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Don’t Blame Sharks PK for Loss

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

OTTAWA — Of course, the San Jose Sharks penalty kill wasn’t going to keep cheating death.

Before the Sharks’ 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, they were leading the NHL with a likely unsustainable 91.6 Penalty Kill %. Since 1977-78, no team has cracked a 90 percent kill rate, the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils the closest at 89.6.

Even after giving up three power play goals to the Sens, the first time they’ve given up two PP goals or more in a game since Mar. 24 last season in Edmonton, remarkably, the Sharks PK still leads the league with an 88.2 PK %.

It was simply the law of averages.

On a penalty kill, you’re down one or two men. That means, pretty much at all times, someone on the power play is open.

“Some nights, that’s the way it goes,” captain Logan Couture lamented. “They picked us apart a little bit there.”

The Sharks PK has been the team’s most consistent source of strength this year (and last season), they’ve more than earned a night off.

No, what I’m going to focus on is more examples of “good hockey” versus “winning hockey” from last night’s debacle.

“We play a lot of good hockey,” head coach David Quinn said at the beginning of this road trip, “we need to play winning hockey.”

Difference Between ‘Good Hockey’ & ‘Winning Hockey’? (+)

The types of penalties that the Sharks were taking were neither examples of good or winning hockey.

There was a neutral zone holding call on Oskar Lindblom. Jonah Gadjovich coming down over the top of Alex DeBrincat’s stick, in the offensive zone no less, like he was trying to hit the bell at the county fair. Not one, but two offensive zone tripping calls on Kevin Labanc.

In fairness to Labanc, Quinn did criticize the second call, “[Labanc] fell down and [Tim Stutzle] tripped on his stick.”

But Quinn knows most of Ottawa’s 3-for-5 power play success was from avoidable, non-defending penalties: “Got to skate. You have to be responsible for your stick. That’s all there is to it.”

Let’s talk about Labanc and Gadjovich, who both actually played a lot of good hockey last night.

Just for example, that’s a deft pass from Labanc (62) to Erik Karlsson (65) for Tomas Hertl’s second goal. The finesse, the touch on the feed to Karlsson, to deliver him the puck with a chance to do something with it, when you’re covered and he’s covered, it’s high-end.

And actually, Gadjovich (42) pulled off an even better pass to Steven Lorentz (16) earlier in the game:

Now that’s a stretch pass that even Karlsson would be proud of.

They both made other plays that caught my eye, which I highlighted here:

Sharks Fall Apart Against Sens 5-2

But it’s a 5-2 loss, so we have to talk about the bad, this time with Labanc.

Labanc now has a team-worst -6 minor penalty differential. He’s taken seven minors and drawn only one. There’s nothing good about that: That’s tied for the third-worst mark in the league, behind league “leader” Milan Lucic at -8.

Throughout his career, Labanc has had a penchant for offensive zone penalties.

It comes from a good place: More often than not, Labanc is trying to, to use his words, “hunt the puck.” He’s trying to make a difference, get the puck back.

And at least, in past seasons, Labanc has also drawn his fair share of penalties. From 2018 to 2022, his penalty differential, perhaps surprisingly, was a net zero.

That suggests that Labanc’s -6 might be in line for some positive regression?

Anyway, Labanc is as good an example as any on this team of playing “good hockey” – he has three goals and nine assists in his last 15 games with Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl – and it’s not just because of his linemates, as demonstrated by the above clip. The Meier-Hertl-Labanc line has been one of the better trios in hockey, no joke, since they were formed.

But that -6 penalty differential is as good an example as any of what’s keeping the San Jose Sharks from going from “good hockey” to “winning hockey.”

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