Friday, June 03, 2016

Sharks clearly swimming upstream vs. Penguins

By Mark Madden
June 3, 2016
Stanley Cup finals: Penguins vs. Sharks, Game 2
Conor Sheary scores the game-winning goal in Wednesday's 2-1 OT victory over the Sharks. (Kevin Lorenzi/The Times)
When San Jose’s Logan Couture complained about Sidney Crosby “cheating” on faceoffs after the Penguins won Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in overtime, it was symptomatic of a much bigger problem than losing a draw, or a game.
The Sharks don’t know what to do.
That seems like overreaction if you saw the scores but didn’t watch the games. The Sharks lost two one-goal decisions, the first when Nick Bonino scored with 2:33 remaining in regulation and the second when Conor Sheary netted in OT.
But if you watched, you saw a Sharks team that couldn’t keep up with the Penguins. San Jose is being badly outclassed for pace, and frequently looks tired.
If the Sharks decide to slow down the tempo, perhaps via trapping, they abandon a quick, offensive style that has served them well over 102 games. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer would be understandably loath to do that.
But I don’t see a choice. The Sharks can’t catch the Penguins, and won’t gain any mph or endurance between now and Game 3 tomorrow.
It would be understandable if the life and legs have been drained from the Sharks.
San Jose has the most difficult travel schedule in the NHL. Three of their four playoff series have required flights of more than three hours.
Four of their best players – Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton – have played all 102 games. Marleau and Thornton are 36, Burns and Pavelski are 31. Perhaps that quartet is paying a price for its durability.
Couture’s comments seem a harbinger of San Jose’s frustration. The Sharks would like to think the source of their vexation is losing two winnable games. It’s good for the Penguins if the Sharks continue to believe that.
In reality, the Sharks just haven’t previously played a team like the Penguins. The Penguins have been clearly superior so far. Except for a maddening inability to put away games and a power play that badly betrays its talent, the Penguins are very near peak performance.
The referees called very little in the first two games of this series. Did you ever think that scenario would favor the Penguins?
The Sharks could bounce back. They are a very good team. Going home could be a panacea.
But while the Sharks have lots of quality vets, only one of their players, Dainius Zubrus, has played in the Stanley Cup Final before. He was a healthy scratch Wednesday. It’s a different level of play. A different kind of pressure.
The Penguins have seven players who had previously been to the final, including five who had been to two.
The Sharks remind me of the 2007-08 Penguins. Those Penguins lost the first two games in the final by a combined score of 7-0, and seemed to realize Detroit was better. The series lasted six games, but the result was never much in doubt.
In 2008-09, the Penguins also lost the first two games of the finals to Detroit. But their belief and resilience was evident even after those defeats, and those Penguins rallied to win the Stanley Cup in seven games.
The Sharks didn’t seem resilient after Game 2. Their comments alternated between robotic and frustrated.
I’ve followed the Penguins since the franchise’s first year, and there has been far more heartache than triumph. Take nothing for granted. Being up three games to none against the New York Islanders in 1975 taught me that.
But it’s hard to imagine the Sharks winning four of the next five games.
Unless they get better at cheating on faceoffs.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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