Friday, April 17, 2009

Sharks typically tight in Game 1

In what has become a disturbing post season trend, the boys in teal dropped the all important Game 1 on their home ice to kick off the series. The Ducks played with an arrogance and swagger you would expect from a former Cup champ and looked VERY comfortable playing in the Tank. The Sharks have made a habit of dropping the first game of the series played at home. Dallas and Calgary last season, game one loss. In the 2004 Western Conference Finals, one of the biggest home games in franchise history to that point, they laid an egg against those pesky Flames. Let's face it, this team struggles when the pressure is on. They always have.
You can take this deflating loss two ways. The natural reaction is to panic, here we go again! But this is just one game and the Sharks have shown an ability to win in Anaheim. The problem for the Sharks is now Sunday become a MUST WIN. It took the Sharks 82 games to earn the top seed and the luxuries that come with it. However, it took only 60 minutes of uninspired play to give it all back. Granted, Hiller play well in his first playoff start, but the Sharks quality scoring chances were few and far between. So now, a mere one game into the post season, their backs are to the wall.
The Sharks have scored a measly 1 goal in their last three home games. They are playing flat and lack cohesiveness in their attack. Let's face it, they haven't been playing well since the All-Star break. They did get an infusion of injured players back right at the end of the regular season so getting everyone back up to speed may take time. And what about that word "Speed". I thought that was what separated the Sharks and the Ducks was team speed. The Ducks appeared more determined and imposed their will on the Sharks. Every game, dozens of little individual battles are fought over puck possession. Usually the team that is more vigilant in this area benefit by getting quality scoring chances that win hockey games. That edge clearly went to Anaheim last night. The big boys need to step it up. I know Nabby would like to have the 2nd goal back last night, even though Getzlaf fired a missile. Marleau and Thornton were basically invisible last night (only one shot apiece) and clearly if they are going to have success this post season it will start with the leaders of this team. The only Shark player who I thought showed up was Dan Boyle. His shot in the 3rd that rang off the inside of the post was an inch away from tying the game and energizing the crowd. Truly a game of inches.
What needs to happen Sunday is the Sharks need to go to those tough areas and win some battles around the net. They need to create screens in front of Hiller and try to cash in on rebounds (which Hiller gave practically none last night). Sure they out-shot Anaheim by a 2-1 margin,but most of those shots were from outside and clearly the Ducks game plan is centered around counter-attacking the Sharks and catch them too deep. The 0-6 on the power play needs to change. Special teams decides a large majority of playoff games, and last night was no exception. It's not over yet, a seven game series can have many twists and turns. But it was a typically poor start for this franchise that desperately wanted to send a message to the hockey world. Now we will see what this team is made of. Time for Jumbo, Patty, Nabby, and the rest of the boys to look each other in the eye and not accept anything less than everything they got. Otherwise this franchise will further solidify the league-wide perception that the Sharks can be taken off their game when it matters most.
-Ryan Covay

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