Have the Sharks been naughty or nice this season?
Naughty or nice list?
Thanks to Saturday night’s win over the Kings, the Sharks entered the holiday break with one fewer point and two fewer wins than this time last season. San Jose’s 43 points through the first 34 games of 2016-17 were good enough for first in the Pacific, while 42 points this season has them third.
They’re only two points clear of their next closest division rival, the Anaheim Ducks, but have games in hand on all of the teams chasing them. It’s not a bad spot to be, all things considered.
The break also provides an opportunity to evaluate the Sharks’ performance up to this point. Since it is the holiday season, we’ll use the same standard as the jolly man himself, and ask whether the team was naughty or nice in key areas.
San Jose’s scored the second-fewest during five-on-five play. They’ve been buoyed by a surging power play, which has lifted them all the way up to...the fourth-fewest goals in the NHL.
In a year where scoring is up around the league, the Sharks have been historically low-scoring at even strength. Out of 331 teams to play since 2007-08, San Jose’s five-on-five scoring rate (1.89 goals for/60 minutes) is 305th, according to Corsica Hockey.
The offense has earned their lump of coal this year.
The defense, on the other hand, has been very good. Only two teams have suppressed shots better than San Jose (28.3 shots against/60) in five-on-five situations, and the Sharks are eighth-best in suppressing five-on-five shot attempts (55.19 corsi against/60).
They haven’t been perfect, allowing the 12th-highest five-on-five scoring chance rate (28.25 scoring chances against/60), according to Natural Stat Trick. But, the defense deserves extra marks for keeping the team afloat when the team struggled offensively at even strength and on the power play.
Of the goalies that played at least 500 five-on-five minutes entering Sunday, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell are 28th and 14th, respectively, in save percentage. Overall, the Sharks are 16th in five-on-five save percentage.
Both Dell and Jones have been solid on special teams, but that isn’t an accurate predictor of future success. Even strength save percentage is, and the Sharks have been just fine in that department.
So far, that’s been good enough, but it may not be if the defense or special teams falter.
Special Teams: Nice
The Sharks have the league’s second-best penalty kill, and are only 0.01 percent off of the NHL’s best mark through this point in the season. After a lethargic start, San Jose now has the league’s eighth-best power play, and have scored a power play goal in eight straight games.
Adding up a team’s power play and penalty kill percentages is a quick and dirty way of evaluating how good they are on special teams, and the Sharks are tied with the Predators for the highest combined mark (108.6). Without such strong performances away from even strength, it’s difficult to imagine San Jose in playoff position at this point in the season.
Given the lack of even strength scoring prowess, the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for keeping the Sharks in contention. Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney have responded to head coach Peter DeBoer’s disappointment in them last season, and San Jose’s special teams turnaround from a year ago has been remarkable.
Sometimes, the lineup decisions have been head-scratching, and the leash is too short at times for their young players. But, DeBoer and his staff have made the most of a flawed roster, and kept the team firmly in playoff contention.
Sharks fans can’t ask for much more than that this time of year.