The NHL’s postseason can become a game of special teams, but the Sharks have done an outstanding job of avoiding that game. Specifically they have done their best to not put their penalty killers out there too often. San Jose’s average penalty minute per game is the lowest in the NHL and in a corresponding number, Colorado has the least amount of power play chances at 13.
“It’s huge,” said hulking blueliner Douglas Murray
. “Since the new rules game in, the power play percentages are up and it’s a huge part of the game. If you give up too many, not only do you give up excellent chances to score, but it breaks your team down killing penalties. It gets you out of rhythm and out of sync.”
San Jose’s coach feels the same way about staying as penalty free as possible.
“Special teams are very important in the playoffs,” said Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan. “You’d prefer to have more power plays than penalty kills, there is not a coach in the league that doesn’t coach it that way.”
San Jose still plays hard, but they play smart when it comes to the defensive side of the game.
“We talk about checking and using our legs and our bodies, not our sticks,” said McLellan. “To this point we’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve got to continue to do that and stay out of the penalty box.”
The playoffs force players to live on the edge as they have to be the aggressor as much as possible, but not cross the line and do something that will send them to the penalty box. They can’t be over aggressive.
“I think today’s game it is so important to keep your sticks down,” said Murray. “Once that stick comes up, you run the obvious risk of a high stick, but also hooking and slashing and all that stuff. I think the guys are doing a tremendous job, especially the forwards up ice on the forecheck. It is tough not to reach in on the forecheck. Everybody has been doing a good job and we hope that continues.”
San Jose’s strong offensive attack has also played a major role in keeping the club relatively penalty free.
“We’ve been in the offensive zone quite a bit and haven’t taken any bad ones in there,” said Joe Pavelski
. “It allows us to draw a few more penalties too. You get more pucks to the net on the power play and it tires them out a little bit.”
“That’s big in hockey, playoffs or not,” said Dan Boyle
of the benefit of puck possession. “The more you have it in your hands, the more it wears down your opponents. It’s harder to play defense than it is offense. We’ve done a fairly good job of that.”
Keeping the right center of balance with their aggression will need to continue for the Sharks to move on.
“You’re walking a fine line in the playoffs,” said Dan Boyle
. “You certainly want to be aggressive. Be physical, but the worst thing you can do is end up in the box and they score on the power play. So far this series we’ve done a pretty good job.”
“We’ve been playing pretty consistent hockey and maintaining our game,” said Ryane Clowe
. “It has a lot to do with your skating. When you’ve got good speed and are getting in on your forecheck, it is easier to stay out of the box. A lot times even if a team doesn’t score, they get momentum. Some of our power plays we haven’t scored on, but we’ve developed momentum.”
The Pepsi Center crowd will be rocking and the Sharks don’t want to do anything to get them even more fired up.
“Tonight, especially early, we’ve got to stay out of the box,” said Clowe.
The Sharks would like nothing better than to hop on the plane to San Jose tonight with the series wrapped up. It will be easier said than done, but they are coming in with the necessary confidence.
“We’d like to close out the series,” said Douglas Murray
. “We have to take care of business tonight because we don’t want to give them any life in the series. This is the first time we have an advantage on them, but if we lose tonight we put them back into the series and miss an opportunity.”
“You can win and go on to the next series and that’s huge,” said Joe Thornton
. “It’s a big game for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
“This is an important game for us and an important game for them,” said Pavelski. “Their lives are on the line. They are trying to earn another game and we are trying to earn another series. It’s one of the toughest games to play and it’s important we sacrifice and do the small things that are going to make us successful.”
The Sharks know the game is not must-win for them, but that it is an opportunity.
“If I have to do that, then they’re in the wrong business or the wrong sport,” said McLellan about pointing out the value of winning Game 6. “They know how hard they’ve had to work to get here. We talked about scratching and clawing and working our way into a lead in the series, we finally got it. What are going to do with it now?”
San Jose is aware they can’t look at the series and view it as having two chances to win.
“I think the leadership is strong enough,” said McLellan about avoiding that thought process. “Rob Blake has a Stanley Cup. Dan Boyle
has a Stanley Cup. They know they need to take advantage tonight and not two days for now.”
The NHL announced on Saturday that Game 7, if necessary, will begin at 7:30 PST time on Monday.