PUCK DROP: Just after 7pm Central
Figure with only the one game we can give it the usual preview treatment.
You may recall a few years ago, when people still scoffed at the idea of puck possession and Corsi and all that and that having the puck was a good thing (hey that’s today too!), there were some out there who claimed, usually from Toronto, that they were opportunistic. That they played counter-attacking and hence would purposely give up the puck to then spring out faster when it was turned over.
In theory, it’s not that ludicrous, but you’ll have to stick with me here. And it’s going to involve soccer, so if that’s not your bag you can feel free to go back to Clickhole/Guardian/HuffPost/Pornhub from whence you came. About 10 years ago now, Barcelona and the Spanish National team basically transformed the sport. Their tiki-taka style of always keeping the ball and passing it around and basically strangling other teams to death ran the rest of the world over. Barca has racked up four European Cups in that time, while Spain won three major international tournaments in a row over six years which is essentially unheard of.
But other teams figured out a way to overcome it, at least at times. And it was basically to speed Barca’s style up. Munich and Germany are the two main employers of this (slightly stolen from my hero Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund). Basically, it was to take Barca’s possession game and then play it much faster, springing up the field with the ball as fast as you could and overwhelm and outnumber the retreating opponent. Instead of slowly squeezing toward your opponent’s goal, you essentially plastered them to your windshield.
This will never be fully applied to hockey, because ceding possession can lead to just too many bad bounces and chances to the other team. It happens too fast. But it feels like we saw something at least in the ballpark of this in Game 1 and will continue to do so the rest of the Final. The Sharks, at least for the last two periods, looked awfully dangerous when they got a cycle going and got set up in the Pens’ zone. They were there for long stretches. And then the Penguins would break out quickly, and Braun, Dillon, Burns and Polak were simply unable to deal with it. It didn’t feel like the Penguins got set up in the Sharks zone as much as the other way around, but instead just streaked through the neutral zone and on the outside and got prime looks that way.
Again, the Penguins don’t want to just let the Sharks have the puck and then hope to sneak attack them all night. Letting their top two lines especially get circling (see what I did there?) is going to lead to bad things. But it is an interesting contrast on how these two teams want to attack each other and how successful they’ll be doing it.
Other than that, the Sharks didn’t get a power play goal in Game 1. That was the same story in the previous series. We know how it went from there. The Penguins are just not going to A) not take any penalties at all and B) keep the Sharks’ PP at bay (see what I did there?). The Sharks have gotten a look at the ultra aggressive ways of their kill now, and you’ll see them adjust accordingly. Which means the Pens’ PP is either going to have to match it or they’ll have to win by two at evens.
As far as matchups go, the only thing Mike Sullivan was concerned with was getting Letang and Dumoulin out against Thornton’s line as much as possible. There wasn’t a forward line he wanted out there consistently. I don’t think that’s a pairing that can keep Pavelski and Thornton quiet for an entire series, and beyond that Ian Cole and Justin Schultz were tub-thumped by Joel Ward’s line and that’s going to be a bigger problem as the series goes along, especially in San Jose.
The Penguins are probably going to keep making Brent Burns play in his own zone, and it would help the Sharks’ cause if Paul Martin doesn’t again fall asleep on someone standing right in front. Pucks will continue to be dumped behind and entered on Burns’s side, and his defensive game can still get wild and wonky. An improvement from Braun on the top pairing might be all the Sharks need to take a split. I think they get it. Should be a good one.