Sharks dominate shot clock, but fall 3-1 in game five
There was plenty to be happy about when it came to San Jose's effort in game five.
Everything except the scoreboard of course.
Although the Sharks had one of their best ever playoff performances in terms of shot generation, Jonathan Quick saved 51 of the 52 pucks that made it to him on the night.
"He made a lot of good saves, we had about fifty-two shots," explained Dan Boyle, who had four shots of his own on the night. "They weren't all quality chances but we got a lot of looks. A handful of mistakes early, they threw pucks at our net, but other than that you can't question our work ethic or the heart. It was just the stupid mental errors early that cost us three goals and cost us the game."
With Quick putting forth one of the most dominant goaltending showings this postseason, a postseason that has already seen a multitude of great goaltending performances from the likes of Carey Price and Ryan Miller, the Sharks needed to make sure to keep things tight defensively. They were unable to do so early, and it cost them.
Just 3:30 into the first period Wayne Simmonds gave the Kings a 1-0 lead. Antti Niemi, who was pressured by a strong Los Angeles forecheck, forced the puck up the boards to Brad Richardson, who fed the puck to Rob Scuderi at the point. A shot and two deflections later, and the Kings had another first period lead.
It was the Kings' first shot of the game, and unluckily for Niemi, the Kings would beat him on their second shot of the game as well. A turnover by Dan Boyle on the rush near the Los Angeles zone gave them the puck, and an ill-timed pinch attempt by Marleau to recover sent Kyle Clifford and Simmonds on an odd man rush. Niemi would make the initial save, but Clifford banged home the rebound and sent the loud San Jose crowd into a quiet stupor.
"Playing in front of this crowd, they were fired up and we sucked to start," said rookie forward Logan Couture. "That's as simple as I can put it. You expect more from this team in the first ten minutes of a game, especially when you have the other team on the brink of elimination."
The first period continued to be trouble for San Jose tonight, who have been outscored 8-1 in the opening frame throughout the series despite playing some good hockey during that time. The much maligned Dustin Penner put one over the pad of Niemi, who was deep in his own net, giving Los Angeles a three goal lead a mere nine minutes in. After allowing three goals on just four shots, Niemi's night was over.
As Antero Niittymaki was welcomed by cheers from the HP Pavilion crowd, there was still the inkling that the Sharks could mount another comeback; Niittymaki's entrance seemed to be the catalyst for San Jose's recovery in game three. Unfortunately, that kind of occurrence wouldn't happen again.
"If we expected another miracle we were kidding ourselves," said Sharks Coach Todd McLellan, who was disappointed in his team's inability to capitalize, especially on the power play.
Something that Joe Thornton echoed after the game.
"The power play has to be better," Thornton said. "Los Angeles is a good penalty kill team, but we need to be better on the PP."
It was a frustrating affair for San Jose, who went down 3-0 early and could never quite grab the results they needed to wrestle the game away from the Kings. The shots were there, the chances were there, but the results weren't.
It's hard to fault anyone for that specifically; each Sharks line generated chances on Jonathan Quick throughout the game. The first line had their most dominant game of the series, each player contributing their own strength. Thornton was strong with the puck and made crisp, creative passes. Setoguchi played fast and furious, applying pressure to Kings defensemen all night. Marleau had a goal and launched nine shots to lead the team.
Perhaps the best chance of the game was given to Logan Couture, who found himself standing in front of Jonathan Quick with the opportunity to get the Sharks to within one.
"I was so tight. I wish I had it back because I shot it right into him," said Couture. "That's just the way he was playing tonight-- pucks were finding him. A couple of times he didn't even see them, they just hit him. He's a great goalie in this League. You make fifty one saves in a playoff game...well, not many goalies can do that."
The story of the game just wasn't the offense, though. Instead, the Sharks head to Staples Center looking to their defensive play for improvement. It's unlikely that Quick plays this well twice more in the series, but the Sharks now know that he's capable of beating them singlehandedly. Because of this, San Jose should realize that preventing goals, especially the easy ones, is going to be just as important as scoring them going forward.
"Attention to detail on the defensive side (is the most important thing for game six)," claimed Marleau. "We were getting our chances, but they had six shots in the first period and they were really good shots, and they ended up with three goals. We're going to win with defense."
Speaking of preventing goals, Niittymaki continued his solid stretch this postseason, with a lone goal during the second period of game three the only tally against him. In relief, he's been a solidifying presence for San Jose. However, both games saw San Jose applying pressure to the Kings for the entirety of Niittymaki's time in net; he didn't have to make many tough saves and saw just 18 shots on the evening.
The question of which netminder starts game six will likely remain until Monday, and McLellan's decision will be harder tonight than it was in game four. Still, he didn't seem too phased..
"We have a goalie decision to make every night," McLellan stated. "We feel that we have two quality guys, and again, you look at the goals and the first one was a heckuva deflection that Clifford got his stick on. You gotta give him that one. The second Niemi makes a great save on a two on one that shouldn't even exist because we turn the puck over and the rebound goes in his hat so I'm not sure you finger the goaltender for that one. And on the third one, he's fairly deep in his net and he knows that. At that point we needed to change something, and with 18 skaters dressed, we change the goaltender."
The coach was quick to divert blame from his starter on the first two Los Angeles goals, instead calling out his defense and asking them to be better. Many may find the decision to start Niemi again as questionable but, as Jonathan Quick showed tonight and Niemi showed in game four, bounce back games are very possible.
The Sharks will need that from Niemi if they hope to close out the series. Aside from that, the coach called on his team to reflect on what has gotten them their 3-2 series lead so far.
"I don't think we can just focus on tonight, we have to look at the series," McLellan said. "The team that's sloppy coming through the neutral zone is paying the price for it. When I listen to Terry talking about his team, we're both saying the same thing."
The team that listens the most will likely be the one that prevails Monday.