When the Sharks stormed out of the gates in Game 1 by romping their way to a deceptively easy 6-3 win, the sentiment around San Jose’s locker room was that the team in no way expected to find itself in such a lopsided game for the rest of the series.
“It was just a weird night,” is how Sharks captain Joe Thornton described his team’s offensive explosion against the stingy Kings in the opener.
And Joe Thornton after Game 2?
“Scoring seven tonight…it was just a weird night,” echoed Thornton.
Perhaps it was a bit weird.
But, weird or not, the Sharks have hung back-to-back shellackings – 6-3 in Game 1 and 7-2 in Game 2 – on the Kings that bring about a few stunning realities – San Jose leading the series 2-0 not being one of them.
-The Sharks have scored 13 goals in two games, after only combining for 10 in seven playoff games against LA last season.
-Every forward to have played for San Jose has at least two points in the series.
-The Kings had not given up six goals in a game the entire 2013-14 season, and have now done so in back-to-back games to open up the playoffs.
-Jonathan Quick has surrendered 12 goals in two games, after giving up only 30 over four entire playoff rounds en route to the 2012 Stanley Cup.
Perhaps it all is a bit weird.
But, weird or not, the Sharks have done an awful lot right in the first two games to help facilitate all this “weirdness.”
What Can Brown Do For You?
If you’re the Sharks, the answer to this question is: “a whole lot.”
Even before the Sharks took control of Game 2 on the scoreboard, Mike Brown was laying the lumber on the Kings, right where he left off in Game 1.
When Brown’s booming body check sent Tyler Toffoli bowling into Jonathan Quick – similar to how Brown catapulted Slava Voynov into Quick in Game 1 – in the game’s opening three minutes, it was evident that San Jose’s fourth-line mucker was engaged in the contest.
However, it wasn’t just Brown (first star) who was playing the body for the Sharks. It was also his “fourth line” linemates, Andrew Desjardins (second star) and Raffi Torres (third star).
“The spark came from that fourth line” said Joe Pavelski. “We didn’t have the start we wanted. Once those guys forced our forecheck…it was pretty good.”
The hit parade that the Desjardins/Torres/Brown line – how long until they can get an official nickname? – led did more than just generate energy, as it usually does.
The fourth line’s forecheck also had a distinctly measurable effect on Game 2. It directly led to the Sharks’ first goal, which began the team’s seven-goal onslaught after LA jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
It wasn’t just one Shark, rather both Desjardins and Torres tag team Matt Greene, who is pressured into coughing up the puck, which as much as anything is what opens the door for Brown to swoop in like a vulture and deliver the puck past Quick.
So, for as much as teams talk about establishing a strong forecheck, this series of events might be the best example of why exactly, and how a strong forecheck can give a team the ups on the scoreboard.
The Sharks’ pressure “forced” this giveaway by Greene, who after being inserted into the lineup in favor of Jordan Nolan to give the Kings a lineup of seven defensemen in Game 2, was a game-worst -4.
The Sharks Exposed LA’s Slower Defensemen
In the postgame media scrums at SAP Center following Game 2, several reporters were quick to recognize Todd McLellan’s second-period decision to juggle his lines that most prominently saw Joe Pavelski shifted from flank on the Thornton line to center between Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard as the contest’s turning point.
And McLellan’s cagey maneuvers were important.
But, it wasn’t just the change in lines for the sake of switching lines that turned Game 2 in the Sharks’ favor. It was also how San Jose’s line alterations made it much easier to expose LA’s least fleet-footed defensemen.
LA’s Defense Pairs
Jake Muzzin-Drew Doughty
Robyn Regehr-Slava Voynov
Willie Mitchell-Alec Martinez
It’s hard to take too much away from the Kings’ defense core, in general, considering the team led the NHL in goals-against average this season.
However, no defense is perfect, and even their staunchest supporters would probably consider the following to be a fair assessment: For all their assets, pure foot speed is not the strength of Robyn Regehr, Willie Mitchell or Matt Greene at this latter juncture of their distinguished careers.
Matt Greene was a game-low -4 in Game 2.
Robyn Regehr was on the ice for four of San Jose’s five goals against Jonathan Quick in Game 1, getting spun around and outskated on a handful of Sharks tallies.
Willie Mitchell’s lack of speed compared to Matt Nieto was a main reason for San Jose’s fourth goal – scored by Patrick Marleau – that really broke open the offensive dam in Game 2 and handed the Sharks a two-goal edge early in the third period.
Although Mitchell is not outraced or anything in this sequence, he is forced to defensively overcompensate just because of the “threat” Nieto’s speed advantage poses.
As Nieto gains the blue line with a full head of steam, watch Mitchell in the highlight, near the bottom of the screen…he backs off.
Why does Mitchell back off?
Nieto has a ton of it, and Mitchell doesn’t have it or any momentum. This makes the veteran NHL blueliner back up to prevent the younger, faster Shark from blowing around him and potentially getting a breakaway.
But, as soon as Mitchell backs off, this goal has basically been scored – Nieto has all the time in the world to pull up, look, and ladle a cross-ice pass over to Marleau, who doesn’t miss too often from there.
As much as Nieto’s heads-up pass and Marleau’s pinpoint shot caused this goal to be scored, the opening for these talents to be displayed would not have existed without there being a wide gap in skating abilities between Nieto and Mitchell.
And while it can be easy to point to McLellan’s changing up the Sharks lines as a prime reason Game 2’s momentum changed, it’s important to understand “why” it changed the momentum: It spread San Jose’s speed out more evenly among its forward units, allowing the Sharks to have “at least” two forwards on the ice at all times who have to be considered well above-average NHL skaters.
Adding in that three of the Kings’ seven defensemen are below-average NHL skaters, San Jose’s distribution of its wealth, so to speak, just created a scenario where Darryl Sutter wasn’t able to shelter his sluggish defensemen from the Sharks’ more nimble forwards, meaning mismatches were going to be commonplace.
Although, Slava Voynov is one of the Kings’ better skaters, and he didn’t look too swift, either, in his failed foot race with Marleau (top of the screen, along the boards, in the below highlight) that caused Logan Couture to score San Jose’s sixth goal.
So, perhaps it was just that kind of night for the Kings?
Odd and Ends
-Entering the series, much was made about home-ice advantage, and how the home team won every matchup in the Sharks/Kings playoff series last year.
San Jose has held serve by opening the series with two wins in Silicon Valley. However, recent history shows that this series may still be far from over; just last year, the Kings lost the first two games of their first-round series in St. Louis and came back to win four straight to take the series.
In fact, teams that have dropped a series’ first two games have come back to win on eight occasions in just the last five years.
However, only three times since the NHL was founded in 1917 has a team come back to win after trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven series. Adding in that the Sharks taking Game 3 at Staples Center would eliminate LA’s chances of pulling back even with wins on its home ice, and there’s every reason to think that Tuesday’s get together in LA could be the game to dictate how the rest of the series goes.
-Also before the series, a lot was made about the Sharks and Kings being two of the NHL’s elite puck possession teams.
So far, the Sharks have had the puck possession advantage in both contests. So much so that San Jose is the best aggregate puck possession team in the entire playoffs entering Monday night’s games.
What’s more, San Jose has been the best puck possession team while playing against LA, which was the NHL’s top puck possession team during the regular season – as a result of being on the other end of the Sharks’ advantage, the Kings have spiraled downwards to being the absolute worst puck possession team in the playoffs, so far.
The Sharks’ individual puck possession leader so far? Joe Pavelski.
-A lot of pundits these days seem to value puck possession stats over the old-school plus/minus. Well, if that old plus/minus thing still means anything, Justin Braun is currently tied with the Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon for the NHL’s best playoff plus/minus at +5.
-The Bay Area’s leading hitter was in attendance for Game 2, as well.
Not Rickey Henderson.
Torres added four more hits in Game 2, giving him a bruising total of 11 through two games in the series.
He may have had over 3,000 in his career, but what was the last time Rickey Henderson had 11 hits in two games?