Are Sharks better than their 7-13-3 record indicates?


There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad going on lately with the Sharks.

That’s about right for a Sharks squad that’s 7-8-3 over their last 18 games after a franchise-worst 0-5-0 start to the 2022-23 NHL season.

There are the obvious positives and negatives about the Sharks’ recent play: Their 3.33 Goals Per Game is 11th in the NHL in this stretch, their 3.50 Goals Against Per Game is 24th.

But let’s pop the hood and take look deeper at what has gone right and what has gone wrong with the Sharks.

Defending Slot Passes

Coach David Quinn has got the Sharks playing a zone defense, a departure from the man-to-man defense that they’ve employed going back to Todd MacLellan.

It has worked, at least when San Jose is able to get their defense set. Per SPORTLOGiQ, from Oct. 20 to Nov. 21, a stretch of 16 contests, the Sharks were sixth-best in the NHL, giving up 10.7 Slot Passes Against Per Game at Even Strength.

Essentially, they’re keeping opposition passes out of the most dangerous areas of the ice.

“The structure always helps," Quinn said. "But I'll always say about defending, it's a want, your desire to defend the puck and understanding, protecting the small rink. If you're gonna be good at something, that's a pretty damn good thing to be good at.”

Giving Up Slot Shots Off Rush

When the Sharks are able to get their defense set, they’ve defended decently.

But too often, they’ve been defending on their heels.

The Sharks are last in the NHL recently, surrendering 7.65 Slot Shot Attempts Off the Rush Against. The best team, by the way, is the surprising Arizona Coyotes at 3.94. So basically, San Jose is giving up about three more shot attempts per game from the most dangerous areas and off the rush than Arizona.

Quinn blamed the team’s carelessness with the puck.

“A lot of our rush chances [against] have come from possession in the offensive zone,” Quinn said. “It's having total control the puck in the O-zone, all of a sudden, there's an odd-man rush.”

Here, for example, is Matty Beniers taking the puck away from Timo Meier high in the offensive zone, kickstarting a Seattle Kraken 3-on-2 the other way that Jaden Schwartz polishes off.

Gaining Zone on Power Play

The Sharks’ power play has been on fire, seventh in the NHL since Oct. 20 with a 26.8 percent success rate.

A big part of that success?

From Oct. 20 to Nov. 21, the Sharks’ 82.8 Power Play Controlled Entry Success Percent is the best the NHL.

Gaining the zone with full possession of the puck is a big part of setting up your power play attack.

Quinn credits, among other things, assistant coaches Scott Gordon and Brian Wiseman, who run the power play, a resurgent Erik Karlsson’s ability to quarterback entries, and Alexander Barabanov’s craftiness with the puck as a drop option.

On a typical San Jose power play zone entry, Karlsson will lead the rush and drop the puck back to either Barabanov or Meier.

“Scott and Brian have done a heck of a job with our units. I think [the players are] understanding finishing routes and just come with speed,” Quinn shared. “When you come with speed, two things happen. A, the penalty kill is a little bit hesitant. And B, you make better decisions. This game isn't meant to be played slow or standing still. And when you go fast, you make good decisions. And I think those two things combined allow us to enter to the capacity that we are.”

Gaining Zone at 5-on-5

On the flip side of the Sharks’ mastery of gaining the zone on the man advantage, they’re 31st in the NHL with a 49.4 Controlled Entry Success Percent at 5-on-5.

They’re the second-worst team in the NHL in terms of gaining the offensive zone with possession.

At first, I thought that this might be by design, that Quinn wanted his charges to play a little more dump-and-chase, safer hockey.

But he corrected me.

“Let's possess it more,” Quinn urged. “Let's not just dump it in and chip it in.

"You want to chip it in, but you can chip it to someone who's coming to support the play too. A lot of times we just dump it in, and we got no chance to recover it.

“There's got to be a lot of purpose to what you do when you get rid of the puck. We've got to be more purposeful in that area.”

RELATED: Too many things must go right for Sharks to win games

I think it’s clear that the Sharks are better than their 0-5-0 start. But what’s not clear is if they’re better than the basically .500 team that they’ve been since that disastrous beginning to the season.

The winning formula seems simple enough though: Keep defending the slot hard, score on the power play, manage the puck better, possess the puck more in the offensive zone, and they might play themselves out of the cellar yet.

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