Sharks Penalty Kill Sinking Their Record And Niemi May Be to Blame

The San Jose Sharks are all but done this year. 8 points out of a playoff spot and drowning in their own mediocrity, the Sharks have only themselves to blame. Want to know why? The Sharks penalty kill has sunk with their points percentage. THW has illustrated this decline. What does this mean for Team Teal’s future? How does Todd McLellan or whoever takes over fix it?

The Research

A running count of all of San Jose’s penalty kills through 73 games was tallied. Successful kills were tracked alongside the Sharks point percentage. The graph that follows is a little eerie.

Sharks penalty kill
Long before the February collapse, the Sharks were shooting themselves in the foot

Two major points of the season need to stand out. The first is the marked part of the graph, the month of February. The Sharks dropped 10 of their 13 games and only earned 8 whole points. Their freefall wasn’t close either. They only managed to score more than 2 goals 6 times. And in that span, 9 of the 13 games had the Sharks penalty kill succeeding less than 80% of the time.

sharks penalty kill
(Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

The second data point is the sharp increase in points the Sharks enjoyed over a 10 game period from the end of October to November. After a four game slide that included losses to Buffalo (again), Florida (before they were a playoff threat), and the Coyotes (who are embroiled in the McDavid Sweepstakes), the Sharks topped the Ducks in a 6-4 affair. They won 9 of 10 and only went to OT once. But even more impressive? Their penalty kill was 19 for 21. That’s 90.5% for all the math majors out there.

Disciplined Yet Punished

As one of five teams with less than 200 penalty kills to their credit, the Sharks are one of the least penalized teams in the league (4th). But they rank as the fifteenth best in power play goals against. That clocks in as the 24th penalty kill percentage. What does that lead me to believe? The Sharks are either easy to figure out or there is a glaring weakness in their special teams unit. Is that weakness their netminder?

sharks penalty kill
Can you really blame the goalie sometimes? (Bridget DS/Flickr)

Per, Antti Niemi is the worst penalty killing goalie among qualifying keepers. His save percentage and adjusted save percentage while shorthanded are the lowest of all goalies. The best? Semyon Varlamov, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Cory Schneider (a guy who is carrying a listless Devils team out of the McDavid sweepstakes).

Are his defenders just letting the pucks get in too close? Apparently not. The only stat that Nemo isn’t bottom dwelling on is the save percentage of the most dangerous variety. Niemi is 6th out of 18 qualifiers in high-danger save percentage! He’s ahead of that guy who’s going to win the Vezina (Carey Price) in that category. But on low-danger and medium-danger shots (shots from the point and outside the dots) Niemi is terrible. Dead last by over 3 points in both of those, Niemi has faltered down the stretch. And with the failure of the last line of defense, the Sharks have sunk with him.

He’s Hot Then He’s Cold

Avid fans of recent Super Bowl performer, Katy Perry will recognize her first hit’s lyrics. Antti Niemi had a recent stretch where he was winning his critics and fans over again. Miraculous performances made everyone hope for the Sharks to surge just in time for the playoffs. But isn’t that just like Antti Niemi?

sharks penalty kill
(Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

Niemi has never been consistently elite. He flashes Vezina caliber talent and then loses his job to Alex Stalock in the playoffs. His season stats never transfer from year to year. From 2009-2014 his save percentage was .912, .920, .915, .924, and .913 respectively. The truth is, Niemi is an enigma. He isn’t prototypical in terms of his stat lines. He follows no identifiable trend. He can struggle against the Sabres and then steal a game against the Penguins. He can shutout the Predators twice and then get chased by the Winnipeg Jets.