Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sharks 2-0 in Division with another Dominant Victory

Joe Pavelski (8) and Devin Setoguchi

Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski were two of the Sharks three goal scorers Saturday Night

The Sharks go for the three-game sweep of Southern California in Los Angeles Sunday night, having followed up their victory over the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 Thursday with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. But both were at home.

Then again, the Sharks were a mediocre home team last season, and lost three of their four match-ups against the Kings at HP Pavillion.

There was only one thing mediocre about the Sharks tonight: their shooting accuracy. They hit the post at least three times, failed to score on ten power play shots, and scored only three goals on 41 shots (7.3%).

However, the fact is they got 41 shots (including ten on six power plays) for the second consecutive game, and all six defencemen had a shot (16 in all). This tells us the team is pushing the play as we were promised they would when coach Todd McLellan was hired.

That puck possession game also held the Kings to just 13 shots, so Evgeni Nabokov finished with a save percentage of .923. The fact that he faced only 13 shots and has given up just one goal in two straight games might tempt McLellan to start him again.

Todd, if you're reading this, don't do it! Sunday's game starts just over 20 hours after this one ended, and there is a short flight in between.

If you don't start Boucher under these circumstances, when will you? What is he there for? Did you see how Nabby's play fell off for the playoffs last year?

If not, look at the stats: he entered the last game with just an .899 save percentage. Even after that fantastic contest, he finished worse than the regular season in all statistical categories except shutouts (1 in 13 games vs. 6 in 77 during the regular season, virtually the same ratio).

San Jose gave up an early power play goal to Alexander Frolov in the seventh minute on a cross-ice feed from Michal Handzus. Despite many scoring chances late in the first period, including three coming after a ridiculous call in which Rob Blake committed the penalty but instead drew the whistle, they could not even the score.

But they got that tally in the second period on Devin Setoguchi's second goal of the season, off a rebound of a Marc-Eduoard Vlasic shot. Vlasic later provided Tomas Plihal with a feed from midway in his own zone all the way to the attacking blueline; Plihal made the most of it up with a pretty move to beat future all-star defenceman Jack Johnson before ringing it in the corner to Jason LaBarbera's stick side.

Joe Pavelski scored the insurance goal in the third period moments after the Sharks killed a penalty. Other Sharks scorers included assists by Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, Dan Boyle (who had three of the Sharks four penalties), and Joe Thornton.

Other notable performances: Patrick Marleau had an especially strong game for someone who did not score. He was 9 of 11 (.818) in the face-off circle and back-checked to stop a two-on-one rush (he played defence!), as well as creating chances on the offensive end; he and Vlasic were the only Sharks to be +2.

The Kings best skater was former Shark Tom Preissing, who made two stellar defensive plays including breaking up a four-on-one! LaBarbera also needs to be mentioned for his stellar net-minding. According to Sharks announcer Randy Hahn, LaBarbera lost 20+ pounds this off-season to get in shape, and if tonight was any indication, the Kings one glaring weakness may not be such a handicap.

On the other hand, the supposed strength of their great young forwards was called into question. Anze Kopitar, who signed a seven-year, $47.6 million contract before the game, won only 7 of 17 face-offs, had one hit, one takeaway, and one shot; he was -2. Jarret Stoll, traded for in part because of his ability to win draws, was only 1 of 7 and recorded just one hit and one shot.

Sunday, the Sharks have to be wary of the younger legs of the Kings reacting better to the lack of rest, especially since this will be only their second game, while it will be the Sharks third in four days. Expect the Kings either to get an early jump on San Jose or be stronger at the finish.

However, the Sharks have dominated the second period in both contests. They out-shot Anaheim 21-3 Thursday night, and followed with a 17-4 edge in this contest. If they can do that Sunday, they should be able to ride out an early or late surge from the young Kings.

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