Under The Microscope: San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues (Part II: Offensive Zone Play)

Continuing with our look at the Western Conference Finals, we’re now going to dive into the offensive zone play of both teams by diving into the passing data we introduced in the Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh series. If you remember from the last post, San Jose owned the Blues in most of the shot categories this series and most of it stemmed from their play in the neutral zone, especially on the defensive side. St. Louis wasn’t moving the puck up the ice efficiently, had to dump the puck in on most of their entries and ended up getting hammered on the shot counter as a result. This was the root of their problem when it came to manufacturing offense it seemed to get worse when you go beyond that as the Sharks drastically outshot them on entries.

The Blues inability to create shots played a major role in this series but the Sharks own play in the offensive zone is also worth talking about. One thing that’s stayed consistent throughout the playoffs is the Sharks massively outshooting their opponents off carry-ins. They haven’t been the strongest team in the neutral zone when it comes to the ability to generate carry-ins, but when they get the chance to do so, they typically generate a massive number of shots. It was a big reason why they advanced past Nashville in the Divisional Round and they continued their strong play against the Blues.

There are a lot of questions regarding the repeatability of offensive zone play, but it’s something that has always been a big factor for the Sharks. When they were coached by Todd McLellan, San Jose was always one of the best teams in the league at generating shots and owning the possession battle and they’ve done this while playing a heavy dump-and-chase game in the neutral zone. Going off what wev’e seen in the playoffs, this continued under Pete DeBoer and they’ve found some success with it, especially in this series.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at what makes San Jose such a dangerous team and what they did to have success against the Blues. We’ll also look at a few things that went wrong for St. Louis and what the Sharks did to frustrate them.

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Under The Microscope: San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues (Part I: Neutral Zone Play)

There was no shortage of great storylines in this year’s Western Conference Finals. You had a couple of teams who had a reputation of putting together great regular seasons but not managing to much in the playoffs. The Sharks had never been to a Stanley Cup Final in their franchise’s existence before this year and the Blues were making their first Conference Final appearance since 2000. Getting over the “hump” was a big deal for these teams and it was exciting to see which one would take the next step.

For both teams, it seemed like this was their best shot at the Cup. San Jose rebounded after a tough season and quietly put together one of their strongest teams in years. They had also gotten by their division rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, in the first round and they were seen as one of their biggest threats in the conference. The Blues, on the other hand, had just gotten by two the best teams in the Western Conference in the Chicago Blackhawks & Dallas Stars. They had a tougher road than anyone else in the playoffs, so if they could get through that then they had to like their chances of advancing.

Of course, the Blues road wasn’t getting any easier with San Jose next in their path and to the naked eye, it looked like that had an effect. St. Louis had just played two seven-game series against two of the best teams in the league and ended up falling to the Sharks in six games, most of which they looked outmatched in. San Jose was going to be a tough out, but most seemed to think they found another gear this post-season and reached their peak in this series against the Blues.

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Under The Microscope: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (Part II: Offensive Zone Play)

Yesterday, we looked at the neutral zone play in the Eastern Conference Finals and one thing that stood out was that both teams did pretty well in this regard from an offensive standpoint. Both the Lightning and the Penguins were able to carry the puck into the zone frequently but the Pens were creating a lot more shots off their entries. Since both teams play in the neutral zone was so similar, we’re going to have to take a more in-depth look at what was happening in the offensive zone to see how each team was generating & preventing shots.

I usually include passing & shot generation stats in the series recap but I’ve recently teamed up with Ryan Stimson, founder of the Passing Project and will now be tracking stats using his method. My original tracking method was based on his, so the final results were pretty similar. We both tracked every shot attempt that occurred during a game and noted the last three players who made a pass which led to the eventual shot. The main thing we did differently I how we tracked where the passes came from and the direction they were going. I did this by splitting the offensive zone into 14 sections and each area was represented by a different number in my spreadsheet. With Ryan’s method, we mark down the zone of the ice the pass originated from (offensive, neutral or defensive) and if he came from the left, center or right side of the ice. Certain plays in the offensive zone are also notated. For instance, passes that started behind the net have their own category, as to passes that went back to the point. Passes that crossed the home plate area between the two faceoff circles (aka the “Royal Road”) are also notated. Stretch passes from the neutral and defensive zone are also tracked.

It’s a lot to take in and took some adjusting on my part, but it’s worth it in the end. Having specific plays put in their own category makes an analyst’s job so much easier because certain player/team tendencies are captured this way. Ryan discussed a couple of these plays such as the Behind The Net attack and the Low-to-High play and their significance in this post and we’re going to see if we can apply them to the Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh playoff series.

This is a good series to do this type of analysis because according to Corsica.Hockey, the goal total was even despite Tampa Bay getting pummeled in terms of shots. I chalked most of this up to Andrei Vasilevskiy standing on his head, but is there more to it? Was Tampa attacking the offensive zone more efficiently than Pittsburgh or was it just goaltending and variance? It’s also worth looking into why Tampa Bay had such a hard time generating shots while everything looked so easy for Pittsburgh.

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Under The Microscope: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (Part I: Neutral Zone Play)

The Pittsburgh Penguins surge towards the Stanley Cup Final was impressive to watch. They were one of the best teams in the NHL during the regular season (and arguably the best since the calendar turned 2016) and they didn’t slow down once they hit the playoffs either. They made quick work of the New York Rangers in the first round and made it past the Washington Capitals in a tight, six-game series which looked like their biggest hurdle at the time. Washington was the top-seeded team in the East and a favorite to win the Cup, so the rest of the Conference looked like a favorable matchup for Pittsburgh.

In come the Tampa Bay Lightning, last year’s Eastern Conference Champs and the team that gave Pittsburgh their biggest scare of the playoffs. Pittsburgh eventually took this series in seven games but it took rallying back from a 3-2 deficit, winning two games while facing elimination. Tampa Bay was sort of the “forgotten” team in the East after how intense the Washington-Pittsburgh series was but they were going to be a tough out regardless. After all, they breezed through the first two rounds with an injury-plagued roster in a total of ten games and were getting healthier as they got deeper in the playoffs, getting defenseman Anton Stralman back this round. They were also not too far off from Pittsburgh in terms of controlling territorial play at even strength, so this was a very intriguing matchup on paper.

Things took a few turns as expected. Tampa Bay lost their starting goaltender Ben Bishop in Game 1 and Andrei Vasilevskiy had to carry them through most of the series. The young goaltender played well, stealing a couple of wins for the Bolts in Pittsburgh and nearly leading his team to another Cup Final appearance. The Penguins ended up taking it with a 2-1 win on home ice in Game 7 and you could hear the city of Pittsburgh let out a huge sigh of relief from around the world.

Out of all of the obstacles the Pens faced this post-season, Tampa Bay seemed to give them the most trouble. It was the only time all playoffs they faced elimination and the Lightning were the only team that took advantage of Pittsburgh’s high-risk playing style, scoring a few goals on the counter-attack and getting strong goaltending from Vasilevskiy. They came short of pulling it off, but this was as close as any team came to knocking off Pittsburgh.

Let’s take a closer look at how exactly this series got to seven games and how close Tampa Bay was from pulling off the upset.

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Under The Microscope: New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

The second round has brought us some of the most entertaining games of the playoffs. Every series has featured two teams that were pretty evenly matched on paper and whoever got the most bounces usually had the edge. You expect this as you get further into the playoffs, as the field starts to even out as the better teams advance and the weaker ones go home. The Eastern Conference matchup between the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, however, differs from this trend.

This was a quick, five-game series and didn’t differ from most people’s predictions as the Lightning made short work of the Islanders. Tampa Bay went into this series as heavy favorites, having just beaten the Detroit Red Wings in five-games and being the stronger possession team at even strength all season. The Islanders pulled off a bit of an upset over the Florida Panthers in six games, largely thanks to goaltender Thomas Greiss having an unreal performance, but most didn’t give them a chance in this series. Even with Tampa Bay’s injury problems, most had them getting through this series.

The Islanders proved some critics wrong in Game 1, defeating Tampa Bay 5-3 on the road and outplaying them for the most part. Tampa responded by winning the next four, two of them coming in overtime, and looking like the even strength powerhouse they were all year. If you remember, Ben Bishop played a big role in them beating the Red Wings, so this series was a bit of a return to form for them and after the jump, we’ll look at what they did to get past the Islanders.

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Under The Microscope: Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues

Thanks to the NHL’s new playoff format, we were treated to some excellent second round matches this post-season. We’ve already gone over the heated Capitals-Penguins series in the Eastern Conference and the seven-game thriller between the San Jose Sharks & Nashville Predators. Now, we turn our attention to the Central Division, as we’re about to take a closer look at the great series between the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars.

Most second round matchups tend to be fairly close on paper, and this was especially true here. Dallas finished only two points ahead of St. Louis in the standings and both clubs were ranked right next to each other in Score Adjusted Fenwick, Dallas ranking 6th and St. Louis ranking 7th respectively. The Blues might have a slight edge when it comes to playoff experience, but predicting this series was basically a coin flip, which is what makes it such a great matchup.

What also made this an interesting matchup is that you have two teams with contrasting styles. Both were very strong in terms of controlling territorial play, but Dallas was a high-scoring team, ranking third in the league in 5v5 Goals For per 60 minutes while also being a Top 5 team in terms of shots per game. St. Louis, on the other hand, posted one of the strongest Goals Against per 60 rates in the league and were a Top 10 team in both shot generation & shot suppression. Dallas is also known for being a quick, skilled team that outscores most of their problems (i.e. defense & goaltending issues) while the Blues have the reputation for being a “heavy” team that wins games on the back of their strong defensive play.

Did the offensive powerhouse or the strong defensive team end up coming out on top? The answer is neither and we’ll  found out why after the jump.

5v5 Shot Attempts         

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Overall, Dallas ended up with the advantage in most of the shot categories. The numbers are pretty similar to the Blues matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks, where they ended up winning the series despite getting outshot by a decent margin. What is also similar to that series is that the Blues created most of their shots after they were able to carry the puck into the zone or force a turnover, although they relied a lot more on carry-ins this round. They also spent a lot of time playing with a lead, as their three worst territorial performances came in games where they played with a lead and went into a shell for the majority of the third period (Games 2, 5 & 7 to be specific). So the final results are score-effects driven to an extent.

Still, Dallas gave the Blues just about all they could handle this series, score effects or not. They were creating 14 scoring chances a game at even strength alone and made Blues goaltender Brian Elliott do a lot of work to keep his team in front. They were doing their best to take away his vision with screens, getting close to the net to jump on rebounds and, most importantly, moving the puck around in the offensive zone to make his job as difficult as possible. Elliott stood his ground for the most part, Game 6 aside, and played a big role in the Blues closing out this series. Yes, St. Louis won a couple of blowouts, but Elliott did a great job of keeping things from getting out of hand and came up huge when he needed to.

At the other end, Dallas’ goaltending wasn’t as solid. That’s probably being nice because both Kari Lehtonen & Antti Niemi were pulled twice this series and both posted save percentages below .900. It’s tough to think of a word to describe their performance because “inconsistent” or “bad” doesn’t quite do it justice. Lehtonen had two games where he was outstanding and the Stars might have been eliminated earlier if it wasn’t for that. Outside of those games, however, the Stars goaltenders were a mess and had their team playing catch-up for most of this series.

This is how things have been for them all season, though. Dallas had one of the worst team save percentages in the league and went back-and-forth between Lehtonen & Niemi over the course of the year. It’s easy to look at the numbers above and conclude that the team with the worse goaltending lost, but how much of it was on them? As bad as the Stars goaltending has been this year, they have also been criticized for terrible defensive play and leaving both netminders out to dry. The Blues were getting most of their shots off carry-ins or turnovers and a higher percentage of these shots were scoring chances, so perhaps there is some truth to that. The shot zone data also has some evidence in favor of this argument.

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If you add the percentage of shots each team was getting from the slot areas, you’ll notice the Blues had nearly 49% of their shots come from those specific zones, compared to only 39.7% of the Stars. Both teams did a pretty good job of working the low slot and getting shots from close-range, but the high-slot seemed to be more open for the Blues than it was for Dallas. This isn’t an excuse for the Stars goaltending , as both Lehtonen & Niemi could have been a lot better, but the Blues seemed to exploit a certain area of the ice well and that area also happened to be a very dangerous spot on the ice. The Stars, meanwhile, were pushed more to the outside instead of the high slot and tried more screened shots from these areas.

5v5 Zone Entries

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How both teams attacked the neutral zone was pretty interesting to watch because it went against the whole narrative of this being a Skill vs. Grit clash. St. Louis is a sound defensive team, yes but they also have a lot of skill and be a team that hurts you in transition just as much as they can by wearing you down in the offensive zone. They did more of the former in this series, generating the majority of their shots off the rush and carrying the puck in on over 52% of their entries. In fact, when they were dumping the puck in, they weren’t seeing much of a reward for it and Dallas was creating more shots this way than the Blues were, which was a little surprising.

Both teams seemed to be able to do what they want in the neutral zone and this series ended up being more of a track meet than anything else. It’s interesting because Dallas was forced to dump the puck in more than they would have liked against Minnesota but they had no problems getting the Blues defense to back off in this series. The Blues, however, also got the better of Dallas’ defense here and they also had more overall entries, which helped even the gap a little.

The Blues also destroyed the Stars in the goal department here, which is inflated a bit by Games 3 & 7, but those games still happened and Dallas got burned on the rush a few times during then. St. Louis scored all of their five-on-five goals on entries and the massive goal-differential here pretty much negated Dallas’s advantage in the shot department. Part of that is due to the Stars goaltending problems & them getting beat on a lot of first-shots, but I mentioned earlier that the Blues were exploiting certain areas of the ice and we’ll look into how their neutral zone play tied into that.

St. Louis Blues 5v5 Zone Entries

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If you refer back to the previous chart, you’ll remember that the Blues were carrying the puck in on a high percentage of their entries and creating most of their shots this way. This was led by the Schwartz-Lehtera-Tarasenko line, who basically refused to dump the puck in whenever they had it on their stick in the neutral zone. Robby Fabbri, Patrick Berglund & Alex Steen also had very good showings here and were the primary puck-carriers on their respective lines. Fabbri & Steen each spent some time on a line with Paul Stastny & Troy Brouwer, and their play in the neutral zone created some space for these two to work with and they seemed to thrive on it. Stastny & Brouwer were two of St. Louis’ most effective offensive players, so this system seemed to work well for St. Louis. Brouwer was especially good at being a support guy and finding open spaces in the offensive zone.

The Blues also seemed adamant about having their defense join in the rush, much more than we’ve seen from other teams in the playoffs so far. Shattenkirk & Parayko were given the green light to go more often than others, but Pietrangelo was also very good in this department and was a key part of the Blues gameplan in the neutral zone. St. Louis also made it easy for their defense to carry the puck in when they needed to, overloading one side of the ice & drawing the defending team in and giving the weak side player a free pass into the zone.

Having support is also a key for the Blues neutral zone play, as they did a great job of going up the ice as a group and making sure the guy entering the zone had a passing option so that he wasn’t just firing a low-percentage shot at the net. Very similar to what Ryan Stimson looked at here when looking at the Dallas Stars breakouts & zone entries.

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Here we see the Blues breaking out of their zone with the Schwartz-Lehtera-Tarasenko line. Dallas had two forecheckers in on the play (first one not pictured) and the Blues were able to beat them and get out of the zone with a couple of short passes. Both teams are currently making a partial line change too, so there is a little more space to work with here. Schwartz now has the puck and is looking for Lehtera in the center of the ice.

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Lehtera receives the pass and is able to make his way through center ice fairly easily. It looks like he’s running into a trap, though because the situation is currently two-on-four. Dallas overloaded that side of the ice and is looking to stop Lehtera on the boards. The play looks like it’s destined to fail, but coming down the left wall is Schwartz, so Lehtera has some support.

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Lehtera makes a behind-the-back drop pass that every coach loves and is able to connect with Schwartz. You can see that Schwartz is looking to go cross-ice with the puck, which means there is a third-man coming. Dallas is currently puck-focused, so if there is one he will probably end up being wide open.

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Tarasenko shows up out of nowhere, receives the pass from Schwartz and gets a good scoring chance away from the high slot, one of the areas St. Louis exploited. Dallas overplayed the left side of the ice and left that wing wide open, so Tarasenko was able to get a shot off without much of an issue. The farside defenseman (Oduya) was so out of position that he couldn’t get over to block or prevent the shot in time. All of this started with a quick breakout and an entry with a passing option, something St. Louis was adamant on doing all series.

They weren’t the only team that had success in the neutral zone, though.

Dallas Stars 5v5 Zone Entries

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You’ll recall that Dallas had a carry-in percentage and were very successful at creating shots regardless of how they entered the zone. Thus, all but four of their forwards ended up with Carry-in rates above 50% they made it a priority to get the puck to their most skilled players when they were in the neutral zone. Their entire top-six ended up above the 50% threshold with Hemsky, Nichushkin, Benn, Janmark & Spezza leading the way. Eakin, Faksa & Sharp also did well in limited roles and even some depth players like Eaves & Sceviour had success when they were asked to handle the puck in the neutral zone. Pretty much everyone who played decent minutes carried the puck in at a high rate with the exception of Antoine Roussel.

Ever since Lindy Ruff took over, Dallas’ system has been built around making plays with the puck and being as creative as possible offensively. It’s difficult to run this type of system in a league that’s so focused on defense and shutting down the other team, so Dallas does a lot of things to make it easy as possible for them to carry the puck in and get a decent shot off once they do get it into the zone. Ryan diagramed many of these in the Hockey Graphs post I linked to earlier, and we saw many of them in action in the playoffs.

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Here we see Dallas defenseman Kris Russell breaking the puck out of the zone. He’s currently being pressured by the Blues forechecker, but has a passing option across the rink in Cody Eakin and support coming in Jamie Benn. If he gets the pass off quick enough, Eakin probably has a lane into the zone.

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Russell makes the pass and St. Louis defense backs off since Dallas currently has three players coming into the zone at top speed. The one positive for the Blues is that the play is on the wall right now, so if Eakin were to shoot the puck, it wouldn’t be very dangerous, but you’ll notice I have Jamie Benn circled and we’re about to see why.

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Eakin continues to go down the wall, drawing Gunnarsson to him, while Benn drives the center lane. He eventually tries to center to Benn in the middle of the ice. Benn’s shot ended up missing the net, but it’s a decent chance generated by Dallas and all it took was a quick east-west breakout with strong middle lane drive. They also had Sharp camped out at the far blue line as another thing the Blues had to pay attention to, which gave Benn some space to work with. As Ryan noted in his post, Dallas typically has a forward fly the zone on a breakout to act as passing option once they cross the blue line.  Sometimes they had all three camped out for a stretch pass like this:

The Dallas defense corps also stands out here, namely their first pairing of Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg. These two were given the green light to go whenever they wanted and you can see that they had a lot of fun with it. They carried the puck in as often as their top-six did and Klingberg basically acted like a fourth forward whenever Dallas was coming up the ice. They were often paired with the Benn line, so perhaps that’s where the extra trust comes from but both Klingberg & Goligoski are very dangerous with the puck, so it makes sense to get the most out of your roster like that. The rest of the defense finds themselves lumped in the same part of the graph with Demers, Johns & Russell doing an average job of carrying the puck in when they were asked to. It’s hard to compare them to the first pair because it looks like they were given a completely different role in the neutral zone, at least with the puck. Without the puck, everyone on the Stars was encouraged to join the play.

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This is Dallas’ fourth line entering the zone with Vernon Fiddler doing the honors. They have three guys in the rush with a fourth man coming at the bottom of the picture. St. Louis’ defense is giving them quite a bit of respect here (possibly because there’s a forward back to help break up the play), so Dallas has plenty of room to carry the puck in if they want to.

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Dallas gains the line with control with Demers jumping into the play. It’s unknown if the Blues left defensemen recognizes this because his attention is currently on Fiddler & Sceviour.

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Fiddler is pushed to the outside by Shattenkirk and he is forced to take a shot from a bad angle, presumably what he didn’t want to do. However, Dallas has an outnumbered situation in front of the goal with Demers being wide open. The Blues were fixated on the two oncoming forwards that the rushing defensemen wasn’t picked up. Luckily for them, all that has to happen is for Elliott to freeze the puck and the play is over.

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Instead, Fiddler purposely shoots the puck off of Elliott’s pads and Demers has a golden chance on the rebound, virtually uncovered because the Blues didn’t read the situation well. This happened to St. Louis frequently early in the series, as they couldn’t handle Dallas’ speed in the neutral zone and it seemed like they added a new layer to their attack every game. Things eventually settled down for them, though and Ken Hitchcock found ways to disrupt some of Dallas’ breakouts and keep them from gaining speed in the neutral zone, especially as he started to get the matchups he wanted.

This moment from Game 3 is a good example:

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The Blues send out Backes, Tarasenko & Fabbri for an offensive zone faceoff against the Radek Faksa’s line along with Russell & Demers on defense. This is definitely a favorable matchup for St. Louis. The Stars are setting up their breakout with Russell going towards the wall and Hemsky flying the zone looking for a pass. Roussel is also there to act as a passing option but he lost his stick, so things are off time for about a second.

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Russell continues to go up the wall, presumably looking for Hemsky, but the Blues cut off the lane. He has an easier passing option in Roussel (and potentially Faksa), but there’s two Blues players right in his face, so Russel ends up panicking and sends the puck up the wall.

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The puck is predicably turned over and Tarasenko is able to setup Fabbri in the high slot for a good scoring chance with Backes causing a disturbance in front of the net. Turnovers lead to breakdowns and dangerous areas on the ice are going to open up (like the high slot) when you have guys scrambling back into position. The Blues made a point to do pressure Dallas’ breakouts and force turnovers after they were carved up in the neutral zone in the first two games.

Another example of this came later in Game 3 where they were able to disrupt a more controlled breakout by Dallas.

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John Klingberg currently has the puck and the Stars should be able to get out of their zone relatively easily, as the Blues have only one forechecker and Klingberg has three options he can go to.

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Klingberg ends up being a little too patient with the breakout and Tarasenko chases him around the net. All three of Dallas’ forwards haven’t flown the zone yet, but Eakin is the only one left and Klingberg making a pass to him now is a bit of a high risk play since Tarasenko forced him behind the net.

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Klingberg tries to skate himself out of trouble and runs into three St. Louis players. All three Dallas forwards are gone at this point, so the most he can do here is clear the puck off the boards or into the bench.

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Instead, he hangs onto the puck a little longer than he probably should have and the puck is turned over. St. Louis eventually scored on this play, so it ended up being a double-whammy for Dallas. Klingberg is normally a lot more efficient at finding an out when he’s in trouble, but Tarasenko did a great job of leading him into a trap by being aggressive on the forecheck.

Both of these plays are interesting to go over because Dallas still had an advantage over St. Louis when it came to carrying the puck through the neutral zone. St. Louis didn’t have an answer for that, so their solution was to stop Dallas’ breakouts at the source and keep the puck from getting into the neutral zone all together. It worked like a charm in Game 3 and they had some success with this over the remainder of the series.

St. Louis 5v5 Shots & Passes

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St. Louis changed up their lines throughout the series, so picking one standout is tough. That said, Brouwer might have been their best forward all series, from an offensive standpoint at least. He did a little of everything and showed some great chemistry with both Paul Stastny & Robby Fabbri. Brouwer was one of their many players who consistently found open spots in the Stars defense and made the most of his opportunities. Fabbri was also very effective here, ranking second in primary shot assists per 60 minutes. Combine that with his work as a puck-carrier in the neutral zone and he also ended up being a very important player. Stastny also did well for himself, although most of his opportunities came off rebounds or Brouwer setting him up close to the net.

Tarasenko also had a solid series, leading the Blues in shots by a wide margin and doing a lot of work on his own. Both Lehtera and Schwartz put up pretty low numbers for their standards and 12 of Tarasenko’s 30 shot attempts came without an assist, so he had to carry some of the weight on his own. Part of that is due to Schwartz & Lehtera not getting open in the offensive zone as much as usual, leaving Tarasenko with not as many options.

Also posting low shot numbers are most of St. Louis’ defense, which was a little surprising with how talented the Blues defense corps is producing offense. However, the Blues ended up using this to their advantage, as Dallas was taking away the points for most of the series. This opened up opportunities for other players.

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This is shortly after a faceoff. You’ll notice that Dallas sent a forward out to Kevin Shattenkirk’s lane to pressure him and possibly block a shot. The Blues work the play around to the other side of the ice to Joel Edmundson, who is less likely to take a shot and make a play than Shattenkirk.

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Not being the best play-maker, Edmundson reads this situation well and works the puck down to Backes on the wall. Dallas still has a forward out at the point and it opens up some space in the slot area where both Patrick Berglund & Robby Fabbri are lurking.

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Backes has enough space to setup the high forward Fabbri for a one-timer and Niemi has to move laterally to make the save. Dallas recovered just in time to get someone on Fabbri, but it was a little too late and could have been a lot worse if they didn’t read this play in time. Just another example of how the Blues were able to get the puck to this particular area.

5v5 Dallas Stars Shots & Passes

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Dallas’ offensive distribution ended up being way more top-heavy than St. Louis with one person doing the bulk of the work on each line. On the first line, Jamie Benn carried the load and got some help from Patrick Sharp, both as a shooter and a passer. I thought Sharp had a quiet series for his standards and when you look at how effective Benn was as a passer, it’s a little surprising that he didn’t have more shots. Him being behind Sceviour & Eaves in this department is also pretty glaring, but St. Louis seemed to do a decent job of covering him and Cody Eakin was playing out of his depth as the first line center.

Jason Spezza & Valeri Nichushkin carried the second line with Janmark struggling to find much of a rhythm as a passer. Ruff never tried to load up the first line (at least not for an entire game) but it would have been interesting to see Spezza & Benn spend more time together, even if it would cause some depth problems with the second & third lines.

Speaking of which, Ales Hemsky absolutely killed it on the third line and saw virtually no reward for it, recording only one assist all series. It’s unfortunately because this was some of the best hockey he played in a Stars uniform but he just couldn’t catch a break on either end. Even if you argue that he wasn’t creating chances (he was), his linemates not finishing is totally out of his control as both Roussel & Faksa were snake-bitten as well. It’s too bad because maybe this series ends up differently if this line gets a few goals, but they ended up not producing much despite playing well in other areas and it put the Stars behind a little.

Also clumped together with the group of forwards on the graph is defensemen John Klingberg & Alex Goligoski, who were the Stars best playmaking defensemen by a mile. Like I said earlier, they were given the greenlight to do just about anything they wanted and it paid dividends, as both nicely contributed to the offense, even outperforming some of their forwards. That said, as active as these two were, the only other defensemen who got involved in the offense consistently was Demers, but most of it stems from the Oduya-Johns having a different role and playing a more conservative style.

The Final Word

This was a tough, well-earned series win for the Blues and they did it on the back of their offense and taking advantage of some of Dallas’ miscues in the defensive zone. They had to take some lumps in the first couple of games, but they developed a good counter strategy and eventually found some holes in Dallas’ game. The advantage they had in goal obviously played a huge role too, as Elliott had to come up big in a couple of games for them, especially while they were defending a lead. Dallas is a great team, though and it will be interesting to see what they can do next year with a different-looking roster.

Under The Microscope: San Jose Sharks vs. Nashville Predators

Next up in our look back at the playoffs is the second round series between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks. Out of all the matchups, this is the one I was looking forward to tracking the most.  Both teams are among my favorites in the league to watch and their seven-game playoff series didn’t disappoint one bit. This series went back-and-forth and home ice seemed to dictate who had the advantage, with San Jose ultimately coming out on top in a 5-0 blowout in Game 7.

Going into the series, I thought both teams were good enough to win their conference. San Jose had a great season and just made quick work of the Los Angeles Kings while Nashville just knocked off the top-seeded Anaheim Duck in seven games. Nashville might have been a Wild Card team, but they quietly had a very good season and were a top-three team in controlling territorial play. A sub-par season from Pekka Rinne was a big reason why they ended up lower in the standings than they should have been and they matched up pretty well with San Jose from a stats point of view, ranking two spots above them in Score Adjusted Fenwick.

On the surface, this series was pretty uneven in the sense that it kept going back-and-forth and the advantage seemed to shift to whoever had home ice. San Jose appeared to have the upper-hand the entire way, though. After all, they never fell behind in this series, led the Preds in every game and it took Nashville a couple of overtime wins to tie the series and force a Game 7. Still, Nashville gave them quite a scare and they were one game away from pulling off another huge upset. What made this a tight series and what led to the Sharks coming out on top?

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