The Sharks penalty kill improved last year after an absolutely dismal season in 2014-15, but it has suffered since Larry Robinson transitioned to a primarily front office role in the 2014-15 campaign. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but what my article presupposes is...what if it does.
Pseudo-joking aside, let’s take a look at the Sharks’ numbers compared to the league average over the past five seasons. Remember they hired Robinson ahead of the 2012-13 season and spent two seasons as a full-time bench coach with San Jose. He was primarily in charge of the defense and penalty kill.
The immense drop in quality from 2013-14 to 2014-15 can mostly be explained by the team being quite bad, but the PK remained below average last season with one of the best Sharks teams in recent memory. So what gives?
The defensive personnel changed a bit over the past several seasons, as you can see in the chart below. I’ve included all defense pairings with at least 50 shorthanded minutes together since the 2011-12 season. Feast your eyes.
Vlasic and Brent Burns feature heavily in this chart, but so does newcomer Paul Martin and some faces that have (in some cases thankfully) moved on. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun played together most frequently over the past five years while Burns and Martin form a new penalty kill pair a season ago.
It’s hard to say how much we can take from the corsi numbers listed above, but it’s worth noting how poor Martin and Burns were together while killing penalties. While the two were perfectly fine at even strength, it seems possible, perhaps even likely, that the two just aren’t great together on the penalty kill.
But back to Robinson. When he joined the Sharks the effects were immediate. San Jose just looked better on the penalty kill with Robinson behind the bench, something that’s corroborated by the numbers. The Sharks PK percentage jumped to 85.03 from 76.89 in Robinson’s first year on staff and dipped only slightly to 84.93 the next year.
The following season is one best forgotten for a whole manner of reasons, the penalty kill being among them. But even with a good team last year, the Sharks remained below average at killing penalties. In all likelihood this has as much to do with the Burns-Martin pairing as it does with losing Robinson, but this shows how much impact an assistant coach can have on the proceedings.
All of this to say: we miss you behind the bench, Larry. Maybe you can show the guys some pointers at training camp this year, or coach the penalty kill from Florida. That’s probably fine, right?