Watching some of the Sharks games, I noticed how often the defenceman would make shot attempts. A lot of times, they would do a dump-in, and have two forwards scrum to get the puck. Other times, the puck would be sent on goal, a rebound would come out, causing a lot of chaos and limiting their opponents ability to set up any sort of defensive scheme. It changed shift to shift, and was something to watch as they would often win battles along the boards and made smart, almost set, plays to lead to another shot attempt.
Just to confirm what I was seeing, I looked at what percentage of the Sharks shot attempts at even-strength were from defenceman and compared that to how the Oilers defenceman have done. My only issue here is Brent Burns who has played wing and defence over the past few years, so I can’t stand by the numbers 100%. In this post, I’ve considered him a defenceman, except in 2013/14 when he appears to have been on wing full time. The numbers might be slightly off, since I could not find exact dates for when he might have played defence or forward.
We know the Sharks have been a strong possession team under McLellan, typically out-shooting their opponents at even-strength. The Oilers have been the opposite, often trailing in games and still struggling to generate shot attempts. Below we see that the Sharks defencemen generate a larger proportion of their teams shot attempts compared to the rest of the league, which kinda confirms what I’ve been seeing in their games (Source: War on Ice).
There’s a drop in 2013/2014 for San Jose, which might be because I considered Burns a full time winger that season. Regardless, we can see the Sharks get a higher proportion of their total shot attempts from their defencemen than the Oilers. If you’re an Oilers defenceman heading into training camp, you have to be liking this. If McLellan can instill the same game plan he had in San Jose and have the team buy-in to the system, there’s a good chance defencemen will be more involved in the play. I don’t think the Sharks had any big shooters, instead relying on simple shots towards the net that could lead to additional higher quality scoring chances.
I decided to take it another step and see what proportion of the Sharks individual scoring chances came from defenceman when McLellan was head coach. Scoring chances are defined by War on Ice as:
- In the low danger zone, unblocked rebounds and rush shots only.
- In the medium danger zone, all unblocked shots.
- In the high danger zone, all shot attempts (since blocked shots taken here may be more representative of more “wide-open nets”, though we don’t know this for sure.)
Below are the results.
Again, the Sharks get a higher proportion from defencemen, which tells me that the Sharks not only got their defencemen shooting more often, but they often got set up to make an impact. You can see the Oilers scoring chances from the blueline has increased over the past three season. We’ll call this the Justin Schultz Effect.
We can take it even one-step further and see how often the Sharks defencemen got individual high danger scoring chances. Below are the results.
Justin Schultz has a lot of these, as demonstrated wonderfully by Travis Yost, which is why he’s often caught up-ice, leading to an odd-man rush against. But it looks like the Sharks didn’t hesitate getting their defencemen involved in these high probability scoring chances either. I’ll have to dig in a little more to see which players in San Jose got to be involved here (my guess is Dan Boyle, who played in San Jose from 2008-2013) and how successful they were at converting on their chances.
This should be encouraging to someone like Justin Schultz who would probably love to continue getting regular deployment and the sweet zone starts . We can’t say for sure that McLellan will rely on his defenceman the same way he did in San Jose when it comes to shot attempts and scoring chances. But we can at least start to see where he had success and the type of players he relied on to be a strong regular season team.