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Don’t give the power play more credit than it deserves

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It’s not a miracle elixir, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

San Jose Sharks v New Jersey Devils Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

You know the cliche “doing good is its own reward?”

That’s because there’s no one hanging around with giant ass medals for the non-Wookiees in the group (sorry Chewie, that shit’s messed up). Likewise, the San Jose Sharks getting their act together on the power play won’t cause them to be great in other areas of their game.

There’s no secret momentum to be gained by scoring more and, no, don’t buy into the notion that failing to score consistently on the power play leads to other teams “taking liberties” with your players. In fact, let’s just unpack that from a logic standpoint, shall we? Jamie Baker, who is dearly beloved on this website, brought that up during the game against the Capitals. He didn’t invent the notion; it’s frankly commonplace and it... just doesn’t make sense to me.

The idea is if a team knows you’re bad at scoring on the power play they’re not afraid to commit penalties anymore. There’s a lot to unpack here. The first assumption is the other team knows you’re bad at scoring on the power play. That part isn’t far fetched because teams scout other teams (whoa). However, I’d be very surprised if players know which teams are top five on the power play and which are bottom five at any given time.

Edit: Friend of the Blog Kevin Kurz wants us to know that teams definitely know this part is true. Carry on.

Let’s just assume that’s true, though. The next assumption is teams use this knowledge to their advantage, perhaps in a sinister way. So the [insert shady players] of the world will come after Tomas Hertl because they’re not afraid of your power play. Is that how it works? Is James Neal shaking in his boots because the Capitals might score an extra goal? Does anyone believe that?

Even if we remove the sinister nature of this logic, I think it gives players too much credit for how much control they have over the penalties they commit. I’ll buy certain guys play with an edge (and know it) in order to be effective NHLers, but I’ll wager most skaters can’t help whether they commit or draw penalties: it’s a part of their existing skillset. If they could influence how often they end up in the box, they’d already be doing it, right?

Now let’s tackle the much less definable concept of momentum. Let’s not make this some big, nasty flamewar over something that I’m not convinced matters all that much. Sufficed to say, I don’t think professional hockey players let a failed power play get into their heads. If they did, they wouldn’t be playing in the NHL. So while scoring on the power play is preferable to not scoring, let’s try not to overstate the positive mental health aspects of putting a puck in the back of the net, okay?

As it stands, the Sharks entered Saturday’s game against Nashville 25th in the NHL in goals-for per 60 minutes at 5v4. That’s not good. Here’s something to keep in mind: San Jose can win the Stanley Cup and continue to be terrible on the power play. Did I just blow your mind?

Bad power play teams have won the Stanley Cup in recent memory. Would you like to know who they are? I can see you wildly nodding your heads while others have already thrown their computers out the window in anticipation. Try to keep calm. Since the 2009-10 season, here is where each Cup winner has ranked in terms of GF60 at 5v4 play.

2009-10: Chicago (8th)

2010-11: Boston (26th)

2011-12: Los Angeles (23rd)

2012-13: Chicago (28th)

2013-14: Los Angeles (27th)

2014-15: Chicago (20th)

2015-16: Pittsburgh (11th)

My point isn’t “the Sharks shouldn’t fix the power play.” San Jose should absolutely fix its power play, which has become stale. I’ve advocated for changes on it both in pieces on this website, on Twitter and the podcast (hey! subscribe to that!)

But it’s important to understand the recipe to the Stanley Cup doesn’t fall apart without one ingredient. The Sharks are a great team because even without an elite power play they can still go all the way. San Jose has, in my opinion, skated without an optimized lineup for most of the season and persevered because it is a great team. That’s how this works!

So instead of having a freak out because the team isn’t perfect, I dunno, enjoy we have something to talk about. Let’s try and figure out the best power-play formation. No, this isn’t trickling down to the coaching staff, but what fun is being a fan of a team if we’re not yelling suggestions at a brick wall? I thought that was the point.