There really isn’t a way to sugarcoat it.
Game 5 wasn’t the Sharks’ best effort.
“To a guy, we weren’t good enough,” said Joe Pavelski. “We didn’t deserve to win tonight. We have to be a lot better.”
Yes, San Jose will certainly need to be better to put its thoroughly uneven 3-0 loss behind it heading into Staples Center for Game 6 on Monday night.
But, in what areas will the Sharks most need to improve?
Winning vs Losing
When hockey teams are winning games, it can seem like everything is going their way – they have offensive balance, stout defense, sturdy goaltending and are even getting lucky bounces.
Conversely, when hockey teams aren’t winning games as the Sharks haven’t been for the last two installments of the series, everything seems to be going in the opposite direction – the offense comes up dry as it did in Game 5, and its usually-fortified defense and goaltending show cracks.
However, oftentimes, it’s the micro that affects the macro, with improving the little things being the biggest key for a team to improve itself in the areas of major concern.
| ||IN WINS ||IN LOSSES |
|Goals per game ||5.66 ||1.50 |
|Goals-against per game ||2.66 ||4.50 |
|Save percentage ||.912 ||.887 |
|Power-play percentage ||12% ||5% |
|Penalty-kill percentage ||80% ||83% |
|Shots per game ||37.66 ||34.5 |
|Shots-against ||30.33 ||36 |
|Pims per game (minors + double-minors) ||8.66 ||15 |
|Players with goals ||11 ||3 |
|Players with points ||17 ||7 |
|Hits per game ||47.66 ||45 |
|Takeaways per game ||9 ||7.5 |
|Faceoff percentage ||50.5% ||51.6% |
What These Numbers Say
In hockey, it’s almost a cliché when a team says after a loss that it aspires to be better in all areas.
However, in the case of the Sharks, these numbers reveal this adage to be strikingly pertinent to the team’s situation: Of all these major stats, the only category where the Sharks have fared “better” in “losses” is faceoff percentage.
But, the margin of faceoff percentage between wins and losses is less than one percent. So, over the course of games, when dozens of faceoffs are taken, this hardly means anything.
Additionally, the Sharks have a slightly better penalty-killing percentage in games they have lost.
However, it’s hardly fair to consider the team’s penalty killing “better” in losses since they have actually given up the same amount of power-play goals in wins as they have in losses: 2.
This means that while San Jose has killed off a better percentage of LA’s power plays in games the Sharks have lost, that the only reason this has happened is that the team has shown less discipline and taken more penalties.
Besides the obvious negatives of poor team discipline leading to more good opportunities for the other team to score, taking more penalty also lessens the amount of time the Sharks can go on the attack, themselves.
So, as the cliché often suggests, all of these stats reveal that the Sharks do truly have to be better across the board in all areas.
They Said It: “We’ve got to turn the page and move on. Winning teams have to do that. And we will do that.” –Dan Boyle, following the Sharks 3-0 loss in Game 5.
Despite the immense physicality of the series’ first four games, both the Sharks and Kings remained relatively healthy entering Game 5 on Saturday night.
Healthy, during the playoffs, of course meaning that nobody who started the series in a lineup had been forced to be taken out of the lineup due to injury.
The Sharks received a brief scare in the second period of Game 5, when Tomas Hertl took a hard hit from Willie Mitchell.
However, with three shifts totaling 3:25 TOI in the latter stages of the third period and postgame confirmation from Todd McLellan, everything seems to be fine with Hertl’s health.
The bigger concern is leading defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who took a nasty shot to the head from Jarret Stoll during the first period and was sidelined the rest of the night.
Stoll received two minutes for roughing for this hit. But, it doesn’t look like he’ll be receiving any supplemental discipline from the League.
Vlasic is being categorized as day-to-day with an upper-body injury, with there being no clues as to whether or not he’ll suit up in Game 6.
Come on, it’s the playoffs, did you really expect anything else?
Who Starts In Goal?
Allowing three goals on 19 shots in Game 4, Sharks starting goalie Antti Niemi was pulled in favor of Alex Stalock for the second straight game.
Stalock turned aside all 22 shots he faced in just under two full periods of Game 5, after nabbing all four of the shots he saw after taking over for Niemi in Game 4.
“We have two good goaltenders,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan following Game 5. “We’ll have to make some decisions throughout our lineup in every position, because we weren’t near good enough tonight.”
With McLellan expectedly not tipping his hand as to who he’ll start between the pipes in Game 6, here’s the cases both for and against Niemi and Stalock.
- His 35 postseason wins – 16 with Chicago and 19 with San Jose – since 2010 are the most in the NHL, meaning that despite getting pulled from his last two starts, he’s the team’s most seasoned playoff goalie.
- Although his last two starts were uneven, he’s still 3-2 in this series – entering Sunday, no Western Conference team has a playoff record better than 3-2, and San Jose has a 3-2 record entirely on Niemi’s shoulders.
- With Staples Center set up to be a real hornet’s nest in Game 6, Niemi’s experience should make him well equipped to handle the hostile surroundings.
- His numbers have taken a hit during his last two starts – he had a 3.80 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in his first three starts, and has a 8.00 goals-against average and .822 save percentage over his last two starts.
- It seemed to be a wakeup call for the team in Game 6 when Niemi was replaced by Stalock. Perhaps it will be an even greater wakeup call if Stalock replaces Niemi to start Game 6?
- Niemi isn’t as adept at Stalock at handling the puck. With the Kings having established a heavy forecheck the last two games, Niemi may not be able to aid Sharks defensemen in handling LA’s forecheck as well as Stalock could.
- He has stopped all 26 shots he’s faced in the series. You don’t have to be a math wizard to calculate his goals-against average and save percentage.
- His entire career could be a case study in overcoming adversity. He could be just the man to help the Sharks with the team’s adversity.
- He’s historically been a capable playoff goalie, posting a career 2.26 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in playoff games (11) with the AHL Worcester Sharks.
- He’s never started an NHL playoff game. He’d now be expected to go into a volatile Staples Center to get a win in his first career playoff start.
- Will LA smell blood and sense that San Jose is panicking if it removes its well established starting goalie in favor of a relatively inexperienced backup?
- For as good as Stalock’s AHL playoff stats have been, those numbers were all accumulated four years ago – AHL-Worcester hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010. To boot, Stalock and Worcester were eliminated that year by the Manchester Monarchs, who are the AHL affiliate of these very same Kings.
Only one time in franchise history have the Sharks ever played Game 6 of a playoff series at Staples Center.
In 2011, just as they will in 2014, the Sharks took a 3-2 lead in their first-round series to Staples Center, with Joe Thornton scoring the overtime goal that led San Jose to a 4-2 series win over LA.