Winning Play: Blueprint for a comeback

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — It’s not often that you can draw positives from a 5-0 rout.

But for the San Jose Sharks, down 3-1 in their series with the Vegas Golden Knights, Game 4 offered some blueprint for a comeback.

Comeback starts on forecheck

Before Game 4, Logan Couture noted, “Our forecheck has been the main difference. I think we’ve done a decent job of breaking pucks out.

“I think on our forecheck, we haven’t done a good-enough job of sustaining pressure in their end. They’ve been able to break out easily. When they get speed through the neutral zone, that’s when they’re dangerous.”

Just a minute in last night, the Sharks were on the puck.

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Insistent back pressure from Gustav Nyquist (14) resulted in a Paul Stastny (26) turnover. Joe Pavelski (8) picked up the puck for a crafty give-and-go to Erik Karlsson (65). Peter DeBoer couldn’t have drawn it up any better to start the game: Pavelski beating his man to the front, puck on Karlsson’s stick. They couldn’t connect, but a lot went right here.

A firmer forecheck helped give San Jose an 11-8 shots edge at 5-on-5 in the opening frame. It also helped blunt a Vegas rush attack that ran roughshod in Game 3, while also protecting a taxed blueline and an overmatched netminder.

“We didn’t have many passengers tonight,” said DeBoer.

That’s a strange thing to say after a five-goal loss, but the bench boss wasn’t wrong.

Get Fleury moving

However, despite an 18-7 shots advantage in the opening frame, it appeared that Marc-Andre Fleury was able to square up virtually all of the Sharks’ shots. By my count, Fleury made only one first period save on the move.

This goes contrary to Kevin Woodley’s scouting report:

The patient, stand-your-ground approach preached by Prior also shows up in Fleury’s high-glove goals being way down over two seasons in Vegas, another reminder it’s better to make him move than trying to beat him clean.

San Jose, on the other hand, is a point shot-based, traffic-heavy offense.

They’re not as east-west, one timer-heavy as say, the Capitals, who pummeled Fleury last year in the Stanley Cup Final. It’s not to suggest that the Sharks should transform their offense overnight — that’s not realistic. But getting more sticks on point shots will get Fleury moving. And also, not blowing fairly obvious lateral opportunities like this:

For what it’s worth, San Jose television commentator Jamie Baker thought Joonas Donskoi (27) failed to adequately communicate how open he was to Tomas Hertl (48). On the way to the bench, you could see that Hertl was clearly frustrated with this missed connection.

“If we can get him moving, that’s one way to beat him, an aggressive goalie like that,” Joe Pavelski said.

More of this is a good sign for Sharks territory:

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Jones was pulled for the sixth time in 17 regular season/playoff starts against the Golden Knights. Regardless, DeBoer confirmed today that Jones will be his Game 5 starter.

Yesterday, InGoal Magazine’s Greg Balloch made his case for starting Aaron Dell. In fairness to DeBoer and Jones, Dell wasn’t brilliant in relief last night.

There’s been enough ink spilled and beer swilled over Jones. Can he at least cut out what a scout called “spirit killers” and give his team a chance?

It’s put up or shut up time for the beleaguered goalie.