The San Jose Sharks had it all last night – scoring chances galore, strong team defense, solid goaltending – they had it all, except for two points.
With 40 seconds left, Brayden Schenn tied it. With a minute left in overtime, David Perron won it. In a matter of minutes, a feel-good 2-1 San Jose victory turned into a “gut punch” 3-2 overtime loss.
In another season, you might just chalk this up to just one of those games. But in a 56-game season where the Sharks have won just two of 15 in regulation, they may have lost an important point.
Despite an admirable four-line effort – I can think of Grade-A scoring chances from every San Jose Sharks line at 5-on-5, which hasn’t always been the case this year – they just couldn’t scare up another goal. It was the story tonight; it’s been the story all season.
So can the Sharks flip the script? Outside of the top-three, the West Division does appear weak. By Points Percentage, the Minnesota Wild are fourth in the West at .538 – they’re the weakest fourth-place squad in the NHL, behind Edmonton at .556 in the North, Chicago at .611 in the Central, and Washington at .633 in the East.
San Jose at .467? They’re right there…for now.
Who Are the Sharks?
There’s been a lot of talk about the San Jose Sharks’ identity recently. What is it?
During training camp, San Jose was said to be a faster team.
And they are – but it hasn’t manifested itself in a greater share of Scoring Chances Off the Rush. Per SPORTLOGiQ, going into tonight, the Sharks had won this battle in just five of 14 games and had only a 46.2 Scoring Chances Off the Rush % in All Situations.
This figure isn’t better at even strength, it’s 44.2 %.
But San Jose flipped the script on St. Louis, blowing by the Blues with a 9-2 Scoring Chances Off the Rush advantage in regulation tonight. While it didn’t lead to any pucks behind Jordan Binnington, chances off the rush created pressure and momentum for the Sharks for most of the night.
“The one thing we did well tonight was enter through the middle. It obviously makes your offense off your entries a lot more dangerous,” Bob Boughner offered. “When we did kick it out, we had guys going to the net.”
This isn’t an exact example:
Liked this play: Good read by Burns to attack, Dunn doesn't contain hard-charging Burns's stick, Leonard does nice job getting puck into Burns's wide "shot radius" pic.twitter.com/7n84t65f6c
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 19, 2021
But in principle, it’s what Boughner was saying: John Leonard (43) entered through the middle, pushing back the St. Louis defense. They forced Leonard to the outside – in principle, kicking Leonard out – but Brent Burns (88) pressed the attack down the gut.
Of course, this is all meaningless if this is just a one-night thing: But what if it wasn’t?
Let’s go back to training camp, where speed was topic du jour. During the regular season, however, San Jose has talked more about hanging onto the puck i.e. Offensive Zone Possession Time. And they’ve struggled more in this department than in creating chances off the rush – according to SPORTLOGiQ, they’re 27th in the NHL with a 4:54 ES OZ Possession Time Per 60.
Of course, it’s not just being one thing or another. Ideally, the Sharks want to be fast and hang onto the puck more.
But if they were to choose? What’s closer to San Jose’s best identity?
Looking over their personnel – additions like Matt Nieto, Ryan Donato, and Leonard, the growth of Dylan Gambrell, Noah Gregor, and Mario Ferraro, the continued presence of Erik Karlsson, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, and Tomas Hertl – this appears to be a squad with more potential fast than slow. Of course, forwards like Kane, Meier, and Hertl, defenseman like Burns, can easily play it both ways.
Boughner’s line-up decisions, in general however, seem to suggest that he’s prioritizing speed. Of course, he’s sincere when talking about hanging onto the puck – like I said, you can do both things – but he seems to want a fast team over anything.
Stefan Noesen’s usage might be an example of this. Last season, Noesen was a fixture in the line-up after his San Jose Sharks debut on Dec. 21; he didn’t miss a game. His grittiness, energy, and all-around game were welcome additions to a shallow Sharks forward group.
You might’ve thought he’d be a regular in the line-up this year. But he hasn’t, drawing into just five contests.
Noesen has noticed. When he was inserted back into the line-up on Monday, the winger noted, of his frequent scratches: “It’s just the way that line-ups have been drawn up, they wanted a little bit more speed and skill.”
So Bob’s trying. And tonight, between San Jose’s rule of the rush and goals from young, skilled speedsters like Leonard and Gregor, it almost worked.
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