Sharks vs. Predators: Has the power play righted the ship?

The last time the Sharks scored a meaningful 5-on-4 goal was at home against Nashville four weeks ago. As they prepare to host the Predators for the second and final time this season, is a power play turnaround imminent?

Given the anemic state of the Sharks' offense, which scored just 15 goals in 12 games during the month of February, it's worth clinging to any vestige of hope that the team could be primed for a turnaround. So while the Sharks have converted just twice on the power play over their past eleven games, one of which was courtesy a 5-on-3, their performance with the man-advantage has been encouragingly improved as of late.

I know, they still haven't scored any 5-on-4 goals in weeks. But as we repeat ad nauseam on this site, there's a difference between performance and results and in a league with as high a level of parity as the NHL, that difference often boils down to randomness. Hockey analytics still has a ways to go in a variety of areas but predicting power play success isn't really one of them. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, a team's shot rate on the power play (i.e., the number of shots on goal they generate per minute of time spent in 5v4 situations) is a substantially better predictor of future power play goal-scoring than current power play goal-scoring is. This is because team-to-team differences in power play shooting percentage are about 91% the result of random variance, making power play shot rate the far more repeatable (and thereby predictive) element of power play goal-scoring.

Although this is far more anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon than the posts linked above, the top five teams in 5v4 shooting percentage in the 2010-11 season combined to score on 14.8% of the shots they took with the man-advantage. In 2011-12, those teams scored on 11.4%. The bottom five teams in 5v4 shooting percentage in 2010-11 combined to score on just 8.8% of their power play shots. In 11-12, they combined to score on 11.7%. There's no connection between a team's 5v4 shooting percentage one season and the next; essentially, a team that shoots for a high percentage on the power play one season is no more likely to shoot for a high percentage the next than a team that scored on a low percentage of their 5v4 shots the initial year. The same is true for in-season results.

So with that lengthy preamble out of the way, let's look at how the Sharks have performed over three distinct segments of this season (as well as the past four) by the power play shot metrics:

Segment 2008-2012 2013 Games 1-7 2013 Games 8-14 2013 Games 15-19
5v4 Shots/60 63.4 68.7 39.4 68.8

For a span of seven games, the Sharks were legitimately dreadful on the power play. They could hardly enter the zone on a regular basis, let alone attempt to set up the fluid umbrella that made them especially successful through their perfect January. But they've been markedly better over the past five games at gaining the zone and creating chances. Their shot rate is eerily identical to what it was over the first seven games of the season, even surpassing their four-year average which was the best in the NHL by a mile (accompanied by, unsurprisingly, the best power play goal rate in the league over that span as well).

I don't have a crystal ball but I also don't need one to decipher how the Sharks' power play is likely to shake out over the remainder of this season. During the Todd McLellan era, this team has been the most dominant club in the league at generating power play shots for 340 games. They've been awful for 7. As long as they continue generating scoring opportunities on the power play at the rate that they did over the first seven and past five games of 2013 (and, given their historical performance, there's no reason to expect them not to), the pucks will start going in again.

Nashville Predators


San Jose Sharks
9-7-5, 23 points
9-6-4, 22 points
6th in Western Conference 8th in Western Conference

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Know Your Enemy: On the Forecheck, Fang Faction

Projected Sharks Lineup

Logan Couture - Joe Thornton - Martin Havlat
Tim Kennedy - Patrick Marleau - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Scott Gomez - James Sheppard
T.J. Galiardi - Andrew Desjardins - Adam Burish

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brad Stuart
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Douglas Murray - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Projected Predators Lineup

Gabriel Bourque - Mike Fisher - Patric Hornqvist
Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Martin Erat
Rich Clune - Craig Smith - Sergei Kostitsyn
Brandon Yip - Nick Spaling - Matt Halischuk

Roman Josi - Shea Weber
Scott Hannan - Kevin Klein
Jonathon Blum - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne
Chris Mason