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Can Fans Help a Team’s Performance? Marleau, Dubnyk Say Yes

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“We couldn’t have done it without the fans.”

Honestly, I always thought that this was just a sports cliché. I mean, when did 17,000 fans shouting “Shoot!” on the power play ever help?

But there is no doubt that the San Jose Sharks are missing the fans, and not just their own.

Funny enough, it’s because of SPORTLOGiQ, a leading sports analytics company, that I’ve landed on this conclusion.

It started with something obvious: The Sharks, and six other non-playoff teams, hadn’t played a game in 10 months. Even the 24 post-season squads each had three to five-month hiatuses. Naturally, they were going to be rusty after that much time off, shortened training camps on top of it all.

This SPORTLOGiQ stat reflects that: The Sharks are 31st in the NHL in Even Strength Odd-Man Rushes Against. That’s nothing special, of course, it just means San Jose’s team defense is awful. But check this: Their 6.89 allowed per game is almost double their 3.97 ES Odd-Man Rushes Against last year. And that 3.97 was unremarkable, 23rd in the league.

But the NHL median is where the contrast between this season and last is even more stark: On average, each team gave up 3.63 ES Odd-Man Rushes Against last year. So far this season? That number has ballooned to 4.49, nearly an extra odd-man rush allowed per game.

“I do think it’s a little bit of rust for some teams,” San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said. “I don’t want to say summer hockey, but a wide-open kind of mindset.”

That’s the clear reason.

But Patrick Marleau, veteran of the 2004-05 and 2012-13 lockouts, and Devan Dubnyk, 2012-13 Oilers’ starting goalie, both unprompted, arrived at the same answer, besides rust, for not just the San Jose Sharks’ but the league’s generally sloppy play this year.

“Not having fans in the stands adds a different aspect to the game,” Marleau offered. “That might be playing into a part on why there’s these high-scoring games.”

Just tonight, there were three games with a combined 10-or-more goals scored.

“The feeling of having a full arena, that sense of urgency, that’s how we all grew up playing,” Dubnyk shared. “Obviously, everybody knows the games are important and every play is important. But I think when you got an empty building and it’s dead-silent, you might not instantly feel that same feeling.”

Sound, indeed, is a relatively unexplored aspect of how a high-level athlete engages with his or her environment. Can the right sounds boost an athlete’s performance?

But I digress: Boughner thinks that the play, slowly but surely, is cleaning up, “Every team playing is starting to play with more structure. Everybody is feeling more comfortable with their systems.”

The San Jose Sharks, like the rest of the league, will also have to get comfortable with few – or zero – fans in the stands. That doesn’t mean they won’t miss them.

“It’s funny. Even just having a small amount of fans that they let in, in Arizona, makes a really big difference for what it feels like out on the ice,” Dubnyk said. “Hopefully, more and more places can start letting in small amounts of people to begin with. That’ll help.”

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