The Sharks seemingly off balance after a three game slide last weekend have responded in the first two games of a six game road trip with big early season wins in New Jersey and Boston. Against the Devils, the Sharks were trying to reverse the New Jersey hex having not won there since 2000. In Boston, in what was also the second half of a back to back, the Sharks were challenged by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins who themselves were having a slow start that was somewhat simular to the Sharks slide.
The Sharks came into this road trip having dropped three straight games in regulation, including two tough one goal losses to the arch rival Anaheim Ducks. In those games (and in the lost to St Louis in between), the Sharks showed a good deal of sluggishness and it was clear that this team needed some time to gel and develop chemistry and communication on the ice. It appears that over time this will come with this group. It’s also apparent the first 10 to 15 games at least will be a bumpy ride to start. And once the Sharks mix it up with the Pacific Division, which is clearly the toughest division in the NHL, the ride will be bumpier still. However, if the Sharks are firing on all cylinders and are able to communicate well, they’ll be able to handle to bulk of the challenges that lie ahead. That said, the power play needs some work. As for the analysis and debriefing of the New Jersey and Boston games….
Jersey Chore - The Sharks game vs New Jersey marked the 1,000th career game for forward and team captain Joe Thornton. The game started out seemingly where the previous two games vs Anaheim left off. Lots of frustration in not getting execution on quality scoring chances. In fact, the Sharks trailing by one goal early in the second had a power play that went bad when the Devils Zach Parise was able to get a break away and only a hook by Brent Burns prevented a short handed goal. Parise was awarded a penalty shot and drilled it by goalie Antti Niemi, who is still not up to full form yet. However, the Sharks despite their ineptitude on the power play still hung in long enough until a couple of breaks went their way. The first was Joe Thornton’s goal drilling a slap shot past New Jersey goalie (and former Sharks farmhand) Johan Hedberg to get SJS within 2-1. A minute later Ryane Clowe jammed a loose puck in front of the Devils goal past Hedberg to tie the game. The Sharks outshot New Jersey 20-5 in the period, with the bulk of those shots coming late.
In the third period the Sharks found themselves behind late again and it came down to the Sharks having to pull Niemi inside the last minute to get the extra attacker. The Sharks kept them puck in the Devils zone long enough to where Joe Pavelski was able to gather a loose puck and drill a wrister from about 10 feet away with 32.4 seconds left that hit the top right corner of the net, the only place you could get the puck in around the sea of humanity. This tied the game at 3-3. Hedberg argued with the officials that he was interfered with, to no avail. After a scoreless OT, the Sharks took the shootout 2-1, with Michal Handzus and Clowe getting the puck past Hedberg for the win. In the end, it was a game the Sharks dominated once they got their land legs beneath them, but New Jersey gave SJS all they can handle. The game itself was indeed, a “Jersey Chore”.
Battle in Beantown – 24 hours later in Boston, this years home of the Stanley Cup, the Sharks measured themselves vs the champion Bruins. The Sharks play here I thought was a little more crisp and team seemed energized by having Marty Havlet in the line up with one game in teal under his belt. The Sharks jumped on the Bruins early, with Pavelski’s goal just a 1:12 into the game setting the tone. However, the Sharks also had to weather a storm of attacks by the Bruins in the Sharks zone with Antti Niemi needing to make 14 first period saves. Logan Couture’s first goal of the season came midway through the second period, recieving a perfect pass from Havlet who was able to wrestle away the puck in a scrum behind the Bruins net, and getting a perfect feed pass to Couture, who knocked the biscutt past Boston goalie Tim Thomas before he could get settled in position.
The Bruins however made a game of it with two goals from Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin in just 29 second span, about three minutes into the final period. The second Boston goal was the result of the Sharks failing to clear their zone as defensemen Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle almost collided with each other chasing the loose puck, allowing the Bruins a two on one break-away where Seguin drilled the rubber biscutt past Niemi. However, after weathering more Bruins storms and seeing Niemi refocus and make several key saves, the Sharks finally took the lead thanks to a highlight real goal by Benn Ferriero. Ferriero followed up a Jamie McGinn slap shot, diving to shoot the loose puck past Thomas and help team teal recapture the lead. Niemi stayed solid in net for the rest of the third period. Patrick Marleau scored his first goal of the season, and empty netter with 4.8 seconds left.
Debriefing - A few things come to mind after the two games. First, the Sharks have only executed one power play goal in the last three games. This will need to pick up at some point. 1 for 6 vs Anaheim last Monday, 0 for 5 vs New Jeresy, and just 0 for 1 vs Boston. Also, the Sharks are showing that they are a team that is just now getting to know one another. They know each other by name, but they are needing to adjust to the styles of play that the new aquisitions bring to the ice. The main problem I see with the Sharks right now is just executing quality scoring chances, some minor defensive issues and all around communication. What hurt them during their three game losing streak and a good portion of the New Jersey game was the lack of communcation on the ice. Once the Sharks as a team get a handle on these issues, they’ll be fine.
It’s also all the more reason the six game road trip came at an opportune time, the Sharks needed to get away from distractions and get their act together as a team. Six games 2,000 air miles from home hopefully will help. Do not worry about the early standings right now, now is not the time. Give this team just a little time and they will get better, stronger, and faster…and not to mentioned more focused. Let’s hope Sharks get the lions share of the next four games on this trip and come home to The Tank ready to show us all the team they can become. Next stop, Music City in Nashville Tuesday Night (10/25) as the Shark take on the Predators.
The King Shark