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Sharks know they must improve in several areas

by Dan Rosen /
SAN JOSE -- There's no question that everybody who suits up for the Sharks in Game 3 Friday at HP Pavilion has to be better than they were in Game 2 Wednesday at Rogers Arena. That much we can all agree on, considering San Jose just got throttled by the Canucks to the tune of a 7-3 defeat to fall behind 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals.

Still, Todd McLellan said after Game 2 that, "there's a few people in our group, and I'm not going to hide them anymore, that have to ask themselves whether or not they want to keep on competing."

He chose not to name names, and that's OK because it's fairly easy to figure out who he's talking about.

We're looking at you Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe, Dan Boyle, Dany Heatley and, yes, even Antti Niemi.

But beyond that, the Sharks know they have to do several things as a team to get back into this series. Here are three that are musts if they're going to win Game 3:

1. Keep their composure

The Sharks were clearly lacking in this area in Game 2. They seemed to be more concerned about retribution for a fight their own guy started than the comeback that was still possible before they completely unraveled.

Soon after Patrick Marleau dropped the gloves and proceeded to get beat up by Kevin Bieksa, Ben Eager blasted Hart Trophy-finalist Daniel Sedin between the numbers, giving his face a rude introduction to the Rogers Arena glass.

Sedin was fine, but Eager, who went to the box for boarding, never regained his composure. The Sharks imploded in the third period.

Eager went to the box six times for 20 penalty minutes in Game 3. San Jose had nine penalties totaling 42 minutes in the third period, and 13 for 53 minutes in the game. The Canucks burned the Sharks with three power-play goals, including one from Chris Higgins that turned into the game-winner after Eager slew-footed Mason Raymond 6:57 into the third period.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan couldn't ignore the obvious. He agreed that the Sharks lost their composure and he even went as far as blaming it on Eager's hit on Daniel Sedin.

"We got a little frustrated because we wanted to even the score. That was Ben Eager taking a run at one of the Sedins," McLellan said. "It probably grew from there."

2. Improve play down the middle

The Sharks can't be blamed for using what really is a smart tactic by trying to shoot pucks from the wall toward the net because Roberto Luongo has shown he is suspect to giving up goals on those hard-angled shots. He gave up another one early in Game 2.

But that can't be all the Sharks do to create offense. They have to have some type of middle rush that beats the Canucks' forecheck.

Other than the power-play goal scored by Logan Couture and set up by Dany Heatley early in Game 2, San Jose has basically conceded the middle of the ice, especially in the offensive zone.

That's not a good tactic.

The Canucks have shown in these playoffs, specifically against Chicago, that they are susceptible to giving up grade A scoring chances from the middle when their forecheck gets beaten. San Jose is not doing that. The Sharks are simply chipping the puck into the corners, but by going wide they're putting themselves in position to get into puck battles along the wall.

They're not winning them, so they're not getting a chance to cycle the puck.

The Sharks need waves of offense coming through the middle to force Vancouver to play honest in the defensive zone. Maybe then their cycle game will open up.

"You have to perfect the minor details, and they're doing a much better job of it," McLellan said.

3. Body up on the twins

The Blackhawks hit Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and by Game 4 they were not a big factor in the series.

The Predators bumped the twins as much as possible, and they combined for only 7 points and a minus-10 rating in the series.

The Sharks? They're basically letting Henrik and Daniel have their way. It might be the most obvious recipe for disaster in the NHL.

The twins have regained their remarkable regular-season form against San Jose with a combined 2 goals and 5 assists over the two games. Daniel scored twice on the power play in Game 2 and Henrik assisted on both of those goals before adding another helper later in the game. Henrik also had 2 assists in Game 1 and Daniel was a key factor in other areas.

More than just production, the Canucks' top line, including the twins and Alexandre Burrows, is getting a great deal of space to work their magic in the offensive zone. They are creating chances on just about every shift. Henrik and Daniel have been just deadly with their tic-tac-toe passing.

It's time for the Sharks to start hitting these guys legally, not running them from behind and taking boarding penalties a la Eager's hit on Daniel. They're not easy to catch when they're going like they're going right now, but the Sharks have to devise a game plan to limit their time and space with the puck.

It can be done. Just ask the Blackhawks and Predators.

"They're working hard like they were in the Nashville and Chicago series to create their time and space," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "But right now they seem to be able to get things off the rush and sometimes in their cycling. It's paying off for our team."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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