ANAHEIM, Calif. — On the night that the San Jose Sharks set a team record for most goals scored in a season, they also asserted more stretches of defensive dominance than we’ve seen in a while.
The result — a 4-3 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks — withstanding, this was encouraging for a squad that has lost five straight.
“Our defense starts with our offensive zone time,” Peter DeBoer noted. “We got pucks in, we spent a lot of time in their end.”
About to take a hit at the red line, Barclay Goodrow (23) delivered a perfect dump-in: It was slow enough for Lukas Radil (52) and Melker Karlsson (68) to chase down and fast enough for Radil and Karlsson to enter the zone onside, in stride.
Consequently, Radil was on top of Daniel Sprong (11), who let the puck go to Hampus Lindholm (47). Karlsson was on top of Lindholm, who hot potatoed the puck to Nick Ritchie (37).
The relentless Karlsson hurtled at Ritchie, coming over the top with his stick stretched out, to take away the outlet in the slot, Josh Manson (42). Ritchie returned the grenade to Lindholm.
This is where Karlsson wanted him to go, as Radil had got inside of Lindholm. Radil handed it off, Karlsson beat Ritchie to the puck and got hooked.
“We got the puck deep,” Justin Braun said. “We had good sticks on the forecheck, turning pucks over.”
He added, “The fourth line, I think they were in their zone the whole night. We need more of that going forward. We can dominate teams down low.”
At the other end, the Sharks’ defensive coverage was equally dominating at times.
This is elementary, but nonetheless effective team defense. Ryan Getzlaf (15) entered the zone with zero options; every Shark had a Duck in front of him. Jakob Silfverberg (33) cut through the middle, but Joonas Donskoi (27) got in the way of the pass.
When the puck went down low, San Jose rotated with precision. Joakim Ryan (47) rubbed out Lindholm, Brent Burns (88) forced Silfverberg into a turnover, and all the while, there was nary a free Duck.
Even under pressure, the Sharks reacted well defensively. Mistakes happen; it’s how you react to mistakes that is often the difference between a winning and losing team:
#SJSharks playing much tighter in 2nd period. Doing a good job of rotating defensively, even in there's a breakdown. Case in point, after Sorensen fails to advance puck, Thornton is right there to clamp down on Henrique in slot pic.twitter.com/KDbpTGUeZX— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 23, 2019
“We didn’t give them a lot of room,” DeBoer asserted. “We didn’t give them a lot of time.”
Braun agreed, “I thought we were great 5-on-5.”
This dominating defensive display was reassuring because you need to win in different ways to make a deep playoff run. We know the Sharks can score. We know the Sharks can defend. We know the Sharks can run. We know the Sharks can grind.
If — and it’s a big if — if the Sharks can stop the puck, they can beat Vegas, Calgary, Tampa Bay, you name it.
DeBoer: "Our defensive game has been in a good place most of the year. First 6, 7 weeks, you might be able to say we were loose, gave up a lot, hung our goalies out to dry. Since then, we've been pretty good."#SJSharks Save % through 12/1: 88.87 (29th)— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) March 23, 2019
Since 12/2: 89.17 (last)
Since Dec. 2, San Jose is 31-13-4, second-best in the Western Conference. This is with league-worst goaltending. Anything better than that, there may still be a parade coming down Santa Clara Street.