Well I didn’t get that one right. I thought the Sharks’ PP would clock the Penguins’ high-action PK (they only got one look). I thought the Sharks would get a better handle at the pace the Penguins play. They didn’t, though Martin Jones almost made it hold up to take a split back to California. Wasn’t to be though when the Penguins ran a pretty brilliant play off a faceoff in overtime.
Only when San Jose’s top line is on the ice are they consistently getting things going, because those guys are generally skilled enough to weave around the Penguins flying at them and then can mash them along the boards until something else opens up. All the other Sharks’ lines are having problems.
What was even more noticeable is how aggressively the Penguins fly out to the points on the Sharks’ d-men. This is what it would look like if Tom Thibodeau coached hockey, running guys off the three point line. The Sharks’ defense isn’t bad but only Burns is something of a gifted puck handler and even he is not dealing with the pressure all that well and certainly isn’t ducking around what’s speeding toward him. It forces the Sharks to just dump the puck back into the corner assuming they don’t turn it over right there, and the Penguins are plugging that up a lot too with a second forward cheating over or straight up doubling up on the point trying to cause a rush the other way. They just don’t think the Sharks can pass around that pressure and then have odd-numbers down low in the zone. They’re certainly not letting any point-man for the Sharks find Pavelski or Ward for tips in front very much.
Secondly, Vlasic and Braun are not holding down Crosby’s line as they did Tarasenko’s in the previous series. Crosby walked all over them in Game 2, to the tune of a +6 in Corsi. He’s simply been a beast in the first two games, reminding everyone why he’s consistently and correctly called the best player on the planet. Crosby can play at the speed the Penguins like (which is just about as fast and frenzied as any team I can remember, but unlike the Stars has an actual goalie), but is also strong enough to not just hold his own with the Sharks there but come out on top.
The switch of venues will make a difference. First, Pete DeBoer can basically only send Dillon and Polak out there when he absolutely has to, because they are getting mauled pretty much every shift. Thornton and Pavelski have had their looks against Letang and Dumoulin, and you’d think the dam would break for them soon. But at home they don’t even have to worry about that and eventually the Penguins having only one pairing is going to matter.
We already seem to be on the coronation for the Penguins, who have arguably been the league’s best team since the turn of the year. But I’m not there. If the Penguins haven’t been, the Sharks have and home ice is going to mean something here. The Pens aren’t going to get away with taking only one penalty per game, especially on the road where refs might give in to a baying San Jose crowd. The SJ PP is only going to need three or four looks per game to make a difference.
I think there’s still a long way to go.