Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw
By Scott Rosenhek
I am going to using a variety of statistics to build a case for my predictions. I will also place more emphasis on even strength stats (5 on 5) as power plays are variable and not as reliable in ultimately predicting wins. Any stats per 60 minutes will be used to normalize overtime games. Here are some definitions for the abbreviations I will be using.
CF/CA/CF% (corsi for, against and percent; corsi is the sum of all shots, including those that are block and those miss the goal; the percentage is corsi for over the sum of corsi for and against)
FF/FA/FF% (fenwick for, against and percent; similar to corsi, except fenwick excludes blocked shots; some argue this has a stronger correlation with scoring chances)
GF/GA/GF% (goals for, against and percentage)
Oh baby! This was the series to wait for. After focusing on two Eastern divisional series, I think it is time to shine a light on an important Western clash between the Edmonton Oilers and the San Jose Sharks. We get to see the playoff debut of Connor McDavid and see if he can build towards establishing himself as the best hockey player in the world.
It has been so long since the Oilers have played in a playoff game, there may be a generation of fans that don’t know that the Oilers were in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006. After losing to the Hurricanes, the Oilers had to rebuild after losing key pieces of their team.
The next 10 years have been tough for Oilers fans. Year after year of bottom 5 finishes combined with the mockery regarding the obscene number of 1st overall selections granted to the franchise. The NHL was forced to alter the rules and methods of the draft lottery because of the Oilers.
But, 10 years later, they drafted one of the best players since Sidney Crosby and were able to return to the post-season with a 47-26-9 record. The Oilers have a GF% of 54.3 (6th in the league) and a GF/60 of 2.48. These numbers just support what we can see from the eye-test: the Oilers can score a lot of goals and don’t give up very many at even strength.
Edmonton’s has a 49.9 CF%, meaning they give up a few more shots than they produce. However, this value is pretty close to getting over the even mark. Their CF/60 is 54.7, meaning the team plays high event hockey—many shot attempts and a positive indicator of possession.
The team has the fifth best power play in the league (22.9%) and their penalty kill is at a less noticeable 80.7% (17th in the league).
San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks lost in their franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup Final last year. This year, they return to the playoffs with a 46-29-7 record. The team is hungrier than ever to prove they belong in the Stanley Cup discussion.
The Sharks have a 53% GF%, good for 10th in the league. Their GF/60 is 2.28 and has taken a hit through the team’s late season slide. San Jose has a CF% of 51.1, which is better than the Oilers. The Sharks definitively produce more shot events than their opponents, supported by a CF/60 of 57.9. This means that the Sharks are more efficient in generating these events than the Oilers.
Special teams have struggled mightily during their late season slide. Their power play efficiency fell to 16.7% (25th in the league) and they have the same PK efficiency as the Oilers at 80.7% (18th in the league).
Let’s talk about Connor McDavid. I hear that guy is pretty good at hockey. He led the league this year and was the only player to score 100 points. He leads the team in individual GF% with a whopping 62.1%!
Other players with very impressive seasons are Leon Draisaitl and surprisingly, Patrick Maroon. Draisaitl had 77 points and Maroon scored a career high 27 goals. The trio performed well, but thanks to underachieving by some of the forwards on the team, there was the fear that Edmonton was a one line team.
Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic all had very slow starts to the season. Lucic and Eberle lost their spots riding shotgun with Connor McDavid and they were shuffled around the lineup from game to game.
Things clicked together when Todd McLellan united the three struggling forwards together. At the end of the season, their stat line does not jump off the page, but this was a sign that the Oilers would not have to only rely on Connor McDavid to score goals.
As for the Sharks, their forwards had a rather interesting season. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture had excellent seasons again even if neither lead the team in points. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau really showed their age for the first time, struggling to produce goals and points.
Mikkel Boedker did not wow as people hoped during free agency and Tomas Hertl had a bit of a down year. Their forward depth was solid, but not quite as deadly as last year. To support some of that depth, the Sharks acquired Jannik Hansen from the Canucks for his playoff experience and versatility to be put anywhere in the lineup.
On defence, Oskar Klefbom has really come into his own for the Oilers. With 38 points, he is in a good position to lead this corps. Adam Larsson has adjusted well to his new team and even though his offense is not impressive, he has descent corsi, fenwick stats. He also leads the Oilers defence in GF%.
The Oilers’ defence has come a long way, but they just can’t compare to the top 4 in San Jose. Brent Burns, Paul Martin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are on another level as a unit. Burns leads all defensemen in points and goals, as well as GF% (60.2), FF% (54.2) and CF%(53.8) for all Sharks defensemen. Burns will be key in shutting down Connor McDavid.
Goaltending will be something to watch between the teams. Martin Jones is having a down year, with a .912 save percentage (31st in the league). His GAA of 2.40 fairs better at 14th best in the league. Jones likely struggled the most during that losing skid to end the season.
Cam Talbot is having an excellent year. He set single season records in Edmonton and was very instrumental in the Oilers’ regular season successes. It is important to note that his save percentage is .919 (14th in the league) and his GAA is 2.39 (13th in the league). If goaltending comes down to the wire, I will give the edge to Talbot.
It is very fitting that Todd McLellan is returning to the playoffs to face his former team in San Jose. McLellan took San Jose to the playoffs six straight years, but never farther than the Conference Final.
His Oilers challenged for the Pacific Division lead many times this season, but ultimately finished in second place. This was a stark improvement over McLellan’s first year in Edmonton, a 29th place finish.
There will be many emotions regarding this series, but McLellan will have to keep his inexperienced team focused on the goal at hand: win 4 games.
Behind the other bench is Peter DeBoer. He took the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final last year, coming 2 wins short of winning the cup. DeBoer has adjusted very well to the unexpected this year. He was patient with his underperforming veterans and helped rookie Kevin Labanc adjust to his first NHL season.
The Sharks are dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Logan Couture and Joe Thornton were injured towards the end of the season and hopefully they are ready to go on Wednesday. Without them, the Sharks lose a lot of depth and ability to send three balanced lines led by Pavelski, Couture and Marleau.
Another thing weighing on the Sharks’ minds is their late season slide. The team only won 3 of their remaining 20 games and two of those wins came against the 29th place Vancouver Canucks. You want momentum going into the playoffs and this may prove to be too large of a mental hurdle.
Who do I think will win the series?
The Canucks fan in me wants the Sharks to win for a couple of reasons. I would really like to see Jannik Hansen get the chance to lift the Stanley Cup. He is a world class player and would truly deserve the honor. The second reason is a little more selfish. In the Hansen trade, Vancouver received a conditional 4th round pick that becomes a first if the Sharks win the cup.
Regardless, I need to be realistic. The Sharks are deeper at forward and have a superior defence. However, Edmonton just has raw star power and way better goaltending. It would be difficult for me to bet against Connor McDavid unless Logan Couture can pull off a MVP worthy performance like last year.
I predict the Edmonton Oilers will win this series in 6 games.