It’s all about the details.
The San Jose Sharks were reminded of that after a sloppy 8-7 shootout victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday. Timo Meier was reminded of that after getting benched in OT in a 3-2 Sharks win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.
Let’s talk about the Sharks as a whole first.
They were, frankly, embarrassed on Tuesday by the worst team in the NHL. It was perhaps the most dour post-victory press conference I’ve ever witnessed with Tomas Hertl volunteering, “You don’t have to look at any video. We just have to put it behind us.”
The following day, Bob Boughner offered more insight about the carnage:
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 29, 2021
So the mandate seemed simple, per Nick Bonino: “We can limit some turnovers and protect our crease.”
By and large, the San Jose Sharks appeared to do that last night. They flipped the shot counter — after getting outshot 46-27 by Arizona, they outshot Philadelphia 46-25. Per SPORTLOGiQ, they were doubled up in Slot Shots on Net 20-10 by the Coyotes — they returned the favor 20-8 on the Flyers.
“We played a different game,” Hertl noted tonight. “We played better in the details in the D-zone. That’s why we actually had even more [scoring] chances than in the last game.”
“We were really smart with the puck,” James Reimer offered. “We didn’t try and force too many things. We got the pucks deep, and we just grinded. And we grinded them for 60 minutes.”
As for protecting the slot, here are a few examples: Oftentimes, it’s simply paying attention, being engaged.
Erik Karlsson (65), at the end of a long 1:21 shift, notices that Joel Farabee (86) is about to beat Brent Burns (88) to the puck behind the net. He turns his head toward the slot to see if there’s a Flyer coming and steps in between a Farabee to Max Willman (71) pass.
Good defense leads to offense as Burns breaks it out with two Flyers behind the play.
Jake Middleton (21) follows the San Jose Sharks’ defensive scheme and plants himself in the inner slot between Morgan Frost (48) and Travis Konecny (11) — he resists the temptation to chase Frost, trusting Karlsson to recover and pressure Frost. If Middleton chases Frost with Karlsson, that would leave the backdoor open.
Middleton may not even know that Konecny is lurking behind him, but he knows the inner slot must be protected at all costs.
Later in the shift, in an unrelated clip, Middleton defends the rush and closes the gap on Konecny with aplomb.
Philadelphia is trying to counterattack off the San Jose turnover and defenseman Travis Sanheim (6) jumps up — but look at Noah Gregor (73) swivel his head and stay with Sanheim. That’s protecting the slot indirectly — Patrick Brown (38) winds up and fires from the point, but I guarantee he doesn’t opt for a low-percentage slapper (and hope for a rebound) if Sanheim had beat Gregor up the ice.
Timo Meier, however, was victimized by details last night.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) December 31, 2021
Meier was benched for the rest of regulation, and in a shocker, for all of OT because of this gaffe.
“Especially after last game, we talked about mismanaging pucks,” Boughner said. “Not getting them deep. Managing the clock and the score of the game and all those things.”
In that respect, you can understand Boughner’s decision. At the worst time (four minutes left), in the worst situation (one-goal lead), Meier failed to make the simple play.
“Listen, Timo has been our best player, one of our best players all year,” Boughner said of his leading scorer. “You gotta hold everybody to the same standard, hold everybody accountable.”
Is that shades of perhaps not putting the foot down on leading scorer Evander Kane last year?
This is what Boughner said at the end of last season, before the Kane locker room drama exploded publicly.
“You want to hold everybody to the same standard, which we do, but that has to go for your best players as well. There can’t be any blurred lines there,” Boughner shared in May. “I think at times, because the situation we’re in and we’re fighting for every point, some guys might have got away with more than we wish for. But we were sort of at the mercy of trying to win important games at that time of year.”
This time, Boughner held the line, even if yours truly didn’t quite agree.
Nieto again with Couture — I can see starting OT that way to send the message, but I feel message sent, get Timo out there on the next shift to win it in OT
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) December 31, 2021
“I just thought it was an opportunity where we were going to make sure we set a standard,” Boughner offered about benching Meier.
It was a bold decision, for sure, replacing your leading scorer for the entirety of OT with Matt Nieto, he of one goal in 25 games this season.
Will this be a watershed moment for Boughner? A moment where the coach defined, once and for all, the team’s identity this season?
The San Jose Sharks’ defensive commitment tonight, its response to an ugly performance on Tuesday, is a mark of a team that has bought in to its coach and his defense-first message.
Or will benching Meier end up a footnote to another season out of the playoffs?
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