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A Powerful Penalty Kill

by Tony Khing / San Jose Sharks
Fantastic goals, great saves and helmet-popping hits will make the 11 p.m. news highlights.


See a solid penalty kill in that two-minute package? Probably not.

But the real hockey fans, those who play the game and coaches can appreciate what a good penalty kill does for a team.

The San Jose Sharks know this very well. After allowing Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty to score power play goals in Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series, the Sharks have held the Los Angeles Kings to just 11 shots and no goals in their last 14 situations with the man advantage.

“You kill off some penalties,” Dan Boyle said, “it’s going to create some momentum on your side. We’ve seen that in the last couple of games.”

The Kings don’t have Anze Kopitar, who’s out for the playoffs with a lower body injury. He was third on the Kings with six power play goals, but his playmaking skills made him dangerous. Only Johnson (25) had more power play assists than Kopitar (12) during the regular season.

Even though Kopitar was second on the team in power play scoring (18 points), Sharks players say his absence doesn’t make a difference in their current success. “They would be more skilled,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said, “but it wouldn’t change the way we play.”

There’s no secret to the Sharks success. According to Vlasic, it’s pretty simple. “In the last game, I thought we did an excellent job of getting in lanes, having good sticks, blocking shots and sacrificing yourself, especially 5-on-3,” he said.

Cutting off passing lanes and deflecting passes is one thing. But putting your body in front of a shot is something else. Among the Sharks, Boyle leads with 10 blocked shots, followed by Douglas Murray’s nine and eight from Jason Demers. The top shot blocking forward is Logan Couture (seven, tied with Vlasic).

“It’s no fun, that’s for sure,” Boyle said of blocking shots. “Most guys don’t like it. It’s part of the game that doesn’t show up on the scoresheet, except in the blocked shots column. It’s necessary in order to win. You have to sacrifice your body.”

Sacrifice is also necessary in one of the toughest spots on the ice. The Sharks have been successful in their share of battles there. “I thought we did a good job in the corners battling for pucks,” Vlasic said. “Everybody was communicating. When that happens, everybody is playing well together.”

“We knew we were doing the right things and the process was right,” Scott Nichol said. “We knew it would payoff in the long run.”

And so far, it has.

B.F.F.? PROBABLY NOT
A player knows he’s made an impression during a game when the opposing coach mentions him by name in the postgame presser.

One can be sure Kings Coach Terry Murray knows Nichol. “Give Nichol credit,” Murray said after Game 4. “He’s the reason that they won tonight.”

Los Angeles Kings left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky, of Ukraine, and San Jose Sharks center Scott Nichol, below, collide during the first period in Game 4 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs series Thursday, April 21, 2011, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Just like the factors behind a solid penalty kill, Nichol’s work won’t show up on the stat sheet. He’ll never lead a team in scoring. He won’t be a 20-goal scorer. But if there was an award for grit, determination and doing whatever was necessary to help a team win, Nichol would be the perpetual recipient.

In slightly less than seven minutes of playing time, Nichol had one shot, three hits and two penalties for 12 minutes. That was on the scoresheet. Unfortunately for Nichol, there’s no category on the form for pestiness.

“You’re always trying to make a mark on the game,” Nichol said. “If you play 20 minutes, or six or seven, you want to change the momentum or do something that creates momentum. It just turned out that we got a couple of goals off that.”

At 3:14 of the second period, he drew a roughing penalty on Doughty. Nichol went to the box for the same, but he took a key member of the Kings defense out of the game for 120 seconds. Sure enough, 44 seconds later, Ryane Clowe scored San Jose’s first goal of the game.

“In hockey,” Nichol said, “it’s the heat of the battle. You just try to finish your checks and you sometimes get caught up in the emotions. He (Doughty) plays hard. He’s not going to shy away. It was a pretty good tradeoff for our side.

“I just went in on the forecheck,” Nichol added on drawing the penalty. “It doesn’t matter who it is. I’m going to play the same way. It just happened that he was out there. You have to take the body on those guys (Johnson and Doughty) because they can get by you so quick.

“When I went to hit him,” Nichol concluded, “I saw him yelling and chirping. So I skated over to him to see what was wrong. He didn’t like that, I guess. He cross-checked me and I just stood there.”

Nichol wasn’t done. At 6:00 of the same period, he drew a double minor on Matt Greene for a high stick. Greene is a core member of the Kings defense. With just 32 seconds left on Greene’s penalty, Clowe scored his second goal of the game.

Nichol drew the penalty by doing what he’s supposed to do in the offensive zone: create a screen in front of goaltender Jonathan Quick. “If he sees the puck, he’s going to stop it,” Nichol said. “You want to keep him in the blue paint as much as you can.

“I saw the puck go back to the point and I was trying to gain body position. I just got stuck in the face,” Nichol added. And then he said with a smile on his face, “It was another four-minute penalty. It was good, I guess.”

Nichol’s day was finally done late in the third period. At 2:59, Boyle was called for cross-checking Brown in the slot. Yet the real fun was taking place along the boards near the player benches. That’s where Nichol and Doughty were having a little discussion with Smyth bear hugging Nichol from behind. Apparently, Nichol did something to irritate referee Dennis LaRue as he ended Nichol’s day with a 10-minute misconduct.

Based on Doughty’s reaction to Nichol, don’t expect either one to become friends on their respective Facebook pages. However, Nichol’s playing style is all for a reason.

“Our game plan,” he said, “is to grind the team down and get pucks in.”

FOR THE TEAM
Sharks fans are reminded to help the team’s cause during the postseason by participating in the Beard-A-Thon. Sign up by going to www.beardathon.com/sharks.

As Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals approaches, the Kings (more than $26,000) are way ahead of the Sharks ($8,000) in pledges. Leading the pledges for the Kings is television color analyst and former player Jim Fox, while Couture is pacing the Sharks.

Funds raised during the Beard-A-Thon benefit the Sharks Foundation.
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