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Johnston: Sharks power play, forecheck too much

Former coach says San Jose response after allowing shorthanded goal to L.A. was crucial

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

For additional insight into the Western Conference First Round series between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Mike Johnston to break down the action. Johnston will be checking in throughout the series.

Johnston, 59, most recently was coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, compiling a 58-37-15 record during his tenure. He was coach and general manager of Portland of the Western Hockey League from 2008-2014. He also has been an assistant for the Kings and Vancouver Canucks.

The San Jose Sharks used a combination of an aggressive power play and effective forecheck to forge a 4-3 victory against the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series at Staples Center on Thursday.

San Jose forward Joe Pavelski had two goals, including the game-winner 17 seconds into the third period, to help the Sharks take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

Game 2 is at Staples Center on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, FS-W, CSN-CA).

To even the series, Los Angeles will have to counter many of the things that San Jose did so well in Game 1.

Mike Johnston was particularly impressed with what the Sharks were able to do on the power play and forecheck.

They scored their first goal on their first power play, and then tied it 3-3 late in the second period when forward Tomas Hertl scored one second after a Kings penalty expired.

"I thought it was key for San Jose that their power play was good, especially early," Johnston said. "They get the goal on the power play, responding when they were down 1-0. I thought that was key."

Video: SJS@LAK, Gm1: Hertl buries loose puck for PPG

Pavelski scored that first goal less than four minutes after Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin opened the scoring. The goal came on a one-time shot off a pass from defenseman Brent Burns.

The goal illustrates for Johnston exactly why the San Jose power play is so dangerous. It scored on 22.5 percent of its chances in the regular season, third-best in the NHL

"They looked comfortable on the power play and they seemed to have a lot of options," he said, noting that the calmness center Joe Thornton and Pavelski exhibit on the outside is a big part of the first unit's effectiveness.

But Johnston said it's Burns, a dual threat with his shooting and passing, who makes the unit so dangerous.

"Burns sometimes switches positions on the power play, but the thing that is very effective is he finds a way to get shots through, and that is very important for people up top on the power play," Johnston said. "He's so dangerous with the shot that sometimes that forces the goaltender to bite when Burns has the puck, and if Burns fakes the shot, the goaltender gets set and then Burns moves it, like he did to Pavelski on the first goal. That is really dangerous.

"Burns will pull defenders out and get players to go down to block his shot, and then, if you pass it, there is a seam that opens up in behind because he will get players to come out on him or make themselves big in shooting lanes, and it is hard to recover when you do that."

Johnston most liked the way San Jose regrouped after allowing a shorthanded goal to Trevor Lewis late in the second period. Hertl scored 30 seconds later to tie it 3-3. The goal came a second after a Kings penalty expired, but the Sharks' power-play personnel was still out there.

Video: SJS@LAK, Gm1: Lewis finishes pretty toe drag for SHG

"That is tough to do, to regroup your power play when they get scored on, because it almost puts a knife in your team when somebody scores shorthanded on you," he said. "I thought that was a big, big goal."

The other key for the Sharks, in Johnston's mind, was the effectiveness of the forecheck, which kept the Kings from building up speed in transition.

"I thought San Jose was quick on the forecheck. They have good sticks and they are physical, but not physically overpowering, like L.A. can be on the forecheck," Johnston said. "They get a stick on the puck a lot and they disrupt you. They don't give you a lot of time to make a decision to move the puck."

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