There’s no way to beat around the bush on this one. The San Jose Sharks’ penalty killing units have scored more goals than the power play. It’s baffling, but given the way they’ve played, not completely surprising.
Only three players on the Sharks are without metaphorical sin six games into the season. Joakim Ryan, Rourke Chartier (only 4 games played), and sleeper Lady Byng candidate Marc-Edouard Vlasic who took only one stick penalty throughout the entirety of the 17-18 season. Standing fifth in the league in total penalty minutes by team, and racking up an infuriating 16 minutes in infractions against New Jersey on Sunday, it’s a good job the penalty kill is clicking.
The team has a short break before facing Buffalo on Thursday at the SAP Centre. Now would be a good time for Pete DeBoer to stop galaxy-braining his power play and take it back to the basics. With two elite offensive defenseman, there comes the question of who plays where.
With Karlsson patrolling the blueline and Burns along the right wall, there’s two hard, dangerous shots available for Pavelski to capitalise on with his customary net-front presence. That formation was switched against New Jersey, with Karlsson on the half wall and Burns patrolling the blueline. The latter lends better to Karlsson’s style, as five of his nine goals last season were wrist shots, which is his primary shot type (thanks to Sean Tierney’s player shot maps).
A spot along the boards lets Karlsson really flex his passing abilities, and there’s no real argument against him being a better passer than Burns. Moreover, there’s more flexibility there for him to get to the net, rather than having to shoot through a handful of players to hit the target.
Burns is known for his blistering slapshot from the blueline, and his goals and shots reflect a mix of wrist shot and slapshot attempts. The sheer quantity of shots he takes meshes well with Pavelski’s ability to tip the puck, as he chooses shot quantity over shot quality the majority of the time. Burns uses the space he gets from prowling the blueline to his advantage, giving himself shooting lanes as he wedges open the opposing penalty killing units.
If there’s one thing for sure though, it’s that the whole top unit needs to loosen up, and that maybe Labanc should see consistent top unit time, bringing speed to (excluding Karlsson) a unit that needs reinvigorating. The 22 year old winger is dangerous when he has the space, but on the second unit he plays in what is now the Burns spot along the half wall, raising a problem.
We saw how excellent the passing on the power play can be against the Rangers, as the back and forth on the man advantage in the third was spectacular. They didn’t capitalise on any of this, which, when boiled down, is the root of the issue.
Heading into Thursday’s game with a PDO of 96.4, it feels like a dam is about to break. In all honestly, this could be chalked up to early season teething problems, No matter how you shuffle that top unit, with two defenseman, one of them will be playing a spot he has spent his whole career, well, not playing.
For once, this may be a case where putting the five best skaters on a team on the top power play just doesn’t work. The league has evolved to a 4F-1D style of play, and with some teams even experimenting with five forwards, there might not be space for two defenseman on that crucial top unit, no matter how you style them.
It’s fixable, but things need to change.