Sharks Gameday: Shooting The Puck



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Yesterday we looked at the chances San Jose was generating over the course of their last three games. Today we take that micro slice and bake ourselves a macro pizza pie in an attempt to understand some of the basics behind San Jose's astounding inability to put the puck in the net this season.

On paper this team has a vast array of offensive weapons at their disposal. And yet they have been shutout seven times, despite leading the NHL in shots per game.

Which areas of the roster have been a let down in the goal scoring department this season? Has it been the defense, the top tier forwards, or the scoring depth? Are there some underlying numbers that indicate hope (a noun loathed more than Corey Perry in San Jose) is on the horizon?

Let's start by taking a look at team-wide shooting percentage over the last three seasons.

San Jose Sharks Shooting Percentage

2010-2011 43
33.6 117
82 2602
31.7 257
82 2720
33.2 251

As we mentioned, the Sharks are currently leading the entire NHL in shots per game, averaging 33.6 shots in each contest they play. And yet they're fifth last in shooting percentage, wallowing in the mire with teams such as Montreal, Buffalo, New Jersey (6.1%!!!), and Ottawa. Any argument that suggests the Sharks have the fifth worst ability to score goals in this league is asinine, its roots ludicrous. Say all you want about shot quality talent (Behind The Net has found it to have very little predictive value at the team level), and hammer home the point about traffic in front-- I still believe in those qualitative observations to some degree, and won't discount it as a factor to the Sharks struggles offensively. They're most definitely there.

But for all the talk about how San Jose has consistently been a poor shooting club, an assertion I'm sure even I have made at some point, these numbers tell otherwise. Last season San Jose vastly exceeded the average shooting percentage of NHL teams. In fact, they were fourth in the NHL with a 9.9 shooting percentage. That isn't a team who is "bad" at shooting the puck. That is a team who made their shots, got the breaks that come hand in hand with playing a volatile game such as hockey, and came out on top (and likely above their heads to boot). It's the inverse of what we are seeing this season-- a team who hasn't made the shots they usually do, haven't gotten the breaks that come hand in hand with playing a volatile game such as hockey, and came out on the bottom (and likely below their heads to boot).

Missing Rob Blake and Manny Malhotra hurts. But if you expect to convince me that Blake and Malhotra have accounted for a drop of 1.8 percentage points when shooting the puck, you're barking up a tree that isn't even in the same state. Their departure has not suddenly caused Patrick Marleau (2nd on the team in shots), Joe Pavelski (3rd on the team in shots), and Dany Heatley (4th on the team in shots) to forgot how to score goals.

Sometimes you get your breaks, and sometimes you don't. The Sharks haven't. If you want to isolate the offensive struggles of the team this season into a neat little package with a bow on top, there you have it.

With team-wide shooting percentage out on the table, now is the time to delve into what type of production the team is lacking compared to last season. Let's take a look at the various categories of the team we usually group players into-- top tier players, second liners, bottom six forwards, and defensemen. This table is averaged out over an 82 game season, so the goals you see in each row are what each grouping would have achieved in a full year at their G/GP pace.

I've italicized a key for both season below the table-- if you get confused about which players are in each category, use that as a reference. Even strength ice time is usually a good indicator of which players are playing where, so I've taken that into account when compiling each category.

San Jose Sharks Forwards Shooting Percentage

09-10 G
10-11 G
Top Tier
Second Line
73 78
Bottom Six
53 44
37 29

Top Tier. 09-10: Thornton, Marleau, Heatley 10-11: Same
Second Line. 09-10: Clowe, Pavelski, Setoguchi 10-11: Clowe, Pavelski, Couture
Bottom Six. All remaining forwards who played at least one game
Defensemen. All blueliners who played at least one game

Not a whole lot of rocket science going on here-- obviously Heatley, Thornton, and Marleau have disappointed in the goals column, and it's quite breathtaking to see just how much that has effected the team. When your top line is on pace to score about twenty five less goals than the previous season it's going to cause absolute mayhem all the way through your lineup. Thornton's even strength production has taken a nosedive this season, and both Heatley and Marleau are currently on pace for less than 30 goals. Hard to complain about the number of shots being generated to the net from the pair, but as the boxcar statistics show you, the Sharks haven't gotten raw results out of this collection of players all season.

At some point this year either Heatley, Marleau, and Thornton are going to all figure it out, or the Sharks are going to have a short spring. It's that simple. Upgrading the blueline, improving secondary scoring within, tweaking coaching schemes-- all of these are secondary to an improvement from HTML in goal scoring.

Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe have obviously been stellar (Couture especially so), deserving of Team MVP honors, and improved on the second line's production last season. If Joe Pavelski's numbers are better the "second line" category blows 2009-2010 out of the water, but alas, Pavelski's nine goals in 36 games has many wondering just what happened to The Big Pavelski

Which takes us back to shooting percentage. Despite playing missing seven games due to injury this season, Pavelski is still third on the team in shots (136 total), only ten behind current front runner Couture. He's in the midst of one of the worst scoring slumps I can remember since Marleau's pre-deadline 07-08 season, converting at a ridiculously low 6.6%. I wrote about this before, but that number is so low for a player with a good shot there's very little chance it continues. He logged in at 11.0% last season and has amassed 9.7% during his career. The goals are going to come provided he keeps putting the puck to the net. You can lump Patrick Marleau in with that statement if you'd like (10.3% this season versus 14.3% career), but Pavelski has been the one San Jose Shark that has consistently received bad luck (and that's what it is) this entire year.

Amongst the defensemen and bottom six forwards, there has been some disappointments-- I think Jason Demers, Jamie McGinn, Devin Setoguchi, Dan Boyle, and Torrey Mitchell can be giving me more offensively, especially with the team hurting for points. Once you get beyond them however, I've been content with the production compared to what you would expect out of each player-- the losses in secondary scoring have been primarily due to McGinn sprouting hands of stone this summer. The losses on the blueline? Rob Blake's shot and Jason Demers' more reserved game. Everything else has begun to balance itself out.

The moral of this story? San Jose's team-wide shooting percentage has taken a nose-dive this year, and while some of that can be attributed to the players, coaching staff, and management, a lot of it also has to do with luck and bounces. Inches separate a goal from a save during some many nights in the NHL. I'm sure every single one of us checks our biases at the door and approaches watching each Sharks game with a scientific mind that doesn't bring in any baggage to that individual contest (right?), but as the old saying goes, numbers don't lie. If the Sharks had consistently been a poor shooting percentage team than the assertion that the roster is lacking in that regard has some weight. But they haven't been.

If I was a betting man, I would put money on the Sharks scoring more goals during the second half of the season than they did in the first half, even with hole they've gotten themselves into the last two games (scoring a mere one goal). If anyone wants to take that bet, let me know-- winner buys dinner.

San Jose has generated far too many scoring chances this season to continue to see the short end of the stick in the shooting department. They're going to break through eventually. It's holding third period leads and complete sixty minute efforts that have me the most concerned going forward, not goal scoring.

Even with seven shutouts already to their name during 2010-2011.

Prediction: Sharks win 3-0. Goals by McGinn, Braun (who was called up today), and Boyle. A Maple Leafs fan throws a waffle on the ice and Niclas Wallin mistakes it for a hamburger, eating it during a TV timeout.