Sharks Gameday: Getting back on the horse
Series tied 1-1
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Fresh off a game two loss that saw the Sharks play a disorganized and flat brand of hockey, the Sharks head into what is bound to be a loud... no, wait, raucous... Hmm. Let's try that that again.
Fresh off a game two loss that saw the Sharks play a disorganized and flat brand of hockey, the Sharks head into what is bound to be an opposing arena. Per Mark Purdy:
To be sure, the Sharks may struggle to pick up a victory on their trip south. But it will have nothing to do with a smothering crowd atmosphere, unless you count the odor of some movie star's perfume. And more of them go to Lakers games anyway.
...This might explain why, over the years, the Sharks have found Staples to be so friendly. Their record in the building is 18-10, plus three ties (under the old point system) and two shootout losses.
In fairness, during this past season, Staples did display a much greater degree of difficulty. The Sharks scored a mere six goals in their three games there (compared with 12 goals in three games at HP Pavilion). That's only two goals per game.
From the top of the piece Purdy makes a strange argument-- San Jose "may struggle to pick up a victory down south" but "Staples is more of a Kenny G experience." The theory is that Staples Center is a poor arena for home ice advantage during the postseason, but that atmosphere won't hinder or help the Sharks chances of winning either tonight or on Thursday. In essence, the building's atmosphere has zero importance on the games that will be played, a non-factor.
Which makes one wonder why an article (that spends its 768 words alluding to an element of the game that is admitted to be non-essential in the opening paragraphs) is being written at all. Toss in a clarification that Douglas Murray is not related to Terry Murray (helpful), statistics that first "prove" the theory and then subsequently refute it (goals per game historically vs. this season-- insightful), one obligatory "Los Tiburones" toss-in (refreshing), a couple assorted quotes from Sharks players and coaches (authoritative), and you've got yourself a nice little meandering journey through the monotony of playoff coverage.
It's a strange article. But perhaps the strangest thing about it is that we decided to begin our gameday coverage talking about it.
There's no doubt that San Jose came out flatter than month old soda on Saturday night against Los Angeles, and judging by the comments we've been receiving at Fear The Fin, it seems as if a large number of individuals who follow the team seem quick to chalk it up to intangibles that can never be corrected and call it a day. It's certainly not the majority of our long-time commenters, nor would I say it's the majority of professional analysts who cover the NHL for various blogs and media outlets across the country. However, it's a sizable enough portion where you can feel the accusations of yore frothing like a menacing wave.
It's perplexing how a team as strong as the Sharks could come out so unbelievably flat in a playoff game, especially one against a division rival playing short two essential centermen. I don't think there's any debate in that. The players may have been pissed in the locker room after the game, and Sharks Head Coach McLellan may have been about as close to showing visible signs of disgust that you'll ever see from him publicly, but that doesn't mean they're without some sort of responsibility to each other. These guys want to win (breaking news!). And it's frustrating when they fail to put in a performance that places them in a position to even come close to do so. Which was the case of Saturday.
The conclusion to be drawn from game two is probably best suited to an analysis like the one Ivan did yesterday-- every team has an off-night, even Stanley Cup champions. Those games didn't define those teams because they got their keisters handed to them, they defined those teams because they didn't allow those losses to dictate their journey.
And while I don't think any team is "better off" after a loss like that, primarily for the reason that it doesn't tell a team anything other than "you didn't show up to play", it does allow the Sharks to rally behind an experience they shared together. It wasn't one bad goal, or one bad pinch, or one blown opportunity that did them in. It was one big mess of a group effort. Which puts the onus on the entire locker room to come out and correct those collective mistakes.
Maybe it's the fact that FTF is an excellent place to get the "pulse" of a fanbase, which makes any attempt to gauge the mental dexterity of Sharks fans far too micro-analytical to be of any broad use considering the unfamiliarity with other similar sites, but there seems to be a vast amount of individuals living in San Jose who find strength in these types of losses. We're far too quick to jump off the bridge after a loss, but we always make sure to attach a safety harness to the beam in case the team turns it around in the very next game. We're consumed by the past, find comfort in all the playoff disappointments. Losses to the Blackhawks, Ducks, Stars, Red Wings, and Oilers are our safety blanket, the warm and safe haven of hospitality we can always retreat to when times get rough.
We're far too quick to cite the postseason as justification for our immature behavior, use it to absolve any cognitive dissonance we feel when we're screaming that the sky is falling after one lousy postseason game. We're not at fault for feeling this way-- the Sharks are. It's not our fault we're freaking out-- we've been conditioned to do so. And on and on and on and on.
Ultimately, we are entitled. We feel as if all of these playoff losses will eventually bring about some karmic rebalancing that will even the score; we feel that we're the next fanbase in line for a victory parade because we've put in our time. We've been following the team for twenty years, never missed a tilt. We deserve everything fandom has to offer. We have become the centerpiece in this discussion by injecting our own insecurities into our analysis. The game, the teams, the series, the sport? It has become a sideshow.
This is the goddamn NHL playoffs. Emotions run high, people lose their minds, I get that.
But let's not forget that this is the best time of year to be a hockey fan.
Speaking of sideshows, this gameday might be the perfect example of that idea in practice. The irony of leading off with an article about the uselessness of Purdy's piece on Kings fans, only to eventually transition into an equally useless analysis of Sharks fans, is hilarious in retrospect.
The sport of self-indulgence.
- Ian White skated yesterday and seems to be gearing up to play in game three. Nothing but good news for San Jose. If he gets the call I would expect Justin Braun to get scratched considering the starting lineup during the last two weeks, which is unfortunate to some degree because I thought he was one of the few Sharks who had a solid game for all sixty minutes on Saturday night.
- I was pleased to see San Jose switch things up and play a much more aggressive style on the penalty kill following Los Angeles' two power play goals in the first period. The Sharks had been sluffing off at the blueline for much of the period, using only one forward up high to pressure the point man, and the Kings countered by spreading their blueliners wide across the point which opened up a lot of space for them to drive pucks and plays in the upper register of San Jose's zone. With probably two of the most dangerous offensive weapons LA has playing on the blueline (Doughty, Johnson), taking that away is of utmost importance going forward.
- Willie Mitchell. What a player. For all the attention Doughty (rightfully) received for his play in game two, Mitchell has been the best blueliner on either team this entire series. He's a large reason why Thornton's line has accounted for zero points thus far, and with the last change at home, expect an even heavier dose of Big Willie Style for the top line tonight.
- Once again the key tonight will be notching the game's first goal. As we mentioned in our game one preview, the more San Jose can force Los Angeles to press the tempo and get away from their defensive posturing the more the Sharks can take advantage of their superior forward and scoring depth. Getting a crooked number up on the board early would go a long way towards that.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2. Goals by Pavelski, Heatley, and Couture.