Wednesday, February 6 was a day off for the weary San Jose Sharks. The only team news came out of Worcester, MA—a weekly update from the minor league club. It was as if everyone associated with the team took the day off—not even any new posts on CSN Bay Area or the San Jose Mercury News.
The day off was sorely needed after the trend this team is in: San Jose went from a three-goal win to two shootout wins to a shootout loss to a regulation loss before losing by two goals for the first time. The blue line let them down in that last loss, and it is no surprise given its medical report.
Top defenseman Dan Boyle has been battling the flu. All Star Brent Burns is still recovering from surgery. The best option to replace him, Jason Demers, has only been back from injury for two games.
Boyle returned Tuesday but was not at his best. He should be full strength by Saturday when the next Sharks game is played. They host the Phoenix Coyotes for the second time in this young season at 1:00 p.m. PST at HP Pavilion. The preview for the home opener ends with a look at the rosters of the two teams.
At that point, there were only two Sharks games to analyze. Now there are now 10 for each team, giving a glimpse of what to expect as the NHL approaches the quarter pole of their condensed season. Phoenix has another game on Thursday and any significant developments will be addressed. Otherwise, the current picture taken when the focus is how these teams compare in each phase of the game will not be appreciably different from the one that follows.
The San Jose Sharks finally got scoring from their checking lines Tuesday, February 5 after none in the first nine games. Tommy Wingels and Michal Handzus both has a goal and an assist, and Joe Pavelski got the first line back on the scoreboard.
For the season, the Sharks average 30.7 shots and 3.20 goals per game. They have cooled on the power play, but still rank in the top quarter of the NHL (seventh) by scoring on almost a quarter of their chances (24.5 percent). They are seventh in the league in five-on-five scoring and even (one per side) in other even strength scores.
The Phoenix Coyotes are good skaters with a philosophy of throwing the puck at the net to create chances. This contributes more to their shots (33.4 per game—second in the NHL) than their goals (2.90 is tied for 11th), but it has the side effect of establishing puck and zone control. They have an above average power play (21.4 percent ranks 13th) and are dead even when both teams are at full strength.
The San Jose Sharks have been playing stifling defense since the last time these teams met. Before allowing big chances in their last game Tuesday, they had gone six games without giving up more than two goals, with just eight total.
Much of this has been the play of the two goalies. San Jose is actually just 14th in shots against with 28.9, but tied for second in goals against with 2.00. They rank second in the circle, too, winning 56.8 percent of draws.
The Phoenix Coyotes stifle other teams differently, keeping shots low. Only two teams allow fewer than their 25.4 average and only one has a better shot differential than they do in getting eight more shots per game than their opponents. But while Mike Smith began the year struggling in net, he has returned healthy and will once again be tough to score on.
There are numbers and there are the numbers behind the numbers. The devil is in the details, and a look at how and why the opponents score and are scored on paints a clearer picture of the contest.
The statistics the casual fan does not pay attention to are grouped as “real time stats” on the league website. Both these teams rank well in many of them through their first 10 games. The one exception is the San Jose Sharks are the second-worst team in the NHL in giveaways with 117; the Phoenix Coyotes are tied for sixth with just 60.
Both teams target off net and look for redirected shots, ranking in the top five in missed shots with 125 for San Jose and 129 for Phoenix. The Sharks are second in the league in blocked shots with 170 and the Coyotes are tied for fourth with 156. Each team is dangerous without the puck, with San Jose being behind just four teams with 71 and Phoenix behind just 10 teams with 65.
The Coyotes are leading the NHL in hits with 278, while the Sharks are just 15th with 211. But San Jose has a plus-20 edge in possessions despite the bad giveaway ratio because of their prowess on draws.
Watch for the Sharks to get more pucks in deep and play a tight game after being disappointed in their defense Tuesday. Their practice time this week should get them sharper in the circle, puck handling and passing if not also shooting. They are more rested. The question is will they be prepared from the outset for the intensity Phoenix brings?