The San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks will drop the puck for the second time this season at 7:00 p.m. PST Monday, February 4 at the Honda Center. Their first contest took place ended with a shootout win for the home team despite the absence of Dan Boyle, but the recap shows they were not the better team outside of the net.
The preview of that game outlines strengths and weaknesses on paper and through four or five games. But the eight games the Sharks have played is one sixth of the season, which would be almost a month in a normal season. NHL teams are developing their 2013 identity and early results are starting to become trends.
Thus, a look at how the teams fare by the numbers is relevant if unreliable. The Ducks trail the Sharks by four points in the Pacific Division but have played just seven games to their rival’s eight. A regulation win Monday closes them to within what would be described as a half-game in sports with locker rooms full of jerseys rather than dressing rooms full of sweaters.
How have the teams gotten here? How do they match in key areas of the game?
The San Jose Sharks came out of the gate scoring almost at will on the power play. In the last three games, the first line has slowed down and the team has managed just five goals because that line has slowed and the checking lines have combined to score exactly no goals in the first eight games. Patrick Marleau has been on the ice for 20 of the 28 goals and one of only five forwards to score even one.
Statistically, the Sharks average 31 shots and 3.50 goals while the Ducks average just 26.9 shots but 3.71 goals each game. They have done it with much more balance and been able to maintain it, with nine forwards and a defenseman scoring at least a point per two games.
No doubt the Ducks have the edge, but it is slight.
Defenses are driven by their goalie. With back-to-back games on opposite ends of California coming and both San Jose Sharks goalies looking strong, it is likely they will split duty. Because the second game is against Antti Niemi’s former team that is fighting with the Sharks for regular season the top spot, he is more likely to start Tuesday.
With a rookie backup goalie, Jonas Hiller is the likely starter for the Anaheim Ducks. Despite early numbers, he is a better goalie than either Shark. But one cannot be sure which will be in net for either team, and the net minding for San Jose has been superior so far, giving them a clear advantage.
The rest of the defensive corps goes to the Sharks, as well. Dan Boyle is the best player on either blue line, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brad Stuart are as good as anyone Anaheim has, and the Sharks have been getting strong play from the depth defenders while Brent Burns heals.
Statistically, the Sharks give up 28.2 shots per game but allow just 1.62 goals. The Ducks give up just 26.9 but allow three goals each game.
Last season, the San Jose Sharks were literally one goal away from having the worst penalty kill (PK) in the NHL. Former Stanley Cup-winning head coach Larry Robinson was brought in (along with defensive coach Jim Johnson) to fix it. Robinson coached the PK that gave up only 12 more goals than it scored last season, helping the New Jersey Devils to within two wins of another title.
Thanks Sharks have killed 26 straight penalties. Two of the five goals they have given up were on extended 5-on-3 power plays.
That is not addressing a problem, it is crushing it.
Meanwhile, the always potent power play started out white hot. It has since cooled but did convert for the first time in three games Saturday night against the Nashville Predators to remain fourth in the NHL at 29.6 percent.
The Anaheim Ducks have not had such a lapse on their power play, converting one in three chances. However, their PK is second-worst in the NHL at 65.4 percent. With only three of four unit playing well, the team with the lagging unit has a significant disadvantage.
Real Time Stats
The NHL tracks but does not market very important statistics that help to bring the basics of scoring and preventing it into sharper focus. The San Jose Sharks have been good in most of those statistics under coach Todd McLellan.
Do the San Jose Sharks only give up 28.2 shots because they control the puck and shoot it 31 times? Sure they are the second-best team on draws, but they also have the second-most blocked shots and are top-10 in takeaways.
Of course, they also are tied for the NHL lead in giveaways and in the bottom half for hits. So how do the Anaheim Ducks compare?
They average 4.6 more hits and prevent one giveaway, but win 8.6 fewer draws, block 3.9 fewer shots and fall a takeaway short. Clearly the Sharks offer the more complete game, but most of the only significant advantage for either team will be lost because the home team has the advantage on draws.