In preparation for a four-game swing across the East Coast, it would behoove the Sharks to get back to the recipe that has been the at the root of their successes this season – getting the most out of their special teams.
While neither the power play nor penalty kill was clicking for San Jose during their Saturday evening loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, they're areas where the Sharks have seen growth throughout the first 20-plus games of the season. As NBC Sports California's Marcus White pointed out earlier in the campaign, the Sharks are spending more time on special teams this season than in years past. While San Jose has scored on a middling 20.3 percent of their power plays (15th in the NHL), that's come over 128:24 total power play minutes, which ranks as the eighth-most in the league according to Natural Stat Trick. Additionally, they've posted the NHL's second-best penalty kill percentage (89.2 percent), while spending the 12th-most minutes (129:00) in the penalty box.
The Sharks' special teams in general were the highlight of their victory over the Vancouver Canucks last week. They scored three of their four goals that evening on the power play, a marked improvement for a team that struggled to capitalize on the man advantage earlier in the season. Remember, San Jose didn’t notch a single power play marker until they scored two in their fourth game of the season.
Following that victory over the Canucks, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer insisted the power play still has room for improvement.
“We want it to be elite,” DeBoer said. “In the league standings, it’s not at an elite level yet. It has the capability of being there, but we want need it be elite.”
San Jose also stymied all three of Vancouver's chances on the power play in that win, in yet another display of what has been perhaps the Sharks' biggest strength. In fact, the Sharks had only given up two power play goals in 19 games before Vegas' Max Pacioretty beat Aaron Dell on the man advantage in Saturday’s loss to the Golden Knights.
Getting their power play up to the same level as the penalty kill would be huge for the Sharks, particularly with Tuesday night's matchup with the Buffalo Sabers on deck. The Sabres are the hottest team in the league having won nine-straight, and have scored at least one power play goal in each of their last three games. Additionally, Buffalo has only surrended one power play goal in their last four contests. They did, however, allow the Sharks to score three times with the man advantage in their only previous encounter this season, which San Jose won 4-1.
With the Sharks spending more times on special teams this season, it's imperative they continue to perform well in those situations. They've been better than the Sabres on both the power play and penalty kill so far this season, and they'll likely need to be on Tuesday if they're going to stop Buffalo from stretching their winning streak to double digits.