Winning Play: The small things
DENVER, Co. — The San Jose Sharks and the Colorado Avalanche are truly a study of contrast.
Micheal Haley got down to the nuts and bolts of it:
Haley, on #SJSharks forecheck VS #GoAvsGo speed, which will be a constant theme in this series: "They're a fast team. If we don't do a good job of keeping it in their end, playing with a strong cycle [and we] give them free ice, they're going to skate."— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) April 30, 2019
But what happens when Colorado gives San Jose a taste of its own medicine?
We saw this last night at the beginning of the second period, when the Avalanche took control of Game 4 with more than just their transition game.
Alexander Kerfoot (13) and Joe Thornton (19) embody the differences between the Avs and the Sharks: Kerfoot is a 24-year-old 5-foot-10 speedster, while Thornton is a 39-year-old 6-foot-4 pillar.
A forechecking Kerfoot blazed by Thornton. Thornton raised a stick to try to slow Kerfoot down, but to little effect.
Kerfoot smoked Joakim Ryan (47), who needed to be quicker on the puck. While Kerfoot’s assertiveness didn’t lead to a goal, it was one of many small Colorado second period plays that created a, forgive me, avalanche of momentum that would lead to the game-opening Nathan MacKinnon goal. From the beginning of the middle frame to MacKinnon’s strike, the home team outshot San Jose 9-2.
When people talk about forechecking, it’s often confused with size and strength. Speed can also be deadly on the forecheck, as we saw with Kerfoot getting inside of Thornton and cannonballing Ryan.
“Get it in. Skate. Put pressure on San Jose,” NBC color commentator Joe Micheletti revealed on the broadcast, of what Jared Bednar told his team before the game.
NBC color commentator Pierre McGuire added, of Bednar’s message: “Forecheck. Make them go 200 feet. Don’t let them congest the neutral zone.”
The Sharks already have their hands full with the Avalanche’s trademark speed through the neutral zone. They can’t let that speed get on the inside of them too.
That doesn’t necessarily mean skating stride for stride with the likes of MacKinnon. Nobody can do that. But it means skating enough to throw the quicker opposition off kilter — whether it’s Thornton or Erik Karlsson:
Speaking of taking its own medicine, San Jose is perfectly capable of pushing back against Colorado’s speed with its own. But they must execute better:
Kevin Labanc (62) tossed a weak, inaccurate backhand up the middle. In the big picture, it’s an unimportant error, but it doesn’t take a lot to gum up your own transition game.
”We turned way too many pucks over,” Logan Couture acknowledged.
Tomas Hertl agreed, speaking of neutral zone turnovers, “We tried dangling it. Little bit soft, we lost a couple 50-50 battles. That just can’t happen.”
Marcus Sorensen (20) tried to get the Sharks’ bread-and-butter forecheck going, backhanding the puck in...and into the netting. It was a fitting end to a poorly-executed shift.
”I don’t think we did enough in their zone. I don’t think we generated enough off of forecheck. I don’t think we forechecked as lines,” Couture indicated. “Maybe there was one guy in, second or third guys weren’t there for support. Next thing you know, they’re out of their end, coming back on our dmen.”
It was that kind of game for the Sharks, the small things they’ll need to improve if they want to close out this series.