course does not account for turnovers in the neutral zone that lead to goals against, your goaltender giving up a weak goal early in the game, injuries shaking up line combinations, failing to capitalize on opportunities when they are presented to you, your Head Coach missing three games with a concussion, or the suffocating cloud of defeat that can suck the life out of a locker room.

All of these things have played a major role in how this has gone down-- sure the Sharks (and any other team in the NHL for that matter) can control the play on a wide spectrum, but once your goalie loses his ability to stop the puck, scoring depth dries up, and you start committing turnovers at key moments in the game all of that kind of flies out the window.

Hockey is just as much about "60 minute efforts" as it is about grabbing a moment by the throat and refusing to let it go until things go your way.

They're going to need both of those tonight.

Prediction: Sharks win 5-2. Goals by Marleau, Pavelski, Moore, Braun, and Winchester. I relive past losing streaks from seasons of yore, casually stumbling onto probably one of the funniest things I've ever written (and I'm a funny fucking guy). Damn shame Tom Gilbert isn't playing with the Oilers anymore. I've got some spare POGS lying around he might be interested in.