Sharks continue to avoid being shorthanded

Sharks continue to avoid being shorthanded
January 22, 2014, 11:00 am
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Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic has just four minor penalties this season. (USATSI)

Programming note: Jets-Sharks coverage begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California

SAN JOSE – After what happened in Calgary’s previous game, a fight-filled affair with Vancouver last Saturday, it was a bit of a surprise that the Flames took just one minor penalty in the Sharks’ 3-2 win on Monday at SAP Center.

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What shouldn’t have been all that unexpected – despite it being only the ninth time in franchise history it happened – is that the Sharks were not shorthanded even once in the game. San Jose has been down a man just 128 times this season, the fewest in the league by a wide margin.

The Sharks scored on their only power play, and it was the difference in the game.

“Just the one penalty, and we had to capitalize on it. Both teams stayed out of the box and were disciplined,” Joe Thornton said. “After their last game, I think they wanted to stay out of the box for a little bit.”

While the Sharks penalty killing unit is in the middle of the pack at 82.8 percent (12th in the NHL), they have given up just 22 goals, tied with the New Jersey Devils for second fewest in the league. The Pittsburgh Penguins have surrendered just 18 power play goals-against for the best mark.

The Sharks continue to lead the league in power play time over penalty kill time, too. They have been on an advantage for 92 minutes and eight seconds more than they’ve been shorthanded. Dallas is second at 58:56.

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“Certainly, I think it’s a big reason why we have the success we’ve had so far winning games,” Tommy Wingels said. “[On] a lot of teams, the power play guys get paid a lot to produce on the power play. You have to keep them without the man advantage. When you stay disciplined, you often times limit the other team’s scoring opportunities. That’s what we try to do defensively.”

Positioning is a key, of course. If players are not out of position during a play, they won’t be forced to hook, hold and interfere to prevent a scoring chance the other way. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has just four minor penalties on the season, an impressive number with how often he’s on the ice. Justin Braun has seven minors and Dan Boyle six.

“You take a lot of penalties by being out of position. Being in the right spots is a good start,” Todd McLellan said.

Overall, the Sharks have been shorthanded just 16 times in their last eight games. Logan Couture is still out with a hand injury and the defense has seemingly tightened up. It helps when there aren’t many penalties to kill.

“The defense has been the backbone of this team the entire year,” Wingels said. “The way seven guys are playing, with [Vlasic] and [Boyle] leading the way. Justin Braun, you can’t say enough about his game. … Jason Demers is playing the best hockey he’s played in his career.

“We have a great group back there, and they’re continuing to get better game in and game out, and as an entire team we’ll need that going forward.”

It’s easier when there aren’t many penalties to kill.