The Sharks didn’t deserve to beat the Oilers in their first-round series as injuries and fatigue mounted, but the margins should have been tighter. Game five was there for the taking; frankly so was game three. A series that ended in six games should have at least gone seven.
Some of that comes down to bounces, of course. In saying that, a few Edmonton fans could easily bring up moments to remind us why the series would have justly ended in six anyway. The Oilers out-possessed the Sharks at even strength (52.40 corsi-for percentage, score and venue adjusted) and played better hockey over the course of the series.
Joe Thornton played well enough, though certainly not at 100 percent. Logan Couture never recovered, his two-goal-game notwithstanding. He tallied three points in the playoffs, but his possession numbers were routinely dreadful in part to his perplexing usage by Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer. Time and again DeBoer gave the center difficult assignments he clearly couldn’t handle. Couture finished the series with a 41.62 corsi-for percentage, second-worst on the team.
If that’s DeBoer cutting his losses with Couture, a player he didn’t expect to score much because he’s playing at 60 percent, I get it. Then you see who DeBoer decided to play with Couture in those shutdown minutes: Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward. Marleau and Ward play well together in a third line role, but playing with a guy coming off a serious injury in tough minutes was a recipe for disaster.
DeBoer deserves credit for mixing up lines other than that. Reuniting the Captain Line worked and keeping putting Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl together on the third line looked like a revelation. The Sharks had something going, it appeared, even if it was clear due to factors outside their control (injury, fatigue) it couldn’t last.
Then DeBoer did something very peculiar ahead of game six: He pulled Meier out of the lineup. I understand Meier didn’t play well in game five. No one looked good by the time the overtime winner was scored. But pulling out Meier while leaving Marcus Sorensen in; hell, leaving Sorensen in at all this postseason is the kind of poor decision DeBoer made all season long.
Don’t point to Sorensen’s two points as justification, either. That’s not why he stayed in the lineup. He would have been in the lineup whether he had a two or a goose egg in the “P” column on hockey-reference. Sorensen stayed in the lineup because DeBoer feels the Sharks need some grit in their game against a team like the Oilers.
He saw what San Jose did to the Kings last year and thought Sorensen could play the role of Nick Spaling in this iteration of the lineup. The problem is that this year, the Sharks were the Kings. I don’t think DeBoer grasps that. Playing Labanc and Meier might not have gotten the Sharks past the Oilers (I don’t think it would have), but the head coach should be making decisions to maximize the team’s potential to win.
DeBoer didn’t do that. His future with this team should be judged based on his ability to do that. After the way he managed the Sharks this season, I feel that’s been seriously called into question.