MONTREAL — The more things change, the more they stay the same.
You can say that about a San Jose Sharks penalty kill that’s headed toward its third season of four as either the top-ranked or second-best PK in the NHL.
The kill, in tandem with Kaapo Kahkonen, stifled the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 at Bell Centre last night. The Canadiens had six power plays, including an almost-entire 5-on-3, but they managed just two Slot Shots, per SPORTLOGiQ.
It’s remarkable that a team that hasn’t been a playoff-caliber squad otherwise has managed to be so consistent in such a key area.
Also remarkable is the amount of upheaval between these units from year to year, but the same success.
For sure, you have constants like Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
But in 2019-20, the top-ranked Sharks PK’s most-used forwards and defensemen were Vlasic, Erik Karlsson, Barclay Goodrow, and Melker Karlsson.
Last year, the second-best San Jose kill’s most-used forwards and defensemen were Brent Burns, Mario Ferraro, Couture, and Andrew Cogliano.
This year, the league-best Sharks PK’s most-used forwards and defensemen are Vlasic, Ferraro, Matt Nieto, and Nick Bonino.
New regulars to this season’s edition of the kill are Matt Benning, Luke Kunin, and Nico Sturm.
So what makes the San Jose Sharks’ PK so successful through different iterations and players?
“We got hard-working guys, they aren’t scared to block shots,” Tomas Hertl, who like Karlsson, has seen his once-heavy PK duties diminish so he can focus on offense, offered. “It’s a lot of skating because we pressure a lot.”
Newcomer Benning, who was second (6:49) to Vlasic (7:04) in PK time and second (4) to Bonino (5) in blocked shots last night, credited the coaches, including new assistant coach Ryan Warsofsky, who runs the kill: “The coaches have done a great job prepping us in terms of [other teams’] tendencies. For the most part, we know what’s coming and it’s just a matter of getting the job done.”
New head coach David Quinn echoed his new defenseman: “It’s a testament to all the coaches that have been here that have coached. And I think Ryan’s done a great job picking up where they left off from last year.
“I think Ryan in particular has found a really good balance of putting his fingerprints on it, but also understanding that this thing wasn’t broken.”
Quinn is referencing the work of ex-head coaches Bob Boughner and Peter DeBoer, and assistant coaches John Madden, Mike Ricci, and Dave Barr, who have run the Sharks PK since 2019-20.
The San Jose Sharks haven’t been able to rely on a lot in their past three playoff-less campaigns, but their penalty kill has been their saving grace time after time.
“Kill with the success rate that we have,” Quinn said, “you have a swagger to you when you kill penalties.”
Of course, that swagger will only save them for so long.
The nature of the PK, you’re at a man disadvantage. That will catch up to the Sharks, who have killed a staggering 91.2 percent of their penalties. That’s just not sustainable: Since the stat was tracked since 1977-78, no PK has ever topped 90 percent, DeBoer’s 2011-12’s New Jersey Devils coming closest at 89.6.
So the question for the Sharks, as always, can they find more things to count on than their trusty PK? And dig out of their current 8-13-4 hole?
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