The San Jose Sharks were on the ropes.
In the second period, the Calgary Flames outshot them 19-8. Calgary basically camped out in front of Adin Hill: According to SPORTLOGiQ, the Flames enjoyed a 12-4 slot shots on net advantage, all situations.
It was Hill, turning back 18 of 19 shots in the middle frame, who kept the game 1-1.
It looked, however, like it was just a matter of time before Calgary broke through.
But something happened on the way to the Flames’ victory lap: The San Jose Sharks re-discovered their game to kick off the third period.
“We had three or four good shifts in a row and then got a lucky bounce on my goal,” Logan Couture said of his eventual game-winner.
San Jose would pull out a surprise 4-1 decision.
Couture, indeed, was fortunate – his long, soft shot caromed off Nikita Zadorov’s blade past Jacob Markstrom – but in their way, the San Jose Sharks made their own luck by re-establishing their game.
Here’s what the Sharks did to take control of a contest that appeared to be slipping away – these things have also been the foundation of their surprising 7-4-1 start this season.
Break Out Together
Teams always talk about breaking out of the defensive zone as a five-man unit.
“We’re going to work the puck out as a five-man unit,” acting head coach John MacLean said on Monday. “The guys have done a really good job of coming back and stopping up in the [defensive] zone, not leaving before the puck exits.”
Here’s an early third period example last night:
The key here is the short pass from a stationary Nick Bonino (13) on the wall to the speed coming from behind in Logan Couture (39). Simultaneously, Jonathan Dahlen (76) and Nicolas Meloche (53) skate up too, pushing back the Calgary defense – San Jose is trying to take control of the strong side (where the puck is) and center lanes.
It’s a bread-and-butter Sharks breakout, and it was a good sign that they had found themselves.
Notice too, before Bonino receives the puck – Santeri Hatakka (61) does a nice job of getting it through Dillon Dube (29) to Bonino. The Flames know what the Sharks are trying to do – but San Jose was still able to execute.
The San Jose Sharks’ offensive strength at 5-on-5 is creating scoring chances off the forecheck.
Per SPORTLOGiQ, they’re ninth in the NHL in this category, as opposed to being 20th in cycle chances and 28th in rush chances.
They are, as I noted a couple weeks ago, a dump-and-chase team by design.
It’s not exciting hockey – but it might be the surest sign that the Sharks are on the ball.
This sequence doesn’t lead to a scoring chance, but twice, you see Nick Merkley (10) short circuit Calgary attempts to break out, first Blake Coleman (20) up high, then Erik Gudbranson (44) in the corner. Merkley’s hustle forces the puck into the crowd – you can see Gudbranson’s frustration at the end of the shift.
The Flames came into this tilt as the best rush team in the league at 5-on-5, so any opportunity to squelch that is a good thing.
Pucks in Deep
It’s a hockey cliché – “We gotta get pucks in deep” – but there’s a reason why it’s so important.
This is what happens when you don’t get pucks in deep – you allow Calgary, which I’ve noted came in as the most prolific rush squad in the NHL, the chance to counterattack with much shorter ice.
That’s Tomas Hertl (48) who swipes at the Hatakka pass but doesn’t get it in all the way — this results in a Milan Lucic goal.
You’re also likely to be on your heels if you turn it over where Alexander Barabanov (94) does here:
The San Jose Sharks want to change – but the oncoming Sharks need to defend on the fly as opposed to being able to get set defensively. All this would lead to a Jaycob Megna cross-checking penalty.
This changed in the third period: Via dump and chase or carrying the puck with possession into the zone, San Jose made sure to get it in deep.
I counted: The Sharks rolled six line changes before the Couture game-winner. In order, by center, Hertl, Couture, Jasper Weatherby, Lane Pederson, Hertl, then Couture.
Each line got the puck in below the Calgary goal line or on net at least once, usually multiple times.
“We got back to our game. The guys took it upon themselves to simplify their game. Keep advancing the puck, taking lines, and getting it deep. Then working on the forecheck,” MacLean said. “That’s the game plan that we had at the start, that’s what it was. But sometimes, it doesn’t always go for 60 minutes and you needed the saves that Hiller gave us.”
Hill gave the Sharks a chance in the middle of the game – and San Jose slowly, methodically took down the door in the final frame for the win.
Setting a Tone
The shift after a goal has been called a “priority shift”.
No matter which side scored, it can be a momentum swing – case in the point, the Lucic goal, which was Calgary’s response to the Barabanov breakaway strike.
The Flames, as we noted, went on to dominate the rest of the second period.
The Sharks, however, stayed in control after the Couture GWG. Per Natural Stat Trick, they owned a 6-1 High-Danger Chances edge at 5-on-5 in the third period.
That control is also exemplified by how Weatherby (26), on the next shift, followed the Couture goal.
Now that’s how you set a tone.
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