Below are 5 things I believe the Sharks must adjust and improve on if they hope to have a fighting chance at demolishing their bad playoff reputation and making deeper in the post-season than they ever have. They have all the right tools and, on paper, seem to be a legit Cup contender, but they always seem to be missing something.
1. Shot blocking – It’s been a trend over the past few seasons that the Sharks have been known to bail on shot blocking. Aside from Douglas Murray (who leads the team), the majority of players could afford to polish their urgency to block shots; no one on the team is too pretty. In Game 2, the Sharks penalty kill was atrocious, largely due to missed assignments by wingers to clog the shooting lanes of the LA defenseman. Three of the Kings four goals were scored from the point in the 4-0 loss.
2. To go along with No. 1, the next thing the Sharks need to improve is easier said than done – special teams. They did have some success in Game 1 going 1/3 on the power play and killing off two penalties, but Game 2 was a different story. The Sharks went 0/5 on the power play and gave up two goals on the penalty kill. Simply not good enough to be a successful hockey club – especially in the playoffs.
3. Big 3 – The special teams success goes hand-in-hand with this one… If you have big games from your top three forwards, you’ll find success on special teams. Marleau and Thornton shook off their bad post-season rep last year with some success in the playoffs, but could very quickly regain it if they don’t contribute in Game 3. It’d be nice for Marleau to show some of that pizazz he did throughout the regular season while shorthanded as well. Dan Boyle could also step up from the blue line – something they haven’t been able to utilize that much in the series thus far.
4. Physicality – Not saying the Sharks haven’t thrown their weight around at all this series, but the Kings have simply out done them in this regard. There’s no reason a team with the size San Jose has can’t keep up with the Kings, who play a similar game. The physical big guns on the Kings (i.e. Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford, Wayne Simmonds) were much more noticeable in Game 2 than any of the top-hitters on the Sharks. Come out strong and hard, and it will wear on your opponents, especially the young Kings nucleus.
5. Heart – The last time San Jose was defeated in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks, Joe Thornton dropped the gloves with Ryan Getzlaf off the opening faceoff in one of the final games of the series, but unfortunately the effort was too little, too late. So far this playoffs, the Sharks have yet to show that heart and desire to go all the way, which is reflected in your actions on the ice. Heart ties in to all the aforementioned points, and it’s something you need from each and every player on the roster, and so far, I just haven’t seen it from all the Sharks. This means keeping up with your assignments on the ice, hitting everything in sight, refusing to loose battles in the corners and danger-areas, while also pushing your teammates to be better. Like Jonathan Toews did with his Blackhawks, who will step up for San Jose?