The San Jose Sharks have statistically separated themselves from the pack in many good and bad ways
The San Jose Sharks are a strong team statistically. However, statistics can be misleading or almost insignificant altogether when taken out of context.
For instance, is there no more useless stat in all of sports than the batting average? What are three singles and seven ground-ball outs that do not move a runner up (.300 average) compared to two homers and two walks, an RBI bounce out, plus two other times runners were advanced?
On-base percentage and slugging percentage are better statistics, yet the one often cited is the least important.
This is like the NHL's fascination with points, as though a team one point up is actually ahead of a team with two games in hand. Moreover, this is a league where the club average is over one point per game because of overtime losses.
It is the same way with special teams. A team's output on the power play is already part of its overall offense and leaning toward the team with the best power play is countervailed when its opponent stays out of the penalty box.
At the same time, there are other figures that do not get the publicity but are very significant—whether for just one team or anyone in the game.
Here are the five defining statistics of the 2013 Sharks.
The game literally begins on a faceoff. And unlike the jump ball in the NBA, it continues to be a mainstay of NHL games throughout, coming into play about once a minute on average.
The Sharks are a puck possession team, so they naturally put an emphasis on this skill. They have two of the best faceoff artists in the NHL over the last two years in Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, and five other players were over .500 in the circle until Michal Handzus was traded.
Since they can put more than one player on the same line that can win draws, it makes sense that they would have the second-best faceoff percentage in the NHL at 53.7 percent.
It has earned them a whopping 216 more possessions than their opponents, or almost five per game.
The Sharks lead the NHL in blocked shots with 786. When you are the best at something valuable, it is always a telling statistic.
What makes it all the more impressive is that they are (albeit barely) in the top half for fewest shots allowed.
If there is anything that says how much Antti Niemi is worth to the San Jose Sharks, it is the amount of rubber he has stopped. Only two goalies have made more saves during the 2013 NHL season—Ondrej Pavelec and Ryan Miller—than Niemi's 1103 and neither has been nearly as good at stopping the puck.
Unlike wins and goals-against average, this stat is more representative of individual goalie play and not team play. Unlike save percentage or GAA that put as much weight over 23 games as 43, the number of saves accounts for how much he is relied upon as well as how effectively he plays.
Nemo might benefit from good shot-blocking, but he is still relied on more than any playoff-bound goalie in the NHL.
The Sharks have scored only one more even-strength goal than their opponents and been outscored by three in four-on-four situations.
They have made their bread on special teams.
If penalties are not being called in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, that will hurt their outlook.
Not only do the Sharks kill penalties better than all but five other NHL teams, they are short-handed less often than all but seven. They've also tallied three short-handed goals.
Overall, teams have only scored 19 more goals than the penalty kill has managed when the Sharks are short-handed. Meanwhile, the opposite is true on the power play.
San Jose's power play is at over 20 percent, good for sixth in the NHL. They also draw penalties well, with only three teams having more power-play opportunities. Considering the number of chances with the man advantage, giving up four shorties is understandable.
This all combines to give the Sharks 30 more goals scored than their opponents on the power play. Overall, those 11 additional goals amount to almost one per four games this season—one of the highest margins in the NHL.
Only two NHL teams have more giveaways than the San Jose Sharks at 473.
Ironically, they both made the playoffs in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, but there is no doubt a team that does not take care of the puck suffers for it.
Giveaways often mean the puck changes direction more quickly than the team losing it. This creates transition opportunities and odd-man rushes for the opposition.
Even without accounting for anything more than possessions, having nearly 500 giveaways means the Sharks lose every possession they gained from over 300 takeaways as well as their edge in the faceoff circle.