ANAHEIM---The execution of the San Jose Sharks’ power-play unit will likely be the determining factor against the Anaheim Ducks tonight's Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
All you have to do is look at San Jose’s power play numbers over the first three games of the best-of-seven series.
The Sharks went scoreless in 12 power-play opportunities against the Anaheim Ducks and lost Games 1 and 2 at HP Pavilion.
In Game 3 at Honda Center, San Jose had three man-advantage situations and scored two power-play goals, including Patrick Marleau
’s third period game-winner in a clutch 4-3 victory.
Notice the trend? The Sharks and Ducks certainly do.
Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said the key for his team’s power play has always been puck possession against the Ducks.
“[In Game 3], we entered the zone a little more efficiently, but it wasn’t any easier than any of the other nights,” said McLellan, whose Sharks finished the regular season with the NHL’s third-best power-play at a 24.2 per cent clip.
“They continued to penalty kill the same way that they did before. We were just a little more efficient and did not spend as much time going up and down the ice. It took us fewer times to get set up than it did in the past.”
McLellan later added: “So we ended up with the puck on our tape more than theirs and that’s the way it works with power plays a lot of times. The commitment level to stick with the system finally paid off for us.”
For the Ducks, their game-plan to counter San Jose’s power play for Game 4 is pretty simple. Avoid ill-advised penalties.
“It’s ridiculous,” Anaheim veteran winger Teemu Selanne said about some of the penalties called on the Ducks in the series, including Corey Perry’s hooking infraction on Dan Boyle
that led to Marleau’s game-winning score in Game 3.
“It’s almost like hitting yourself in the head. Why? You’ve done a great job killing penalties. Why keep forcing things? You can make winning so much easier if you stay out of the penalty box. There’s no team in the league that if they’re going to get 20 power-plays in three games, they’re going to score eventually. No question. If you don’t learn that, you’re stupid.”
After losing Game 1, the Sharks made a few minor adjustments to their power play lineup for Games 2 and 3. But the move that paid off the best was pairing defensemen Rob Blake and Dan Boyle
In Game 3, Boyle and Blake combined for three points on the Sharks’ two power-play goals.
“It doesn’t matter who we put out there,” San Jose forward Devin Setoguchi said. “It’s just a matter of getting the shots through...Blakey has such a great shot and Danny has such great vision. It’s easy when you get them the puck because you kind of know where to go. It’s great when you got them out there together.”
Marleau said the Sharks power play gets a boost when players on the perimeter are not turning the puck over and completing passes inside the Ducks’ zone.
“[The Ducks defense] does a good job of trying to keep the shooting lanes closed and there’s always a lot of traffic,” Marleau said. “It’s definitely a battle to get to the front of the net…But the more you can move the puck without any bobbles, it gets people moving and that sometimes open things up.”
For the Sharks, consistency on the power play will be important in tonight’s Game 4.
“We’ve talked about us needing to get more from certain individuals,” McLellan told reporters following the Sharks morning skate on Thursday. “They’ve been dealt with in the locker room and we will leave that in there. You guys [the media] can guest or anticipate with who that may be, but Patty is part of the core group and you usually win or lose with your core group.”BOTH TEAMS KEY IN ON SPECIAL TEAMS
While the Sharks power play heads into tonight’s game looking to continue its strong play from Game 3, the main goal for the Ducks power play will be to get more opportunities.
Three games into the series, the Ducks lead all NHL playoff teams with a 30 per cent power play conversion rate. But Anaheim has had only 10 man-advantage chances, compared to 15 for San Jose.
“We always talk about the disparity in penalties but we think that we have to do a better job of just skating,” Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said following his team’s morning skate on Thursday. “I don’t think that we have really skated to our level in the series so far. That’s going to be our focus tonight. To get our feet moving.
“But it might have something to do with our opposition. You have to give them credit. They are a skating hockey club and we have to play a skating game. But the one thing we can’t be is a hockey club that exchanges chances against them. That’s imperative.”
According to San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray
, playing position hockey will be the key to keeping the Ducks from getting power-play chances tonight.
“It’s tougher to box out since the new rules came in, so you always have to make sure that you’re on the defensive side,” said Murray, who leads the Sharks in penalty minutes in the series with the fighting major he picked up against the Ducks’ George Parros in Game 3. “You have to always be ready to box out against them because they drive to the net hard.”
Murray added that staying out of the penalty box has been a priority for the Sharks: “You can’t come in late and bash a guy off a spot. It’s now about being smart. You can’t just use your will and your adrenaline because you’ll end up taking a penalty by being on the wrong side of things.”
SHARKS READY FOR FURIOUS OPENING
For tonight’s Game 4, McLellan said he anticipates that the Ducks will look to deliver a knockout blow early in front of their home fans at Honda Center.
“We expect that from them,” McLellan said. “Any time that you lose, you’re not happy with your game. Coaches expect more from the players and players expect more from each other. They are at home and I think they will come out and throw everything they have at us right off the bat.
“For us to wait or way into the game or feel our way in won’t work for us tonight.”NABOKOV COMPOSED AFTER HIS BEST PERIOD
Through the first three games of the series, San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has made 65 saves on 73 shots (an average of just 24.3 shots per game) with a goals-against average of 2.70. Though his stats are not spectacular, Nabokov has made key saves at key moments in the series and played his best period of hockey when it mattered most.
“Nabby has been part of a core group that we’ve talked about throughout the playoffs," McLellan said. “Do I think Nabby can be better? Yeah I think he can be and I think he will be. We’re counting on that heading forward.”
In Game 3, Nabokov was at his best late when he held the Ducks scoreless over the final 28 minutes of the game.
“I thought perhaps that the best playing time Nabby has had was the second half of Game 3 and that’s a good sign for us,” McLellan said.NOTES
McLellan on the San Jose's overall play heading into tonight’s Game 4: “I think there’s room for improvement,” he said. “Individually, we’re still waiting for a few players to play better and collectively we can be better as well. We are dealing with that on a daily basis…We’re holding players accountable. We’re trying to find ways to get them to play better because we’re going to have to be in order to win. I feel that our level has gone up with each game in the playoffs but I don’t think we are where we need to be in order to win. Not only for today but for us to continue on and win.”