There are a number of reasons the Sharks are down 3-2 to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final, but special teams stand chief among them. San Jose has just one power-play goal in 10 opportunities, lowing its postseason power-play percentage to 24.6.
First thing’s first: The referees have not called many penalties in the Final. San Jose has had 10 power plays and Pittsburgh has had just 11 — or two a game for the Sharks and 2.2 for the Penguins, just in case you wanted to see me flex my math muscles here for a moment.
For context, San Jose had 63 and Pittsburgh had 64 in the 18 previous postseason game. That’s 3.5 power plays a game for the Sharks and 3.55 for the Penguins, so we’ve seen a pretty steep drop in penalties. San Jose’s only power-play goal this series came in the game one defeat, while the Penguins scored a power-play goal in both game four and five.
The Sharks movement-heavy power play can best be disrupted by an active penalty kill, at least in the short term. San Jose struggled against Boston’s penalty kill (noting the extremely small sample here) which tries to score as much as it tries to disrupt its opponent’s offense. For example, on the Sharks’ late power play.
Here the Sharks won a faceoff draw and took a point shot that missed the net and rimmed all the way around the boards and out of the Penguins’ zone. While San Jose goes back to recover the puck, Eric Fehr applies pressure to Brent Burns in an effort to slow down the Sharks’ possession play.
Logan Couture recovers the puck with two Penguins players below the dots. As such, the Sharks still have four players inside of the defensive zone while on the power play. You can’t see it on this screen, but Pittsburgh has its other two penalty killers sitting on the Sharks blue line with the remaining San Jose skater.
As the Sharks move through the neutral zone, all four Penguins do their best to clog up space, making the zone entry more difficult for San Jose. This forces the Sharks to shuffle the puck into Pittsburgh’s zone instead of openly carrying it in to set things up.
We know that getting a cycle set up is the key to a successful power play, so it makes sense that the Penguins are trying to disrupt that with their penalty kill. Once the Sharks get set up in the Penguins zone they’ve done a good job creating shots — they put five on goal in their first power play of the evening.
So the Penguins have found a way to slow the Sharks power play, but not exactly stop it (yes, yes, 1/10 conversion rate blah blah). For San Jose to break through, they’ll need to hold possession in the Pittsburgh zone — once the puck gets out, things get a little dicey.