Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sharks Ice Pens Offence

The Sharks came into their tenth game of the season having won seven and lost two. More than that, they had outshot their opponents seven times, and were second in the league in shot differential.

However, until now, they had two games against a team that has gone .500 in their other games this season, both against Anaheim (1-1). Tuesday night, they faced the 5-2-2 Pittsburgh Penguins, last season's Eastern Conference champions.

This year's Sharks are all about puck possession, and puck possession starts with winning faceoffs. Joe Thornton won an astounding 12 of 13 faceoffs (.923), Patrick Marleau won five of six (.833), and Joe Pavelski won 11 of 18 (.611), leading the Sharks to a 30-16 edge (.652).

That will get you the puck a lot. It led to the Sharks getting 34 shots and helped them hold Pittsburgh to 11, even though the Sharks had 21 giveaways and the Penguins only had 10.

(One of those giveaways was just the worst since last year's playoff giveaway to Brad Richards--Douglas Murray passed across the middle deep in the defensive zone right to Evgeni Malkin, who missed a shot from between the circles. If that had been Alexei Semenov, who was a healthy scratch with Murray's return, I would have reminded everyone that I am better than he is, so I felt the need to at least point it out.)

I have been hesitant to make too much of the Sharks impressive start, not wanting to get sucked in like I did by the success at the end of last season before their annual playoff choke. But when you dominate a Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin team that fully, you deserve a lot of credit.

One thing that was a concern in this game, much like in the losses to Anaheim and Florida, as well as the wins over Los Angeles, is the lack of scoring. One would hope that with 34 shots against back-up goalie Dany Sabourin, the Sharks could get more than two to go in. They didn't score any with five men on the ice.

On a penalty kill about half-way through the first period, Milan Michalek and Joe Pavelski pressured D Alex Goligoski into a turnover at his own blueline. Michalek got to the puck first and raced to the net behind the defence. Sabourin stopped his backhand attempt, but Pavelski cleaned up the rebound for a 1-0 lead.

The Sharks did not score again until late in the third period, despite four power plays to that point. But while on the penalty kill, Ruslan Fedotenko was called for interference. In the resulting four-on-four, Mike Grier scored on a backhand (assisted by Christian Ehrhoff and Dan Boyle) to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead with 7:08 to play.

Fedotenko made up for it, however, with a goal just 2:25 later, assisted by Crosby and Malkin, and the Sharks had to sweat it out. Even a penalty by Pittsburgh in the last two minutes did little to give the Sharks breathing room, as once they pulled Sabourin they controlled play deep in the San Jose end.

Evgeni Nabokov did not have to make many stops, but he made several good ones. Pascal Dupuis had an early short-handed chance, Matt Cooke got off a shot from close in, and he had to make one incredible glove save on another slap shot from his right. But the Sharks defence got to all loose pucks and smothered the Penguins offence most of the night.

Thursday at 7:30pm PDT, the Sharks host the only team who entered the week with a better shot differential than theirs, the world champion Detroit Red Wings. If San Jose triumphs in that contest, they will be looked at as the early favourite in the Western Conference.

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