Sunday, October 14, 2007

Plenty of Time to Work Out the Kinks

Last night's game was a crazy, unsatisfying affair. We get to the arena and it's completely dark. The power has gone out. There is a huge mob of people waiting in line outside, because they won't let anyone in. We find out later the lights actually go out during the pre-game skate. We wait a few minutes, the lights come on in stages, and we are eventually let in. Once we sit, we notice, although it's game time, the ice is not cut, and there is no PA or ribbon screen. The game ends up starting about a half-hour late, with none of the fanfare that generally accompanies a home opener. No anthem, no ceremony for Ricci and Marchment, no starting lineup announcements. The players come out (not from the Sharks head) around 8pm, and the refs drop the puck soon after. Very strange.

After a first period that wasn't as bad as the shot totals would indicate (12-4 in favor of the Bruins), the Sharks are losing on a garbage goal. The second and third periods, the Sharks vastly out-chance Boston, and Michalek manages score on a power play goal with 33 seconds left. Then it gets really strange.

Boston is in ultra-pressure mode, dumping the puck behind the Sharks' net. Vlasic makes a routine play and shovels it around the boards. Except for the fact that the ref is standing flat-footed in the corner, right against the boards. Why the ref is standing there, I've no idea. At least half the time the puck will get cleared along the boards, and he's right in the way. The puck goes off his skate, past Vlasic, and right to a Boston player behind the net. He passes it out front to an open player, who takes a slap shot between the circles and in. Game over.

The fact remains that the Sharks should have won, and could have won. So what the hell is going on? Forget the freaky play at the end. In my view, the Sharks have two big issues closely intertwined:

  1. The biggest team in the NHL is playing like the smallest. I'm not saying we need to goon it up, but all three players on the Marleau line are well over 200 pounds, and no one hits anybody. Puck in the corner? That defensemen needs to feel the pain. Teams are playing close up on the Sharks for a reason- there's no physical intimidation going on at all. McLaren needs to stop playing scared, have confidence in his partner, and drop some more players on their collective asses. Think Trevor Letowski.
  2. More north-south, less east-west. Sometimes I think all the skill some of our players have is actually inhibiting our ability to score. Joe, Marleau, and Michalek are so good, they want to make pretty plays. Maybe they think they're too good to stand in front of the net and take the punishment. I think it's rubbing off on other players. The puck gets cycled around, and there's no one else in the NHL that can protect the puck like Big Joe. But he waits. And waits. And dishes it off. And gets it back. And waits. JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH, GO TO THE NET. Who's gonna body Joe out? Who's gonna body Bernier out? Chara, Volchenkov, and Pronger. That's it, that's the list. Put the puck through traffic and crash it. It ain't pretty, but it works. It works a hell of a lot better than trying to saucer the pass over three sticks and between a guy's legs. Opponents are playing for it at this point. This is why 5-on-5 looks so bad. Even strength chances need to be created with speed and strength. They will not just appear, even if you wait for a whole shift.
We're only a few games in, and there's tons of time to work out these kinks. The Sharks need to realize that teams are getting up for these games- no more catching them unawares. It seems like every damn prognosticator in hockey has picked the Sharks to win this year. Opponents will be prepared on the X's and O's side. The Sharks have to answer with fire, thunder, and lighting. That's means heart, hits, and dazzling speed.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

"Sometimes I think all the skill some of our players have is actually inhibiting our ability to score. Joe, Marleau, and Michalek are so good, they want to make pretty plays. Maybe they think they're too good to stand in front of the net and take the punishment."

I feel the same way about the play of your rivals down South. Ducks are trying to be too pretty. Case and point - 35+ shots against the Wild, but none go in, and most are from bad angles.
But then they figure out what paying the price in front of the net gets you - 5 goals (plus 1 EN) against Detroit.
If the Sharks want a template, watch the Ducks-Wings game from last night.