Sharks Playoff Gameday: With Room To Improve the Sharks Still Hold 1-0 Series Lead

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4:30 PST
187_medium
Series
Sharks lead 1-0
Series Preview - Game One
Television
CSN-CA, CNBC
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
St. Louis Gametime
Post Dispatch

The Sharks did a lot of things well on Thursday night in their double overtime victory, the most important of which was stealing a victory on the road. Taking a 1-0 series lead at this stage is far from a guarantee of future success, but as Matt said yesterday morning, no matter what happens tonight the fact is that San Jose will at the very least tied heading back home to San Jose. That's a huge win for a club that struggled against the Blues during the regular season, and is a textbook example of what you want to do as the road team-- put the pressure on the home ice club as early as possible.

It doesn't hurt to get greedy this time of year though, which means tonight is a great opportunity to bust out the good luck wooly mammoth tusks.

There's a ton of other positives from game one as well-- the Sharks beat the Blues at their own game. Antti Niemi was phenomenal and won the goaltending battle, the Sharks managed to come back in the third period against a team that usually locks it down in that final frame, and Martin Havlat continued to be a big time playoff player.

He's fifth highest NHLer in playoff points per game since the lockout in case you haven't heard.

Another thing San Jose did very well during game one was get into the Blues shooting lanes, forcing them to either dump the puck along the boards or just toss the puck to the net from the point. The Blues had a ton of zone time, which isn't what the Sharks want to happen every single night they're out there, but if you're going to be in the defensive zone more often throughout the game then keeping the team to the outside is the best way to do it.

San Jose blocked 19 shots in total in game one. They've been pretty damn good at doing this throughout the season as well, finishing 5th in the League in raw blocked shots.

As we looked at last postseason however, merely totaling up blocked shots and calling it a day isn't a good indicator of how good a team is at that important skill:

But in order to put this in context and attempt to see how good a team truly is at blocking shots, there needs to be context. As we mentioned above, teams who give up a wealth of shots on net probably shouldn't be considered as "good" at blocking shots as a team who keeps their goaltender from having to make a slew of saves-- time spent in the defensive zone is not an effective use of a team's capabilities after all, primarily because with it comes risk of a goal against.

Broken down by a percentage of shots on net we can better understand a team's ability to make a difference when blocking shots; in other words, it allows us to see which team is really frustrating opposing team's by restricting their opportunities to score goals.

>> "The San Jose Sharks Are Paying The Price"

Since this postseason is far too young to look at the numbers and establish any sort of meaning, let's see how San Jose fared during the regular season.

As it turns out, they were pretty damn good at it. Second in the NHL in fact:


2011-2012 Blocked Shots Leaders by Team

Rank Team BKS SA
Total
% of BKS
1 New York Rangers
1338 2281
3619
36.9%
2
San Jose Sharks
1327
2342
3669
36.2%
3
New York Islanders
1364
2469
3833
35.6%
4
Montreal Canadiens
1341
2432
3773
35.5%
5
Washington Capitals
1302 2475
3777
34.5%

Now this isn't the end-all be all of success, nor am I suggesting that allowing teams to pummel shots into your shin pads all night is a great way to win a hockey game-- you obviously want to push the pace offensively as much as you can. The fact that the Islanders and Canadiens both made this list shows that it's not exactly the best metric at determining who wins hockey games.

But there are the little things that go a long way this time of year. It's glorified for a reason.

And San Jose has shown the ability to do just that.

Game one wasn't all sunshine and roses of course, so I think heading back to our five keys to the series is a good place to reassess what needs to be improved on for game two. Let's hit em':

1. Steal An Early Game On The Road

All that matters. Might as well just hit the comments and skip the rest of this post.

2. Fight off the forecheck with quick and intelligent reads from the first defenseman back.

Essentially the idea is this-- San Jose's first defenseman back needs to kick his outlet pass up to a forward as quick as possible in order to avoid getting into a puck battle along the boards. The forward who receives the puck needs to make a quick read in turn and hit a player exiting the zone with speed to push the St. Louis defenseman back and inject some chaos into a really good Blues neutral zone presence.

For the most part I think San Jose has a lot of opportunity to improve here. They got hemmed into their own zone for a lot of game action, and the Blues were able to dictate the tempo for the majority of the game. If the Sharks can improve on this aspect of their game it's going to change the complexion of how things play out the rest of this series, because I think it's probably the one of the biggest strengths the Blues have.

3. Speed in the neutral zone.

This starts with the break out. Clean zone penetration was at a minimum for San Jose throughout game one, and that was a big reason as to why the flow of the game kind of went out the window offensively. St. Louis' defensemen did a really good of their gap control, and their forwards did a good job of applying pressure on the backcheck. Par for the course with that club, but an area where San Jose can definitely improve tonight.

4. First Line Needs To Be The Difference.

As The Neutral covered in his scoring chance post, San Jose's top line was held in check by Backes and Oshie for the majority of the tilt. The fact that they couldn't get much going is either a positive going forward (as San Jose can still get wins without their top line dominating games like they often do) or a negative (as St. Louis has found a way to solve the top line).

They've been too good this year to be solved this easily, so I'm leaning former.

5. Special Teams Need To Be Special.

Killing five Blues power plays is a win any day of the week, and picking up an early power play goal to get that unit on the board early in the series is a good thing as well. They weren't special, but Niemi made sure they didn't have to be.

Star-divide

The one area where St. Louis' "lack of experience" (a motif I'm not really buying as a whole) could come into play is when they're all jammed up and feeling the energy of the crowd. When the Blues were jumping in the third period last night following their second goal they started trying to finish every check and skate like it was the last shift they were ever going to play. That type of emotion is something the Sharks can take advantage of, as a Blues team playing on the edge is also one that is more prone to getting outside of their system and making mistakes.

In summation, there's a lot of areas the Sharks can improve on tonight. They're going to get better as the series goes along, and a 1-0 series lead relieves a lot of that pressure in a tough barn against a good team.

Coming home with a 2-0 lead would taste oh so sweet.

Prediction: Sharks win 4-2. Goals by Galiardi, Marleau, Winnik, and Burns.
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