Friday, April 23, 2010
With over 17,500 fans packed into the Shark Tank, the San Jose Sharks skated their way to a convincing 5-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night. The atmosphere was amazing and energy was high, however I was disappointed that only about a third of the crowd were wearing the orange shirts handed out upon entry into the arena. It was a failed attempt at an “Orange Out”, which would have been an amazing spectacle, but I guess not needed for a win and 3-2 series lead.
The Sharks came out in the 1st period semi-flat and struggling to find rhythm in their game. A bit of line juggling by Todd McLellan may have been the reason for this as Torrey Mitchell joined the top line on the wing with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley played with Manny Malholtra and Logan Couture. Both teams seemed to be turning pucks over early on but failing to capitalize on each other’s mistakes. Even though the Sharks outshot the Avs 12-2 in the period, I thought the Avalanche did a better job in getting pucks to dangerous areas of the Sharks’ defensive zone. It was clear that Colorado wanted to keep their game simple and just get pucks on net when they were in the Sharks’ zone and clog up the middle of the ice in their own zone – much of what we have seen from them through the entire series. One thing I did notice that was different in this game, was that Colorado goaltender Craig Anderson seemed to be fumbling the pucks and had poorer rebound control but bouncing pucks were preventing the Sharks from cashing in on his mistakes.
It was apparent that the ice conditions were rather poor and continued to worsen as the 2nd period got underway, McLellan must have taken this into account plus the fact that Anderson seemed to be fighting the puck and had his team adjust accordingly. The Sharks simplified their game and really worked on just getting pucks towards the net and placing traffic in front of Anderson.
Sharks’ rookie Logan Couture broke the scoreless game with his first career playoff goal midway through the 2nd stanza. The Sharks had a 3 on 2 rush up the ice and utilized the center-lane-drive play. Patrick Marleau brought the puck into the zone on the left wing, Couture drove the center lane to the net, and Dany Heatley positioned himself high on the right side of the ice. When the near-side defenseman started to converge on the puck-carrier (Marleau), having Couture drive the net through the center forced the weak-side defenseman to commit to him, which allowed Heatley to stay high and remain open for a feed from Marleau. Heatley immediately shot the puck toward the net and a smart adjustment by Couture to gain inside position on the defender, allowed him to deflect the puck in the net past Anderson.
Minutes later, on a Sharks’ powerplay, Joe Pavelski scored with a slap shot from the point where Anderson had tripped on the play and was left way out of position. Even with the fortunate break for the Sharks, they simplified their powerplay by shifting forwards down low to create traffic and tie up defenders. Keeping with the consistency of a simple game gave the Sharks their third goal of the period when Douglas Murray made a short pass to Scott Nichol in the neutral zone, who then gained the offensive zone, shot the puck towards the net, a committing Anderson went down as the puck went wide, then caromed off the boards and onto the stick of a streaking Dwight Helminen who scored his first goal of the playoffs. The Avalanche defensemen did not do a good enough job with gap control on Scott Nichol, allowing him easy entry into the zone.
The Sharks had a firm hold on the game as teams entered the 3rd period of play, but the Avalanche came out with some chances early on. Their momentum, however, was stifled by an interference penalty taken by Kyle Quincy and were never really able to mount anymore of a comeback. Midway through the 3rd, in a terrific play to stay onside by Devin Setoguchi, Ryan Clowe rushed into the offensive zone, put the puck off of the pads of Anderson, and Logan Couture tapped in the rebound for his second goal of the game putting his team up 4-0. This was another example of poor rebound control for Craig Anderson; earlier in the series we saw an almost identical play where he was able to kick the puck into the corner rather than into the slot for a rebound chance. Shortly after the goal, a 5 minute charging major taken by Avalanche forward Cody Mcleod ended the night for Craig Anderson who ended up stopping only 29 of the 33 shots faced. Peter Budaj relieved Anderson only to surrender a goal scored by Patrick Marleau. McLellan reunited Thornton, Heatley, and Marleau for the powerplay resulting in Marleau netting his first of the postseason and giving the Sharks more confidence heading back to Denver for Game 6.
Colorado looked tired for most of the game and only had any sort of sustained pressure at the end of the 3rd period resulting in two posts hit keeping the game scoreless. It was great to see the Sharks make adjustments to their game in order to create and capitalize on more scoring opportunities. Also, good coaching by McLellan matching up Heatley-Malholtra-Couture against the offensive line of Tucker-Duchene-Yip – Malholtra won 7 of 8 faceoffs against Matt Duchene. Evgeni Nabokov was able to get into his rhythm, with goals in front of him, he was able to play his game with confidence stopping all 28 shots faced.
Game 6 will be in Denver Saturday night.