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Did Sharks Rope-a-Dope Stars?

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Credit: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

“We’re slowly learning what it takes to win hockey games.”

That’s what head coach David Quinn said after the San Jose Sharks held on to a 5-4 win over the Dallas Stars, snapping a five-game losing streak.

On the surface, it seems like a funny thing to say, considering San Jose was out-attempted 44-9 at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick, after Logan Couture gave them a 4-2 lead 1:05 into the second period. That’s nine shot attempts, not nine shots, for the Sharks at 5-on-5 in the last 38:55 of the game.

Couture was defending so much, he didn’t realize how little San Jose was shooting.

“I didn’t know that,” the captain admitted, when asked about the Sharks’ zero shots in the second period after his goal.

To some degree though, this was by design, especially in a final frame where Dallas outattempted San Jose 19-7 at 5-on-5, but the San Jose had the better of the scoring chances, 3-1 High-Danger.

For the game, NST had the Stars edging the Sharks just 9-8 High-Danger at 5-on-5, while SPORTLOGiQ had both teams even up at 10 apiece at Slot Shots at Even Strength. That’s certainly not proportionate to Dallas’ 58-23 Shot Attempts domination.

This speaks to Quinn’s philosophy: The new bench boss has put a premium on the Sharks controlling the middle of the ice, where the most dangerous action, offensive and defensive, usually happens.

Sure, the Stars scored two goals in the third period, turning a 5-2 Sharks’ lead into a nail-biter. That’s not the plan.

But the plan is where Dallas scored from:

Both goals are from bad angles, places where you want to force your opponents to shoot from.

Especially the Pavelski strike takes a series of unfortunate events: Pavelski (8) gains the zone and hits Jason Robertson (21) on the other side. Erik Karlsson (65) steps up on Robertson and forces a long shot. James Reimer kicks out a long rebound, but at least not up the middle. Pavelski, however, has slipped away from Jaycob Megna (24) contact.

But once again, Robertson and Pavelski’s shots are from less dangerous areas of the ice.

14 of San Jose’s 24 blocked shots – Dallas blocked just six shots – were in the third period.

Notice how clogged up the middle of the ice is: When left defenseman Megna is staying in front of Pavelski, right defenseman Karlsson and forward Luke Kunin (11) guard the middle. When Ryan Suter (20) fires it from the left wall toward Karlsson, Megna has switched to the middle, now joined by Tomas Hertl (48).

If the Stars want to shoot, it’s gotta be from the outside.

The Sharks were also extra-cautious with the puck throughout the final frame. They rarely looked to the middle on the breakout, opting more often or not to indirect it off the wall. This wasn’t conducive for offense, but was good for defense, in case they made or were forced into a neutral zone turnover. NZ turnovers in the middle of the ice are very often the big mistake that the Sharks are studiously trying to avoid.

And when they did gain the red line, more often than not, the Sharks dumped it in, tried to get on the forecheck offensively, made the Stars go 200 feet defensively.

Underscoring this, San Jose had, if you can believe it, just five controlled entries in the third period, according to SPORTLOGiQ. Just in comparison, Dallas had 15 in the final frame and 52 for the game.

It wasn’t, obviously, the perfect way to hold a lead if you’re the San Jose Sharks. Puck possession was a little too lopsided and you don’t want to see a three-goal lead evaporate to one.

But a lot of what they did to pull out the victory – protect the middle defensively, block shots, put the puck along the wall unless you’re 100 percent about going up the middle, get it in deep and make the opposition go 200 feet – that is what it takes to win hockey games.

Let’s see if the 4-9-3 Sharks have learned and can get on a much-needed roll.

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