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The 16-Game Sniff Test: How do the Sharks measure up?

As the Sharks have racked up points to start this season, I've had my attention fixed on where they'd sit after the sixteen game mark. Why sixteen games, you ask? For one, it does represent the first 20% of the season, but more importantly, it's where I mentally set the bar two years ago when the Ducks finally suffered a regulation loss in Game 17.

This originally was going to be a comparison of just the 06-07 Ducks and the 08-09 Sharks, but since I started mulling the idea I've been reminded that it's not just the Ducks that started their season on fire en route to a Stanley Cup. Here's a look at the last four cup winners have performed in their (mostly) first sixteen games, with the Sharks thrown in for comparison. In the right-hand column I have included each team's record through 60 minutes -- probably more indicative of projected postseason play.
Overall Records:

Team

Raw Record GF – GA = GD PP PK Regulation Record

03-04
Lightning
*

11-2-2-1, 25 pts
0.781

47 – 29 = 18
2.94 – 1.81 = 1.13

14 / 78
17.9%

7 / 64
89.1%

10-2-4, 24 pts
0.750

05-06
Hurricanes
**

12-2-1, 25 pts
0.833

59 – 38 = 21
3.93 – 2.53 = 1.40

21 / 96
21.9%

15 / 81
81.5%

10-2-3, 23 pts
0.767

06-07
Ducks

12-0-4, 28 pts
0.875

57 – 32 = 25
3.56 – 2.00 = 1.56

18 / 86
20.9%

10 / 92
89.1%

9-0-7, 25 pts
0.781

07-08
Red Wings

13-2-1, 27 pts
0.844

54 – 33 = 21
3.38 – 2.06 = 1.31

18 / 77
23.4%

10 / 85
88.2%

11-2-3, 25 pts
0.781

08-09
Sharks

13-3-0, 26 pts
0.813

52 – 38 = 14
3.25 – 2.38 = 0.88

13 / 80
16.3%

9 / 61
85.2%

10-3-3, 23 pts
0.719


* Remember when standings used to have four columns? For those of us who need reminding (I sure did!), the Lightning had 2 ties and 1 overtime loss in their first 16.
** I gave the Hurricanes a break and only showed their first 15 games. In Game 16, the Atlanta Thrashers smoked the 'Canes 9-0 in Raleigh and threw off all the statistics. Mentally add it if you must.

First off, I want to caution reading too much into these comparisons: sixteen games guarantees absolutely nothing except a leg up on a playoff position, and there's no real need for the Sharks to outperform any of these prior cup winners -- San Jose won't be facing these lineups this year.

Secondly, I want to emphasize more about comparisons with the Ducks and Red Wings, and less about the Lightning and Hurricanes. I included the Southeast winners because they did reinforce the pattern, but their Cup Finals were a bit unique -- meeting a bottom seed in the west and requiring a seventh game at home to seize their prize. No offense, but the Ducks and Wings represent teams that cruised to victory over more traditional Finals opponents, and their regular seasons were more similar to today's NHL.

Thirdly, we should always keep in mind sample size -- sixteen games is meaningful, but stats still can certainly be affected by an outlier game. With that in mind, here's the home and road splits, which represent even fewer games :)
Home Records:

Team

Raw Record GF – GA = GD PP PK Regulation Record

03-04
Lightning

8-1-1-1, 18 pts
0.818

37 – 20 = 17
3.36 – 1.82 = 1.55

11 / 62
17.7%

5 / 47
89.4%

7-1-3, 17 pts
0.773

05-06
Hurricanes

7-0-0, 14 pts
1.000

30 – 18 = 12
4.29 – 2.57 = 1.71

10 / 48
20.8%

9 / 43
79.1%

5-0-2, 12 pts
0.857

06-07
Ducks

7-0-3, 17 pts
0.850

37 – 22 = 15
3.70 – 2.20 = 1.50

13 / 59
22.0%

7 / 58
87.9%

6-0-4, 16 pts
0.800

07-08
Red Wings

7-1-0, 14 pts
0.875

26 – 15 = 11
3.25 – 1.88 = 1.38

10 / 43
23.3%

6 / 38
84.2%

5-1-2, 12 pts
0.750

08-09
Sharks

9-0-0, 18 pts
1.000

32 – 17 = 15
3.56 – 1.89 = 1.67

6 / 47
12.8%

4 / 31
87.1%

7-0-2, 16 pts
0.889



Road Records:

Team

Raw Record GF – GA = GD PP PK Regulation Record

03-04
Lightning

3-1-1-0, 7 pts
0.700

10 – 9 = 1
2.00 – 1.80 = 0.20

3 / 16
18.8%

2 / 17
88.2%

3-1-1, 7 pts
0.700

05-06
Hurricanes

5-2-1, 11 pts
0.688

29 – 20 = 9
3.63 – 2.50 = 1.13

11 / 48
22.9%

6 / 38
84.2%

5-2-1, 11 pts
0.688

06-07
Ducks

5-0-1, 11 pts
0.917

20 – 10 = 10
3.33 – 1.67 = 1.67

5 / 27
18.5%

3 / 34
91.2%

3-0-3, 9 pts
0.750

07-08
Red Wings

6-1-1, 13 pts
0.813

28 – 18 = 10
3.50 – 2.25 = 1.25

8 / 34
23.5%

4 / 47
91.5%

6-1-1, 13 pts
0.813

08-09
Sharks

4-3-0, 8 pts
0.571

20 – 21 = -1
2.86 – 3.00 = -0.14

7 / 33
21.2%

5 / 30
83.3%

3-3-1, 7 pts
0.500


Takeaways: If the sixteen-game sniff test bears out, the Sharks are certainly keeping pace with Cup darlings from years past. Their goal-differential and special teams seem a little lower than the winners' trend, but it's certainly not an alarming difference.

One thing I didn't include on these tables was shot differential -- on average, the Sharks outshoot their opponents by a margin of 37 - 25, which is a whopping difference. Only last year's Red Wings on this list were able to match that for their first 16 games (34.5 - 22.4); the Lightning, Hurricanes, and Ducks were all only slightly ahead of their opponents in that regard. This is one reason I'm not too critical of the goal-differential and special teams for the Sharks; it seems like it's more a matter of luck than anything.

If you're looking for a spot of potential mediocrity, though, it might be in the Sharks' road record, which is only .500 through regulation (again, small sample size). Still, winning on the road is one thing that the other Cup winners did very well in their season starts, and that ability served them well enough in the postseason. I wouldn't worry about it too much at this point, Sharks fans, but it's something to pay attention to as the season continues along.

From the Ducks' point of view, there is one other key difference to note about the 06-07 Ducks' start and the 08-09 Sharks: the chasers. Even with the Ducks starting 12-0-4, they barely had any divisonal lead to speak of -- the Dallas Stars at that point were 12-4-0 and the Sharks were 12-5-0. It was an incredible start by all three Pacific teams. This year, the Sharks are being followed by the Ducks (2 games above .500) and the Coyotes (1 game above .500), and the immediate threat of being caught is enormously lessened.

I'm not crowning any champions today, and I'm not ruling out any team from next spring's Cup -- by the time the playoffs roll around, I'll care much more about how the last 80% of the season went than the first 20%, but I had the numbers fairly handy and I thought I'd show the comparison stats.


Question for readers: Why does this pattern exist? Does a fast start give a team any particular edge coming out of a long season, or is it just the case that excellent teams tend to have good starts and tend to win Cups? Also, seeing the comparison, what likelihood would you give these Sharks of becoming champions this coming spring? If you have any observations or theories you want to add (or have any questions about the underlying numbers), feel free to throw them in the comments.