The San Jose Sharks have more talent than last year.
But as Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues showed, they don’t have enough – at least not enough to take an entire second period off.
“We came in after the first [period], I think the chances 5-on-5 were 7-3 or 7-4 for us. We were doing some things well. Then in the second period, we went the last 12 minutes of the period without a [scoring] chance,” Sharks head coach Bob Boughner lamented.
SPORTLOGiQ offered additional context. In the first period, in All Situations, San Jose enjoyed a 7-5 Slot Shots on Net edge – but in the second period, St. Louis roared back 14-3.
That’s how Jake Middleton saw it: “There were high-percentage shots for them from the slot a lot of times throughout the game.”
So what happened in the middle frame?
It was a study of a team that wasn’t patient enough to stick to its game plan – and not good enough to ignore it.
“We tried to open up when we were down,” Boughner explained. “We got to try and stick to our identity as long as we can for 60 minutes. There’s going to be peaks and valleys of the game, it’s just a matter of getting back to your foundation. Tonight, we got away from it.”
A team that has full trust in its identity isn’t opening up down just one goal, just halfway into the game – but that’s exactly what the San Jose Sharks did.
After Jonathan Dahlen scored to cut San Jose’s deficit in half, Brandon Saad answered with this backbreaker:
So how did Saad get so open?
It starts 200 feet away from James Reimer.
Oskar Sundqvist (70) turns back with the puck and Nick Bonino (13) pursues on the forecheck. Scott Perunovich (48) sets a legal, subtle pick to prevent Bonino from pressuring Sundqvist. On the other side, Andrew Cogliano (11) is trying to zero in on Sundqvist. But Perunovich stepping in front of Bonino might’ve given Sundqvist an extra beat to make a play – Bonino was supposed to hurry Sundqvist. Instead, Sundqvist passes the puck to his safety valve standing by the far wall, Justin Faulk.
This is the pivotal moment: The first two forecheckers in San Jose’s 2-1-2 forecheck, F1 Bonino and F2 Cogliano, have failed to slow the advance of the puck. F3 Matt Nieto (83) has a big decision to make: Should he pressure Faulk or hold, defend the middle of the ice?
The veteran winger makes the wrong call.
“We lost our F3 in the second period four or five times, gave them 3-on-2’s. You’re not going to win hockey games doing that,” Boughner said.
It’s not even a 50-50 puck that Nieto is pursuing. The odds were stacked against him from the beginning.
Nieto has now vacated the center lane and Sundqvist has got a step on Cogliano and Bonino up the middle. It’s now a Blues’ 3-on-2.
Brent Burns (88) takes Ivan Barbashev (49), Mario Ferraro (38) covers for Nieto in the center lane on Sundqvist, leaving Saad (20) by himself. St. Louis strikes, just two minutes after Dahlen gave San Jose a glimmer of hope.
“Our [F3] was not necessarily out of position, but he dives in,” Boughner summarized. “Soon as you get on your toes and you dive in because you’re trying to play catch-up hockey, that’s cheating in our book. It stings you.”
Frankly, good teams shouldn’t cheat like this with half the game to go, down just a goal. And sure, if you’re the 1979 Stanley Cup-winning Montreal Canadiens, or even the 2019 Western Conference finalist San Jose Sharks, you can outscore your mistakes. But these Sharks aren’t those teams.
Boughner counseled: “It’s a good lesson.”
Will the San Jose Sharks learn? They didn’t last year. They didn’t two years ago. Maybe third time’s a charm?
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