For the first time since the Olympics, the San Jose Sharks were impressive against a quality team.
In that time, San Jose has beaten only one team that finished with over 100 points and had something to play for—a 4-2 victory at home over the Vancouver Canucks that included an empty net goal by Ryane Clowe.
In that game, the Canucks had more shots (37-30) and a better giveaway/takeaway ratio (+3). The Sharks won more faceoffs (34-25), had fewer missed shots (9-17), more blocked shots (15-13) and more hits (39-24).
Thursday night, the Sharks outshot the Detroit Wings 27-23, outblocked them 21-17, outhit them 38-21, and were one better in giveaway/takeaway ratio. Ironically, the only statistic they lost was the one in which they rated best in the league in the regular season, the faceoff battle (32-38).
They also killed five penalties and held the Wings to four shots in over eight minutes of the man-advantage. Meanwhile, San Jose got seven shots and scored two power play goals in seven opportunities, including one 5-on-3.
In the process, the Sharks exorcised some demons . But there are still things to focus on improving from Game One.
For one, San Jose needs more consistent scoring from a line other than the DR. J line (Devin-Ryane-Joe). The "second" line has 12 of the Sharks' 23 goals so far in seven playoff games, and that is not a pace they can be expected to maintain.
They also need more consistent scoring.
Detroit will not often give up multiple goals in 79 seconds. Being able to capitalise on momentum is a good thing, but if you can only score once outside of that and need a 5-on-3 power play to do so, you are in trouble.
You also cannot expect that veteran team to put you on the advantage seven times, so you have to be able to score even strength goals. Likewise, Detroit has had the best power play since the lockout ended, and putting them on five in a game does not result in a win often.
San Jose has struggled (compared to the regular season, at least) with faceoffs in the postseason, and that needs to get cleared up.
The Sharks percentage in the circle has dropped three percent to 52.6 even though they played the second-worst faceoff team during the regular season in the first round.
Still, this was the most complete performance this team has had in the second round since going to the Western Conference finals in 2004.
It is clear they have a healthy respect for the Wings—enough fear not to relax, but not so much as to play without confidence.
The Wings came into San Jose on a roll and relatively rested after as easy a playoff victory as one could expect. The Sharks had four days off and could have been rusty, and often lose Game One even when they are not.
For this reason, my prediction was the experienced and talented Wings who held a big brother-like competitive edge over the Sharks would take Game One. Putting San Jose in a hole would enable them to eek out three of the next six and take the series.
But I said Thursday that the winner of Game One would win the series, and I stand by that.
The longer this series goes, the more it favours the Sharks.
The older Wings with the rookie goaltender coming off the more difficult series and having traveled the most during the regular and post-season are bound to wear down.