San Jose Sharks Get Back To Basics, Snap Five-Game Skid
From youth hockey to the NHL, when a team is struggling, almost every hockey coach will stress the three basics to winning hockey. Move your feet, shoot the puck and drive the net. Sometimes, it's almost as simple as that.
Despite starting each period in a rather sluggish fashion, the Sharks were able to turn on the pressure and finished off each period playing their best hockey all month.
Towards the end of the opening period the Sharks drew their second power-play of the night and pummeled Anaheim net-minder Jean Sebastian-Giguere with seven shots on that single man-advantage.
While that particular power-play opportunity didn't provide a goal, it gave the Sharks some momentum heading in the middle period.
In that middle frame is where the three basic keys to successful hockey were most evident. On Joe Thornton's goal that opened the scoring of 9:15 of the second period, all three keys were displayed. Devin Setoguchi was moving his feet and created a turnover down low in the offensive zone, Patrick Marleau wasted no time in firing the puck towards the net and Joe Thornton drove the front of the net for the tip in goal.
But it wasn't just one instance where the Sharks performed in a way that would make all youth coaches proud. In fact, all four San Jose goals were scored in such fashion.
Marleau's tally with just over four and a half minutes remaining in the second period demonstrated two of these basic concepts. Douglas Murray collected a pass from Thornton at the point and instead of getting cutesy with the puck, (which the Sharks are often caught doing) Murray wristed it towards the net where Marleau was able to deflect out of the air and past Giguere for the 2-0 lead.
Although allowing Anaheim to cut the lead in half early in the third period isn't something the Sharks wanted to let happen, their ability to bounce back and keep the pressure going was huge.
A few games ago against Dallas the Sharks had a 2-1 third period lead and were simply being out played and showed tentativeness with the puck. But on Thursday night against Anaheim they were pushing the tempo instead of sitting back on the lead.
The result is that the Sharks drew their fifth power-play of the night which allowed them to regain their two goal lead.
Joe Thornton would get credit for chipping in the rebound but the play was made by Joe Pavelski. All by himself, Pavelski executed two of those very important basic concepts. "Joepa" took advantage of open skating room, drove the net and put a hard shot on goal and the rebound popped right out to Thornton who tapped it in.
However, that two goal lead is often considered as the most dangerous lead in hockey and rather than sit back, the Sharks kept on pushing.
Thornton's power-play marker came with still over six and a half minutes remaining, plenty of time for Anaheim to turn things around in their favor. Unfortunately for them, Setoguchi was on a mission to get off the scoring schnide.
All game long, the Sharks right-wing was playing the way fans remember him playing all of last season when he scored 31 goals on the top line alongside Thornton and Marleau. While some fans were on his case for missing a wide open net earlier in Thursday's game, it was clear that Setoguchi was skating as well as he has since returning from injury on Nov. 29.
Late in the third, Setoguchi's work ethic paid off. By pressuring the puck carrier throughout the game like no other skater on either side, Setoguchi's hustle helped lead to his own goal when he forced a loose puck in the neutral zone. Thornton then picked it up and took the puck wide on a 2-on-1, fed the puck across to Setoguchi who wired a shot top-corner, glove-side of Giguere to put the game away with 3:49 remaining.
Setoguchi's tally finished off the scoring in a way where each and every goal the Sharks scored had at-least two of the three basic concepts on display. And while fans of other teams might say that my rehashing of all these "basic" concepts is over-kill, it is crucial for this style of play to continue for San Jose.
Anyone who follows the Sharks closely knows that they don't always play in this fashion. Often times they play way too "cutesy" on the power-play, passing up numerous quality shooting opportunities in search of the perfect set-up. And quite often Thornton slows the game down because of where he likes to set up in the offensive zone.
While that passive play can be effective on occasion, it just doesn't cut it come playoff time and the Sharks need to start getting in good habits now in order be prepared for the post-season.
Part of the reason the Sharks have had their problems in the playoffs is because of this very issue. With so much talent on their roster it is quite easy for them to slow down the pace and just out-think their opponents.
However, come playoffs, there is no time to out-think your opponent. The game moves that much quicker and games are won by those who out-work the opposition in those one-on-one battles.
If the Sharks don't continue to play like they did Thursday night by moving their feet, shooting the puck and driving the net, they aren't going to win enough of those one-on-one battles to be successful come playoffs.
And as the Sharks ought to know, the playoffs are the only thing that matters to their fan base.
It may be pretty simple, but head coach Todd McLellan might want to have these three concepts on his white-board before every game just as a steady reminder to what wins hockey games.
With their performance against the Ducks, the Sharks have finally snapped their five game skid and find themselves back in the win column.
As Sharks fans, let's hope they stay there awhile.
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