Thursday, June 02, 2016

Sharks need a boost from the Tank

June 1, 2016
Conor Sheary #43 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal to defeat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 during overtime in Game Two of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on June 1, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Conor Sheary #43 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal to defeat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 during overtime in Game Two of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on June 1, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Tank had better be full of fuel for the Sharks.
Because the situation is now very basic. After losing the first two games here of their first Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks will return home to SAP Center and need all the octane they can muster. Otherwise, their next two games might be their last two games of the Final.

That's just the blunt fact. After losing a 2-1 overtime game on Wednesday night in that sudden-crusher way only playoff hockey can produce, the Sharks effectively face a must-win game on Saturday to keep their hopes alive of winning a Cup.

Time for defiant words? Time for defiant words.

"We can't be frustrated," said Shark defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. "We know we're so close. We're going to go home. You're only out when you lose four games, not two."

His coach, Pete DeBoer, also took the same approach.
"Game 1 was decided in the last few minutes," DeBoer said. "Tonight is an overtime game. I think we'll hold off on the funeral. We have a lot of hockey left to play."

If so, the Sharks need to play their own brand of hockey for 60 minutes better than they did here.

Once more Wednesday, just as was the case Monday, the beloved Los Tiburones had trouble producing any real consistent offense for the first two periods. The third period was much better and resulted in a late tying goal by Justin Braun. But if the Shark offense had been more effective in the first two periods, Braun's goal might have been the winning goal.
The statistic that stood out: During the first two periods, Shark offensive stalwarts Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture combined for one recorded shot on goal. One. Pavelski had it. And Penguins' goalie Matt Murray, a rookie who is not getting much work because his teammates have been so good in front of him, easily made the save.
Once the third period began, the Sharks did kick it up a notch -- as they have in third periods throughout the playoffs. The Penguins have been focusing on blocking shots, creating layers of obstruction by sending as many forwards and defensemen as possible into the shooting lanes of Sharks defensemen Brent Burns and Vlasic.
But when the third period began, more pucks got through. That's how Braun scored. The Sharks also outshot the Penguins 9-6 in the period. What's the deal? Do the Sharks just need two periods to adjust to the Penguins' aggressive pressure and counterattack game? Are the Sharks somehow waiting and saving their best intensity for the third, trying to win that period and win games that way?
"Nobody's waiting," DeBoer said. "The other team wants to play, too. They're very good. They're a good team. They're at home. They have their home crowd . . . There are going to be ebbs and flows. I thought we were better tonight. But we have to find a way to create more 5-on-5 offense. They're not taking penalties."
Well, yes, that's another issue. The Sharks only had one power play Wednesday -- which spanned the last part of the second period and the first part of the third -- and couldn't leverage it into anything.
All of this left the Sharks vulnerable to making a mistake and having it cost them -- as occurred when defenseman Roman Polak fumbled a pass in his own zone about halfway through the second period and had it easily intercepted by the Penguins. Seconds later, Pittsburgh's Phil Kessel tapped in the goal.
Yes, the game was lost 2:35 into overtime on a well-executed set faceoff play by the Penguins. But without Polak's error or with a Sharks power play goal, the game never gets there.
Even if the Sharks had won Wednesday, they would have been a tad fortunate. But they still came very close. Perhaps that's the best ray of optimism.
But as we all know, once a hockey playoff goes into overtime, it's a coin flip. The Sharks had early OT opportunities from the Joe Thornton line but couldn't produce. So the game-deciding sequence began with a Pittsburgh offensive zone faceoff between the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Joel Ward of the Sharks.
Ward is one of the Sharks' better faceoff men. Crosby is one of the most effective faceoff men on earth. He'd won 16 of his previous 23 faceoffs Wednesday. Who do you think won this one?
The Crosby-triggered set play -- he admitted later that he'd called for it -- worked to perfection for the Penguins. He drew the puck back to defenseman Kris Letang, who bumped it up to Conor Sheary in open space along the faceoff circle.
Sheary had time to draw back his stick and shoot while teammate Patric Hornqvist blocked the view of Sharks' goalie Martin Jones. The puck hit the upper right corner of the net before Jones could react.
In deconstructing the play, the Sharks' Logan Couture would argue that Crosby had an advantage. Couture thinks that officials give the Penguins' captain way too much leeway in the jockeying before the puck drops.
"He cheats," said Couture. "He gets away with that . . . He times them and yet they don't kick him out for some reason; probably because of who he is."
Frankly, the faceoff rules in the NHL are so nebulous and subjective, it's not clear what cheating is and isn't. Couture might have a case about Crosby, but so what? The same thing happens in the NBA where certain players get certain calls.
Also in the NBA, you may recall, teams do come back from seemingly deep deficits, as the Warriors just did. Returning to the Shark Tank may help.
In the Stanley Cup Final, just 10 percent of the teams who have fallen behind 2-0 have rallied to win. But the Sharks now seek to be one of those 10 percent.
"Stats, stats, stats," Vlasic said. "You can turn them around any way you want them. We're going to go home and win a game."
A Tank that definitely needs to gas them up.
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