Friday, April 13, 2012

Sharks Steal One in St. Louis

The Sharks were outplayed, outfought, outgunned, outhustled, and overall out-hockeyed for a little more than 4 periods Thursday but still managed to steal the game in the 2nd overtime on a beautiful goal from the slot by Martin Havlat. The Sharks were totally overwhelmed with the Blues' defense and fast break offense throughout the game but they held strong behind a monumental effort by goaltender Antti Niemi, who basically kept the Sharks in the game during the 1st overtime and much of the entire match.

The game was a grinding, low-scoring one, and I will be one of many to tell you that the Sharks did not look good. But the important thing is that they got the win, which is the only thing that really matters in the playoffs.

Good teams play well most of the time and win most of their games, great teams win even when they are not on top of their game. Now, that doesn't mean great teams don't play well, and that also doesn't mean I'm calling the Sharks an elite team. They are not one, at least not this season. What I am saying is that if the Sharks want to make a Stanley Cup run this postseason, they have to win games where they struggle in addition to games where they dominate. You're not always going to play well, but if you win, it doesn't matter.

I'm glad that the Sharks got the win; now they must focus on playing well tomorrow. If they win tomorrow, they clearly will have the upper hand in the series. A loss reduces their series advantage to a slim one at best before returning home to the Shark Tank.

The Sharks struggled to apply consistent offensive pressure throughout Game 1. That will be a key area of focus come Saturday. They will have to maintain puck control in their offensive zone. They had far too many giveaways and missed chances from my perspective Thursday. They can't be sloppy with the puck. The Blues defense is far too good to allow sloppiness.

Another focus for the Sharks will be to stop the Blues on the power play. We all are aware of the Sharks' penalty-killing woes. They were ranked 29th in the regular season in that department. There are two ways to address the PK problem. Number one is simple, get better at penalty killing. The Sharks penalty kill was much improved on Thursday (especially the first penalty, where they didn't allow a clean shot at all), but they did allow one power play goal in the game. Goals will be hard to come by in this series; San Jose can't afford to allow the Blues extra chances to get them. We have to get better at penalty killing.

The other choice is to not take penalties. If the Sharks are unable to stop St. Louis during power plays, the only option left is to avoid power plays altogether. This is done by playing clean hockey. The Sharks will have to have clean hits, clean takeaways, a clean game altogether. They simply cannot allow the Blues a man advantage. There is no margin for error, because San Jose's penalty kill is so pitiful.

The Sharks will have two clear areas of focus on Saturday, offensive puck control and penalty kill. If the Sharks excel in these two areas, given that they came out on top despite an overall poor performance on Thursday, the Sharks should be able to win again.

Good luck Sharks, and we hope to see you 2-0 when you return to San Jose!!!

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