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Sharks vs Oilers: Previewing the special teams matchup

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This is an area where San Jose’s injuries could loom large.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to special teams in the Sharks and Oilers’ first round matchup, Edmonton holds a decided edge on the power play, while the two teams utilize below-average penalty kills. The Sharks’ underlying numbers indicate they may be due for an improvement in both areas, but the absence of the team’s top two centers may make any regression to the mean a moot point.

Power Play

Perhaps the biggest discrepancy on paper lies between the team’s power plays, The Oilers hold the edge, as Todd McLellan’s power play acumen coupled with Edmonton’s top-end skill has fostered one of the league’s best power plays.

Edmonton’s fifth-ranked power-play percentage (22.9%) is 6.2% higher than San Jose’s 25th-ranked clip (16.7%), which also happens to be the lowest of any team to have qualified for the postseason.

The differences loom larger when looking at the rate at which both teams put the puck on net. The Oilers generate 7.52 more shot attempts per 60 (100.82 CF60), 5.28 more unblocked shot attempts per 60 (73.09 FF60), and 5.03 more shots on goal per 60 (52.54 SF60) than the Sharks.

While the Sharks have struggled compared to years past, they have also been a bit unlucky with the extra man. They rank 20th in PDO (101.17), which is worse than all but two playoff teams (Anaheim and Chicago). Additionally, only Colorado (9.67%) rank lower in 5v4 shooting percentage (9.79%).

The Sharks’ ability to catch fire and make their own luck on the power play will likely take a hit without Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, if they are unable to play or aren’t fully healthy. Couture leads the team in power play goals (11), while Thornton leads the team in power play assists (18).

They also rank either first, second, or third on the Sharks in shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, and expected goals per 60 minutes, among players who have played 50 minutes with the man advantage.

With Thornton and Couture, it’s difficult yet possible to envision the Sharks winning the power play battle over Edmonton’s top-five power play. Without them, it’s even harder.

Penalty Kill

Unlike the power play, the Oilers and Sharks are remarkably similar when playing on the penalty kill. The teams finished the season 17th and 18th in penalty kill percentage (80.7%), respectively, according to NHL.com.

Accounting for differences in time spent shorthanded, and examining the rate at which Edmonton and San Jose allow shot attempts and goals in 4v5 situations (by far the most common), the team’s similarities are even more striking. The Oilers (97.03 CA60) allow 0.26 more shot attempts per 60 minutes than the Sharks (96.77), and 0.18 more goals per 60 (5.88 GA60 vs 5.70),

Where the teams begin to diverge is in the rate at which they allow unblocked shot attempts, shots, and scoring chances. The Sharks allow 3.25 more unblocked attempts (71.19 FA60) and 2.34 more shots (49.31 SA60) than the Oilers (67.94 FA60, 47.97 SA60), and that discrepancy was on full display when the teams last played on Thursday. But, Edmonton allows 1.93 more scoring chances (24.91 SCA60) than San Jose (22.98 SCA60).

Those differences seem small, especially given how little time teams spend on the penalty kill over the course of a game. But, allowing a hair more scoring chances, shots, or attempts can seperate opponents quickly over the course of such a small sample size.

Given the subtle differences between the teams’ penalty kills, it stands to reason that Edmonton has the edge given their success on the power play. The Sharks, however, can derive some hope from some potential shorthanded regression for the Oilers.

This season, the Oilers have allowed 5.88 goals every 60 minutes (GA60) they’ve been shorthanded, and have outperformed their expected goals against rate (xGA60), allowing 1.01 fewer goals per 60 than expected.

That difference is the 4th-best among playoff teams, but not as large as you may think. A 4v5 goal against every 60 minutes was the difference between Los Angeles, the league’s best penalty kill by GA60, and the Islanders, the league’s 10th-best penalty kill by that metric.

In a series that will last a maximum of seven games, though, some regression to the mean is likely. Over such a small sample, it’s possible that the Sharks can find their groove and take advantage of the Oilers’ below average penalty kill, and especially so if Talbot, who ranks 23rd in 4v5 SV% (.879), remains beatable.

Conclusion

Given their power play prowess, Edmonton has a deserved edge over San Jose’s special teams. Regression over a short sample size could certainly turn the tables in favor of the Sharks, but Logan Couture and Joe Thornton’s injury status make that task even taller.

All numbers from Corsica unless noted otherwise.