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Sharks vs. Kings: Breaking down special teams play

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The division rivals appear eerily similar on special teams, but a deeper look reveals some bad news for the Sharks.

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the narratives, shorthanded and power play opportunities are no less prevalent in the postseason than in the regular season. Hockey-Graphs' Garret Hohl found last year that teams from 2007-14 were actually called for slightly more penalties per game and per 60 minutes in the postseason than in the regular season.

Even strength success is still the best indicator for future success, but a maximum sample size of seven games in a series allows for much more variance, and special teams success can swing a series. So, just how do the Kings and Sharks compare on special teams?

Power Play

Like objects behind your rear view mirrors, the Sharks and Kings have power plays that are much closer in effectiveness than they initially appear.

As has been the case nearly every year since 2005, the Sharks once again had one of the league's top power play units. The Sharks ranked third in the league at 22.5%, and led the league with 59 goals scored on the man advantage. San Jose has four players in the top 20 in power play points (Burns, Pavelski, Thornton, and Marleau),

Since Joe Thornton's arrival in San Jose over ten years ago, no team in the NHL has generated shots at a higher rate on the power play than the Sharks. The shots aren't generating as many shots this season, but the underlying numbers suggest they're still quite good, with a top-10 CF/60 rate. The Fenwick/60 numbers aren't as kind to the Sharks, who attempted unblocked shots at just the 17th-best rate in the league this season.

The Kings sit ahead of the Sharks in both categories, ranking third in shot attempt rate and second in unblocked shot attempt rate. Despite this, the Kings' power play ranks behind the Sharks' at eighth leaguewide, thanks in part to an on-ice shooting perecentage with the extra man that ranks just 13th. The Sharks, by contrast, sit at fifth in the league, shooting 14.3%.

Given the unpredictable nature of power play shooting percentages, San Jose and Los Angeles could be due for the same side of the regression coin: less goals for the team in teal, and more goals with an extra man for the team in black and white. The boxcar numbers paint a better picture for the Sharks, while the underlying stats suggest the Kings have the better unit. So, I'm giving a slight edge here to Los Angeles.

Penalty Kill

Once again, the Kings' underlying numbers on the penalty kill look better than their actual percentage. This season, Los Angeles killed 81.4% of their penalties, good for 15th in the league. That's only 0.9% better than the Sharks, who sit at 20th. But, the real difference in these two lies in their ability to suppress shots.

Los Angeles allows all shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts at the 10th and 16th best rates per 60 minutes this season. The Sharks, meanwhile, sit 23rd and 17th in those respective categories.

We know that penalty kill save percentage is due to pretty extreme variance, so has Los Angeles benefited from some lucky goaltending when skating shorthanded? Not really, as the Kings have gotten just the 20th-best penalty kill save percentage this season, and their PDO on the penalty kill sits at just 97.0. By contrast, the Sharks have gotten the 13th-best goaltending on the penalty kill, and have the fifth-highest PDO when playing shorthanded.

The Kings' advantage over the Sharks on the penalty kill doesn't appear that large when just examining each team's killing percentage. But, a deeper look shows the Kings suppress shot attempts at a better rate than the Sharks, and thus have the edge in the penalty kill as well.

Takeaways

Although not as pronounced on the power play as on the penalty kill, the Kings' special teams is better than the Sharks, and should give San Jose plenty of trouble. Los Angeles could be due for regression to the mean, meaning they could be in for even more success down and up an extra man. The good news for the Sharks is that they managed to win three of five against the Kings despite going just 5-of-23 on the power play, and 16-of-20 on the penalty kill. They've shown they can win without playing their best on special teams, but doing so would go a long way towards knocking off their division rival.