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Joel Ward

Sharks Grapple With Underwhelming Season

The San Jose Sharks are in the midst of a six-game losing streak that has frustrated the team for the past 12 days. In that span, they have been out-scored by opponents 23-7 and allowed the Anaheim Ducks to take over first place in the division.

This stretch is the most San Jose has struggled for the entire season. Prior to these six games, the Sharks had not gone more than three contests without earning a point.

Though the club is poised to finish with at least as many points as they did last year, the losing streak is bringing to light some significant issues they have had all season long—issues the team did not have in the 2015-16 campaign.

On paper, San Jose should have run away with the division and contended for the Presidents’ Trophy. This has not been the case. Instead, they are battling just to get home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

There have been many problems thus far, but most of them can be seen in the following table, which compares players’ statistics from the 2015-16 season with their numbers from the current season.

Player 2015-16 Pts/Gm (82 gm total) 2016-17 Pts/Gm (82 gm total) 2015-16 EV CF rel% 2016-17 EV CF rel%
Mikkel Boedker 0.64 (52) 0.30 (25) -0.3 -2.4
Justin Braun 0.29 (24) 0.16 (13) -1.2 -6.8
Brent Burns 0.91 (75) 0.96 (79) 2.9 4.8
Logan Couture 0.69 (57) 0.71 (58) 0 -2.2
Brenden Dillon 0.14 (11) 0.14 (11) -2.9 2.9
Joonas Donskoi 0.47 (39) 0.27 (22) 2.5 3.2
Jannik Hansen 0.57 (47) 0.39 (32) 1.0 -2.0
Tomas Hertl 0.57 (47) 0.42 (34) 6.5 4.6
Melker Karlsson 0.29 (24) 0.32 (26) -3.0 -0.8
Patrick Marleau 0.59 (48) 0.59 (48) -0.6 1.1
Paul Martin 0.26 (21) 0.32 (26) -0.2 1.1
Joe Pavelski 0.95 (78) 0.85 (70) 6.1 1.5
David Schlemko 0.28 (23) 0.29 (24) 4.2 2.0
Joe Thornton 1.00 (82) 0.67 (55) 7.1 3.5
Chris Tierney 0.25 (21) 0.25 (21) -5.5 -2.5
Marc-Edouard Vlasic 0.58 (48) 0.32 (26) 2.4 -5.7
Joel Ward 0.54 (44) 0.37 (30) 1.3 -0.6

*Note: The table only includes skaters who have held full-time roster spots on their respective teams both this year and last year. This is why players like Dylan DeMelo and Michael Haley are not listed.

From this table, we can see that only five Sharks are on pace to improve their average points-per-game; everyone else is either declining or breaking even. The listed players would have theoretically combined for 741 points in 82 games last year, but this year they would only earn 600. That is a 19 percent decrease.

Additionally, only 7 of the 17 skaters have bettered their relative possession numbers. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, in particular, have struggled in that department over the last few months.

There are many reasons for this drop off in quality—fatigue, chemistry, an anemic power play—but scoring needs to increase if San Jose wants to make a return to the Stanley Cup Final. In terms of production and possession, the majority of these players have stalled significantly.

The saving grace for the Sharks has been their defensive abilities. The team has allowed just 182 goals against, which is tied for third best in the league.

However, there are still some concerns with this part of the game.

Martin Jones has seen his save percentage fall from a .918 last season to a .913 this season, and the shutdown pair of Vlasic and Braun has been uncharacteristically bad in terms of possession. These three players were on top of their games and dominating play in the 2016 playoffs, but they are not performing at the same level this year.

Defense is still San Jose’s forte, and they are better in their own zone as a team compared with last season. The declining play of the above-mentioned players, though, does raise some flags.

The Sharks’ struggles during this losing streak and throughout the season do not rest on the shoulders of a few skaters. Instead, the responsibility lies on everyone, except for a select few (such as Brent Burns). Top-tier players—like Vlasic, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton—and support players—like Mikkel Boedker, Joonas Donskoi, and Joel Ward—have not produced at the same level.

This roster should be significantly better than the one that took the Pittsburgh Penguins to Game 6 last year. But in practice, the results have been underwhelming.

Regression strikes again.

About Drew Weber

Drew Weber is a lover of hockey and abuser of analytics. Prior to joining Pucknology, he covered the San Jose Sharks and Team USA for The Hockey Writers and contributed briefly to Fear the Fin. You can follow him on Twitter at @puck_over_glass.

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