The San Jose Sharks will show up at training camp next month looking very much like the team that suited up last season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the Sharks finished the regular season with 111 points, and were in the running for both the Pacific Division crown and the President’s Trophy for the best record in the NHL. It’s also not necessarily a good thing either, as the Sharks have spent the off-season trying to rebound from their first round playoff collapse against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Sharks should contend again in the Western Conference, and they very much look like a playoff team. But, a primary area of focus come training camp will be to improve the power play, which was surprisingly ineffective for most of last season.
Last season, the Sharks inexplicitly slumped to the 20th best power play in the league, converting at just 17.2 percent, down from 20.1 percent and the 7th ranking in the league the year before. Their saving grace in the division was even more anemic production by the Anaheim Ducks, ranked 22nd at 16 percent, and the Kings, ranked 27th at 15.1 percent.
Starts with the faceoff
Perhaps the most important part of an effective power play is the initial faceoff – win it and the team puts immediate pressure on the defense; lose it and lose 15-20 seconds of power play time.
Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are two of the strongest faceoff men in the league, converting at 56.1 and 56 percent respectively. Two strong centers are good for two strong power play lines, but McLellan might choose to put both players on the same line, as Pavelski is one of the few Sharks who repeatedly position up in front of the net, and he excelled last season when playing on the same line as Thornton.
McLellan might also put Pavelski in the faceoff circle first, allowing the team to get the puck to Thornton more quickly on the half-boards, putting pressure on the defense from the very start.
Point play a question
One player not returning to the Sharks is defenseman Dan Boyle, a staple at the point on the power play. Not only was Boyle adept at moving the puck quickly side-to-side, he provided a stinging slap shot from the blue line and had the ability to quickly skate into open space to create additional opportunities.
Replacing Boyle at the point will fall primarily to Brent Burns, back on the blue line after a season plus playing wing on the Thornton line. Burns brings his own offensive abilities, including a wicked snap wrist shot, but he’s not as nimble or as accurate as Boyle, so some much needed precision will be lacking.
Jason Demers will see a stepped up responsibility on the power play, where he contributed a goal and eight assists last year. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and rookie Mirco Mueller will also see time with the man advantage.
Snipers on the Wing
With luck, Tomas Hertl will have a full season this year. Last year, in just 37 games, Hertl had a 15.3 shooting percentage and punched in three power play goals. He’s an offensive threat every time he has the puck, and if he can develop his vision and better find open teammates, he’ll be even more dangerous.
Another sniper on the wing is veteran Patrick Marleau. Last year, 11 of Marleau’s 33 goals and 12 of his 37 assists came on the power play, and he will be an anchor on one side again this year.
Lastly, Logan Couture has all the offensive weapons to make large contributions with the man advantage. Last year, despite missing 17 games with injuries, Couture had four power play goals and eight assists.
An ability to make a difference
While the Sharks slumped last year in converting on the power play, they were tied for second in the league in drawing penalties, getting 291 power play opportunities over the 82-game season (Philadelphia led the league with 294 opportunities). With a bump up in conversion to levels of years past, a few more goals will go a long win to a few more wins. And, if the power play can get clicking during the playoffs, the Sharks might be able to put last season’s playoff failures well behind them.
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