SAN JOSE – The late stages of Monday’s 3-2 Sharks win over the Jets in Winnipeg was a good example of how much confidence the Sharks’ coaching staff has in its power play lately.
And, it ain’t much.
Ahead 2-1 with 5:32 left in the third period, Dustin Byfuglien went to the penalty box on a kneeing minor. Rather than send out his top power play unit, though, Pete DeBoer opted to play it safe. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dylan DeMelo hopped over the boards for the start of the advantage, while Brent Burns and Paul Martin went out for the second half. Martin, in particular, is almost never on the power play, as a shutdown guy.
The conventional strategy would have been to try and put the Jets away with a power play goal. Instead, the Sharks seemed content to just let the clock wind down without any shorthanded chances against, managing only two shot attempts from Burns that were both blocked. They had to rely on some late stellar saves by Aaron Dell and an empty-net goal by Joe Pavelski to collect the two points.
Regardless, that top unit of Pavelski, Burns, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton remained together for Wednesday’s practice at Sharks Ice, and will presumably stay intact for Thursday’s matchup with the Washington Capitals as the Sharks begin a six-game homestand. The second unit was comprised of Vlasic, DeMelo, Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl and Joel Ward.
That doesn’t mean DeBoer isn’t concerned with his power play, which has just two goals over the last 11 games (2-for-23), is 26-for-169 since Nov. 1 (15.3 percent), and is 23rd in the NHL this season (16.7 percent). The coach described his urgency level to start producing as “moderate.”
“We want to get it going,” DeBoer said. “I don’t believe it’s something that you just turn on the first day of the playoffs, although that can happen. You can see a team that all of a sudden one of their specialty teams heats up come playoff time. But we don’t want to take that chance. We want to get it in a good spot before that.”
The futility of the power play is especially baffling when you consider the top unit has been together for several seasons. The team finished third in the league last season at 22.5 percent, and sixth in 2014-15 (20.9 percent).
Pavelski and Couture both indicated that it’s been different aspects of their power play they’ve struggled with since early November. They aren’t having difficulty on entries anymore, which was plaguing them before. Now, it’s just about outworking the other team’s penalty killers – winning battles, and generating second chance opportunities.
“Early in the year it was an execution thing at times, entries killed a lot of it,” Pavelski said. “Now, maybe a little bit of our effort, working for each other – more so away from the puck.”
Couture said: “We’ve just got to work harder. You’re up five against four guys, you tend to relax a little bit when it should be the opposite. You should be working harder, because the penalty killers are usually guys that go out and work hard. We’ve got to outwork them.”
Earlier in the season when it wasn't working, DeBoer replaced Marleau with Ward in late December, but only for a few games. While the discussions to change up the units are ongoing among the coaching staff, they aren’t ready to throw them in a blender just yet.
“We still feel we can fix it without going to the next set of measures, whatever those are,” DeBoer said.