(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner, March 2, 2013)
Did the Sharks lack confidence through February? Well, obviously, but in what? What has been dragging them down? Have they dealt with “it” yet?
I had a thought yesterday morning, stemming from something one of the Bulls said to me weeks ago. He mentioned that the offensive game comes first for most players. They learn defense later with experience. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that, but it took a while to sink in. Shouldn’t shooting the puck be almost an involuntary reflex for a hockey player? Wouldn’t it take a lot of un-training, or a horrible lack of confidence to suppress it?
Why would the Sharks lack confidence when they were passing the defense test with such high marks? Didn’t they trust themselves yet? Were they still thinking too much?
As I watched the Sharks skate Saturday morning, up and down, shooting at both ends, every last one of them, shooting, shooting, shooting. As if to give the goalies a chance, they shot one at a time, but they all shot the puck, over and over. I wondered if that was all it would take.
This activity obviously made them happy. Hockey players like to shoot the puck. So why in the world would it take them so long to do it? They had 39 shots on goal last night, 41 two games earlier. They only managed 26 against the Red Wings. Before these home games, they hadn’t been near the 40 mark since their games against Edmonton and Colorado back in January. Their average is only 30.5 this season.
The kicker is that 30.5 is good for seventh in the NHL right now. Four of the six teams with more shots on goal than the Sharks are also ahead of them in the League standings. That one looks like a pretty good number to grow, even if it isn’t completely awful. Yes, some teams ahead of the Sharks in the standings shoot less. Vancouver, Anaheim, Toronto and New Jersey all shoot a lot less than the Sharks, ranging from 26.8 to 28 average shots per game. Focusing solely on the Western Conference, the Blackhawks are the only team today that shoots more and is also ahead of the Sharks in the standings. Clearly, one SOG size does not fit all.
That little examination brought it to my attention that the Sharks are currently fourth in the West. The teams ranked 3rd through 11th are only separated by four points. What an odd time to be having a panic attack, especially after the team just won two of three. Perhaps panic is overkill, though wallowing in doubt wouldn’t be unreasonable.
One game doesn’t make a trend, but the Sharks who played the Predators last night were radically different from the ones who lost pretty much every game in February. Will they keep it up? Is two periods of relentless offense as much as they can muster? Do they trust their defensive game enough now, to keep shooting?
Joe Thornton pointed out that there’s more to scoring than shooting:
“…You can shoot all you want, but unless you have traffic on these goalies, it’s not going to go in.” –CSN Bay Area
This is of course true, but shoot anyway. Take a chance. You never know what will happen, except that if you don’t shoot you won’t score. Dan Boyle seemed to take that approach last night:
“I’m just shooting the puck there. I’m just glad I got it through.” -Mercury News
The Sharks won two out of three games in this short home stand. They earned points in all of them. That’s a big improvement over the no points not winning much at all streak they were on. Does it indicate a turn of the tide for the team?
@SharksStats: “Predators have allowed power play goals in 10 of their 12 road games this season. Their road PK is now at 73.9% (24th in NHL).”
Maybe not. I won’t get too excited about winning on two power play goals against a team with a struggling penalty kill. Their other opponents on this home stand were not exactly mighty foes. Neither are the Blue Jackets, and the Sharks lost to them, so it is an improvement.
That the Sharks are shooting more suggests that they might be ready to step off the defensive porch, so to speak. Maybe they’re ready to trust themselves again.
Or maybe that late shorthanded goal against will drive them back into their shell. I hope not.