SAN JOSE- On Sunday night the San Jose Sharks took a commanding 3-0 lead in their first round best of seven series with the Vancouver Canucks. It wasn’t a must win game for San Jose but before the game Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart mentioned his team needed to play as if it was a must win.
Of course it can’t be proven how much of an effect that must-win mindset helped San Jose in their 5-2 victory—one that pushes Vancouver to the brink of elimination—but it is one of the staples of this year’s Sharks.
These Sharks are much deeper, even more experienced, and better at both taking away and sustaining momentum than any previous San Jose squad.
In an emotional, adrenaline pumping sport like hockey, being able to dominate play shortly after a score by the either side is a sign of a calm and mature team that knows how to sustain a winning atmosphere.
“That fourth goal was huge, bang-bang” commented Couture, who had yet another coming out party with a two goal, two assist effort.
In hockey you can only score one point at a time, but when you score goals mere moments apart like the Sharks did Sunday, the opponent doesn’t even have time to adjust to the new score before it gets even worse. Allowing any goal is upsetting but two in a row can really sap the energy from a team.
In the past, San Jose has struggled in shifts immediately following goals but perhaps now having a more defensive minded organization (hello associate coach Larry Robinson, hello Brad Stuart, hello Brent Burns, goodbye Dany Heatley, goodbye Devin Setoguchi) has added to San Jose’s ability not to get caught out of position during the next few shifts after a goal.
The Sharks have been a veteran team for awhile, but this season Robinson brings nine, count them, nine, Stanley Cups of experience to the club as an associate coach. Not to mention Brad Stuart, Scott Gomez and Adam Burish (all new to the club this year) bring four cups to a team that already had cup winners in Todd McLellan, Dan Boyle and Antti Niemi. Let’s call that 16 cups between coaches and players if I’m not missing any.
Oh and deadline acquisition Raffi Torres has been to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final twice only to lose both times.
This team doesn’t get rattled and seizes momentum when it’s on their side. The “bang-bang” goals were indeed huge as for all intents and purposes they put the game away. Marleau scored the fourth tally just nine seconds after Couture made it 3-1 early in the third period. It was Marleau’s third goal of these playoffs and after the game he talked about the importance of shifts after goals.
“No matter who scores, whether you give one up or if you get one, the next shift is big because you want to either keep it going your way or change it and get it going the other way.”
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan echoed his alternate captain’s thoughts about shifts following goals.
“That next shift, that next face-off is always important” commented McLellan. “I think it’s important from both perspectives. If you’re the offensive team and you’ve got that jump you got to take advantage of it again and if you’re the team that has to defend because you just got scored on, you have to be sharp and be ready again. Winning the face-off was important and getting it going north and south again was the key.”
Right now, these Sharks are incredibly even keeled and that among other things is allowing them to flourish so far in the first round.
There simply isn’t much to criticize as this Sharks team appears to have all the ingredients.
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