Sharks Gameday: Preparation vs. Execution
|3-1-0, 6 points||1-2-0, 2 points |
|4th in Western Conference||13th in Western Conference|
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Battle of California
There is a difference between preparation and execution. Sometimes it is hard to see, sometimes it is easy to see, and sometimes the difference doesn't exist at all.
Against the Blues, the issue was primarily execution. You have an entire first period of pucks bouncing off skates, turnovers being handed away like it was Red Cross Night at HP Pavilion, and lackluster work in the corners during battles for 50-50 pucks. By no means was the preparation perfect, but by and large players were where they needed to be-- they understand the system, they know their role within that system, and they got to those areas of the ice where they are able to help out their teammates.
But when execution is off, it can spread like wildfire. Take for example the first two and a half minutes of the game. In order, you have the following plays occur-- a bad dump that leads to a St. Louis breakout, a bad clear from the Sharks end, a bad breakout, a good breakout that leads to an offsides, a good breakout that leads to a dump in with no forecheck and an uncontested breakout for the Blues, an upcoming power play that gets negated when the Sharks jump in to scuffle with Jackman after a hit, a turnover at the offensive zone blueline, an offsides, and then the turnover by Demers that ends up in the back of the net.
Execution, execution, execution. It set the tone for that entire period, and San Jose didn't get their legs back until a late power play.
These are the kinds of issues that are either a) the product of a bad team lacking skill or b) the product of a good team who has struggled to put all of the pieces together in the early season. It's clearly not the former. No matter how much you grind out diagrams and preach the system during practice, it's up to the players to execute that gameplan when they hit the ice. Sometimes, that takes time. Most of the time, it's just a product of random variance in performance output.
Whether or not the lack of execution disappears rapidly or lethargically is something that will be born out by time; ultimately, the Sharks are going to be fine. But it's the short term we concern ourselves with, so it's the short term we cover today.
Over the course of the last three seasons the Sharks have struggled with teams who are quick-- San Jose likes to play a slower paced game that meshes with their skill set, but when they get away from working hard along the boards and cycling the puck down low, it can get ugly quickly. Anaheim's bottom six forward group gave the Sharks defenseman a lot of trouble on Friday night with their ability to generate speed in the neutral zone and hound the puck carrier as soon as he picked up the puck. This all starts in the offensive zone for the Sharks, and it's where they've really struggled in their last two games.
The top line was a cycle machine against Phoenix and has three out of the four best Sharks along the boards in Pavelski, Thornton, and Marleau. The second line has an immovable object in Ryane Clowe and a heady player in Couture, the third line possesses the industrious Michal Handzus, and the fourth line has a pair of grinders in Desjardins and Murray as well. This team was built to pummel teams down with their size, wear out defensman with a relentless grind, and then capitalize with their skill at the end of a long shift for the opposing team. It's how they are going to win hockey games on a nightly basis.
In other words, it all starts with a strong cycle and a forecheck that, even if it doesn't result in puck possession, forces those opposing wingers to circle around and help support their defenseman instead of just taking off up the ice. It's such a cliche, but really getting back to basics here against Anaheim is a) not only going to play into what this team is built to do, but b) is going to make it easier for all the new players in the system to succeed because a little bit of chip and chase is something that they've been doing all of their careers.
Anaheim's top line of Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan is hard to gameplan for-- last change goes to San Jose, so it makes sense to go power versus power. Throw out the best defensive (and offensive) forward line in Marleau, Thornton, and Pavelski against the big guns, and have Boyle-Murray take the majority of that ice time on the backend as well. If you can hold them to a goal you've pretty much done your job for the night.
After that, it's get pucks deep and take advantage of the Ducks thin forward depth. Hiller is always a magician in net, but he played last night in the Ducks 4-2 win over the Blues and could possibly have a night off-- if that is the case, Dan Ellis gets the call.
Expect Niemi to make his season debut in net for the Sharks.
Prediction: Sharks win 4-2. Goals by McGinn, Clowe, Marleau, and Vlasic.