Shark-Infested Blogger

April 19, 2010 7:11 PM

Game Four Preview

If any player on the San Jose Sharks tells you that this is a new season and the past does not matter, they are lying: This team is clearly snake-bitten. The same is true if they tell you Tuesday night's contest at the Pepsi Center, 7pm PDT, is not a must-win: statistically, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit happens about a tenth of a percent more often than coming back from a 3-0 deficit.

This has been a strange series in many ways, even beyond the fact that two of the three games have gone into overtime and the other was less than a minute away from doing the same.

For instance, in two games the Sharks got outstanding goaltending (.933 save percentage or better in both) but lost because they could not score, registering just one goal in 77 shots (.013 shooting percentage). In the other game, they overcame horrible goaltending (.773 save pct) but won, registering six goals on 52 shots (.115 shooting pct.). Overall, the Sharks have out-shot the Avs 129-69 but are losing the series.

4254754010_076f4967bd.jpgAnd that is not even the weirdest part. Of the eight goals Colorado has scored, three have gone in because of Sharks players. The game-winning goal in the series opener went off the skate of Rob Blake. The opening goal of Game Two was put off the chest of fellow-defencemate Marc-Edouard Vlasic by Blake. The game winner in overtime of Game Three was on a dump attempt behind the net by Dan Boyle that was tipped by Avs rookie Ryan O'Reilly.

The Avs have not had to win any games in this series and are two games away from clinching. The Sharks are taking choking to a new level, and the longer the games and series go, the more the pressure is likely to get to them.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in missed shots, where the Sharks have 50 to the Avs' 19, a 41 percent higher ratio than than their edge in shots on goal. This does not even consider blocked shots, where the Avs have a 71-33 edge, meaning they also block one more shot in every six or seven that gets to the net than their more seasoned opponents.

In all, that means the Sharks have attempted 250 shots to get seven goals, and the Avs (aided by Sharks defencemen) have attempted fewer than half that (121) and gotten one more goal. Experienced teams (and especially older ones not used to playing in thin air) should be more efficient in the energy expenditure, not less.

This by no means indicates the series is over. The fact is anyone watching the games can see that San Jose is vastly superior to the young team from Denver. The Sharks edge of 102-89 in the face-off circle has contributed to their almost 2:1 edge in shots; given the extra puck possession and attack time, it is surprising they are just minus-eight in takeaway:giveaway ratio. For the same reason, it is shocking (even given the Sharks' superior size) that a team that has the puck that much more has leveled 104 hits to their foes' 84.

Radio commentator Jamie Baker suggested the Sharks do not need to change anything because of this dominance. I would remind him the Sharks said the same thing after losing two at home last year to the Anaheim Ducks, and had a similar edge in shots, faceoffs, and puck possession. It is this inability or unwillingness to adapt that is killing this team every spring...well, that and the constant failures of the top line (no goals in three games).

If year after year your top-five offence cannot find a way to get goals, it is not a string of good goalies. After the Sharks lost to Anaheim last April, the Red Wings scored with considerably more proficiency than the Sharks had against Jonas Hiller. The year before they had a similar increase in offensive output against Marty Turco. If this team is supposed to be patterned after Detroit and has scored only 32 fewer goals over those three seasons than their blueprint, they need to be able to approximate the success.

To do this, San Jose forwards must get closer to the net: On several occasions during this series, players have skated by the net rather than crashing it or sat at the side of the goal mouth rather than screening the goalie. Defencemen must get shots through traffic or do a better job of setting up re-directs near the net, as too many shots are going wide and into defenders and even teammates.

It is these issues this team has not overcome, these characteristics that earn it a reputation for being soft, and these short-comings leading to a lack of playoff success. In the regular season, teams have to play a system from night to night; in the playoffs, teams gameplan for you and if you cannot adjust or fail to do make the extra sacrifice, you lose.

It is hard to imagine that a team that makes the playoffs cannot get one legitimate win, especially when it holds such a clear home ice advantage as Colorado does. In other words, this series will need to go seven for the Sharks to win.

But given their superior talent, the Sharks should still win this series if they make these adjustments. Given the unlikelihood of that happening should they fall in a 3-1 deficit, this team knows how important this game is, and I will pick them to take Game Four--with Nabby already having had his bad game, I would expect a two-goal victory.

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