Shark-Infested Blogger

May 24, 2010 3:57 PM

Sharks Lack the Will To Crowd the Net

There it is: Plain and simple, the Sharks lack a net presence.

Opposing goalies always outplay the Sharks, and it is not because they have the better goaltender. It is because their team always places a higher premium on fighting for the real estate in front of the crease, the place every commentator and analyst re-affirms must be done to win in the NHL playoffs.

Offensively, the Sharks will go to the side of the crease. They got several goals off rebounds because someone was there, but in the 40 goals scored over the entire playoffs, there was one goal scored because a forward was stationed in front of the net so the goalie could not see the shot. There were a couple times the Sharks got a shot through that was unseen because of a defender. That's it.

And that's the point: San Jose was the fourth-ranked offence in the regular season, at 3.13 goals per game. In the playoffs they scored 2.67; a key goal here and there in this series, and the Sharks are tied 2-2, maybe even up 3-1 if the overtime went the team's way.

The kind of key goal Dustin Byfuglien either got or enabled by his screen in all four games. The Sharks outplayed the Blackhawks in most areas in this series, which is partially why and partially because they had five more power plays. The Sharks had nine more shots on goal (and two fewer missed), ten more hits, and plus-seven in faceoffs won.

But the Blackhawks did take a massive edge in giveaway to takeaway ratio (+25). But in the last two games, the Sharks were only minus-five, and considering the Sharks edge in the faceoff circle in the two games they combined to go minus-20, they never had more than six fewer possessions, and that was in the game they did not lose the giveaway-takeaway ratio.

Thus, while obviously a dozen extra possessions matter in a four-game series, this was not when won or lost the Sharks games. Sure, turnovers may put a team at a higher chance of yielding a scoring chance than a faceoff, but not drastically.

What made the difference was the extra goals that Chicago scored through screens. Buff alone did this for three goals--two of his own and another from the other words, by himself in four games he did what the entire Sharks team did not do in 15.

Add those extra three goals to the one that came with an empty net was 80 percent of the margin for the entire series.
If this team fought off Chicago better or forced themselves in front of the net as well as Chicago, they might well have won this series. It was something they said was important after last season's early departure, and something they kept talking about after losses in each series, and even after a win. But it was something that did not get done.

2940489539_c56ac0ffc5.jpgThat is why statistically goalies consistently outperform Evgeni Nabokov. It would be too simplistic to blame that on a goaltender who makes more saves in the post-season than he does in the regular season, even though I know some will.

Over his career, Nabby has better than a .600 point percentage, a .912 save percentage, and 2.39 GAA in the regular season. And he is not a post-season choker: Other than the better competition and no points for overtime losses causing a drop in point percentage (and the missing presence in front of him), his stats improved in the playoffs: .513 winning percentage, .913 save percentage, and 2.29 GAA.

Now let us take a look at the guys who out-performed him (remember he did not play in 2006):
  1. Chris Osgood may be great in the Stanley Cup Finals, but they did not play the Sharks that late. In fact, Osgood was not even his team's starting goalie in the regular season or the beginning of the playoffs. His regular season point percentage is virtually the same, his GAA is 0.10 higher, his save percentage is seven points lower. Even with his finals magic, Osgood's playoff resume is not much better than Nabby's: Ozzie's winning percentage is 61 points higher, his save percentage is three points higher, and his GAA is 0.20 lower.
  2. Marty Turco has a lower winning percentage, a save percentage a point lower, but a GAA 0.08 lower. His post-season numbers involve a winning percentage 66 points lower, a save percentage one point higher, and a GAA 0.12 lower, with most of that edge coming in that series.
  3. While Jonas Hiller has proven himself in international play, he was a rookie when he made Sharks shooters look silly. Even so, his edge over Nabby is questionable considering the small sample size. In the regular season, he is more than 50 points lower in point percentage, eight points higher in save percentage, and has a GAA 0.10 higher than Nabby. Take away the series the two faced off in, and Nabby has a better post-season record, GAA, and is only about a dozen points lower in save percentage.
  4. Craig Anderson had a regular season point percentage over 100 points lower, a save percentage a point higher, and a GAA 0.38 higher. He was a playoff rookie, but had a save percentage seven points higher than Nabby.
  5. Jimmy Howard was a rookie who came in with a lower regular season point percentage but ten points higher in save percentage and a GAA 0.07 higher than Nabby's career numbers. While he only outperformed Nabby statistically, he should not have been able to finish 22 points higher in save percentage and 0.40 better in GAA.
  6. Antti Niemi is another rookie, and it is impossible to know how good he really is with such a small sample. But while his career regular season winning percentage is about 100 points higher and his GAA is 0.07 lower, his save percentage is three points lower. Coming into the series, he had gone 8-4 (much better than Nabby's 40-34), but his GAA was 0.30 higher and his save percentage four points higher.
In other words, taken on the whole, not one of these players looks like a better goalie than Nabby, but each was better than him statistically head to head. That makes it obvious the Sharks are deficient in the battle in front of the net, and there is no reason to think this personnel will adapt when they have not done this for four consecutive post-seasons...I will talk about personnel moves more in the future.

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