2012 Stanley Cup Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins at San Jose Sharks

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IINovember 3, 2011

Monday's results did not match Joe Thornton's post-game assessment
Monday's results did not match Joe Thornton's post-game assessmentChris Trotman/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks' quest for their perfect six-game road trip blew up Monday night in New York.

The Rangers were better than the Sharks in almost every facet of the game. They were better five-on-five and on special teams. They took fewer penalties and more shots. They were the first team on the road trip to finish better in blocked shots or giveaway/takeaway differential.

They were even better in faceoffs, missed shots and hits. The entirety of this makes Joe Thornton's comment after the game that the Rangers were "probably the softest team we've played all year" curious. The fact that he said it after a 5-2 loss made it absurd.

Perhaps the captain of the team might want to play a little defence before calling out another team for not having the manhood to do just that. Thornton got an assist and still went minus-one because he was on the ice both times New York took the lead.

Still, over the road trip the Sharks out-worked opponents, as exemplified by their finish in the "hustle" and fundamental stats of blocked shots and possession differential (faceoffs and turnovers). They were close in faceoffs, which is actually satisfactory considering the home team's advantage in that department.

More than anything, the trip was successful because the Sharks did what they had not done since the opener: put the biscuit in the basket. After getting just four goals in their last three games, the Sharks' 20 in six represented a 150 percent increase.

As impressive as the Sharks have been out east, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been the best team in that conference. This is why this game could give fans a glimpse of what is to come next June, as predicted before the season started.

But Pittsburgh has the advantage on paper. They sit atop the standings in part because they have the best goals against average and goal differential, largely because they can kill penalties with the best in the league.

The time has passed for optimism about the Sharks' current penalty kill. I do not care what someone at CSN Bay Area says—at this early stage of the season, if you take away almost any team's worst game their kill will be at least close to average.

I do not even care that in the piece, Todd McLellan said it was excellent or that Joe Thornton claimed it won the team some games. The Sharks' PK stinks.

It has given up a goal in seven of 10 games and averages more than one a game. Only four teams have a lower percentage, and the Sharks have given up two more goals than they have scored on special teams overall.

Even without their captain and best player Sidney Crosby (think the 10-plus month absence of the league's best player has anything to do with the league finally getting serious about head shots?), the Penguins are fifth in scoring and eighth on the power play. The Sharks are middle of the pack defensively thanks to the atrocious penalty kill, rank only two spots ahead of the Pens on the power play and only one in goals per game.

Moreover, Pittsburgh is probably more rested on the road than the Sharks are at home because of the length and location of San Jose's road trip. However, fatigue should play little factor with either team since both have had at least two days of rest.

What could be more of a factor is that the Penguins are hurting. Crosby may be joined by other top-10 skaters Kris Letang and Jordan Staal, as both could be out with or at least affected by injury. Meanwhile, the Sharks have had Torrey Mitchell, Martin Havlat and Antti Niemi all return within the last two weeks.

No matter how well they did on the road, San Jose is happy to be back in one of the loudest arenas in the league. San Jose gets the win, but not until regulation has ended.