NHL Playoffs 2011: 5 Keys to Victory for San Jose Sharks in Game 4 vs. LA Kings
The San Jose Sharks prepare to head into tonight's pivotal Game 4 with a golden chance to put a choke-hold on the series. Having just completed one of the biggest NHL playoff comebacks in 27 years, emotions could run high and they must ward against any possible letdown.
The bad blood and rivalry between these two California teams is as fresh and heated as ever, and San Jose can expect the Kings to come out swinging. It’s been an extremely entertaining series thus far, marked with wild swings of momentum and filled with remarkable plays.
Despite their defensive pedigree, the Los Angeles Kings had no answer for the Sharks from the second period onward in Game 3, being out-shot by a 27-12 margin. After enjoying a superb start to the series with a .962 save percentage, Jonathan Quick faltered, giving up five goals on 30 shots and put up a ugly .833 save percentage.
The Sharks also enter the contest with a few question marks of their own, after Niemi allowed four goals on 10 shots and was pulled from the game. The special teams concerns still linger, as San Jose hasn’t really mounted much of a sustained attack with their second-ranked power play.
Here then are five keys for San Jose to carry a 3-1 series lead back to the Tank, in what figures to be yet another memorable game to this terrific series.
Forget About Game 3?
It may be easy enough to say, but definitely difficult to do considering the thrilling overtime heroics San Jose required for the win.
While common logic may dictate that the San Jose Sharks should forget what they did right in Game 3, they must remember what also went wrong.
Lackadaisical defensive coverage, blown assignments and poor communication directly led to three Los Angeles goals against. Ineffective play along the boards and getting dominated early on in the crease also led to the early deficit.
The Stoll-Smyth-Williams line for Los Angeles has given the Sharks fits in their own zone, and the Sharks need to take the proper steps to minimize damage.
The Sharks roared back from almost dead-last in the Western Conference to capture yet another Pacific Division crown on the strength of their collective defensive play.
They need to get back to basics again in Game 4 to start putting the nails in the coffin for Los Angeles.
Attention to Detail
Against the stingy Kings defense, the Sharks had uncharacteristically struggled in the faceoff department, and especially against Jarett Stoll. After a poor showing in Game 1, the San Jose Sharks have rebounded in the faceoff circle and it paid off in a big way in Game 3.
Joe Pavelski was especially deadly in the dot, taking 78 percent of his draws in the attacking zone and dictating the pace.
As the Sharks did a year ago in their first-round showdown against the upstart Colorado Avalanche, their breakout struggled against the Kings' zone trap defense. Slowing down the Sharks' attack and transition allowed Los Angeles to dictate the tempo of the game and neutralize San Jose’s skill and depth.
And as they did a year ago, San Jose must take care of the puck through the neutral zone to solve the Kings' defense. Taking care of the puck along the half-boards will go a long way in neutralizing the forechecking center and will allow for cleaner entry into the zone.
Refraining from the occasional high-risk passing attempt is a huge part of solving the Kings' defense, and a turnover high in the Kings' zone could result in an odd-man rush the wrong way.
Against the markedly slower Kings team than the one the Sharks faced a year ago in the Colorado Avalanche, the Sharks need to pay attention to detail for sustained offense.
San Jose’s depth was just too much for the Kings to overcome, as secondary scoring has started to come alive for the Sharks. Clowe, Couture, Pavelski and Setoguchi are leading the charge and producing when it counts, and will prove to be the Kings' undoing.
Ryane Clowe has two goals and three assists in the playoffs so far, and sparked the Sharks' comeback after Patrick Marleau opened the scoring.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the San Jose Sharks' fourth-line comprised of Eager-Nichol-Mayers, who had a horrible Game 3. Being on the ice and dominating for two of the Kings' early scores, the San Jose fourth-line hardly saw the ice after the first.
Still though, Game 3 showed just how deep and effective the Sharks can be when they are playing determined hockey and staying out of the penalty box.
The Sharks had 12 different skaters record at least one point in Tuesday night's thrilling comeback victory, and their depth will play a huge role in Game 4.
The San Jose Sharks' penalty kill has not been very good much of the season, and they allowed three power-play goals in just their first two games. They rebounded in Game 3, holding the Kings scoreless on two of their opportunities, including a dramatic kill on the Setoguchi minor halfway through the second.
Responding to the Kings shortening their defensive pairings, San Jose jumped all over Kings blueliners at the point, forcing errors. If this trend continues, there could be some golden shorthanded opportunities awaiting the San Jose Sharks' penalty killers.
San Jose also rebounded from a horrific 0-5 effort in Game 2 by finally scoring a goal with the man advantage. Marleau’s opening score was exactly the kind of play San Jose needs, crashing the net and capitalizing on rebounds.
Don’t look now but Patrick Marleau and the top line may be ready to burst, and what better place to do it than on special teams?
Could Marleau star in a Hollywood heartbreaking shorthanded goal?
Antti Niemi was pulled in Game 3 after giving up four goals on just 10 shots and allowing two goals on his first three. While it certainly hasn't been roses for the defending Stanley Cup champion goaltender lately, he has shown a history of rebounding strong.
He hasn't enjoyed very strong team support after San Jose let their emotions get the better of them in Game 2, and blowing assignments early in Game 3.
Niemi will have to show his championship mettle again in Game 4, which figures to be the toughest game thus far in the series. If last year's performance was any indication, the San Jose Sharks continue to be in good hands.
Both the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks series a year ago found Niemi struggling to find his groove early. He responded with some remarkable efforts after each time he faltered, including a dazzling .967 to close out the Canucks.
Niemi will return to form, forging the path for the Sharks to take a commanding lead back to the Tank in San Jose.