Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Game 3 - WCQF at Ponda Center

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

This is a solo edition of Cold Hard Stats.

While reading the Monday hype for tonight's game, I came across two things that contradicted what I think I know about the Sharks:

The first was McLellan's insistence to The Hockey News that he had no intention of changing the way his team plays as they were "one goal behind in both games, with - in my opinion - more chances."

The second was Pronger's quote to The LA Times, which estimated that, "They have a very potent power play and at some point they're going to explode."

Now, the Sharks hit some injuries and a scoring drought midseason, though they seemed to climb out of it before the trade deadline. Still, to my recollection, they hadn't won many games by multiple goals down the stretch, and they struggled heavily both on the power play and at even strength against Pacific Division teams. If that's true, it would make McLellan's quote sound rather silly, and confirm Pronger's quote to be more of a sports platitude than anything else. Let me use some statistics from the months of March and April to illustrate my view on this.

McLellan's Quote
For the months of March and April, McLellan's Sharks went 11-8 with 2 overtime losses. Three of those wins came by way of Shootout and one in OT. That gives the Sharks a regulation record of 7-8.

Of those 7 wins, only 2 were decided by a goal differential greater than 1, and the 3-1 victory over the Avs on March 22nd included an Empty Net goal by Setoguchi. That means that for the months of March and April, the Sharks won just ONE game where their opponent was not in striking distance when the horn sounded.

Now, McLellan could be saying he's staying neck and neck with a good team, and his team has the opportunity to win these games if not for the unlucky bounces-- but shouldn't Carlyle be saying that? Since when does a Presidents' Trophy team hang its hat on staying with an eighth seed (even a great eighth seed)?

Again here, let's go back to the March and April records. The Sharks dropped 8 games to teams that were 6th or lower in the Western Conference standings, including 2 losses to the Coyotes, who were cycling in minor league players. And of San Jose's 4 wins after regulation, one came in overtime against MIN and three were decided in shootouts against LA, COL and NSH (all teams placed 6th or lower at game time).

San Jose had the luxury of finishing the season against teams that were missing or were in danger of missing the playoffs, and they notched ONE convincing win. You can argue that a malaise came over the team, as they had clinched a playoff spot and were staring at an easy schedule, maybe surprised by teams with something to play for down the stretch. But that malaise is only okay if you snap out of it when the playoffs start. You DEFINITELY shouldn't be proud that you're STILL playing that way. Carlyle should be happy that these games are close; McLellan should be upset.

Pronger's Quote
Don't get me wrong, the Sharks have a great power play. They're stacked with talent and maybe only 3 teams in the league can hold the zone and move the puck as well as they do. But in a series where the Ducks are stymieing the Sharks' offensive zone entry, you have to wonder if Anaheim hasn't also figured out how to defuse much of the explosiveness of San Jose's power play after it sets up in the Ducks' end.

Let's go back to the March and April stats. In that block of time, San Jose played 10 games against the Pacific Division, going 5-5, and 11 games against the rest of the Western Conference. In those 11 games, San Jose matched up with teams like MIN, CGY, NSH and STL-- all top 10 in PK% in the league. The Sharks went 10 for 37 (27%), commensurate with their season total of 24.2% with the man-advantage.

However, against the Pacific Division, the Sharks went 10 for 52 (19.2%). And if you factor out the 3 for 7 showing April 11th against the Kings, the Sharks power play would have tallied 15.6%. Now, a 20% power play is nothing to scoff at, but consider that in the Pacific Division, only LA and SJ have competent PK stats this season. ANA, DAL and PHX all placed 23rd or worse when down a man. Yet, these teams were comfortable taking 52 penalties against the league's 3rd best power play?

I doubt ANYONE could beat the Sharks giving up 6 penalties per game, but the fear of an explosion implies you've showed this power play some respect before. You haven't, and with Phoenix beating San Jose 4-1 while turning them away 0 for 6, something on these Pacific Division scouting reports probably says you shouldn't.

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