Wednesday, January 30, 2013

San Jose Sharks Update – 1/30/2013

To say the Sharks have had an unbelievable start to the “2012”-2013 season is quite the understatement.  For those of you who have been in suspended in hypersleep for the last ten days, the Sharks are now 6 (wins) – 0 (losses) – 0 (overtime/shootout losses), already the best undefeated start to an NHL season in franchise history.  In fact, the Sharks have been so dominant, fans and commentators from all around the country have been chiming in to comment on the Sharks’ sheer force, and even to the point of joking how forward Patrick Marleau hit a “slump” when he only scored one goal against the Vancouver Canucks last Sunday.  (This of course, refers to Marleau tying a 97-year-old NHL record of most consecutive multi-goal games to start a season, with four.)

The most evident improvement of the Sharks’ effective play is, by far, their chemistry, the most visible of which being executed by the top line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski.  If statistics are an additional indicator, Marleau, Thornton, and Pavelski are all currently within the top five highest point getters in the NHL so far this season, with Marleau and Thornton tied for #1.  In addition, Marleau is leading the league in goals, with nine (almost double the second highest), and Thornton is leading the league in assists.  Watching Sharks coach Todd McLellan’s assembled lines work in the offensive zone is simply incredible.  Occasionally, watching the Sharks execute an offensive zone cycle and fighting in the corners while even strength is like watching the Sharks execute a power play.  While the Sharks have been lacking in power play production in prior seasons, they currently lead the league in capitalizing on power play opportunities – burying the puck over 35% of the time.  Watch the team work on their power plays.  The tape-to-tape passes are crisp.  The puck movement is fluid.  Pretty rare to see when playing against the best skaters in the world.

If anyone is to understand how the best hockey is played, it is all about chemistry between the players.  Many fans believe that stacking a team with superstars or with young players is the key to victory, but history proves otherwise.  How well can a team pass to one another?  Can players effectively receive bad passes?  Is it easy for players to get open for passes or shot opportunities?  Can the team play well defensively?  These are questions that require answering when it comes to assembling (and executing the abilities of) an elite team.  Through personal experience and through historical data, the best performing teams have been defensive minded teams with strong abilities to move the puck and have amazing chemistry.  Just look at the recent Stanley Cup winning teams as examples.

While the Sharks have recently shown an impressive offensive campaign in these first six games (possibly excluding last night’s game versus the Anaheim Ducks), the defense has been equally impressive.  Besides outstanding goaltending performance (I mean, look at Antti Niemi so far this season), the defensemen have done a wonderful job as well.  One statistic many defensemen pay attention to is blocked shots, a somewhat recent statistic the league has actively recorded, but probably one of the most important overlooked statistics by fans and commentators alike.  Blocked shots have changed the game in a significant way, often having teams rely on elite snipers or masterful tip-ins to score goals.  A common defensive zone strategy is to crowd the net, since, well, the puck cannot exactly go through players.  Even while listening to play-by-play announcer Dan Rusanowsky, the frequency with which I hear “blocked shots” are increasing.  It seems Coach McLellan is learning from the success of other defensively minded teams who have adopted an aggressive “cut off all angles” defense strategy.

(Another note on defense strategies – I will try not to often mention the cheap 1-3-1 defense strategy overwhelmingly executed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as much as I can help it.  That’s a different story for another day)

Overall, I firmly believe the Sharks have developed a successful strategy, and it has shown.  While currently holding a 6-0 undefeated record so far this season, it is also important to note the great majority of the games have been completely dominated by the Sharks, as they currently have been outscoring their opponents 26-10.  This is in direct contract to the equally undefeated Chicago Blackhawks, who have a less impressive 22-13 margin, and in the opinions of many, have been terrific, but not completely dominant, with wins primarily with one goal differences.

Hopefully, over time, I will be able to update more frequently and to provide a game-by-game analysis.  My direction is more to analyze significant statistics and to look at overall team strategies.  If any of you want to see, specifically, who won games, who scored, read obvious information, and to read about bandwagoner/fair-weather “fan” rants from local kids and/or beat reporters, go ahead and use a search engine to find a whole pile of lackluster articles – there’s plenty of those.  The perspective I hope to push is one of playing analysis for the die-hards like myself, the same people who attended games since the Cow Palace days, and have been supporting the Sharks through good times and bad.  I hope you all appreciate this direction, and please feel free to message and/or provide commentary to help me direct my analysis.  As I may have mentioned before, I have created a statistical chart that I am only now starting to use and will eventually post it on this blog publicly for you all to use and manipulate.

The Sharks are at home again, tomorrow night, where they face the Edmonton Oilers (for the second time).  As many of you remember, the Sharks scored six within the first period last week in Edmonton in front of their sellout crowd.  Hopefully, the Sharks can continue their winning campaign at home again, and to beat the Oilers – again.

For those of you itching to see scores and statistics, I will list some below for you to marvel at.  What a tremendous start to the season!

Current record: 6 (wins) – 0 (losses) – 0 (overtime losses), 1 shootout win (an important statistic when it comes to tie-breakers, as a regulation and/or overtime win are more desirable).

Statistics with which either the team or team player leads the NHL:
- Point standings – 12 (tied with Chicago Blackhawks)
- Goal differential – 26-10 (San Jose Sharks)
- Points – 14 (Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton)
- Goals – 9 (Patrick Marleau)
- Assists – 11 (Joe Thornton)
- Power Play Goal % - 35% (San Jose Sharks)
- Penalty Minutes – 37 (Ryane Clowe)

(Got to love the last one!)

Until next time, fellow die-hards!  Go Sharks!

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