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.