Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sharks Down 0-2 in the Conference Finals

I would like to begin by pointing out some simple facts about playing on the road by answering the following question: As an away team, what is the best way to silence an exuberant home crowd?

Score the first goal, and perhaps the second as well. As I was seated in the HP Pavilion for Game Two, that is exactly what had happened. Even with the extremely impressive pre-game display of Sharks highlights and the on-ice holographic display of swimming sharks and San Jose Sharks players, prompting fans to shake their pompoms and scream in playoff glory, it was not enough to curb the disappointment of the Chicago Blackhawk goals. Although my sister (who was seated right next to me) and I would sometimes start chanting, “Sharks! Let’s go Sharks!” and the video monitor scoreboard would display the “noise meter” with the “Get Playoff Loud!” text to get fans to scream and cheer on their home team, many of the fans around us remained quiet.

The solution, however, is clear, as the only way to get fans riled up and cheering is to score goals. No need for a noise meter, a screen prompt, or randomly starting to chant in support of the home team. Goals and maintaining leads are what make fans excited and loud. There is no doubt in my mind the Sharks love their home crowd, as one could easily see that the louder the loyal San Jose crowd gets, the better they play, which is why Sharks tend to score goals in bursts at home, building off of the supportive cheers after every goal.

Unfortunately, the Blackhawks used the silencing technique to their advantage in Game Two. Not only did they grab an early lead, they also (arguably) had the support of the referees, who through replays and reviews, clearly missed Blackhawks-executed penalties (such as the numerous interferences and the one jersey-grabbing instance) and called extremely questionable penalties on the Sharks. This did nothing but annoy the sellout home crowd, most of whom arrived with the expectation the Sharks would win. Who could blame them? The Sharks demonstrated in the first game that they were the better team as far as puck control and shots on net, despite losing by only one goal. Additionally, as the Sharks also demonstrated, they pulled off an epic playoff win against the powerful Detroit Red Wings, arguably a better and more dynamic team than the Blackhawks.

Even though the Sharks lost again at home, there were select members of the team that played very well (namely the Sharks’ second line of Pavelski-Malhotra-Setoguchi). Unfortunately, like Game One, shots tended to miss the net, players would hold on the puck too long, and there were several passes that either missed completely or sailed directly to the other team. Again, the Sharks outshot the Blackhawks, and rightly so, further pointing out that although 27 shots on net were recorded, I would surmise that several rebounds had not been counted in the Sharks’ favor. Blackhawks’ goaltender Antti Niemi again stood on his head, making unbelievable saves to help stun the Sharks a second time. On the other hand, Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov showed his anti-clutch performance side by allowing some weak shots into the net, notably Andrew Ladd’s wrist shot from the point with minimal screening as he entered the zone. Although I love it when Nabokov enters his hot streaks, it is unfortunate to sometimes see him crumble under pressure. With that being said, the Sharks really need to put focus on covering Blackhawk shooters and choking the front of the net to keep shots from getting through. Besides defenseman Dan Boyle, who seems to always have a solid performance, the Sharks’ defensemen did not have a stellar game, although it was nice to see veteran Rob Blake make a few nice breakout passes.

Despite heading to Chicago down by two games, the Sharks can still pull off a series win, but to do so, select players need to, quite literally, wake up and start acting like they are in the playoffs. So far, I have seen great plays and opportunities executed by the second line of Joe Pavelski, Manny Malhotra, and Devin Setoguchi, and they need to keep the pressure on. Although it was nice to see Patrick Marleau score the Sharks’ two goals, his line really needs to step it up if they want to continue their path of domination. In the case of star forward Dany Heatley, he really had not been on his game, and Joe Thornton needs to start shooting the puck instead of looking for passes. It is clear that more shots on the net will mean more goals, especially those that can go in but miss because either the player had bad aim or took to long to shoot.

I understand that shots need to be made from better angles, out of traffic (so the shot is neither blocked nor deflected by others in front of the net), and away from other players, which makes the Sharks’ in-zone passing game understandable. Additionally, I understand the game’s rules and how difficult it is to play hockey against the world’s best players. However, by watching some of the best teams, including the current Blackhawks lineup, shooting more when the opportunities exist (however momentarily) work to any team’s advantage. It does not need to take an Alexander Ovechkin or a Brett Hull to unleash wicked fast and accurate shots at the net. It takes focus, discipline, and the hunger to win.

To the fans of the San Jose Sharks: there is a lot of hockey left, as the series is far from over, so let us keep up our strong support and let us carry our team to eventual victory! Now that our Sharks understand how the Blackhawks play, it is time to execute our plan of attack and start winning games!

GO SHARKS!

5 comments:

  1. While I agree with every point you make, I am used to being disappointed by the Sharks every year. I know they are not out but if they continue to play like that, they will be done before the end of the month.
    I am huuugee Sharks fan and one of my windows show the back end of the Shark Tank. This breaks my heart and I wonder if they really want that Cup. After these past two games I saw, they don't. I will try to be optimistic but it is hard after being disappointed every year.
    They beat Detroit! I know they can beat the Hawks. They have to get that heart, the drive, the determination to come back and win four games.

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  2. We are just too close: the Sharks know it and the fans know it. I too am hoping they come out of this slump, and I know they can do it.

    I will always be rockin' the teal! I have faith in the Sharks, and know they can come back and win this. There's been lots of surprises so far this playoffs, so in my opinion, nothing is done until it's all over. Just hoping that surprise is the Sharks waking up from their two-game nap.

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  3. The Blackhawks also seem to play worse at home than away, hopefully that will help the Sharks gain momentum.

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  5. That is true. Plus, the Montreal Canadiens, the other team that fell 0-2 in their series (not to mention had been unable to score a single goal) today topped their opponents, the Philadelphia Flyers, with a 5-1 blowout. there is hope, after all.

    My point is, it's playoffs. Anything can happen. And Niemi cannot block shots forever.

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