The Morning After: Special teams let down Sharks

San Jose played its third straight game determined by 5-on-4 scoring.

Before last night’s game, it was easy to look at power play and penalty kill rankings and say that 5-on-4 play would be an advantage for the Sharks, but when the final buzzer sounded, it was San Jose that was on the wrong end of both the special teams battle and the score.

The game was the third in a row to be determined by 5-on-4 scoring, following Monday’s in which the Avalanche scored four power play goals and Wednesday’s in which the Sharks scored three (and another three seconds after a penalty expired).

Things seemed to be going the Sharks’ way when Ben Chiarot was called for shooting the puck over the glass halfway through the first period, but it was the Jets who would capitalize on the Sharks’ power play. Some good puck movement in the first minute of the power play didn’t result in any shots on net for San Jose, and an errant pass by Joel Ward set Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford up for the first goal of the game. Stafford’s tally felt like a dagger even in the first period given the Sharks’ play at SAP Center, where they’re inexplicably 5–11 in 16 games, with the team that scored the first goal winning every time.

San Jose’s fifth-ranked power power play did manage a goal of its own in the second courtesy of Brent Burns but came up empty in four other opportunities against Winnipeg’s 26th-ranked penalty kill, struggling to enter the zone cleanly and allowing numerous Jets chances in addition to the Stafford goal, and the penalty kill allowed a goal in three chances to Winnipeg’s 29th-ranked power play.

Special teams have been a strength for the Sharks this season, even as the team has struggled. The power play won’t give up as many goals as it scores most nights and the penalty kill has done its job, but they’ve covered up some of the team’s other flaws in recent wins, including limited scoring depth, defensive miscues, and subpar goaltending. Last night’s game is what you get when they don’t.