Sharks Gameday: Wake and Skate
Sharks lead 1-0
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Last season against Detroit, San Jose's success was due in large part to their penalty differential-- the Sharks drew 31 power plays to the Wings 23, setting up a situation where San Jose was able to control the tempo of the game right from the outset. Last night those numbers fell right in line with 2010 as the Sharks drew six power plays while the Red Wings drew a mere two.
As we've been saying leading up to the series, board play is probably the biggest key for San Jose in defeating Detroit, and a place where they have a distinct advantage over the Wings. Sharks Captain Joe Thornton consistently talks about the "big bodies" that the Sharks have up front, which makes their cycle game easier to implement against a more finesse team like the Wings. Ryane Clowe, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi, the entire third line (who, despite their collective small stature, manage to grind away down low and retain puck possession on nearly all of their shifts) are all guys who excel in this sort of matchup. Continuing to hammer home that gameplan throughout the course of this series is going to pay off dividends down the road, something that Todd McLellan mentioned following the game on Friday.
"Our play along the boards is going to have to be very important to counter that, to contain them. Vice versa, when we get into their zone, we want to protect the puck," McLellan said. "You'll see in seven games, someone will get worn out because of it, whether it be our team or their team. I thought we did a very good job in the second period."
Being strong on the boards and cycling like Coppi doesn't always directly lead to a penalty of course, but it does serve other equally important purposes against Detroit. For starters, a strong cycle limits the ability for the Wings to get their transition game underway. By the time they wrestle the puck off the Sharks sticks, Detroit has to fight to find a passing lane (usually by dumping it around behind the net to the weak-side defenseman), which means the Sharks can re-group and drift back to protect the neutral zone. Furthermore, it fatigues an opposing team-- it's always easier to attack than defend in terms of physical exertion, and a strong cycle filled with brutal puck battles along the boards only compounds that.
One thing that was prevalent in game one was that the Sharks forecheck really gave Detroit's defensemen some issues. San Jose was taking the body all night long, and although it's dumb to say that it "got in the heads" of the Wings, it most definitely disrupted what they were trying to do. Too often a Wings player would try and make a little chip play to another between the circles only to have a Sharks forward make a play with his stick and knock the puck loose. I think tonight you'll see Babcock make some adjustments in this regard-- with the Sharks strong in their puck support throughout the entirety of game one, expect to see the Wings start chipping more pucks out of their defensive zone than they would otherwise.
Although the Sharks were credited with 20 giveaways to Detroit's 11 last night, I like to look at where those giveaways came from in order to give them more context. An offensive zone giveaway isn't that important to me considering it's due to puck possession, while a defensive zone giveaway is much more severe in that it can directly lead to a scoring opportunity. Neutral zone turnovers come somewhere in the middle depending on a situation-- open ice neutral zone turnover, cause for some serious concern. One along the boards with both teams holding their bluelines, something you probably don't raise an eye at.
The Sharks coughed up 11 defensive turnovers on Friday while the Wings accounted for 6. Each team had a deuce in the neutral zone. It's clear that San Jose can still continue to clean up this part of their game, but looking at the tilt from a qualitative standpoint, it didn't seem like the Sharks were any more egregious in their giveaways than Detroit was. Regardless, controlling the puck and making sure you get safe clears is going to be important once again.
Afternoon start tomorrow which is why this is going up so early. HP Pavilion is usually pretty flat this time of day (and frankly was real flat last night, even at puck drop, up until Jimmy Howard got into it with Joe Pavelski during the second period). With a 1-0 series lead however, maybe The Tank has a better atmosphere than we've observed historically.
As Ray Ratto wrote on Friday night, the Sharks put one of their best postseason performances together in years during game one. And while it's unlikely San Jose can control the play from front to back like they did on Friday, sticking with what has been successful during their last ten meetings against the Wings will go a long way towards a 2-0 series lead headed back to The Joe.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-1. Goals by Heatley, Clowe, and Boyle. Penalties get called, power plays are taken, and the team who gets victimized the most sees their fanbase complain about it.