The Stanley Cup Playoffs lead to the toughest championship in sports – as many as 28 games over eight weeks, four sets of best-of-seven. Each series potentially involves more games against a single opponent in two weeks than a team can play in six months of the season.
Seven games is a long time, and while it's often compared to a marathon, a more apt comparison is to a chess game.
Each move presents opportunities for counter-moves, and the series unfolds as a series of adjustments. The team that is most successful at adjusting is generally the one that moves on to the next round.
In Game One of their series, the Sharks (who, as home team, have final tactical move within the game, by being able to be the last to put a line on the ice) chose to try to neutralize Anaheim's dominant top line by matching directly against it.
Head Coach Todd McLellan felt that his own top line was a solid defensive unit, and that it could take a big bite out of the Ducks' offensive firepower with tight defense. And, as far as it went, the strategy actually worked, although the Sharks found their own top line's offense was similarly stifled. Still, San Jose's top line registered more shots on goal than did Anaheim's.
"You can't win having four or five guys missing in action," McLellan said, "whether they are two-and-a-half to three-minute players, or 21-and-a-half to 22-minute players. When you're out there, you need to contribute."
"An area we will be better in is around the net," the coach continued, "and we will be. There are three things: 1) We've got to be better in getting there, 2) give them credit, they are doing a good job of keeping us from getting there, and 3) if your progress is impeded on offense, there should be a reward for that, as well."
Center Joe Pavelski
pointed out an obvious area for improvement in Game Two: getting traffic in front of Ducks netminder Jonas Hiller.
"Thirty-five shots is good, but what kind of thirty-five shots are we getting?" asked Pavleksi. "What kind of second opportunities are we getting? A good goalie is going to stop the puck the first time; it's important we get the second opportunities."
Another adjustment will come in the faceoff circle. After winning six of the first eight faceoffs in the game, the Sharks wound up winning only 3-of-11 on power plays and only 44% on the night. Even in the dressing room after practice, Sharks Radio Broadcaster Jamie Baker was seen showing Pavelski the finer points of positioning and leverage in the circle.
"44% is unacceptable," said McLellan. "We worked hard all year for that. You can point the finger at the centermen for not winning the draws, but they need some help; the wingers have to win the races to that loose ice. 3-for-11 on the power play, if you think of it as 25 seconds wasted each time, that's a lot of power-play time to have lost."
Similarly, the Sharks had one of the very best power plays in all of the NHL this season, but were uncharacteristically 0-for-6 Thursday with the man-advantage. The Ducks had a lot to do with that. They come out high and challenge the puck in the neutral zone, even on the power play, and they appeared to frustrate the Sharks' attempts to enter the zone frequently in Game One.
"I think," said Dan Boyle
, the No. 1 quarterback on the Sharks' power play, "that the guy who is coming up (ice) with the puck on the breakout needs to make, maybe, a better decision. A lot of times, they determined where they puck was going to go. We are on the power play, we need to determine where we want the puck, whose hands we want it in, and what we want to do with it. Executing a little bit better."
Veteran leadership generally steps up when a team trails in a series. "Leadership is different for different people," McLellan said. "Patty (Marleau) and Jumbo (Joe Thornton
) show their leadership when they put on the uniform and go out on the ice. Claude Lemieux, Jeremy Roenick, Rob Blake, have all been in this situation before, they have been up, and they have been down, and they can settle a team."
Roenick, a veteran of more than 20 NHL seasons, seemed anything but flustered.
"We need to stick to the basics and do more of the dirty things, in the corners, battles in front of the net, that made us successful all year," he said. "I've been down 1-0 lots of times. I've been down 2-1 and 3-1. It's a long series, a seven game series. You can not win it in the first game, and you can't lose it in the first game. We have to make adjustments and take this one game at a time."
Roenick pointed out that this is one reason you rarely heard the players talk about having the best record in the league – "in one shot, that home ice is gone, now we have to battle to get it back. That could be a good thing for our team to go through as a building block."
Roenick, in practice, was seen to be talking with Devin Setoguchi at some length. Asked what he was talking about, Roenick said "I think it's important that our young players don't get frustrated. Seto is working hard, and I think he got frustrated with not getting production. He needs to know we're all still behind him. Seto and I are very close, so it's important that we support each other, and that he knows that we appreciate what he's doing, working hard. It will come."
ACADEMIC AWARD GOES TO FORMER JR. SHARK ADAM McKENZIE
The North American Hockey League announced today that Bismarck Bobcats forward John Wickman and Wenatchee Wild defenseman Adam McKenzie have been named the co-recipients of this year’s Academic Achievement Award.Click here to read the full article