NEW YORK – It didn’t look it, but the San Jose Sharks were on the right track in the second period.
Now it felt like déjà vu. Going into Madison Square Garden, the Sharks had been outshot 70-39 and outscored 12-2 in the middle frame. And tonight appeared to be no different: The Sharks were outshot 13-4 and outscored 2-1 by the Rangers in the second.
But, as I mentioned in my Game Notes, the Sharks were noticeably insistent with getting the puck in deep and trying to establish the forecheck, even in the second period. They were trying to play the right way, even if they weren’t getting rewarded.
I know “playing the right way” can be vague hockey speak, but when it comes to the mostly blue-collar Sharks, Nico Sturm put it well after Tuesday’s loss to the New York Islanders: “Let’s face it, we’re not gonna blow out teams. We’re not going to score five, six goals every game. We got to figure out how we start winning games when we score two or three goals, and that’s what we got to focus on, play to our strengths. If we’re trying to be somebody that we’re not, we’re not going to have any success.”
Too often this year, the Sharks have broken ranks when things haven’t gone their way. “If you believe in your teammates, you trust them to do their jobs on the ice,” I wrote yesterday. “Instead, we’ve seen too much heroball or ‘I’ve got this, no I’ve got this’ hockey.”
“They kind of had some great chances in the second, but we were doing things that we hadn’t done all year. We looked, even though we were getting outplayed, we looked good,” head coach David Quinn explained. “We were doing some things that we’ve been talking about.”
That repetition paid off in the third, when the San Jose Sharks pulled off a period that most, including yours truly, wasn’t sure they had in them: They outshot last year’s Eastern Conference finalists 16-2.
Even Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant didn’t see it coming, conceding, “I have no idea where that [third period] came from. I have no idea what went wrong. It was just a total collapse. It was embarrassing, actually.”
And while the Sharks, still short of some firepower, needed OT to finish off the Blueshirts and earn their first victory of the season, it was truly an impressive and unexpected display of third period dominance.
Using some football terminology, San Jose kept the ball on the ground in the first two periods, and just might have wore New York down by the final frame.
“You talked about confidence, and I said this to the group yesterday, you become confident by watching people do the right thing over and over again,” Quinn said. “I thought, even in the first period, we were doing things that we hadn’t done all year. All of a sudden, the second, our transition was better. We’re moving pucks. Coming out of our own zone a little bit better.”
“For the first time this year,” overtime winner Erik Karlsson admitted, “we kind of stuck with it.”
We saw tonight the formula that might help the San Jose Sharks surprise the West, and frankly, many a pundit, this season.
“We stayed on top of them. We reloaded. We turned pucks up. We were committed to the body. We spent time in the offensive zone,” Quinn said of San Jose’s shutdown third period. “That’s something that we’ve been doing sporadically, not enough.”
Matt Nieto agreed: “That was probably our best period all year. Just sustained pressure all over the ice. Didn’t really give them any room to make plays or create anything. On the other end of that, we were holding on to pucks and getting them to the net.”
“We tried our best to play to win the game, instead of sitting back and waiting to [see] what’s going to happen. The third, especially, I think we did a good job, trying to keep pushing, even though we had to dump a lot of pucks in, but we worked hard,” Karlsson said. “We put a lot of pressure on them. We put ourselves in better positions, we defended well, we were first on pucks.”
Pressure. Possession. And yup, some boring dump-and-chase hockey.
You couple that with flashes of heroball – like Karlsson’s individual OT effort – and the Sharks might dig their way out of their 1-5-0 hole yet.
EK65 calls game at MSG 🙌 pic.twitter.com/QM9SqV0scj
— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) October 21, 2022
“I think they understood what it was going to take for us to win,” Quinn said, noting that it started with yesterday’s “crisp” practice. “I know a lot of people doubt us, and I get that, but I think there’s a lot of good hockey in this group.”
“This is the way we are gonna have to try and play, even though we’re not going to win every game,” Karlsson said. “So I think today was a good, good step for us. It’s all about doing it consistently.”
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