What’s wrong with the San Jose Sharks’ power play?
It’s hard to imagine such a star-studded power play struggling, but here we are: Since the Vegas series, San Jose has the worst power play in the league. They’ve scored just one goal at 5-on-4 in the last 10 games.
The better question: What’s not wrong with their power play?
Even when they’ve gained the zone, they’re not creating second chances. Joe Pavelski said after Game 2: “It was just one and done. Those little things that help you sustain an attack in zone, we weren’t good enough.”
Since topping the Golden Knights, the Sharks’ 89.66 Corsi For/60 at 5-on-4 is second-to-last in the league, per Natural Stat Trick. That’s a far cry from their second-best 104.48 CF60 at 5-on-4 in the regular season.
Hand in hand with not getting enough rubber on net is a disturbing lack of high-danger opportunities. In just this series, San Jose’s 4.96 High-danger Corsi For Per 60 at 5-on-4 pales in comparison to their robust regular season 24.94.
So they’re not doing much in zone. How are they getting into the zone?
If you can believe it, they’ve been worse.
By my count, the Sharks have just a 39.4 Carry-in Percentage at 5-on-4 in this series (13 of 33). According to Corey Sznadjer, who has tracked this stat over thousands of NHL games, “70 percent is the league average.”
Of course, a lot of credit must go to the Blues’ penalty kill. They don’t pressure much up ice, but they’ve stood the Sharks up at the blueline with impunity.
Craig Berube added, “Having a really good stand on our blueline, we’ve forced a number of turnovers or dump-ins.”
For example, St. Louis has done an excellent job of sniffing out the drop pass. This is from Game 1:
Oskar Sundqvist (70) mirrored Brent Burns (88) from behind, taking away the immediate drop pass. Ivan Barbashev (49) stepped up to add an additional layer of pressure. Burns was able to drop it to San Jose’s number-one drop option, Tomas Hertl (48), but it’s not a clean pass.
Hertl tried to take it in himself, but Barbashev swiped the puck away at the blueline.
In fact, the Blues seem to have discouraged the drop pass as a whole: The Sharks have tried just six drop passes on their 33 attempted 5-on-4 entries; only one drop pass has led to a successful carry-in. Erik Karlsson and company have relied mostly on the five-man “swing.”
That’s when they’re not dumping it in. San Jose seems to have dumped the puck in more in response to a more conservative St. Louis penalty kill. In fact, they dumped it in five times out of 13 attempted power play entries in Game 2, with at least a couple pre-mediated attempts before penalty kill pressure.
In total, they’ve dumped the puck in nine times at 5-on-4 over three contests. The problem? The Sharks have only recovered two of those dump-ins.
“We’re retrieving or Binnington is doing a good job with the puck back there, making a play, getting it out,” Berube noted.
Let’s focus on this Jordan Binnington skill here:
Evander Kane (9) tried to rim it past Binnington (50), but the goaltender stopped it and gave it back. Joe Thornton (19) took a turn, but again, Binnington stopped it.
This time though, Binnington made a soft pass into Jay Bouwmeester’s (19) wheelhouse in the corner. Bouwmeester relayed it to an open Alexander Steen (20). Clear.
Indeed, Binnington is an adept puck handler. It’s incumbent on the Sharks to either place the puck softly in the corner so Binnington can’t skate to it — or blast it hard around so the goalie can’t stop it.
In most cases, you want to carry it in on the power play. But if the penalty kill isn’t giving you much, there are right ways and wrong ways to dump it in.
“We have to come with more speed. Sometimes, we just have to chip it in,” Hertl acknowledged. “We got the extra guy. If they have two, we have to get three guys, work for it. We have to be better.”
San Jose’s inability to carry the puck in on 5-on-4 underscores the general feeling that Erik Karlsson is still a ways from 100 percent. Karlsson’s health is a tired story, but the two-time Norris Trophy winner can impact his team’s power play entries significantly when right. And despite showing some flashes in the Colorado series, it appears he’s still not quite right.