The San Jose Sharks defeated the Edmonton Oilers in demanding fashion 5-2 Tuesday and the team currently is sitting in a playoff spot, so everything is going swimmingly for the team right? Not exactly.
Despite earning a spot in the post-season dance so far, the Sharks find themselves in eighth place in the Western Conference, a far cry from their fourth place finish last season, all this having played more games than any other team in the conference.
So despite holding a spot with 33 points and being just a win away from hopping the Winnipeg Jets and tying the Calgary Flames, each of those teams have a game-in-hand on the Sharks. What is even more concerning is the Los Angeles Kings who are just one point behind them, have two games in-hand and the Minnesota Wild who are three points behind them, have four games in-hand, including a tilt Thursday against the Sharks. So a slide down the western conference standings could be on the horizon.
Looking quickly at this year’s team it seems kind of odd that they find themselves where they are, as there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reasons for the drop in the standings. San Jose currently has the 13th best goals per game average at 2.8 and the 12th goals against per game at 2.57, and though neither are very impressive, neither is terrible either.
However, when you consider last season the team had the sixth highest goals per game at 2.92 and the fifth best goals against per game at 2.35 it all starts to make sense.
The team’s power play has been much more successful this year, firing on a 24.2 per cent success rate, good enough for third in the NHL. This is an improvement from their 20th ranked power play last season. However, their penalty kill has dropped from sixth in the league last season to 12th this year.
The biggest area though where the Sharks are seeing a lack of success is in the possession game, that’s right advanced stats lovers. Last season the Sharks had the third best Corsi-for percentage and the fifth best Fenwick-for percentage both firing at 53.7%. Whereas this season, San Jose’s Corsi-for has dropped to 10th to 52 per cent while their Fenwick-for has dropped to 16th and 50.8%.
The team’s shooting percentage is sitting at almost an identical position to where it did last year, in the 18th spot at 7.47%. However, this is greatly due to a big 5-2 win against the last place Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night where they scored five goals on 24 shots. The offensive outburst shot the Sharks up the list six spots in that category overnight.
Advanced stats aside, making the playoffs plain and simple comes down to winning hockey games and what could be very telling about the this season for the Sharks is who the team has lost to. San Jose has lost five games to teams that looking now could be in the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes in just over six months time. They have dropped two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets who sit 27th in the league standings, one to the 26th seeded Arizona Coyotes, two at the hands of the 28th Buffalo Sabres, and last Sunday a 2-1 decision to the last place Oilers.
The Sharks do not seem to be the same team since their historic elimination from the playoffs last season to the Kings. After taking a 3-0 stranglehold in the series, the team dropped four straight. Management stripped veteran Joe Thornton of the team’s captaincy during the off-season and have been suiting up with four alternates instead. Meanwhile rumors since last season have swirled about the security of head coach Todd McLellan’s job.
It isn’t time just yet to call the team a disaster as they are still in the mix and could very well turn it around, but for a team who has finished atop the Western Conference consistently in the past, this season’s team looks as though they could be in a fragile state of regression.
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Photo Courtesy of EZRA SHAW/Getty Images/AFP