JGD 19: Sharks in the Water

Kevin McCartney
November 10 2013 01:40PM

The Sharks come into Winnipeg as vulnerable as they've been this year, having lost four in a row dating all the way back to October 30th. (Even the Jets have won this month!) Of course, they collected three Champion points in the losses, and remain tied with St Louis for 5th in the West with a 10-2-4 record. The team also still boasts a league-leading +23 goal differential.

The most interesting number for the Sharks this year, however, is their shot attempts. This is a team in full swing of a 'corsi revolution,' assembling their roster according to corsi, and playing structurally with the intention to maximize corsi effects. Their successes and failures this season will speak volumes about the value of corsi as an evaluative tool within organizations.

In trading Douglas Murray at last year's deadline, the Sharks signaled that while Pittsburgh was trying to get tougher to beat Boston, San Jose was moving further in their advanced stats evaluation revolution. They were going to own the puck. The signings of corsi darling Tyler Kennedy and the tough but more so effective Raffi Torres was yet another step down that road.

This season, they lead the league in shot attempts with 1,121. They also lead the league in even strength shot differential at +9.4 shots per 60 minutes. In case you were curious, the Jets are at -0.3 per sixty. So, like, so close.

The Jets are currently second in shot attempts this year with 1,111, and typically do well in that stat. Keeping in mind the Jets have played two more games than the Sharks, it's still encouraging. Of course, the other shoe is that the Sharks have 851 shot attempts against to the Jets 1,054. (I bet you're rushing to point out that two game difference now!)

It might all seem like boring numbers when written about this way. But when we ask ourselves why this team is so good, why they get so much zone time, so many shots on, we have to step back and acknowledge the design principle behind it. Their players are extremely talented, and winning of course requires that skill. Getting shot attempts requires that skill. Thornton, Marleau, Couture, Pavelski, and Boyle might have been the biggest names before the season. Adding Hertl and Burns - it's a very skilled group at the top end.

Still, all the rhetoric about '60 minutes of effort' and 'complete games' and 'momentum' is real in a hockey game. And where the Jets have the top-end players to compete in the NHL, their so-called inconsistency is simply the reality of having only enough good players to put together 35-40 minutes of quality hockey on any given night.

The Sharks have decided on a way to evaluate who should fill in the bottom end of their roster - an 'identity' in narrative speak. While the Jets are still fiddling with Thorburn and Slater and Wright and Stuart after years of watching them struggle, the Sharks continue to build and get better. We can be jealous that they have Joe Thornton, but I think we should be jealous they have GM Doug Wilson.

Lines

Jets Forwards

  • Ladd - Little - Wheeler
  • Kane - Jokinen - Setoguchi
  • Frolik - Scheifele - Halischuk
  • Tangradi - Wright - Thorburn

It's not all doom and gloom, of course. The Jets are coming off a 5-0 thumping of the Predators, and took advantage of a team without its starting goalie to get critical Divisional points. And while it can feel hopeless some weeks, the Jets are far from eliminated from playoff contention. A string of wins puts them right back in the conversation come December.

It's game 19 and the training camp battle for second line centre is settled. Hooray. Jokinen's strong performance against the Predators, combined with Scheifele's apparent comfort with this latest linemates has all but sealed it for the next 63 games (for better or worse).

Perhaps the most baffling and frustrating part of the Jets' start this year was the collapse of Blake Wheeler. Whether for injury or lack of confidence or focus or just plain luck, the guy sunk the Jets' top line, and exposed the rest of the roster to much tougher opponents than they could handle. Well, he's back. And so is the famed power-vs-power LLW line.

Much as they did against Chicago, that top line will have their work cut out for them tonight.

More worrisome is what happens to the second line, which led the team in corsi% against the Predators and accounted for two goals. If set against the Sharks' second unit, it could be ugly. But the Jets don't have a better shut down group. Halischuk is not a great two-way player, and Frolik is centred by a rookie.

Annnnnnd we're back talking about the need for depth. I wonder if that's a standing item on the staff meeting agendas?

Jets Defence

  • Clitsome - Byfuglien
  • Enstrom - Bogosian
  • Pardy - Ellerby
  • Pavelec
  • Montoya

Is anyone else tired of seeing a defence group organized on the basis of Clitsome being better last year than we expected? Though they often play tough minutes, Clitsome and Byfuglien played against Hornqvist, Legwand, and Nystrom more than any other forward unit last game, and came out as the team's worst pairing for shot differential at below 40%, and shot attempt differential (corsi) at under 48% (in a pretty dominant win).

Please, Charlie Huddy? Make Clitsome play 14 minutes instead of 24?

Imagine if that thing got picked up by a tornado!

Sharks Forwards

  • Hertl - Thornton - Wingels
  • Marleau - Couture - Havlat
  • Nieto - Pavelski - Kennedy
  • McCarthy - Desjardins - Brown

This group has already struggled with injury. Torres is out until February. Havlat just returned from LTIR October 30th (that's right, exactly when they started losing). Burns has been out for weeks, and Adam Burish hasn't played a game with the team yet. In other words, this team could be even better the next time they play the Jets.

Nieto and Hertl are both rookies on the port side, and so Marleau gets a fair amount of defensive work. He's currently third among regular forwards for quality of competition, and is put out in the defensive zone more often than the offensive. It's likely the Sharks will want that Marleau/Couture line against the Jets' LLW  line, with Pavelski and Kennedy against Kane, leaving Thornton to dominate young Mark Scheifele.

If the Jets have their way, well... I don't envy having to make those choices.

Sharks Defence

  • Vlasic - Braun
  • Boyle - Stuart
  • Hannan - Demers
  • Niemi
  • Stalock

This is very good, very deep defensive group as well. While Boyle is likely the biggest name, Vlasic has been a corsi monster for years. Their Stuart is Brad, as in the really excellent one who played in Detroit and wins a lot. Hannan might be the weakest link in this group, and though that third pairing is much better than the Jets' third pairing, it's also where the Jets need to make hay.

Each pairing has an excellent puck mover, but despite Boyle, you can see the preference to move the puck off the right side in their very lineup. Watch for the diagonal stretch pass to the LW. You might have noticed their LW on the league scoring charts a bit this year. I haven't watched closely, but I suspect that wing is starting a lot of their 'quick up' or 'fast-break' opportunities.

 

I'm going to miss the game tonight, so tune in on twitter to @thrubeniuk and the other Jets' Nation writers for updates and 140 character charm. And, of course, follow and read our friends at Arctic Ice!

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Kevin is the Managing Editor of Jets Nation. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, The Sporting News, and around the Nations Network. An enthusiastic over-analyst, his background and interests are diverse, but you might notice he's obsessed with hockey. Track him down on twitter @kevinmccart or @nhljetsnation
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