Matt Nieto, statistically, is the best penalty-killing forward in the NHL.
As of Feb. 16, the San Jose Sharks winger has been on the ice for just two 4-on-5 goals against, fewest in the league. That’s among the 138 forwards who have played more than 50-plus 4-on-5 minutes this season: Vincent Trocheck and Austin Watson follow at three goals against.
Nieto, per Natural Stat Trick, also leads all qualified forwards with a lowly 2.18 Goals Against Per 60 at 4-on-5.
So what does Nieto attribute his success to?
“It’s a group effort. Our penalty kill has been a strong point for our team all year. Part of that goes to [assistant coach John Madden] too, he draws up the game plan and it’s on us to execute,” the speedy winger pointed out. “We just play an aggressive-style penalty kill and try to make the power play guys uncomfortable out there. Try to take away time and space and we’ve been doing a good job of it.”
Nieto is right: The San Jose Sharks are fourth in the NHL with an 84.0 Penalty Kill %, and per SPORTLOGiQ, they’re eighth in Short-Handed Inner Slot Shots Against.
Now there is a degree of luck to Nieto’s success — for example, he’s 22nd in Expected Goals Against Per 60 at 4-on-5 — but credit where credit is due. When you think about the San Jose Sharks this season, “consistency” isn’t the first word you think of, but along with Timo and Tommy and Reims, the penalty kill has been just as consistent as can be.
This is what Nieto envisioned when he left the Colorado Avalanche two off-seasons ago to sign with the San Jose Sharks.
“When I was in Colorado, we played sort of the same system where it’s a flush-down aggressive penalty kill,” he noted. “So when I came here, the transition was easy because I was used to already killing that way.”
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