2011 NHL Playoffs: What Do the San Jose Sharks Need to Change to Win the Series?
After a disappointing 4-2 loss in Game Four has the Sharks balancing on the verge of the defeat, down 3-1 in the series headed back to Vancouver, coach Todd McClellan and the rest of the team know that they're going to need to change a lot if they want to take the next three games and advance to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Canucks have lit up Antti Niemi and San Jose's defense for 17 goals in four games and have yet to be held under three in a single meeting. Superstar twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin have finally found their groove and have combined for 16 points (three goals and 13 assists).
So how can San Jose change their tactics enough to make a miraculous comeback and win the series in seven games?
Well, to start things off, they can change up their defensive strategy; right now, it's just not working. The San Jose 'D' has allowed an average of 4.25 goals per game during this series after only allowing 2.69 goals per game in their first two series.
A lot of those additional tallies for the 'Nucks side have been because of the Sharks defense has allowed a lot of shots; an average of 35.3 per game in Games One through Three. Oddly, Sunday's 4-2 win by Vancouver came with the Canucks getting only a mere 13 shots on goal.
Part of the problem is a lack of physicality from the Sharks side, as they've been outhit 130-103 during the series and were topped in the game totals in all of the first three meetings.
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Another issue with the Sharks' current defensive strategy has been some unnecessary hesitation, allowing Vancouver to throw everything they can towards the goal. Indeed, as previously mentioned, the Sharks gave up 35.3 shots on goal in the first three games, but they actually blocked more shots than the Canucks. Hence, in terms of total shots taken, Vancouver has actually averaged 64.0 in each of the first three games. In practice before Game Five, the Sharks will need to work on playing more of a puck-pressuring, attacking style rather than a collapsing, net-protecting one.
Then, San Jose's defense will have to deal with the problems that they faced in Sunday's Game Four, when Vancouver switched everything up. They didn't throw everything on goal, only attempting 22 shots, barely over a third of their average from Games One to Three, and getting just 13 on goal. They didn't try the cross-ice passes that the Sharks were finally able to somewhat control in Game Three. And they didn't attack the Sharks, finishing with their lowest hit total of all four contests.
Instead, the 'Nucks played it quiet, laying back and defending Luongo until they found the chance they had been waiting for in the second period. The Sharks dominated the first period flow, but couldn't get anything in the net. As their uneasiness grew, the Canucks saw an opportunity.
If anything can be learned from this, it's that Vancouver knows how to adjust to their opponent. So the Sharks will obviously need to bring a new look and tactic to the ice tonight to fix that, and, hopefully, they can find the solution with the aforementioned aggressive approach.
On a different front, the special teams units are sure to take a pounding after that horrendous Game Four effort.
The penalty kill, which had already shown plenty of weakness through Game Three, was terrible, surrendering three goals on five penalties to decrease their series average to just 60.8 percent; just 14 out of 23 killed. And the power play, despite their strong efforts through the first three games where they created six of the Sharks' nine total goals, was a major downfall as they went 0-for-5 as all five opportunities coming in the first 25 minutes of the game with the score tied 0-0.
However, we think the real culprit, at least on the penalty killing side, was the discipline. All three Vancouver power play goals came in a two minute stretch halfway through the game where the Sharks took four consecutive penalties and allowed three separate five-on-three chances. Even more infuriating is the fact that the second of two penalties, which resulted in the second and third goals that truly broke San Jose's back, were both very preventable misdemeanors; a too many men infraction and a dumb, right-off-the-faceoff delay of game call.
Discipline didn't just become a problem in Game Four, though. Vancouver's five combined 'PP' scores in Game Two and Game Three were mostly a result of another parade to the penalty box, as the Sharks took seven minors in each match.
Finally, a third issue that has plagued the Sharks in these Western Finals is the fact that they've seen all of the depth scoring that became one of their greatest assets in their wins over Los Angeles in Detroit fall apart. In the playoffs, team points leaders Joe Thornton, Ryane Clowe and Dan Boyle as well as goal leader Patrick Marleau have been leading the team. Nevertheless, San Jose has seen a number of lower-line players step up and add their fair share of production.
How Will This Series End?
That "contributions from everyone" theme has been shredded in this series. Marleau (four goals, two assists), Thornton (one goal, five assists), Boyle (one goal, three assists) and Clowe (two goals) have pretty much kept on rolling along.
Conversely, not many other names are popping up very often on the box score.
Rookie surprise Logan Couture, who had six goals and six assists in 13 games entering the series, has just one tally and one helper in these most recent four appearances.
Devin Setoguchi, with six goals and eight points coming in, has recorded just one lonely assist and has a horrific minus-five rating.
And to cap it off, former star Dany Heatley (five goals, eight points through Round Two), fan favorite Joe Pavelski (five goals, seven points headed in) and fourth line surprise Kyle Wellwood (one goal, seven points before this series) have combined for only two assists and a negative-three plus/minus rating.
If the Sharks want to pull off a massive recovery, win the next three games (with two of those coming in Rogers Arena) and go to their first Cup Finals in franchise history, they'll have to make a lengthy checklist of changes. Furthermore, while we hope that an aggressive defense, well-schooled lineup that won't take excessive penalties, and a balanced scoring attack will be some of the priorities, it'll certainly have to include more than just those pointers.
Still, you can't forget the must-have items, and, in all likelihood, those specific changes definitely fit that category.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 270 articles and received over 270,000 total reads.
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