COMMENTARY | Last season the San Jose Sharks helped their playoff push with their power play unit, producing the 8th best power play in the NHL, converting over 20% of their opportunities with the man advantage. This year, special teams will again play an important part in determining the Sharks' regular season success.
With all power plays now starting in the offensive zone, the initial faceoff is more critical than ever. Win the faceoff and the team immediately can work for a scoring chance. Lose the faceoff, however, and the team losses 15-20 seconds of precious power play time.
The Sharks benefit from the faceoff prowess of center Joe Thornton, whose 58.5% win percentage last year was among the league leaders, and also get help from Joe Pavelski who won 51.8% of his draws last season. However, it's not like they'll be going against scrubs in the circle. Within the conference, they will square off against such notables as Jonathan Toews (59.9%), Ryan Kesler (57.4%) and Jarret Stoll (56%).
Not all faceoffs are created equal, and the faceoffs taken on the power play, against those conference and divisional foes, will likely determine the outcomes of games and playoff seedings.
First two passes
After the faceoff, the first two passes on the power play go a long way to determining its ultimate success. If those passes are quick and tape-to-tape, it immediately puts the penalty killers out of position and off balance, leading to good scoring chances. The bad news is the Sharks' best passer is Joe Thornton, and he's usually getting out of the faceoff circle and trying to get in position to receive one of those first two passes.
Defenseman Dan Boyle is a solid anchor at the point, a nifty skater and a sharp passer. And, when he's not looking to pass, he has a bomb of a slap shot. The other point can be up for grabs as the season goes on, and coach Todd McLellan will likely lean initially on Jason Demers and Justin Braun to provide sparks from the back end. If the Sharks struggle from the point on the power play, McLellan won't hesitate tomove forwards Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture to turn up the offensive horsepower. While forwards on the power play can help the attack, it leaves the team vulnerable defensively if play swings the other way.
Traffic in front of the net
When the Sharks placed former defensemen Brent Burns on the forward line last spring, they began a transition to a team more committed to pressing the action in front of the opposing team's net. Traffic in front of the net not only distracts the opposing goaltender and blocks his line of vision, it also perfectly places players to pounce on nice, juicy rebounds coming off his pads. Key for the Sharks will be identifying and correcting occasional tendencies to lapse into a more finesse-oriented team.
Biscuit in the basket
When it comes to the power play, the end justifies the means. Goals are all that matter, and the Sharks will be looking for finishers to step up. Couture is the best finisher on the squad, connecting on 13.9% of his shots last season. Pavelski is a solid contributor on the power play and Marleau can go on hot streaks that match anyone in the NHL. Those three won't be able to carry the entire load though. The Sharks have looked for strong secondary scoring for years, and for the team to be successful this season one or more players - Burns, Tyler Kennedy, Tomas Hertl - will have to chip with timely goals. And, of course, Sharks fans will continue to shout, beg, and plead for Joe Thornton to take just a few more looks toward the net.
@RayHartjen is a longtime rink rat who's been on a decades-long quest to get the stink of hockey gloves off his hands.
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