“Where is the chemistry? “
“Where is the dominant puck control?”
“Where is the confidence?”
I often pondered such questions during every Sharks game over the last couple
weeks, each one streaming live to my computer, while pulling post-midnight
working excursions for the last month.
During my last update to The San Jose Blog, I finished updating the San
Jose faithful on the wonderful, excellent chemistry the team has had during the
month of January. Evidently, my
increased workload translated to the subsequent seven game long losing streak – right?
Actually, no. My fiancé kindly pointed
out my “lucky” black and teal colored toe nails she painted for me while I was
in my hospital bed had the polish wear off, effectively washing away the
“luck.” I allowed her to re-paint them
Monday night when I returned home super late from work, and sure enough, in the
Sharks’ follow-up battle against the St. Louis Blues (a good team, I might add)
– the Sharks won.
Superstitions aside, a die-hard fan like myself usually has to wonder what had
happened to our Sharks, who has possessed the NHL leads in many statistical
categories, including the team to be the last to record their first loss. After that magical seven game run, all seemed
lost. It didn’t matter who the Sharks
played, even the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Their luck was out, and they were going to lose. (That analysis, however, is for the
It helps to listen to what some of the players have to say about their
playing. Quite interestingly, it is fun
to hear the players dispel what critics and commentators say. In particular, many commentators have noted
the Sharks’ lack of speed, especially against the Chicago Blackhawks, as a
particular hindrance to their playing abilities.
Ryane Clowe, during one of his intermission interviews, hinted that the
“appearance” of a faster speed is due to more efficient puck movement. When the Sharks do not have the chemistry
together, they do look slower. Remember
when the Sharks had their seven game winning streak? (I bet they looked exceedingly fast!)
What some have mentioned – and have been RIGHT about – is the lack of effort
(i.e. work ethic) and getting quality shots to the net. While I can almost guarantee that any puck on
Joe Thornton’s stick cannot be whisked away, unless it’s to a teammate’s stick,
the important factor is to whom Thornton is passing the puck, and more
importantly, where the puck recipient is standing. All too often, a puck getting shot from a
Sharks stick is from a bad angle, and unless everyone on the team can snipe as
proficiently as Logan Couture, goals are a rarity.
The NHL has evolved to a much different level, with teams finally understanding
that putting up a strong fortification is often times the formula for winning
championships. As I’ve mentioned before,
look at many of the past Stanley Cup winners.
Have any of them been known as offensive teams? I’m betting none were. Look at the new, more widespread statistics,
such as blocked shots and takeaways. In
addition, look at the new defensive strategies of giving players no way to get
a clean shot on net. Such strategies
were integral in some of the rule changes (e.g. eliminating the play stoppage
due to a two-line pass), giving teams a more difficult time to defend.
The team that seems to have the defensive strategy down to a true art is the
Nashville Predators. Granted, the Sharks
had a terrible beginning to February, including dropping two games to the
Predators, but the lack of the Sharks’ scoring production can be put squarely
on the shoulders of some of the best defensemen in the league, and who many say
is currently the best goaltender in the league (Pekka Rinne). Historically, the Sharks have struggled to
put up points against the Predators for those reasons alone. In recent years, the Predators have been dark
horse playoff contenders, and based on their style of play, there is no
question how they made it. It is only
their lack of significant offense that have kept them from making it far.
Fortunately, the Sharks have true ice sense and skill in their corner. The debate about how younger, fresher players
make better teams and/or that having superstars on a team makes them better has
swiftly been disproven multiple times, season after season. Two teams – the Edmonton Oilers and the New
York Rangers – while fine teams on their own, are the epitome of teams with
young, fast players, and loaded with superstars. Based on these factors, one may expect these
teams to be at the very top of the league’s standings. It is however, evident that is not the
case. The teams with the best ice sense
and the teams with the best defense typically fare the best. This is what the Sharks need to capitalize on
– their veteran leadership and ice sense.
Tonight, the Chicago Blackhawks hope to make history by not having a regulation
loss after tonight’s performance. Their
opponent? The Sharks.
The Blackhawks are a very beatable team.
They have simply made it this far due to hard work and
determination. It’s evident when
watching them play, they have the ability to never give up, and can put massive
pressure in the offensive zone.
It is up to the Sharks to keep the puck out of their defensive zone and to
maintain offensive pressure – something time and time again they have proven to
be good at. Niemi needs to be on top of
his game. Sure, there are some shots
that cannot be stopped, but all other shots need to be kept from going in
(especially no weak shots that can sneak by).
The forwards need to get, and stay, open. Lastly, the Blackhawks defense needs to be
intimidated quite a bit, something executed primarily through massive offensive
pressure. Unlike the Predators, the
Blackhawks rely primarily on their offense (e.g. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews,
Marian Hossa), so we must exploit their defensive line!
We cannot afford to get caught with our heads down. With our last win, let us use that
momentum. The Sharks are known to
perform well when the momentum is going.
We can not, and must not, let the Blackhawks win.
The game tonight starts at 5:30pm Pacific time, and will be live from Chicago’s
United Center. Tune (or stream) in for
some action. We need this win – big time!
(Could we also possibly hope for another Thornton-Toews one-sided fight?)