Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ken Hitchcock Lays Out Blueprint for Beating Sharks, but Comes up Short

Before the game, Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said no team had out-worked the Sharks yet this season. I disagree with that, but now there is no doubt it is no longer true.

Even though his Blue Jackets lost, Hitch may have provided the blueprint for beating San Jose: Get the puck deep and grind, grind, grind.

This was the same game plan I had wanted Ron Wilson to use against the highly-skilled, puck possession style Red Wings in the 2007 playoffs. The difference is that the Sharks were bigger than the Red Wings, so the question is whether anyone can be successful at this when the Sharks are one of the biggest teams in the league.

But at the very least, it gave the Sharks problems. Columbus out-shot San Jose 14-4 in the first period and 31-22 for the game.

However, their style led to four more power plays for the Sharks, and that led to two goals. The verdict: You have to play the grinding style without taking trips to the box.

You also may need to catch Evgeni Nabokov on a bad day. Nabby gave up one goal in the first, when a Rick Nash shot deflected off defenceman Dan Boyle into the net (Jan Hejda and Kristian Huselius got the assists). He wasn't giving up anything else, even stopping Huselius on a two-on-none by swiping the puck right off his stick with the glove while sprawled out on his side.

The Sharks got the equalizer in the second, with Patrick Marleau getting his own rebound and back-handing it past rookie goaltender Steve Mason (Dan Boyle and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic got the assists). Jeremy Roenick got his second goal of the year 44 seconds into the third, putting home a rebound of a Vlasic shot (off a Thornton feed) on the power play.

That didn't last long: Frederik Modin took the puck from the right wing and puck-handled down the goalline, getting a shot off to the far side between Rob Blake's legs (Jarred Boll and Derick Brassard got the assists). But the Sharks answered, when Joe Thornton knocked a Vlasic shot out of the air for the game winner with over 12 minutes left; Devin Setoguchi got the secondary assist.

Nabby had to make a couple more killer stops to put this one in the books, and was very deserving of the first star of the game. The Sharks host Edmonton tonight at 7pm PST.

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