Penguins-Sharks: We Are Going To Need a Bigger Boat

Matt HunterCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2009

The Penguins are coming off a bad loss to the defending champion Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. Next, they have to face the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks tonight at Mellon Arena.

The Penguins are currently sitting in the 10th spot with 57 points, and they are three points behind the eighth-seeded Florida Panthers for the final playoff spot in the East.

Tonight, the Penguins are going to have their hands full, and it is easy to start the list with Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov.  Simply put, the man is nasty between the pipes.  He is probably the biggest reason why the Sharks are first in the Western Conference and second overall in the NHL points standings.

Nabokov has an impressive 28-6-6 record, a 2.41 GAA, and a .910 SVP.  These numbers have helped him become an All-Star this season.  His solid goal-tending is a large reason why the San Jose Sharks have been dominant in the league for the last four years.

If the Penguins want to win this game, they have to come at Nabokov early and hard.  They will need to pass well and have a high number of shots on goal to beat Nabokov.  Getting the first goal is key tonight for the Penguins.

The next player to worry about is Joe Thornton.  He has owned the Penguins in past years.  He has accumulated 43 points in only 32 games against the Penguins, and he comes into tonight's game with 58 points, which leads the Sharks' team.

The Penguins need to find a way to keep the puck off his stick in the shooting lanes and keep him from taking one of his heavy slap-shots.  Shadowing Thornton may work best for Coach Therien's team. It would take away a big option for the Sharks' offense, and make other players beat the Penguins.

However, you cannot forget about Patrick Marleau, who has 56 points, the second-best total on the team. The Penguins' defense will have their hands full defending both Marleau and Thornton.

The San Jose Sharks play a style of hockey that all fans love to see.  They play an up-tempo style that is meant to pressure the other team.

The Penguins have a style of play that could slow down the Sharks, and that is a neutral zone trap.

The Penguins' trap has worked well this year when they have had the ability to get it set up.  Their trap forces teams to make bad passes, which may lead to odd-man rushes for the Penguins.  If the Penguins can get the 1-2-2 trap working effectively, they can take the Sharks right out of their style of play.

For the Penguins, goalie Marc-Andres Fleury is vital to their success.  Many observers have noticed that Fleury has not played as well as last season. He has not been able to get in a groove all season.

He cannot make any mistakes tonight. He cannot mishandle pucks behind the next or give up rebounds.  If he makes either blunder, the Sharks will capitalize on the mistake and make it difficult for Fleury to succeed.

The Penguins must also stay out of the penalty box.  The Sharks are way too good to give them a man advantage.  The Penguins need to play even hockey to have a chance.

They must also capitalize on their opportunities. They need to avoid unnecessary passes in the slot. If there is a rebound, the Penguins need to shoot the puck and not worry about finding a teammate cutting in back door. That requires an improbable airborne-saucer pass over three sticks. 

There is no need for pretty hockey tonight. All the Penguins need to do is play hard-nosed, hard-hitting hockey, and they may find themselves with two points at the end of the night.