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April 29, 2009
NHL Playoffs, First Round
Sharks Collapse

by Timo Seppa


Hereís a riddle: What goes ďCough, cough, quack, quack?Ē

You might guess that itís the sound of the Ducks having the Sharks for lunch, but itís actually the sound of this seasonís Presidentís Trophy winners choking away the first round of the playoffs.

Donít forget to chew, guys.

Based on a short series, teams can get a reputation as choke-artists that is sometimes warranted, sometimes not. Unfortunately, itís hard to argue with San Joseís unimpressive recent postseason record when compared to their regular season success:

Season	   Points   Regular season finish	    Postseason result

2005-6	    99	  2nd place, Pacific Division	Eliminated in 2nd round (4-2)
2006-7	   107	  2nd place, Pacific Division	Eliminated in 2nd round (4-2)
2007-8	   108	  1st place, Pacific Division	Eliminated in 2nd round (4-2)
2008-9	   117	  1st place, Western Conference	Eliminated in 1st round (4-2)

True, the circumstances of this yearís big first round upset are mitigated by the fact that Anaheim was a live underdog, featuring future Hall Of Famers, recent championship experience and a rookie goalie that posted a .919 save percentage over a significant sample set of 39 games (23-15-1), but itís hard to avoid the public embarrassment of a number one seed losing to a number eight seed, no matter what plausible explanations are given. The culprit was San Joseís offensive performance, which dropped off measurably from its regular season baseline. While itís easy to be wowed by the performance in between the pipes of 27 year old Jonas Hiller, we know that goalies do not sustain .957 save percentages over time. We can conclude that the Sharksí offensive underperformance was in good part responsible for Hillerís growing legend.

When breaking down the underachieving Sharks' offense, what is immediately shocking is the fact that San Jose outshot Anaheim at a staggering rate of 38 to 26 SOG per game (Hillerís 230 SOGA leads all goalies for the playoffs). For certain other teams, outshooting your opponent by that sort of margin can whitewash, say, having Chris Osgood in goal. To lose four out of six games with that SOG advantage is mindboggling. It either points to Hiller being the second coming of Patrick Roy or to an incredible inefficiency on offense.

The table below shows how the Sharksí individual players fared on offense, compared to what would be expected of them over 6 games based on regular season rates:

Player 			Pos 	 G 	 A 	 P

Rob Blake		D	+0.2	+0.1	+0.3
Dan Boyle		D	+0.8	-1.2	-0.4
Douglas Murray		D	+0.0	-0.6	-0.6
Jonathan Cheechoo	R	-0.1	-0.5	-0.6
Brad Lukowich		D	+0.0	-0.8	-0.8
Jeremy Roenick		C	-0.6	-0.3	-0.9
Travis Moen		L	-0.5	-0.7	-1.2
Marcel Goc		C	-0.2	-1.0	-1.2
Joe Thornton		C	-0.8	-0.5	-1.3
Marc-Edouard Vlasic	D	-0.4	-1.2	-1.6
Devin Setoguchi   	R	-1.3	-0.5	-1.8
Mike Grier		R	-1.0	-1.3	-2.2
Ryane Clowe		L	-0.9	-1.5	-2.4
Patrick Marleau		C	-1.0	-1.6	-2.6
Christian Ehrhoff	D	-0.6	-2.6	-3.3
Joe Pavelski		C	-1.9	-1.6	-3.4
Milan Michalek		L	-0.8	-2.6	-3.4

While Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi fared worse than expected, Patrick Marleau and other top six forwards Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski and Milan Michalek were the real no-shows production-wise, providing between 2.4 to 3.4 points less than expected over the series. On the surface, it looks like defensemen Rob Blake and Dan Boyle were two of the few players who did their job offensively, but letís take a look to see who was throwing the most rubber at the Anaheim net compared to baseline rates:

Player 			Pos 	 G 	 A 	 P	SOG

Rob Blake		D	+0.2	+0.1	+0.3	+10
Christian Ehrhoff	D	-0.6	-2.6	-3.3	+7
Joe Thornton		C	-0.8	-0.5	-1.3	+7
Milan Michalek		L	-0.8	-2.6	-3.4	+6
Jeremy Roenick		C	-0.6	-0.3	-0.9	+4
Jonathan Cheechoo	R	-0.1	-0.5	-0.6	+3
Brad Lukowich		D	+0.0	-0.8	-0.8	+2
Dan Boyle		D	+0.8	-1.2	-0.4	+1
Devin Setoguchi	        R	-1.3	-0.5	-1.8	-1
Douglas Murray		D	+0.0	-0.6	-0.6	-1
Joe Pavelski		C	-1.9	-1.6	-3.4	-2
Mike Grier		R	-1.0	-1.3	-2.2	-2
Ryane Clowe		L	-0.9	-1.5	-2.4	-3
Marc-Edouard Vlasic	D	-0.4	-1.2	-1.6	-3
Travis Moen		L	-0.5	-0.7	-1.2	-3
Marcel Goc		C	-0.2	-1.0	-1.2	-4
Patrick Marleau		C	-1.0	-1.6	-2.6	-8

Now the smoke and mirrors behind Blakeís offensive performance are revealed. His points per game production treaded water only by taking 2 shots per game more than he did during the regular season. Blake took 26 SOG in the series, 6 more than any other Shark. Captain Joe Thorntonís decreased output also occurred despite taking an extra 1 shot per game, as did Milan Michalekís team-worst 3.4 point decrease.

Perhaps most puzzling was the complete no-show in effort by Patrick Marleau, taking 8 less SOG over the 6 game series than his regular season baseline. For the teamís regular season goal scoring leader to have a mere 12 SOG in a six game series smacks of lack of confidence or of completely unwarranted offensive deference. When youíre the go to guy on the ice, you need to put up good numbers. In contrast, 39 year old defenseman Rob Blake was firing the puck away like itís going out of style, while a man with 38 Goals on 251 regular season SOG was outshot by 8 teammates, all of whom had at least 17 SOG for the series. Even Jonathan Cheechoo outshot Marleau 17 to 12 while getting less than half the playing time.

Adding in missed shots and attempts blocked, we can see that Marleau was not excused by having missed the net or by having a defenseman get the best of his efforts:

Game	Result		S	A/B	MS	Attempts

1	0-2		1	1	0	2
2	2-3		3	0	1	4
3	4-3		2	0	1	3
4	0-4		0	0	0	0
5	3-2 (OT)	5	4	1	10
6	1-4		1	0	3	4
Total			12	5	6	23

Frankly, the story got even worse under this microscope. Through Game 4, Marleau had a paltry 6 SOG on 9 shot attempts. Other than the uncharacteristically desperate performance of Game 5, the number of attempts during the series was positively anemic.

Tactically, it was an especially poor choice to defer SOG to his teammates, as Marleau was one of the only Sharks who could solve Hiller, when comparing San Jose shooting percentages to regular season levels:

Player 			Pos 	 G 	 A 	 P	SOG	S% 

Dan Boyle		D	+0.8	-1.2	-0.4	+1	+3.6
Patrick Marleau		C	-1.0	-1.6	-2.6	-8	+1.6
Brad Lukowich		D	+0.0	-0.8	-0.8	+2	+0.0
Douglas Murray		D	+0.0	-0.6	-0.6	-1	+0.0
Rob Blake		D	+0.2	+0.1	+0.3	+10	-1.3
Marcel Goc		C	-0.2	-1.0	-1.2	-4	-1.9
Jonathan Cheechoo	R	-0.1	-0.5	-0.6	+3	-2.0
Ryane Clowe		L	-0.9	-1.5	-2.4	-3	-4.6
Christian Ehrhoff	D	-0.6	-2.6	-3.3	+7	-4.8
Marc-Edouard Vlasic	D	-0.4	-1.2	-1.6	-3	-5.8
Devin Setoguchi	        R	-1.3	-0.5	-1.8	-1	-6.7
Travis Moen		L	-0.5	-0.7	-1.2	-3	-6.9
Milan Michalek		L	-0.8	-2.6	-3.4	+6	-7.8
Jeremy Roenick		C	-0.6	-0.3	-0.9	+4	-8.0
Mike Grier		R	-1.0	-1.3	-2.2	-2	-9.3
Joe Pavelski		C	-1.9	-1.6	-3.4	-2	-9.4
Joe Thornton		C	-0.8	-0.5	-1.3	+7	-12.1

Other than Marleau, only Dan Boyle showed his quality, exceeding his good defensemanís shooting percentage of 7.5% with 2 goals in 18 SOG.

As far as plus/minus is concerned, San Joseís gaudy regular season levels took a big fall in the series:

Player 			Pos 	+/- 	Shifts

Jonathan Cheechoo	R	+1	-27
Brad Lukowich		D	+0	-7
Jeremy Roenick		C	-1	+4
Christian Ehrhoff	D	-1	+24
Patrick Marleau		C	-1	+9
Marcel Goc		C	-1	-15
Dan Boyle		D	-1	+1
Douglas Murray		D	-1	+9
Devin Setoguchi	        R	-2	+13
Travis Moen		L	-3	-2
Mike Grier		R	-3	-25
Joe Pavelski		C	-3	+8
Milan Michalek		L	-4	+7
Joe Thornton		C	-4	+18
Ryane Clowe		L	-5	+4
Rob Blake		D	-6	+17
Marc-Edouard Vlasic	D	-7	+7

Remember that what you see above is not raw plus/minus, but plus/minus compared to regular season levels over 6 games. In this metric, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and the checking line players fared relatively well. Joe Pavelski, Milan Michalek and Ryane Clowe were again amongst the worst Sharks, along with miserable performances by Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defense. Ironically, many of the best plus/minus performers, like Cheechoo, had their shifts considerably cut in the series, while the bottom six plus/minus performers received increases in playing time.

Finally, letís take a look at if the penalties came from the usual suspects or not:

Player 			Pos 	PIM 

Rob Blake		D	-5
Travis Moen		L	-5
Marc-Edouard Vlasic	D	-3
Christian Ehrhoff	D	-3
Milan Michalek		L	-2
Jonathan Cheechoo	R	-1
Brad Lukowich		D	-1
Marcel Goc		C	+0
Devin Setoguchi	        R	+0
Joe Thornton		C	+1
Mike Grier		R	+4
Ryane Clowe		L	+4
Dan Boyle		D	+4
Joe Pavelski		C	+6
Douglas Murray		D	+6
Patrick Marleau		C	+7
Jeremy Roenick		C	+9

Of note, Jeremy Roenick apparently decided to leave his mark on the series by posting a team high 12 PIM, despite limited playing time. What is really indicative of a team mentally off of their game is the mild mannered Marleau taking an extremely uncharacteristic 8 PIM in six games compared to 18 PIM for the entire regular season!

There is a lot of blame to go around. Evgeni Nabokovís substandard .890 save percentage helped fill in the cavernous SOG gap and sniper Patrick Marleau wouldnít shoot. Everyone else fired shots at Hiller Ė just not very accurately. Rob Blake had difficulty finding the net with his shots, while Milan Michalek, Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe performed miserably on offense and defense. Plenty of goals went in the net past Nabokov with Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the ice. Where was the coaching staff to knock some sense into this team? Only Dan Boyle and a few others can feel like they did their job adequately.

Meanwhile, Anaheim can feel great satisfaction in knocking their Southern California rivals off of their pedestal. I wonder what kind of seafood the Ducks might fancy in the next round?

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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