The Morning After: Staying with the game plan
The Sharks lost in overtime to a great team. They're still in a good spot.
Following the Sharks' 2-1 loss to the Kings on Monday night, fans flooded the Fear the Fin Twitter account mentions with anxious complaining. At times I'm too dismissive of post-game angst because I take a different approach to dealing with a defeat. For me, the loss last night doesn't speak to the mental ineptitude of the Sharks so much as it shows just how tough winning in the playoffs is.
At no point was this series going to be easy. Heck, neither of San Jose's wins came easily. The Sharks battled back from a pair of deficits in game one and held on for dear life in game two. Tonight, the finishing that the Sharks got in the first two games wasn't quite there and one bad play by Brenden Dillon gave the Kings the only chance they needed. San Jose lost last night for any number of reasons, but they actually played okay. I promise.
This score-adjusted fenwick chart gives me optimism for San Jose the rest of this series. Despite the loss, the Sharks out-possessed the best possession team in the NHL — and this includes the Kings absolutely dominating the special teams game (at least early on). The Sharks' power play didn't find the back of the net, but it looked as dangerous as it has for many seasons. The power play is fine. Sometimes luck isn't on your side — but that doesn't mean it's time to throw out the play book.
If one game causes you to abandon your plan, your plan was never very good to begin with. San Jose's game plan worked through the first two games and, quite frankly, worked just fine last night. The Kings skated away with the victory, but the Sharks played well enough to win. Sometimes that's the way these things go.
Brent Burns in particular played absolutely out of his mind. He's had some high shot volume games, but this was an Ovechkin-like performance.
The top line, once again, led the Sharks in corsi (all strengths) and that matches up with the eye test. Burns, Thornton and Pavelski generated the lion's share of scoring chances for the Sharks while the rest of the team merely treaded water. Truthfully, that's how this entire season has gone, though it's just exaggerated against a great team like the Kings. For San Jose to win, this needs to keep happening...and they need to keep scoring.
I pointed out the Sharks needed to ignore for the Kings' physical stuff yesterday morning and for the most part they have. Brenden Dillon's hit on Dustin Brown, instead of playing the puck, led to the Kings' overtime winner. In the playoffs, in a tight game like that, split-second decisions can make or break a game. Dillon made the wrong choice. He's not the only Shark (or King) that made a poor decision on Monday night — he just made his at the wrong time. So it goes.
I predicted a six-games series, and only the most boisterous of homers picked the Sharks to sweep this one. Heading in to game four, at home, with a 2-1 lead is still a pretty good place to be. As long as the Sharks keep doing what they've been doing, they're still in a good position.