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Sharks power play not a cause for concern

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San Jose looked dangerous on the man-advantage last night.

San Jose Sharks v Los Angeles Kings - Game Two Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

San Jose failed to score on its five power play opportunities against the Kings on Monday night, but viewing the Sharks' man-advantage performance as a problem is a mistake.

Goals don't come as frequently as they used to. That isn't a phenomenon exclusively saved for 5v5 play — it is tougher to score now, at any strength, than it has been in a long, long time. Long gone are days when power plays score goals a third of the time they're on the ice and it's time to adjust our expectations accordingly.

During the regular season only eight teams scored on 20 percent or more of their power play opportunities. The top team (Anaheim) scored on a 23.1 percent clip. That's it. The Sharks, who boast the third-best power play in the NHL, scored man-advantage goals at a rate of 22.5. So based on San Jose's own sterling record, the Sharks should have gotten 1.13 goals last night.

Of course that's not how these numbers work and viewing power plays success or failure as a binary is narrow minded. Not every successful power play ends in a goal — certainly not every man-advantage that fails to convert is a failure. That's not the way (smart) coaches and general managers look at it, and that's not how discerning fans ought to be looking at it either.

San Jose's fourth power play of the night was by far its most potent. The Sharks generated 10 shot attempts in that two-minute flurry, creating chance after chance that Jonathan Quick and the Kings managed to get a body in front of. To classify that power play, a master class in passing and chance generation, a failure or even a problem would be foolish. It also wouldn't be accurate.

The Sharks took 29 shots, five of which were on target, during their five power plays — a perfectly acceptable rate. San Jose's final man-advantage of the even mostly went wasted as the Sharks failed to get their cycle set up in the Kings' zone, but even the best power plays misfire. In a league where succeeding a fifth of the time is elite, San Jose's power play poses no problem for the team's long term success.

A great article by Arik Parnass looks at a better way to evaluate power play success. It's a long, but good read that better explains what teams should be looking to do when up a man. Here's one of the key parts of the piece, as it relates to a team like the Sharks:

Though I am only looking at six teams here, the numbers appear decisive. Getting into formation for a power play unit is an important part of clicking at a high rate, no matter who you are. And that all starts with the regroup.

He found the most consistent way to find success on the power play is by getting set in a formation. San Jose's best power plays come when everyone is set in their spot and the puck can be thrown from player to player before exploiting the first weakness the defense gives them. Parnass writes about Washington's power play, which exhibits this kind of formation better than any team in the NHL, but you can see similar traits in the Sharks' power play.

Here's a look at the Sharks' formation right before Pavelski scores.

Thornton just passed the puck to the middle of the ice and now it's being sent back up to the top for Brent Burns. As Pavelski reads this play he sees all that wide open space in front of him, so he starts to cheat forward. Burns sees Pavelski go, feeds him the puck and boom — 1-1.

San Jose used a very similar formation in last night's fourth power play, with pass after pass leading to shots. Shot volume isn't necessarily the best way to create goals — it's all about passes opening up the perfect shot and then getting that shot away quickly. So while fans might wring their hands when a power play goes more than 15 seconds without a shot, more than likely it's all just a part of the plan.

Despite scoring just twice on the power play in this series, there's no reason to panic about its potency. The Sharks will get their man-advantage goals eventually, for now they just need to stick to the process. Over the past several years, it seems to have worked out for 'em just fine.