Sharks decide team defense is overrated, lose 5-2 to Carolina
High energy, a dynamic power play, and lots of movement around the offensive zone as the Sharks set up camp. The defense was a little shaky, but managed to hold fort. Niemi conjured up memories of Nabokov, playing the puck perhaps a bit too far from the crease and utilising an effective pokecheck. All in all, it was a good five minutes.
Wait, hockey games aren't only five minutes long? Oops, guess the Sharks didn't get that memo tonight.
What was a great powerplay entering tonight's game turned into a nightmare when Carolina scored a shorthanded goal on a 2-on-1 rush the other way. And then, on the same powerplay, almost scored again. And on a later powerplay, a breakaway by Eric Staal that failed only because the puck got away from him. The power play defense reminded me of this game's, quite frankly. Where it got to the point where every time the puck was passed up to the point, there was a feeling that the point man would turn over the puck, causing an odd-man rush.
In short, the defense - and thus the puck possession - on the power play was lacking.
It wasn't just the powerplay that disappointed tonight - it really was a team effort in losing. Four of the five goals were as a result of the deadly combination of defensive breakdowns and Niemi's glove not being quick enough. The second goal was probably the unluckiest goal (the puck bounced off of Pavelski's skate to a waiting Hurricane right in the slot), but all five of the goals could have been easily prevented.
The fourth goal. I am sure Douglas Murray is going to see that one in his dreams, because that was all on him. There was nothing Niemi could do about that goal, lest he had the same Jedi mind power Evgeni Nabokov briefly displayed a few years ago.
Bright spots of the game? Dany Heatley, at least in the early going, was strong on his skates and creating chance after chance. Both Setoguchi and Couture each had one really great scoring chance that was thwarted by either Ward or the post. Patrick Marleau scored the only two goals for the Sharks, one a tip of a nice Boyle shot, and one a wrister that beat Cam Ward one-on-one.
Must say, Cam Ward played well tonight. There were two glove saves that he made where he absolutely STONED the Sharks. He doesn't make those, and it's a whole different hockey game.
I doubt Niemi will get his third start in a row at Colorado - look for Antero Niittymaki to make his second start of the season, if only to shake things up. It wasn't all on Niemi, but he certainly didn't help the team much either.
The state of the defense is a concern, but it's not just the large collection of bottom pairing defensemen - Boyle, Vlasic, and Murray all played well below their regular standards. All three utilized the highly effective "blindly wave your stick around in hopes of blocking a pass" brand of defense tonight, and we know they're better than that. Chances are, they aren't going to be this bad for the rest of the season.
This is only the fourth game into the season, the second back on North American soil. Relax. Four games is a small sample size, and strange things can happen in a small sample size. Like, say, the Leafs going undefeated. Brent Johnson leading the league in wins. Lindsey Lohan staying sober. Barring any Phoenix-like (or 2008-09 Dallas-like) surprises, things will soon get back to normal.