Quick Bites: Sharks dominate, lose because variance

Two of their best periods all series and for what?

The Avalanche began Game 6 like a team with its season on the line, taking five of the first seven total shots. They also collected the first four scoring chances of the game, and the eye test agreed. It wasn’t just nearly anonymous depth Avalanche players, either. Each of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog had a shot on goal before the first period was halfway over.

San Jose found their legs after a rough few minutes, taking nine of the next 10 shots before killing a Kevin Labanc penalty. It was a reminder that, no matter how a game or series starts, the next few minutes, the next period, the next game’s results are largely independent of previous occurrences.

By the time the first intermission horn allowed the crowd a break to purchase additional adult beverages, the Avalanche had clawed back at the 5-on-5 game, evening up the shot count and highlighting just how little the first have shots mean about the game’s next five shots.

The teams traded shots, but few of them were clear-cut unblocked opportunities from the center of the ice. The danger during the first period lay in rebounds and second chances, tipped shots and lunging stick blades feeling along the slick surface for just enough of the rubber disc.

During the intermission report, Patrick Sharp commented of the Sharks’ team defense against Nathan MacKinnon that “It was an impressive defending job.” No one would fault you from disagreeing with the goal-scoring-forward-turned-zaddy-broadcaster, however. Though MacKinnon only took one shot on goal at 5-on-5, it was also considered an individual scoring chance, which is all the powerful forward needs. At 5-on-5, he was on the ice for four shots on goal, 0.21 expected goals, and four scoring chances. In short, he was arguably the game’s best forward during the opening 20 minutes.

The subsequent 20 reminded us again that nothing is sacred on 200 feet of open ice. Colorado scored on a play where Tomas Hertl seemed to make a strong defensive play, only to see the puck bounce into J.T. Compher’s stride, inviting him to assist on the game’s opening goal. San Jose regained control of play almost immediately following the Avalanche goal. They sent shot after shot after shot at Philipp Grubauer to no avail, until a young playoff-hero-in-the-making answered the call yet again.

Yes, it was Timo Meier who took the game over for San Jose, setting up Marc-Edouard Vlasic for the team’s first goal before finding Logan Couture on the doorstep for what surely would have been a go-ahead marker were it not for a few inches of Grubauer’s leg pad.

It was Meier again, willing his and the puck’s way between four Avalanche defenders before helping to kick it back to Erik Karlsson, to Brent Burns, into the goal. After the second period closed, Meier walked into the dressing room with seven 5-on-5 shots, five scoring chances and three shots on goal. He helped the Sharks to a 21-9 shot differential and generally provided an answer to MacKinnon’s ruthless presence.

Despite Meier’s best efforts, he remained unable to add his name to the list of goal scorers, though he continued to make plays for the rest of his team. After three periods, his line was responsible for a 24-12 shot differential, a 1.23 to 0.33 expected goal differential and a 2-0 goal differential at 5-on-5 (Natural Stat Trick). Maybe more importantly, they did that often in front of Vlasic and Burns and against the Avalance trio of MacKinnon, Rantanen, Kerfoot briefly, and Landeskog.

With Vlasic and MacKinnon on the ice together, the Sharks enjoyed a 14-18 shot advantage, a 10-8 scoring chance advantage, and a 2-0 goal advantage. If they didn’t silence MacKinnon completely — he still took nine shots during the course of the game — they at least slowed him down somewhat. After registering four shots on goal during the first two periods, the Avalanche’s speedy heartbeat failed to put a puck on net during the final frame.

Thanks to that effort from the team’s shutdown group, San Jose mostly took the game to Colorado. The fact the score remained tied after 60 minutes and the Sharks had to come from behind multiple times is just another reminder of the hockey gods’ fickle nature.

There is nothing more to do other than shrug and laugh, crying in the shower after something like that. San Jose outshot and outchanced the Avalanche at even strength. They kept the host’s power play off the board and they held the main competition to zero goals until a failed clear reminded us that chaos reigns supreme, especially in six-game sample sizes.

If there is any consolation for the Sharks to take from this outcome, it’s that they’ve outshot the Avalanche at 5-on-5 during the series’ last four games. And it appears they’ve found a decent formula for beating MacKinnon, a formula they’ll be able to replicate to their hearts’ content with the last change.