The Sharks Very Special Teams

It is not hard to explain the success of the San Jose Sharks this season. They are stingy on defense and solid in goal. But even so, they are below average at even strength.

Where the Sharks are above average is on special teams. On special teams, the Sharks have been very special. For the most part, people accept the percentage figures to rank the two special teams: the power play and the penalty kill. Using the percentages, the Sharks rank sixth on the power play, clicking along at 22.1%. It has been electric in the past month, with 17 of the team’s 31 power play goals coming since Dec. 7. The 31 power play goals are good for sixth in the league.

The penalty kill is third in the league at 84.4%, trailing only the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings.

Aaron Dell
Goalie Aaron Dell (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Both the power play and penalty kill benefit from a closer look. The power play net is a plus-30. San Jose has scored 31 times, but importantly, they have only given up a single shorthanded goal, tied for best in the league. This bumps them up a notch to fifth-best in the league.

The penalty kill also benefits from looking at the net goal totals, not just the goals allowed. The 20 power play goals allowed are offset by the seven total shorthanded goals scored (one came on a penalty shot while short-handed). Overall, the Sharks are a net minus-13 on the penalty kill. This is best in the league – the Kings are second at minus-15.

The Full Story

Taken as a complete view, the Sharks are plus-17 on special teams, which is best in the league.

Sharks special teams
Top special teams through January 5, 2018. Net goals includes both goals scored and goals allowed.

The Sharks have scored seven more goals than they have allowed this season, a composite plus-eight. They are a minus-10 at even strength to couple with their plus-17 on special teams. It is helpful for a team to know its strengths and play to them.

Notable Players

Joe Thornton’s results mimic the team results. He has been a power play beast with 14 points. But at even strength, he is minus-nine. Another power play standout is Kevin Labanc, who has 11 power play points despite being a part-time player and spending most of his power play time on the second unit.

Joe Thornton
Joe Thornton (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Brent Burns is perhaps the most interesting case. He has been strong on both the power play (14 points) and penalty kill, while weak, especially defensively, at even-strength play (as his minus-16 suggests). On the penalty kill, Burns’ is more of a stay at home defenseman. He uses his length to disrupt the opposition and once he gets the puck on his stick, he wastes no time in getting pucks down the ice. Burns has over 70 minutes of penalty-killing ice time, and is an impressive minus-two in this time.

Melker Karlsson sees minimal power play time, but his tenacious style has been terrific on the penalty kill. He is minus-one in over 50 minutes of penalty-killing time and has one of the team’s short-handed goals. Meanwhile, Chris Tierney has three points while short-handed, including the aforementioned penalty shot score.

DeBoer Gives Credit

When asked about the penalty kill and its success, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer gave credit to assistant coach Dave Barr. Barr was also on DeBoer’s staff in New Jersey. The pair had great success with the penalty kill there, and Barr has implemented the same approaches in San Jose.

Peter DeBoer Sharks
Head coach Peter DeBoer  (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Opportunity

Beginning with the win over Carolina on Dec. 7, the power play delivered 17 goals in 13 games while the penalty kill allowed only eight and scored three times shorthanded. Overall, special teams are plus-12 in this span, nearly a one goal per game differential over the opposition. The special teams success is making a difference in the standings for San Jose – seven of the Sharks games in this span have gone into overtime.

The data here suggests San Jose can be more aggressive. They are tied for 10th in penalties drawn (140), but have been shorthanded 128 times, tenth-fewest in the league. The Sharks are well-served by games with plenty of penalties against each team.

For the Sharks, their special teams are leading the way.

Zeke’s Notes

• Among the better penalty killers for the Sharks was Ryan Carpenter. The Sharks attempted to demote Carpenter to their AHL team, the San Jose Barracuda. Carpenter did not clear waivers – he was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 13. Carpenter didn’t crack the lineup in his first three weeks there, but finally played his first game for Vegas on Friday.

• There is no particular reason the Sharks should be especially good against Canadian teams, but it has worked out this way. San Jose is 9-1-3 versus Canadian teams this season.

• Its time for the John Tavares rumors to start heating up again. The New York Islanders are on a five-game losing streak and now have just two more wins than regulation losses. When adjusting for games in hand, this places the Isles in a three-way tie for last in the Metropolitan Division with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. There is a notable gap between these three teams and fifth place Carolina, sitting in the final playoff spot.