SAN JOSE -- It’s something preached by coaches, highlighted by players, and turned into a mantra by fans every game day. Staying out of the penalty box can make or break a hockey game, and it’s something the Sharks haven't been as good at over their last few games.
San Jose entered Monday night’s home game against the Bruins having notched 21 penalty minutes in a two-game span, including five trips to the sin bin in Saturday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. Ahead of their matchup with Boston -- who enetered with the second-best power play in the NHL -- Sharks’ coach Peter DeBoer zeroed in on penalties as an area that needed to be cleaned up.
“They’re elite in certain areas like their power play,” DeBoer said of the visiting Bruins hours before the game. “Last game we took too many penalties. When you play a team like this you have to be clean in all those areas.”
The Sharks then made four trips to the penalty box -- and two of those mistakes ended up in the back of their net.
“We talked about it coming into the game,” DeBoer reiterated after the defeat. “We didn’t want to put them on the power play, they have a good power play. And we did. So we need to clean that up.”
There’s no reason to think the Sharks can’t clean up that part of their game, especially since they’ve been pretty good throughout the course of the season at keeping penalties on home ice down to a minimum. In fact, according to StatsPass, San Jose is ranked 24th in the NHL in penalty minutes per game with an average of 7:31. That’s a reassuring stat, especially with the bulk of the Sharks' final 22 games of the season taking place on home ice.
That being said, the Sharks still need work on tightening up that area of their game -- even if their penalty kill is one of the best in the league. With every game from now until the beginning of April carrying more and more weight, San Jose wants to play as clean of a game as possible. While the team liked their compete level and resiliency against the Bruins on Monday evening, they don’t want to keep making four-plus trips to the box every night.
Their penalty concern isn't limited to home ice, though. The Sharks are about to embark on their final swing through the East Coast with a four-game stint that ends with a rematch with the Bruins in Boston -- where the Bruins rank seventh in the NHL in power-play opportunities and second with a 30.8 power-play percentage.
With the race for preferred playoff positions getting more intense with every passing game and the regular season winding down, the Sharks have to cut back on the number of power-play opportunities they’re affording the opposition. For their sake, hopefully they've addressed that issue by the time they face the Bruins again on Feb. 26.