NHL Playoffs 2012: San Jose Sharks Must Fix Penalty Kill to Beat St. Louis Blues

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIApril 17, 2012

So far in this series, the St. Louis Blues have celebrated a goal more often than not on their power play
So far in this series, the St. Louis Blues have celebrated a goal more often than not on their power playThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The St. Louis Blues scored on the first three power plays against the San Jose Sharks Monday. They are now 5-for-9 in the series.

The Blues gave up just 1.89 goals per game during the regular season and have yielded just six in three games, including more than one overtime period, so far. Spotting them 1.67 goals per game on special teams leaves the Sharks almost no margin of error.

There is simply no excuse for executing as poorly as the Sharks do on the PK. For several weeks in the middle of the season, they were above average. They have been so bad the rest of the time that they finished second-worst for the entire season.

Whatever they did to succeed during that stretch needs to be re-implemented now. Otherwise, they will be lucky to win another game.

Much has been discussed about what they are lacking by men who know far more about hockey than I do. Bret Hedican and Curtis Brown killed penalties for a living at the highest level, and are part of the Sharks broadcast team. Both say the Sharks do not contest the entry well enough and sit back too much once it is in their zone.

Sounds good to me. Since the people the Sharks are paying to address the problem have yet to come up with a solution, they should be all for listening to those former players.

Instead, head coach Todd McLellan promised to stay the course: "We’re going to do what we do and we’re going to do it better.”

It seems like this team believes that because it plays good even-strength defence, the same approach will work down a man. The trouble is the penalty kill is different because there is always one more player to get the rebound or deflection than there is to defend.

If the Sharks could match the Blues goal-for-goal on the man advantage, they would be fine. Right now, San Jose is an unimpressive 2-for-11 on its own power plays in the series. That is good enough to win, but not when the other team has three more goals in two fewer chances.

Barring an unforeseen fix coming, the Sharks only other chance is to take more than one fewer trip to the box compared to the Blues. The two teams have both scored just four goals at even strength in the first three playoff games, and St. Louis has just an 8-7 edge (excluding empty-net goals) in the matchups including the regular season.

Little else has been predictable in this series.

The light-hitting Sharks have actually out-hit the Blues in two of three games and 88-80 overall. Perhaps that is because the second-best faceoff team in the NHL has lost the faceoff battle twice and 114-110 overall. (The teams are even in giveaway-takeaway differential.)

Because of that, the team with the second-highest shot average and differential has been out-shot twice in three games and 101-92 overall. The Sharks have actually attempted 13 more shots, but the Blues have done a better job blocking shots (plus-14) even though the Sharks ranked better at that throughout the season.

Maybe that is because they are not getting the blocks on the PK. Or maybe their focus has switched to finishing checks. But blocks are less likely to result in trips to the penalty box, the team's biggest Achilles Heel.

The Sharks have have yet to play their game and make the Blues adjust during this series. This made me wonder, have the Blues had their success against the Sharks (six regulation wins and one double-overtime loss) all season long because they are getting them out of their game?

Each team had two games out-shooting the other, with the Sharks getting five more shots overall on 11 more attempts. San Jose had two more blocks overall and won that battle in two games as opposed to one for St. Louis (one tie).

However, there was a more significant edge in faceoffs for the Sharks (plus-22, with the edge in three of four games). Understandably, this left them with the puck more often to turnover, and they lost 12 more of those additional 22 possessions. The Blues had 12 more hits and held that edge in two games to the Sharks one.

In other words, the teams played according to the script during the season and the results were more lopsided. The only constant is the Sharks' lousy PK.

The older Sharks' legs should benefit more from the extra day off between Games 3 and 4, but working out the kinks in the penalty kill takes precedence. If the coaching staff cannot find a solution to this two-year problem, they will deserve the pink slips they are likely to see in May.