Sharks vs. Blues: Let's relax about the San Jose power play
The Sharks have one of the best power plays in the league. It'll be fine.
I think it's fair to chalk most hand-wringing about the Sharks' power play to in-game nerves. That's fine. Tweeting frustration with the power play when it comes up empty is as hockey-fan as cheering big hits and fretting about the impending lock out. For those genuinely concerned with the way the Sharks power play operated on Sunday night, read on.
San Jose played 5.8 minutes 5v4 on Sunday and took five shots and seven shot attempts. The Sharks generated two scoring chances, one of which was of the high-danger variety. Over the season and playoffs the Sharks generate about 0.942 scoring chances per minute of power-play time. In this admittedly hilariously small sample, San Jose generated just 0.345 scoring chances per minute, or about three fewer than the Sharks should have given their average.
So yeah, that's not terrific. In terms of shot attempt generation, the Sharks attempted 72.414 per 60 minutes on Sunday compared to their season long mark of 106.1. This is all to say that you're right, the Sharks did not generate quite as much on the power play on Sunday as they did over the course of the season. Here's why Peter DeBoer was right to stick with the top unit even after misfiring on the previous two opportunity and starting slowly on the third: Because they're better.
I know — groundbreaking. The Sharks top unit, which generally consists of Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture is among the best power-play lines in the NHL. The second unit of Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, Joel Ward, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Burns again is...not. That's not to disparage that group as a second unit, it's just that they're the second unit for a reason (it's because they're not as good as the first unit).
Another factor in the Sharks' off night with a man-advantage? The Blues penalty kill. Right, seems like someone should mention them. By rate, the Blues had the third-best penalty kill in the league — yeah, that matches up right against the Sharks' number three power-play rate in the NHL.
It's a strength against strength matchup and the Sharks may need a game or two to feel comfortable against a very aggressive penalty kill. San Jose struggled against Boston's balls-to-the-wall approach during the regular season and it makes sense that the Sharks didn't look quite as sharp against a Blues team that uses a similar approach.
Despite looking pedestrian on the first and second attempts, and even at the start of the third, the Sharks managed to get a good setup and cycle going at the end of the third power play that looked damn dangerous. The most important thing for any power play is getting set up in the offensive zone and letting the cycle do its thing — just ask the Washington Capitals some time.
The Sharks top unit, even when it doesn't perform to the best of its ability, should always be the go-to when fresh enough to get on the ice. The difference between power-play success and failure is razor thin and relies on a whole lot of luck to go with the skill required to pull it off. Guys might have off-nights, but running up against a very good penalty kill three times in a night and coming up empty is no concern for panic.