About a week ago, I wrote an article summarizing the dangers of the San Jose Sharks relying on the “Big Line” of Marleau, Thornton, and Heatley going into the playoffs.
My first impressions after tonight’s 2-1 Game One defeat at the hands of the No. 8 seed Colorado Avalanche: I was unfortunately right.
In the first minute of the game, I was elated at the prospect of possibly eating my words.
The “Big Line” came out pressing and drew a quick penalty, then proceeded to pepper the net, putting six shots on Craig Anderson and narrowly missing on several prime opportunities.
The momentum was short-lived, however, as the Sharks quickly fell back into the same habits which plagued their play for long stretches of the season: lack of urgency, poor zone entries, no speed through the neutral zone, and passing up opportunities to shoot.
The “Big Line” failed to impress (not that I was too surprised).
They made several good breaks to the net, but often were looking to make the “perfect” play, rather than simply throwing the puck at the net and trying to bang in a rebound. Joe Thornton was the surprising leader with five shots on net, while Heatley and Marleau combined for just three.
Patrick Marleau (with 43 goals in the regular season) was held without a shot for the first two periods of the game and the Sharks were especially lackadaisical in the middle frame, as they were out-shot 12-3.
Furthermore, it was the ever-exalted “Big Line” who was on the ice and unable to gain control of the puck in the final minute of regulation, leading to deflection game-winner off Rob Blake’s skate with 0:50 to play.
In many ways, this game was more disheartening than the first game against Anaheim last year. The Sharks peppered Hiller with shots in that game, but were unable to solve the goalie.
Tonight they were out-shot by an eight seed in their own building on the opening night of perhaps the most important playoff tournament this team has ever faced.
The Sharks proved in emerging from their swoon that distribution of the top three forwards can spark stronger play and better scoring opportunities.
As seen tonight, the top line for each team often gets neutralized in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, landing the pressure on the secondary lines.
The Sharks need to distribute the elite scoring threats throughout their top three lines and come at Colorado with a quicker, more balanced, and more daunting attack.
Friday’s game is a pivotal for the Sharks. The last two playoff series for San Jose have each started with them dropping the first two games at home and being unable to rebound in time to recover the series.
I dearly hope that Todd McLellan notices this problem and makes this key adjustment in time.
Breaking up the “Big Line” should immediately alter the Sharks game.