Sharks Gameday: Jack (& Friends) In The Box



4:30 PST
5-3-1, 11 points 2-3-2, 6 points
3rd in Western Conference
10th in Eastern Conference
98.5 KFOX,
Raw Charge

Nothing like a blowout to get the juices flowing.

For one night we forgot about giving up the first goal. For one night we cast aside any concerns about the blueline. For one night we got secondary scoring from some surprising names. For one night we put up with Versus' incessant focus on the Sharks playoff issues. For one night we enjoyed the ride.

Praise be to MSG. It makes everything taste better.

Looking at the road trip as a whole, I'd say the Sharks have played roughly half of their periods at a sufficiently competitive level. The stinkers (Washington, first period against the Islanders, initial ten minutes against the Rangers) haven't buried them for the most part, as the Sharks have been able to score in droves following going down early. Whether or not that's sustainable this season is uncertain, but dammit I'm going to try and enjoy it while I can.

We've covered the issue of getting on the board first here and here. Today we take a look at what's the cause of these anemic first stanzas, along with some underlying numbers that may mean scoring the first goal of the game is only a drop of the puck away.

What follows is various statistics the Sharks have amassed at even strength over their first six road games, broken up by period. The averages are the main number, while the raw totals are in parentheses.

Note: Penalties drawn/taken do not include coinciding minors or fighting majors, as they do not put one team at an advantage. I have also chosen to disclude too many men and puck over the glass infractions, as they do not serve as a good barometer of how hard a team is working to draw the penalty. If you want these included in future editions, please let me know in the comments.

Even Strength Goals

Goals For
0.83 (5) 0.5 (3) 0.5 (3) 1.83 (11)
Goals Against
0.66 (4) 1.0 (6) 0.66 (4) 2.33 (14)
+0.17 (+1) -0.5 (-3) -0.16 (-1) -0.5 (-3)

Even Strength Shots

Shots For
9.66 (58) 7.33 (44) 7.33 (44) 24.33 (146)
Shots Against
7.66 (46) 6.00 (36) 7.83 (47) 21.5 (129)
+2.00 (+12) +1.33 (+8) -0.5 (-3) +2.83 (+17)

Even Strength Penalties

Pen. Drawn
0.83 (5) 2.16 (13) 1.5 (9) 4.5 (27)
Pen. Taken
2.5 (15) 1.16 (7) 0.66 (4) 4.33 (26)
-1.67 (-10)
+1.00 (+6) +0.84 (+5)
+0.17 (+1)

Here's three things that jumped out at me, both in the first period and beyond:

1) The Sharks have been getting the puck to the net at evens. In six road games the Sharks have outshot their opposition every first period except for one, with the exception occurring in Long Island (17-7). That's a real positive trend for a team who had trouble in this regard at the end of last season, but it does raise a red flag- something else must be amiss during the first twenty minutes of play. More on that later.

Qualitatively, one aspect of the San Jose's game that could stand to improve is the breakout. It hasn't quite clicked on a consistent basis this season- we've seen how a strong forechecking team is able to restrict that initial pass out of the defensive end, and concurrently disrupt the fluidity of the rush. The tendency right now is to look for the short pass instead of one up the ice, with a large part of that coming from a less aggressive crop of forwards. They have been supporting the defenseman down low more intently (likely due to the abundance of goals below the circles in the first few games) and that obviously is going to mean a more methodical approach to moving the puck up the ice.

Another thing I wouldn't mind seeing once we work our way into the meat of the season is more activity from the defenseman. Shots from the point were the bread and butter of McLellan's offense last year, and if the Sharks find a way to squeeze more rubber through traffic it will take a lot of pressure off the forwards to create chances. The loss of Ehrhoff obviously has hurt in this regard (well, at least in shots sent in the general vicinity of the net), and coupled with the offensively untested Demers/Huskins pairing, it's no surprise the counting numbers have taken a bit of a dip*. Teams have also done a good job of aggressively attacking the puck carrier at the blueline to to take away shooting lanes, but I have been impressed with the defenseman's reads in this regard- they haven't forced too many shots and therefore haven't had a problem with blocked shots turning into shorthanded opportunities going the other way.

*The blueline had 9.95 shots last season compared to 7.66 thus far.

My guess is that McLellan will continue reigning in everyone not named Dan Boyle for the time being and promote the safe play in order to emphasize defensive responsibility first. And that's something I'm completely fine with.

2) Goal scoring at evens has been marginal. San Jose, god bless em', has managed to take advantage of their ever-dangerous power play. A 34.5% road conversion rate is admirable but, as Jonathan Willis noted last Wednesday, will eventually regress to the mean.

So what picks up the slack? See above. Even strength shot differential has been tilted in San Jose's favor all season long even with the massive shorthanded time in the first period (i.e. gassing guys early). With the amount of prolific scorers at the top of the lineup (Marleau, Heatley, Setoguchi), plausible triumphant returns to the scoresheet from others (Pavelski, Clowe), and welcome surprise of secondary scoring lately, it's not out of the question to expect those opportunities to turn into some more red lights.

3) Slow and steady does not win the race. Yikes. The Sharks have drawn just five penalties in the first period while taking fifteen. Even if you selectively throw out Washington (which, comically, is equal to the amount they have drawn in six games), you're still looking at a 2:1 ratio.

In the wise words of Jamie Baker, the majority of these can be classified as "lazy penalties." Hooks and holds born of skating strides reminiscent of your local 40+ rec league. The interesting thing about it is that this seems to be a malady only found in the first period- moving down the line, we see the Sharks drawing more penalties as the periods progress, and subsequently, getting more chances to cash in with the man advantage. That's when they start to move their feet- not surprising when you sit down to think about it. McLellan must be littering the locker room floor with coals at intermission.

Whether this can be chalked up to "make up calls" is irrelevant, I think- the fact of the matter is, for one reason or another, San Jose hasn't been able to put in a strong defensive effort during the first period in front of Nabokov. I didn't include the special team numbers because it would have been way too much information for me to expound upon (along with the fact that even strength play should be a primary focus), but he's faced shots of 23-12-5 shorthanded on the road this season. That's brutal. Talk about earning your paycheck.

To Sum It Up: The underlying numbers look pretty good, and indicate that if the Sharks stay out of the box in the first period they are set up to win hockey games. Early penalties have a way of catching up to you on the road (momentum, goals against, taking the gas out of your legs, etc.), and expecting Nabokov to carry the team through these lapses the entire year just isn't going to happen. If they find a way to come out and skate from the opening draw it looks like they'll be fine.


Mattius Ohlund will be babysitting Victor Hedman tonight, and I'm pretty excited to see what the kid has to offer during an entire game as I've only been able to catch him in spurts this season. They've thrown him into the fire and given him a lot of ice time (both at ES and on the PK) with which he's more than held his own on a less than spectacular club. I'd expect to see him matched up against Patty, with Ranger-Walker taking on Thornton's line.

Two warm weather hockey teams playing against one another makes for a Grumpy Gribaudo.

Prediction: Sharks win 4-1. A hatty for Boyle with Clowe chipping in. Martin St. Louis misses the first ten minutes of the game to run home after bringing sandals instead of skates.

Go Sharks.