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Analyzing Sheary and his drop in offensive production this season

What’s going on with Conor Sheary? We took a closer look at the once very lucrative third-year winger.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Conor Sheary isn’t in his sophomore season, but he’s sure in a noticeable slump.

The third-year winger hasn’t been playing up to the standards both he and this Penguins team demands, and it seems as though as each game passes, Sheary falls more and more to the way side. The once celebrated complement to Sidney Crosby’s left side has been tossed around each of Pittsburgh’s four forward lines by Mike Sullivan, as the head coach is still trying to figure out combinations that work the best. But no matter where he’s slotted, Sheary can’t seem to consistently find the score sheet like he did in his past two seasons. It’s causing a reason for concern.

A short recap on his history: Sheary came into the NHL back in the 2015-16 season and was on the ice for 44 games. As a rookie during that stint, he put up small totals, with 10 points (seven goals, three assists) altogether. He was a midseason AHL call up from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins where, in the 30 games he suited up for the Baby Pens, he had 36 points — the majority coming from set up passes for his teammates. Sheary corralled 29 helpers during that time.

In the 2014-15 season with WBS, Sheary had really solid offensive numbers. In his 58 games played, he tallied 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) and had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in the Calder Cup playoffs that year. This is the period in his career he really started impressing Head Coach Clark Donatelli and was no doubt closely monitored by Jim Rutherford in Pittsburgh.

Since making the jump to the big leagues, Sheary, 25, has done well for himself. He’s speedy, he’s aggressive, and as a rookie, he put up four goals and six assists to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2016. Despite his size, he’s always been useful.

The 2017 Cup run was a bit of a different story, and it may have been his small stature that stunted his offensive production. With the tough and physical series with both Columbus and Washington, the 5’8”, 175lb Sheary took a beating after playing his first full NHL season and produced only two assists in the entire first round against the Blue Jackets. He then only scored one point in the next 10 playoff games. Sheary went from starting on the top line with Crosby to sitting in the press box during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He did end up netting two goals during the Stanley Cup Finals, but it was evident something about his game was trailing off.

This season is puzzling, and questions are raising around why Sheary isn’t getting involved in the offense as much as he has in the past. He has only 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists). In his last five games, he has only one point, and that assist came against the Kings two weeks ago.

The weird thing is, when you take a look at his fancy stats, other than the lack of scoring, Sheary’s actually not playing poorly. His Corsi For is solid at 54 percent and his Fenwick For is just a tad higher at 54.4 percent. Sheary’s shot attempts per 60 is at the 73rd percentile and his shot contributions are in the 52nd percentile.

He’s also focuses a lot of his attention on crashing the net when shooting, and that’s a recipe for goals. For whatever reason, pucks just aren’t falling.

via Hockey Viz

However, his struggles lie in his defensive zone exists and his offensive zone entries. You’ve probably noticed his inability to handle and receive passes. Since he’s a fast skater, he should be over the 50th percentile, but he’s below that (just barely) in both categories. That might be the difference, slight as it is, that’s holding him back. Fast breaks and possession through the neutral zone leads to high-frequency offensive chances, and he’s not getting involved in those instances as often as he used to.

This is resonating with Sullivan — he’s consistently shedding off Sheary’s minutes every game. At the start of the season, Sheary was getting around 15-17 minutes in TOI a game. Recently, it’s been down to about 12-13. Against Florida, he only saw the ice for nine minutes. Something strange is going on with him.

It’s not as if Sheary’s had awful line mates holding him back. Lack of consistency has plagued this entire roster, but other guys are still heavily producing. Sheary has more or less been a placeholder lately when it comes to garnering stats. His struggles, as we noticed Tuesday night in the tilt with the Devils, have caused Sullivan to try and see if Riley Sheahan would be an answer to the left side. Sheahan would go on to receive a few shifts in Sheary’s place.

With the Penguins basically rolling with three first lines, Sheary’s slump might finally end as the team finds more consistency in future lineups. With the playoffs nearing, it coudn’t happen at a more opportunistic time.