SAN JOSE -– There is a scene in the “Road to the Stadium Series” in which Sharks coach Todd McLellan asked Brent Burns in a team meeting if there is a better, more skilled power-play group in the NHL than the Sharks’ top unit.
“No,” Burns simply replied, and he may be right. Burns, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are why the Sharks’ have had a generally productive power play this season, checking in at eighth in the NHL (20.5 percent).
The second unit, however, has given the Sharks next to nothing, especially lately. In the last 28 games, the only player not on San Jose’s top unit to score a power-play goal is Melker Karlsson on Jan. 10.
That ain’t good, and McLellan didn’t hold back when asked about that lack of production.
“The second unit will someday become our first unit, so they better get their act together and get going,” he said. “You want to play in the league and you want power play time? Get it done.
“Our power play, like anybody’s, is going to sway throughout the year. We’re still producing, but most of it is coming from the other unit. It has to balance out more. That’s a great challenge for that group.”
Depth scoring has been an issue for the Sharks all season long, and the power play numbers on the second unit reflect that.
Among players that take regular shifts, Tomas Hertl has three power play points in 94 minutes. Matt Nieto has four power play points in 57 minutes, and James Sheppard just one point in 47 minutes. On the back end, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has contributed three power play points in 80 minutes.
In the latest version of that unit on Saturday outdoors against the Kings, it was Hertl, Vlasic, Karlsson, Tommy Wingels and Matt Irwin. San Jose went 0-for-3 on the power play in a 2-1 loss to Los Angeles.
The Sharks have had to rely on their power play to win games, sitting in just 24th in the NHL in five-on-five scoring. They are 11-16 when they don’t score a power play goal.
If that trend continues, the second unit becomes all the more vital to their playoff hopes.
“Everybody wants to be on the power play,” said Wingels, who has three power play goals, but none since Dec. 4. “We’ve been given that opportunity. Maybe we’ve earned that opportunity, but we haven’t done much with it.
“We get lots of ice time out there, so we’ve got to find a way to not suck momentum from the team but create momentum, whether it’s a goal of a good shift.”
The Sharks’ top unit features the five most skilled offensive players on the roster and an ability to generate fancy passing plays that end up on the highlight reel. The second unit, whoever it is, has to employ a more meat-and-potatoes type approach.
“We don’t make as many plays as the other unit, so just more shots and better competing,” Vlasic said. “Just shooting it from the top, coming down on pucks, retrievals, getting in [the goalie’s] eyes. We can do all those things, it just might be a little grittier than pretty.”
McLellan said: “They can move it around pretty good once they get in the offensive zone, but they’ve got to play on the inside more, play more aggressive, get body position, win loose pucks, and get it out of the crap so that they can actually get setup and run some stuff. … They can all do a better job of that.”