Sharks vs. Predators: How concerning are San Jose's power play woes?

It's a quick turnaround on the road as the Sharks play the second half of their trip-opening back-to-back in Nashville this evening at 5PM. Prior to that, we look at what's causing the power play's power failure.

Joe Pavelski fired a Stamkosian one-timer from the left circle past Steve Mason in the waning minutes of the Sharks' 6-2 loss in Columbus yesterday. But prior to that meaningless tally, San Jose had gone six games with just one power play goal to their credit after living off the man-advantage early in the season with 10 5v4 markers (and 2 more 5v3) in their first five games.

So what's causing the power outage for a team that has historically been the best in the league on the power play during the Todd McLellan era? The first step to answering that question is to determine what exactly drives power play success in the NHL. There are a lot of things that contribute to whether or not a man-advantage unit (that will never not sound like a euphemism for dongs) clicks but, from a purely statistical perspective, it's the rate at which teams direct pucks towards the net that tends to be the most accurate reflection of their talent. As JLikens of the sadly defunct Objective NHL demonstrated, on average, teams' 5v4 shooting percentages regress to the mean by about 90%. In other words, only 10% of the observed team-to-team differences in power play SH% are the result of actual differences in talent level, the vast majority attributable to randomness. Substantially more repeatable is a team's 5v4 shot rate. So is the decline of San Jose's power play a result of those fickle percentages or traceable to an actual failure to generate chances? Turns out it's both:

Segment 5v4 Shots/60 5v4 Shooting% 5v4 Goals/60
Games 1-5 63.8 25.0% 16.0
Games 6-12 46.2 5.7% 2.6

Obviously, the Sharks were turning shots into goals at a completely unsustainable rate 5v4 early on. Their shot rate, on the other hand, was essentially at their expected level. Over the past three full seasons, San Jose has generated 62.9, 72.6 and 61.2 shots per 60 5v4 minutes, first in the NHL every year. Inexplicably, that normally dependable facet of their game has cratered over the past six contests. By eye, they've been significantly less effective of late at exploiting opposing teams' textbook penalty kill systems by using a high degree of fluidity in player movement. They're settling for slightly more predictable setups, predominantly centered around Joe Thornton on the half-wall which most teams are more adept at dealing with. The snake-bit shooting percentage also means the first unit isn't scoring twelve seconds into every power play anymore, leading to more minutes for the second unit which, as we documented on Saturday, has been awful.

At the same time, this group just has such an extended track record of power play success that I refuse to believe a few dozen minutes of lackluster play while up a man is indicative of struggles to come. They've lapped the field with the competition for three years straight; it seems exceedingly unlikely that they've magically forgot what made them previously successful (or the rest of the league only just happened to figure out their tactics). They also clearly aren't going to keep shooting at 5.7% and should at the very least be an average power play team even if they aren't able to return their shot rate to historical norms. Regardless, I find it hard to envision it coming to that.

San Jose Sharks


Nashville Predators
7-3-2, 16 points
5-3-4, 14 points
4th in Western Conference 6th in Western Conference

5PM PST | Bridgestone Arena | Nashville, Tennessee
TV: CSNCA-HD | Radio: 98.5 KFOX,
Know Your Enemy: On the Forecheck, Fang Faction

Projected Sharks Lineup

Ryane Clowe- Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
James Sheppard - Michal Handzus - Tommy Wingels
Matt Pelech - Scott Gomez - Adam Burish

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Brad Stuart - Brent Burns
Douglas Murray - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

Projected Predators Lineup

Martin Erat - Mike Fisher - Sergei Kostitsyn
Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Gabriel Bourque
Craig Smith - Nick Spaling - Brandon Yip
Rich Clune - Paul Gaustad

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

Pekka Rinne
Chris Mason