SAN JOSE From late-November until just recently, it was the biggest question surrounding the Sharks that no one could seem to answer.
Whats wrong with the power play?
If there was one facet to the Sharks game in the three seasons before this one that was never in doubt, it was the teams ability to score on a man advantage. San Jose finished in the top four in power play percentage in each of the last three seasons, including 2010-11, when it was second in the NHL with a 23.5 percent success rate.
After a decent start to the season, though, the power play numbers tumbled. From November 26 until January 19, the Sharks scored just 10 power play goals in 82 opportunities (12.2 percent). Something needed to change.
Forward Joe Pavelski has been the key to making the power play dangerous again. San Jose is 5-for-13 in its last five games, sparked in part to Pavelski playing the point on a loaded top unit that also features Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.
In fact, it may not be a change as much as it is a return to normalcy, since thats where Pavelski played last year.
Were moving the puck around well. There were times we were trying to get too fancy, but were getting pucks to the top, and with Pavs back there, hes getting them through, Couture said on Friday. Usually were outnumbering teams at the net, and the last couple games, Pavs shot has deflected and gone in. I think were just getting pucks through, and were shooting off of passes, which is tough to defend.
Pavelski, who leads the team with six power play goals, said: The biggest thing is the movement is out there. Its creating a little more, a few more holes opened up and a few more shooting opportunities for us. And, were doing a little better job getting to the net.
San Jose scored multiple goals on the power play in Thursdays 5-2 win over Dallas for just the second time in the last 32 games. They are back in the NHLs Top 10 with an 18.6 percent success rate.
Of course, with Pavelski going back to the point, that means defenseman Brent Burns is seeing less time on the power play. A quick glance at the scoresheet from Thursday night shows that Burns played just 1:36 on the Sharks five power plays against the Stars, down from his season average of more than three minutes.
To give that a little perspective, the last time the Sharks had five power plays in a game before Thursday night was on Jan. 14 against Columbus, when Burns saw almost five minutes of power play time (although, to be fair, the Sharks did have two more minutes of overall power play time in that game against the Blue Jackets).
It hasnt hurt Burns game at all, though, and the defensemans presence on the second power play unit can still pay dividends on the scoreboard. In fact, Burns is playing perhaps his best hockey of the year, and his removal from the point on the top power play unit is based more on Pavelskis effectiveness in that spot.
We went back to familiarity with Pavs being back there. It gives us a Burnsie-Braun, or Vlasic, or Demers pair on that second unit which also helps, McLellan said. That unit in itself is a little simpler of a unit, and more a shooting unit, so that fits Bursies tool set well.
Burnsie was doing a good job back there and he still does, but Pavs is familiar with that point spot, playing there last year, Couture said.
So has the team turned a corner, coach?
Turned a corner, but maintenance is tough. Its hard to maintain that level, McLellan said.
With the skill in this room you want to succeed every time on the power play, Couture said. Obviously, looking around the league, one goal in every four chances is good. The last couple of games were doing that. Were picking it up.