Well San Jose Sharks fans, this has been one helluva start, eh?
The Sharks have surpassed all expectations and dominated the Los Angeles Kings in Games 1 and 2 by a score of 6-3 and 7-2. As the two face off in Los Angeles tonight for Game 3, it’s safe to say that the Sharks have all the momentum in the series and that the Kings are just fighting for air.
Trust me, this is not the case. The Sharks need to work even harder these next two games to either eliminate the Kings, or have the possibility of ending it when back in San Jose for Game 5. But before they can think about Game 5, they need to think about Game 3 tonight at Staples Center.
Here are 3 keys to tonight’s game.
1. Roll 4 Lines
It’s something basically everyone watching the Sharks has been screaming about since Tomas Hertl came back.
There’s no reason to have one of the best centers not only on the team, but in the entire league in Joe Pavelski playing on the wing with two good players who can play with anybody in the entire league and make them good. (TJ Galiardi anybody?)
In fact, Tomas Hertl’s big start was due to Joe Thornton and Brent Burns helping him out. But for some reason, they left Hertl with James Sheppard centering the third line. They went down 2-0 early in Game 2, and then Todd McLellan made the switch. He finally put Hertl back on the top line and put Joe Pavelski at center on the third line. After that, the Sharks scored seven goals in two periods and dominated every facet of play.
If the Sharks keep those lines, they are the deepest team down the middle in the entire NHL. Other teams would love to have Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Andrew Desjardins as their centers. It makes the Sharks a much more difficult team to defeat, as we saw in Game 2.
2. Smash Bros Need To Do Their Thing
Raffi Torres and Mike Brown have been given the nickname “Smash Bros” due to their physical play the first two games in the series. Now it’s a debate as long as the day is old. Does physical play actually motivate a team to play harder? Well, it definitely doesn’t hurt.
Take the Sharks’ first goal last night for example. The Kings were attempting to clear the puck out of the zone, and in comes Raffi Torres, ready to make a big hit. The Kings see him coming, make a mistake, Desjardins passes it out front, and the world is shocked for eternity after Mike Brown scores a goal in the playoffs. Torres didn’t even need to throw a hit.
Just the presence of Torres and Brown on the ice makes the Kings worried, and it automatically gives the Sharks an advantage. If Torres and Brown can establish physical play early in Game 3, it could lead to some great chances via key #3.
3. Speed, Speed, And More Speed
The Los Angeles Kings are a team that likes to throw the body around. They dump the puck into the zone, chase after it, throw a hit on the forecheck, and set up in the offensive zone like that.
The Sharks need speed in three areas when the Kings do that. First, they need speed back into the zone. There’s no doubt that the Sharks are just a faster team than the Kings. There is no reason they can’t get back to the loose puck before the Kings can.
But like I said, that doesn’t bother the Kings. They have no problem throwing the body in the offensive zone. So the Sharks need to make a speedy, but smart, decision. They have to be quick with a pass up the boards or to a teammate to get the puck out of the zone, but they have to be sure it is a smart play.
If it isn’t, you just did the Kings job for them, and leave Niemi to make a big save on a big chance for the Kings. Once they make the smart play, they need speed in the neutral zone. Once again, the Sharks are just a much faster team than the Kings, so there is no reason they can’t get some quality odd man rushes. That speed was obvious in Game 2. Torres’ goal, Marleau’s goal, Couture’s goal, and Pavelski’s goal all came from odd man rushes. The Sharks should make sure they get lots of odd man rushes, because Jonathan Quick again has something to prove. I doubted they’d dominate Quick after Game 1, and I was wrong.
But I SERIOUSLY doubt they can do it for a third straight game. They won’t score on every odd man rush, but the more you get, the more likely you are to beat Jonathan Quick.
The Kings were in a position similar to this last year when they went down 2-0 to the St. Louis Blues. They won the next two at home, and rode that momentum to win four straight and eliminate the Blues. The most important factor for the Sharks in these two games against the Kings is to just win one game.
It doesn’t have to be a sweep (although I wouldn’t complain if it was) but they definitely need to win at least one in Los Angeles. If they come back home for game 5 up 3-1 in the series, this series will be over in 5. Come back home 2-2? Those first two games don’t matter at all.