SAN JOSE- If this were the regular season, nitpicking at a 6-3 win that started off as a 5-0 lead would seem strange, but alas these are the playoffs and we will get to said nitpicking shortly. First however, there was a lot of good to be seen in Game 1 if you are a San Jose Sharks fan. Tomas Hertl and Raffi Torres not only both played for the first time all season, they both scored and generally played solid hockey at both ends. The top two lines also scored, as the big boys Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau netted goals for their respective lines. Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was his usual studly self on the blue-line and Antti Niemi came up with a handful of strong saves before the game got out of hand.
The bad? Well, it’s easy to say that it’s only natural to take your foot off the gas when up by a five goal lead, a lead which you could say is analogous to a 35-0 score in American football. However, giving up three goals in the first 15 minutes of the third period is not a recipe for success. Sharks head coach Todd McLellan joked tongue in cheek after the game that he isn’t too worried about his team’s play up by five goals. That said, complacency no matter the score is not a good thing, and this game should be a good reminder that no lead is safe.
All three Kings goals were scored with at least one bottom six player for the Sharks on the ice. The first goal was scored with Sharks tough guy Mike Brown oddly skating a shift in Matt Nieto’s place with Logan Couture and Marleau. While Brown had a strong physical impact early in the game, he can be a liability defensively. The next two Kings goals were scored against San Jose’s third line of Hertl, James Sheppard, and Tommy Wingels. Despite both Sheppard and Hertl tallying two points a piece, they each finished the game minus-1, as did Wingels.
The ugly? Well, the major reason for the struggles of that third line (albeit they did have some good looks offensively), is that they simply don’t have the puck enough. This trio gets caught too frequently chasing the puck and defending. This is largely due to the fact Sheppard is not a great center. It pains me to harp on him because as many of you know I love Sheppard’s game as a winger. Earlier this season McLellan jokingly asked me if I was going on vacation with Sheppard during the Olympic break because of my consistent praise of his play. Unfortunately Sheppard struggles at center and while the Sharks got away with it tonight, they may not be so fortunate as the series continues. You want to talk about ugly, well in tonight’s game Sheppard was an abysmal 18% in the faceoff circle, winning just two out of his 11 draws.
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