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Quick Thoughts: Sharks ARE Hard to Play Against

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Credit: NBCS Bay Area

The San Jose Sharks are hard to play against right now.

Bob Boughner was ridiculed online last night for saying that after San Jose’s third-straight loss, a 2-1 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

But in many significant stats, you’ll see a different Sharks team than you saw in January.

San Jose was 3-5-0 through January with a -11 goal differential. After a week off and some tweaks to their game, since Feb.5, the Sharks are 8-8-4 with a -8 goal differential. Okay, that’s just a little better.

Through January, per Natural Stat Trick, San Jose had a 43.77 Expected Goals %, a 45.34 Scoring Chance %, and a 42.06 High-Danger % at 5-on-5. Since Feb. 5, the Sharks have a 50.95 xGF %, a 50.0 Scoring Chance %, and a 52.25 Scoring Chance %. Essentially, they’ve become a break-even squad in terms of shot quality. That’s a lot better.

Naturally, even Save % has improved. Through January, San Jose had an .879 Save %. Since Feb. 5, the Sharks have “enjoyed” a .900. They’ve gone from second to last in the league to below-average.

According to SPORTLOGiQ, before Feb.5, San Jose was 26th in the league in Even Strength Inner Slot Shots on Net For (5.33 Per 60). Now, the Sharks are eighth (6.58). They’re a legitimate offensive force.

Defensively, before Feb. 5, San Jose was 30th in the NHL in ES Shots on Net From the Slot Against (15.2 Per 60) and last in ES Odd Man Rushes Against (6.89). Now the Sharks are 24th in both categories, giving up 13.5 ES Shots on Net From the Slot Against Per 60 and 5.07 in ES Odd Man Rushes Against Per 60. They’re also 12th in the league in ES Inner Slot Shots on Net Against (5.8). They’re not a good defensive group, but they’re getting better.

“We’ve been playing some better hockey lately,” Erik Karlsson offered. “It’s unfortunate that we can’t find ways to win more games, because I think that we’ve done a great job in putting ourselves in positions to being able to win.”

Hello, Fourth Line

Speaking of Ryan Donato, there’s good news and bad news.

Here’s the good:

Here’s the bad: After a long stint on the San Jose Sharks’ top power play unit, Donato was taken off the PP entirely yesterday, which contributed to a season-low 8:38 played.

Donato, just like with the Minnesota Wild last year, has found himself on the fourth line.

It’s probably not an offensive thing: Despite his goal-scoring slump, Donato still shows well in a number of key categories among San Jose forwards. At 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick, he’s third in Shots, fourth in Shot Attempts, fourth in Scoring Chances, and second in High-Danger Attempts Per 60. In addition, he’s second in Rush Attempts and Rebounds Created Per 60.

He’s in the middle of a lot of offense, even though his 1.49 Points Per 60 at 5-on-5 is just eighth among Sharks forwards. But on one side of the puck, he’s more or less as advertised.

It’s, as you might expect, the other side of the puck where Donato is having some issues.

“We talk a lot about his detail,” Boughner said. “Being tighter in the d-zone and better along the wall.”

Kevin Labanc knows the struggle of being an offense-first winger trying to make it in a defense-first game: “He knows what he has to do to get out of the doghouse, so to speak. You just gotta do the little things right.”

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