Despite falling 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final opener, the Sharks still have a chance to secure home-ice advantage by taking Game Two.
While the Game One result was not what the San Jose Sharks had hoped for, they can be satisfied with their final 40 minutes of play against the Pittsburgh Penguins and carry that over into game number two.
That fight, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game late in period two, is something the Sharks have increasingly shown throughout the season and playoffs. The Sharks let one slip, but they have shown great resolve in the postseason and typically bounce-back well from a loss, losing back-to-back contests just once since March 28th.
There is no doubt team teal must see enhanced play from their defensemen, who struggled in Game One aside from the middle period. Brent Burns notched two points, giving him 22 in the playoffs and the most by a defenseman in one playoff since Brian Leetch in 1994, and Paul Martin was solid in particular aside from a costly mistake late, but overall it was a below average performance from their usually-reliable blue-liners. To be honest, Martin Jones‘ 38-save performance kept this from being a two or three goal win for the Penguins.
Players to Watch
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Sharks: Joe Thornton. Joe Pavelski may score the goals for team teal, but he, and others, can’t score without Thornton’s playmaking skills to set them up. Jumbo Joe had seven points in his previous four games in the Blues series, but he struggled on Monday night, finishing with a minus-one ratio, limited a bit by Pittsburgh’s strong defense. When Thornton is in the right spot on the ice with room to maneuver – especially on power-plays – the rest of the team becomes more dangerous.
Penguins: Evgeni Malkin. While the rest of the Penguins generally created a plethora of scoring chances in Game One, Malkin was one of the few who wasn’t extremely active, and it showed on the box score. He completed the night with a mere two shots on goal, didn’t record a blocked shot or a hit and had two giveaways. He also was below 50 percent in the faceoff circle. Coming off a five-game point streak before Monday night, Malkin is due to get back on track sometime this series, and it will be difficult for the Sharks to contain the Russian the rest of the way.
Keys to the Game
1. Slow Down Kessel/Hagelin/Bonino
Can an entire line win the Conn Smythe? Because this line for Pittsburgh has taken their game to a completely different level in the playoffs. The trio have combined for 47 points in the playoffs, and Bonino scored the game-winner in the series opener. This line has truly been the X-factor for the Penguins throughout the playoffs, even more so than Sidney Crosby or Malkin. It will be difficult for San Jose to find a way to limit this bunch when they’re in the offensive zone but they can’t let this group gain any more confidence.
2. Avoid the Letdown Period
It seems as if one bad period cost the Sharks many of their rare playoff losses. Their past two losses (Game One @ Pittsburgh and Game Four @ St. Louis) were mainly to blame on a poor opening frame where they found themselves down by two goals in each. Often when a team plays well in the first period, the opposition comes out firing in period two – that has been a story of the playoffs. Team teal must focus on playing a strong 60 minutes to beat the Eastern Conference champions.
3. Production From Bottom Four Defensemen
One advantage Pittsburgh has over San Jose is their offensive production from their bottom two or three defensemen. When guys like Ian Cole and Justin Schultz can get on the scoresheet for the Pens like Schultz did in the first game of the series, that’s just added firepower to their already dominant lineup.
The Sharks haven’t had that luxury. Burns is a special two-way player and Vlasic and will produce on both ends of the ice, but Paul Martin, Roman Polak, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun are more traditional defensive-defensemen.
Those four have combined for a measly nine playoff points. Dillon and Polak are both scoreless through 19 playoff games. Playing a team like Pittsburgh who seemingly has a new hero each game, the Sharks need offensive output from everyone they can find.