Stanley Cup Final 2016: What the Sharks can learn from game four
In the macro, all that matters for the Sharks right now is winning games five, six and seven. Still, given that none of us (I think) will suit up for San Jose on Thursday in Pittsburgh, I think it's okay to try and draw something from what we've seen thus far in this series.
Let's start by knocking down some of the wrong lessons. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns all played very well despite not getting on the scoresheet. Say it with me: Just because a player doesn't score doesn't mean they had a bad game.
Evgeni Malkin endured some criticism through the first three games of the series for not scoring despite playing quite well — and that will, of course, melt away now that he has a tally. Fans voicing frustration is one thing, but seeing media members hop aboard nonsense like this is disappointing, albeit unsurprising.
The Penguins seemed to unleash their full potential once Mike Sullivan took over midway through the season. A team filled with quick, talented possession players has caused all kinds of matchup problems for a not-quite-so-fleet-of-foot Sharks team, particularly when you get to the bottom of the depth chart.
What's there to learn from that? Speed kills. Many general managers, including Doug Wilson at times, love the gritty, physical brand of hockey that made the Los Angeles Kings so successful in recent playoff years. While the Sharks are more of a hybrid team, the acquisition of players like Roman Polak and Nick Spaling signal an overcommitment to the truculence that, quite frankly, hasn't worked out in many places.
When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup back in 2011, they were roundly praised for their four-line depth. While the Bruins primarily have Tim Thomas to thank for that Stanley Cup, their ability to roll all four lines made them dangerous in the same way the Penguins are now. There's something to learn from that — the depth players matter.
In a salary cap league it's not enough to wave your hands at the fourth line because of their limited ice time. It's imperative to do the best you can to maximize the talent on your roster, and that's something the Sharks did to only a middling degree this year. While Wilson deserves credit for signing Joel Ward and Paul Martin, the trade deadline acquisition of a couple players who just aren't that good will loom large if the Sharks don't pull off a miracle.
This is not to say that the Sharks are down in the Stanley Cup Final solely because of Polak and Spaling. The blame can be equally distributed while credit can be given to the Penguins for building an amazing hockey team. But if the Sharks want to keep their window open in the years to come, they'll need to learn something from this series — regardless of the final outcome.