2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Top 5 Reasons San Jose Sharks Are Done
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I fully expect to be shaving not only my beard but my head tonight. That is my response to winning only one game in the playoffs.
There are all sorts of statistical reasons this series is over. Coming back from 3-1 is almost as rare as coming back from 3-0. But the reality is that it's because most of those teams are better.
But the real reasons the Sharks cannot comeback are the same reasons they are in the hole right now.
Is it because the Sharks lack fire? This is the complaint I have had for years, earning a reputation as the most pessimistic Sharks writer on this site.
All I can say is pessimism is about to be 8-0. (I will only be 7-1 as I picked the Sharks to win the Western Conference in 2009.) Their lack of consistent effort was highlighted this season, as the team had three 15-game runs of at least 10 wins and .700 hockey, including one to end the season, but were just 11-22-4 in the rest of the season.
But effort is not the problem in this series. The Sharks have made adjustments in their game to counter the dominance of the Blues in the regular season.
One of the best statistics to showcase effort is hits. San Jose has become a hitting force, delivering a whopping 10.5 per game more than they had through the same number of games vs. St. Louis in the regular season. That represents a 56.8 percent increase, while the Blues hitting is up just 15.1 percent.
There are mitigating circumstances to the hit total increase. Some of them are even other "hustle statistics" in the negative. But you do not get numbers in that kind of increase unless your players are skating hard.
Moreover, there are many other indicators of effort for San Jose: shot attempts and shots on goal are up and they have scored five of their seven goals in the final 5:16 of regulation or OT. Giveaways are up only one, despite more than one additional period, and takeaways are almost doubled (33 vs.17 in regular season).
If the Sharks were better than the Blues, I would still believe in them as Jamie Baker of the Sharks PR firm Remenda, Hahn, Reiss and Baker stated he does after the game. But there is the simple reason the Blues have dominated the Sharks thus far (seven wins and one double-OT loss in eight games): They are just plain better.
A perfect effort gives the more wily, veteran Sharks a chance. But five key areas of their game have let them down in this series, any one of which could have made the difference in the series being 2-2 or even 3-1 in the Sharks favour...
Penalty Kill (Obviously)
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This one is too obvious to spend much time on. The San Jose Sharks have allowed 11 goals in the series (exactly the same as the regular season), and six have been on the power play (one more than the regular season).
Even strength scoring is equal at five a piece, so the difference in the series has literally been special teams. The Sharks won the only game in which they were even in the special teams battle and lost all three they were at a deficit in.
One interesting note: San Jose had the second-worst penalty kill in the regular season, but are only tied for second-worst in the smaller playoff field—with the regular season-leading New Jersey Devils—despite a drop of 14.4 percent on the kill.
Lack of Discipline
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I am not talking about the lack of discipline the San Jose Sharks show defensively that leaves the weak side open, I am talking about all the trips to the penalty box.
The Sharks could reduce their burden on the penalty kill the way they did in the regular season. No team was shorthanded less often than San Jose, who faced fewer than three power plays a game. They averaged under 10 total minutes in the box per game.
They are averaging 22 minutes per game in the playoffs. They have been shorthanded 16 times, an average of four per game and one more time than their opponent.
That means that even at their current terrible PK rate, they would have given up two fewer goals had they been as disciplined as they were during the regular season. In a series in which they have lost two games by one goal, that makes a huge difference.
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The San Jose Sharks entered Game 4 having two power-play goals in 11 chances. People were already calling it sputtering, even though that is 90 percent of their second-ranked regular season rate that included games against penalty kills inferior to that of the St. Louis Blues.
After the team went 0-for-4 Thursday, I have to agree with them. The Sharks were on the advantage an average of over three times per game, or almost the exact same rate of the entire series, considering the extended overtime was nearly an extra half a game.
Two goals through four games is unacceptable. An elite power play does not perform at two-thirds the regular season efficiency once the playoffs start, especially when the other team's PP is setting a more efficient standard.
Lack of Puck Possession
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During the regular season, the San Jose Sharks were second in the league in the faceoff circle. As a puck possession team, this is more important for them than most.
You cannot hold the puck until you get it, and the sooner you do, the sooner you can play your game. There is no earlier time to get the puck than the draw.
The St. Louis Blues are an above average team in the circle, but should not have an edge of nine extra possessions via the draw in the series. They also have 21 more giveaways and only nine more takeaways, but that still gives the Blues 21 additional possessions.
This is mitigated somewhat by 17 extra hits for the Sharks, but a puck possession team will not often win chasing the puck even if they are able to reach a player in time to hit him.
Too Many Shots Against
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Antti Niemi has given up just 11 goals in over 13 periods of hockey. That is an above average performance, as is his .912 save percentage.
The San Jose Sharks have given up fewer than 30 shots in consecutive games, with the only game over 32 being a double-overtime loss. Thus, it would seem they have played pretty well defensively.
However, the Blues are averaging over six more shots per game than they did in the season series. The primary difference is they are getting in front of more shots than the Sharks.
Thursday, San Jose had 18 more shot attempts than St. Louis, but only one more on net. St. Louis blocked more than one shot for every one they let through, and 40 percent of San Jose attempts; the Sharks blocked just seven for every 12 that got through and 29.8 percent of attempts.
For the series, the Sharks are down 21 blocks from the regular season series despite the overtime game, while the Blues are up five blocks. With the shooting percentages of the two teams (8.8 percent for St. Louis and 6.0 percent for San Jose), this represents a swing of 2.15 goals...again, very significant in a series with two one-goal losses for San Jose.