Sharks play strong all-around game to take 2-0 series lead over Detroit
For a few years now, the Sharks have been critiqued on their inability to put forth a complete team effort in the playoffs. So far against Detroit, San Jose is showing that kind of hockey is a thing of the past.
Ian White and Niclas Wallin scored for San Jose and Antti Niemi made 33 saves as the Sharks took a commanding 2-0 series lead for the second straight year against the Detroit Red Wings. Much like last year's series, the two teams have played an incredible and entertaining brand of hockey thus far, resulting in close, physical games. San Jose, simply put, has found a way to win.
And a large part of that has been due to their penalty kill, which has kept one of the League's most dominant power play units a mere 1 for 8 throughout the course of this young series.
"You know, we're coming along. Being committed in the shooting lanes and being hard on their skill guys," Demers said. "I think we did a good job tonight outside of that last play there [Zetterberg's goal]. Other than that I thought we were really solid. We're buying into the system."
Credit goes to Antti Niemi, who once again put in a solid performance in nets for San Jose. Although he wasn't tested very often in the second period, the first and third period saw him make some excellent saves to hold the Sharks lead. Jimmy Howard was also nothing short of spectacular for the Wings-- despite the fact that both goaltenders had some question marks surrounding them headed into this series, they have both managed to quell those questions through game two.
Something that McLellan emphasized following the win.
"That doesn't surprise me as a coach, or anybody in our organization or locker room. We've come to expect that from him and I think maybe because of his numbers in the first series, people outside our locker room got a little panicky about this guy," McLellan said. "We needed him in the first period as six of the first ten minutes we were shorthanded. He made some very good saves. The momentum swing there, the ability for us to play with a lead for the first time in a long time, was due to his ability to stop the puck."
The Sharks first goal, possibly one of the earliest playoff goals in Sharks history considering the noon start time, was an excellent display of patience by deadline acquisition Ian White. After a nice play to keep possession on the power play, White found a shooting lane and rifled a shot past Jimmy Howard's blocker. It was the Sharks second power play goal of the series, a total which already equals their output with the man advantage from round one.
"Heater did a good job of taking away some of the pressure and found me up top, their guy didn't pressure me at all so I had some time to take a look and find the corner," White said. "There's so many legs in front you have to find a corner, and with traffic like that in front if you pick a corner it's going to go in."
White, a player with plenty of offensive skill, is expected to score in those situations. However, for the second straight game the Sharks got their game-winning tally from an unlikely source. Niclas Wallin, a player who isn't expected to do much more than play a defensive role, skated through the neutral zone and to the top of Howard's right circle. From there, he blasted a puck which popped off Howard's shoulder, over his head, and into the Detroit net.
"It obviously feels good to score goals, but I'm usually not that kind of guy. I can shoot the puck too though. Just let it go and see what happens, maybe a lucky bounce. My shot was a rocket though," Wallin laughed. "That's how you score goals in the playoffs, you shoot the puck. I thought we played a really good hockey game today."
While San Jose has certainly benefitted from offense from unexpected sources, perhaps more impressive is the defensive play the Sharks have received from their marquee players. Joe Thornton, who has been lauded for his improved commitment to the defensive side of the game this year, had another superb defensive showing. The Sharks' captain pressured the puck carrier and stripped pucks from Detroit's skilled forwards. And when the game was on the line, McLellan looked to his Captain to come up big in the defensive zone.
"Thirteen seconds left, huge faceoff. We put our Captain in that situation and he won it," said McLellan, who sent Thornton out to take a defensive zone draw with just over 13 seconds left to play and the Sharks leading by one.
It wasn't just Thornton who played a strong defensive game however. Detroit played much better tonight, but San Jose was up to the challenge. When all was said and done, the Sharks blocked 38 shots, won 54% of the faceoffs and had a 24-5 takeaway to giveaway ratio-- they kept Detroit to the outside of the defensive zone and limited the amount of point-blank looks in tight that the Red Wings are known for.
"That's how we won the majority of our games in the second half of the year, so that's just normal for us," Thornton said. "We knew tonight they were going to come out and play hard, and I thought we did a good job matching it. Finally got that first goal of the game and that was key for us."
With a 2-0 series lead headed back to Detroit for the second straight year, San Jose has put themselves in good position to take a stranglehold on this series on Wednesday. Holding serve at home, which hasn't been a strength of the Sharks over the course of the last few seasons, is an immense plus against a team as highly talented as the Red Wings.
Expect a desperate game from Detroit on Wednesday as they attempt to work their way back into the series.
"At the end of the day I think the two teams are pretty darn even. I think we're going to continue to see this. It's going to be a bounce or a break that goes one way," McLellan said.
"But if anyone should let their guard down, whether it be us or them, the other team is going to make them pay."