No NHL team benefits from penalties quite like the Sharks

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Just about every sports fan base probably feels like officials have in it for them in some fashion. Lambasting the referees might be the one thing rival fans can agree on during “neutral site” games.

Once emotions subside, facts can clarify some of these thoughts. Some teams draw a ton of penalties but take a lot, too. Others don’t do much of either. The San Jose Sharks seem to enjoy the best of both worlds, or at least something close to that.

Using NHL.com’s handy team stats, let’s look at the advantages the Sharks have enjoyed (whether they’re earned or not is subjective) when it comes to power play/penalty kill differential.

(Note: PHT will also take a look at the other end of the spectrum soon.)

First, here are the teams that were on the power play for at least a half hour longer than they were on the PK in 2016-17 (again, via NHL.com’s team stats).

Team PP TIME PK TIME DIFF
San Jose Sharks 420:12:00 362:07:00 58:05:00
Philadelphia Flyers 464:24:00 415:27:00 48:57:00
Chicago Blackhawks 394:10:00 349:02:00 45:08:00
Carolina Hurricanes 387:18:00 345:17:00 42:01:00
Detroit Red Wings 426:20:00 388:13:00 38:07:00
Nashville Predators 430:22:00 395:41:00 34:41:00
Vancouver Canucks 403:58:00 371:25:00 32:33:00
Florida Panthers 454:51:00 424:39:00 30:12:00

As you can see, that’s a pretty significant gap between first and second place.

The Sharks rank 11th with power-play time (420:12) and were at the disadvantage at the fourth-lowest rate (362:07) last season. Shockingly, this edge wasn’t optimized, as San Jose drew even in scoring 41 power-play goals while allowing 41 shorthanded.

Now, that’s just one season. What about, since, say … the last lockout? Let’s consider how the top teams sorted out from the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign through 2016-17:

Team PP TIME PK TIME DIFF
San Jose Sharks 2036:49:00 1711:34:00 325:15:00
Carolina Hurricanes 1923:23:00 1648:42:00 274:41:00
Chicago Blackhawks 1926:51:00 1728:00:00 198:51:00
Minnesota Wild 1954:50:00 1759:33:00 195:17:00
Calgary Flames 1977:04:00 1797:57:00 179:07:00
Dallas Stars 2098:48:00 1925:24:00 173:24:00
Nashville Predators 1959:27:00 1828:12:00 131:15:00
New York Islanders 1909:56:00 1789:07:00 120:49:00

During that 376-game span, the Sharks tower over everyone else, with only the Carolina Hurricanes being within breathing distance. Yes, 325 minutes in 376 games is a notable edge.

Over that longer haul, the Sharks were high-ranking with a 2,036:49 power play time and faced low PK minutes at 1,711:34.*

Unpacking home vs. away for a moment

Is it all “home cooking” for the Sharks? Well, looking at 2016-17, they received 126 power-play opportunities at home vs. 120 on the road. If they’re getting an edge, perhaps “The Shark Tank” subtly intimidates officials not to call penalties on San Jose? They were shorthanded 99 times at home vs. 113 on the road. That’s not enormous either, but it’s still a difference.

That disparity isn’t particularly pronounced since the lockout, with the Sharks being shorthanded 507 times at home vs. 530 on the road. On the other hand, the opportunities are a little more pronounced at HP Pavilion: 644 at home vs. 591 on the road.

That’s not extreme by NHL standards, however, as the Stars saw 688 home PPO’s vs. 582 on the road through the same period. So … home-cooking doesn’t seem like a major difference-maker for the Sharks. Or at least it isn’t the only factor.

To hypothesize, some of the differences may stem from the Sharks hold onto the puck quite well while playing strong and responsible defense. Looking over almost as long of a period as that lockout range at stats.hockeyanalysis, the Sharks were the fourth-best team in “Corsi For” percentage; perhaps they enjoyed such an advantage after having tired teams chase them around while they hog the puck?

Ultimately, the greater takeaway might be that, if the Sharks can at least approach such an advantage again in 2017-18, they need to work harder at exploiting such advantages. They only converted on 16.7 percent of their power-play opportunities last season, placing them 25th overall in the NHL.

Again, a future PHT post will ponder the teams that spend more time killing penalties than they do on the man advantage. Spoiler: a California team’s rough style has its minuses.

* – Note: the Arizona and Phoenix Coyotes are treated as separate entities in the bigger list, gumming up the works a bit … but the differential comes to about -90 minutes, placing them in the lower-teens.

Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

The team announced the news on social media.

MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

“Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

“This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

“This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

“We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

TRIBUTE

The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

“It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

FOR THE RECORD

Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

UP NEXT

Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.

Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

kris letang
Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

“It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

“I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

“This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

“The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

“We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.