What never makes the highlights in a run like San Jose’s is the defense. In taking six of the past seven games (and remember they took a point in their only loss during the run), San Jose has jumped back into first place in the NHL. They also sit first in the League in penalty killing with an 88.1 percent success rate. Almost a third of the NHL is below 80 percent.
San Jose’s penalty killers have been absolutely on fire, having stopped the last 27 efforts by opponents when the Sharks have played down a man. That covers six complete games and part of a seventh. It’s not coincidence that it covers the streak where San Jose has captured 13 of 14 available points in the standings.
When teams are on the power play, sometimes skill can override everything. The penalty kill is another matter. No matter what the skill level, if a team doesn’t work hard, the club with a man advantage will control the two minutes. San Jose may be talented, but they’re putting maximum effort when shorthanded.
The average NHL power play chips in with a goal 20 percent of the time. It would only be speculation, but what if the club had allowed power play goals at that rate over the past six games? That would’ve been an additional five goals against and those could have changed the dynamic of the game. For instance, Anaheim had a man advantage in the game’s first minute Thursday night. What would’ve happened if the Ducks scored within the game’s first three minutes?
Why is a team successful on the penalty kill? Two things: hard work and preparation.
“Within the system itself, there’s no magic,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “You have to be prepared.”
As the year drags on, McLellan’s commitment to a deep pool of PK players has not only kept the first units fresh in games, but also from wearing down during the season. If a group has to kill six power plays a game and the club relies on two units, those parings can begin to fatigue.
“We have four groups that go out and if you stay fresh, your mind stays fresh,” forward Scott Nichol said. “Any time you get tired, breakdowns start to happen.”
“This year, more than last year, we’ve used a number of players,” said McLellan of players that include Nichol, Joe Pavelski
, Manny Malhotra, Jed Ortmeyer, Patrick Marleau
, Joe Thornton
and Dany Heatley from the forward group. “We’re working Torrey Mitchell
in and (Ryane) Clowe and (Devin) Setoguchi are more exposed (to the penalty kill).”
On the blueline, McLellan feels everyone has to play well in front of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to keep the numbers down.
“For the most part, every D-man has played a significant park on the PK,” McLellan said.
The Sharks coaching staff has played a major role in the success of the penalty kill. They provide the players with the necessary information to help them do their jobs.
“The coaches let us know with video if guys set up on the sides or wherever they want to be,” Nichol said.
Right now, the Sharks shorthanded men are like a hot goal scorer.
“Confidence is huge on the PK,” Nichol said.
The pride that happens during a run of stopping 27 straight isn’t taken lightly.
“This is our kind of power play,” Nichol said. “We’re not on the highlights, but we have a lot of pride.”
The PK unit knows they’re not impermeable and the streak will end at some point. They just know they will bounce back to try and start another ride.
“When it’s five-on-four, there’s always someone open,” Nichol said. “If they make three or four good passes and it goes in the net, you move on.”
As some point the Sharks will need to move on, but for now, they will keep doing their thing.
Comcast SportsNet California, the home of “Authentic Bay Area Sports,” registered its highest San Jose Sharks rating of the season during last night’s 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. The telecast posted an average household rating of 2.1 in the San Francisco DMA (over 63,000 combined television households in the San Francisco and Sacramento DMA) and peaked at a 2.6 household rating (over 77,000 television households in the San Francisco and Sacramento DMA).
DIVISION LEADERS TO FACE EACH OTHER
Tomorrow’s game vs. Buffalo will be a battle between the Pacific and Northeast Division leaders.
“Their goaltender is one of the best,” McLellan said of U.S. Olympian Ryan Miller. “It will be a really good test.”
Fans will also get to see ex-Sharks Mike Grier and Craig Rivet and they’ll get their first live view of rookie defenseman Tyler Moss, Buffalo’s 6-foot-7 No. 1 pick from 2008.
If you happen to be at Sharks Ice watching a practice and wonder why Sharks players like Douglas Murray
, Joe Pavelski
and Evgeni Nabokov are wearing gloves, pants and pads that may not matching, don’t worry, the Sharks aren’t experimenting with their looks.
The players are slowly beginning to break in their equipment for the Olympics.
“We’ve got five days of practices coming up here and I’m sure they’ll be starting to use them,” Head Equipment Manager Mike Aldrich said.
German netminder Thomas Greiss
was spotted in his national team goalie pads.
“I’ve had the gloves on,” said Greiss, noting they’re basically ready for use. “(The pads) are already feeling pretty good. It will be a couple more practices for the pads. I like the look.”
Forward Jed Ortmeyer didn’t participate in Friday’s practice, in addition to defenseman Dan Boyle
“Jed had a maintenance day,” said McLellan. “He should be in the lineup (Saturday).”
One other player was missing. Defenseman Jason Demers
, who played in Thursday’s game vs. Anaheim, was reassigned to San Jose’s top development affiliate in Worcester.
As for Boyle, his upper body injury may have allowed him to play tomorrow night, but he ran into another problem.
“He actually has the flu if you can believe that,” McLellan said. “He may have had an opportunity to play tomorrow if he wasn’t sick.”
The Sharks will play hosts to Buffalo Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at ticketmaster.com. The game will be available on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.