SAN JOSE – The Sharks have no qualms admitting that the Penguins are showing them something they just haven’t seen so far in the 2016 postseason.
Throughout series wins over the Kings, Predators and Blues, the Sharks have controlled play for entire periods, and even a few full games, in advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh is a different animal, though, and its up-tempo game, based on speed and an insistent forecheck, has given the Sharks fits.
“I think we’ve been playing some teams that are fast and have some size, but maybe don’t come in as aggressive,” Paul Martin said.
Coach Pete DeBoer said: “It's not going to look like maybe some of the series in the past where we've dominated for long stretches.”
A 2-0 series lead for Pittsburgh is evidence enough of that, as the Final now shifts to San Jose for the first time in the 25-year history of the franchise.
The Sharks are plainly pleased to be back home, where they are 7-2 in the playoffs, but perhaps more importantly the indications from the dressing room on Friday were that they felt they were better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1. They necessary adjustments to get back in the series are coming, and they expect to play their best game of the series on Saturday.
“We’re still a confident group,” Joe Thornton said. “We know this series is far from over.”
To avoid falling into a 3-0 series hole, getting the puck cleanly out of their own zone and through the neutral zone – a strength for the Sharks through the first three rounds, but an issue against the Penguins – will have to improve. They need better support for one another, starting the forwards coming back to help the defensemen in their own zone.
“Support, come lower, don’t blow the zone. Stuff like that,” Couture said of the forwards’ responsibilities. “I thought we were better at it in Game 2 than we were in Game 1.”
DeBoer said: “Our support, not just coming out of our own zone, but all over the ice is always important – and a little bit off. Obviously you have to give them some credit. Their speed pushes you in to positions where if you’re off by a couple feet, you’re in trouble. We’ve gotten used to that over the first two games, and I think we’re much better.”
If they’re able to do that, it should lead to more power plays, too. The Sharks relied on one of the best power plays in the league in the regular season, finishing third, and their 27.3 percent success rate with a man advantage in the playoffs is a chief reason they’ve advanced this deep.
San Jose has had just three power plays through two games, though, cashing in on one of them in Game 1 on a score by second-unit forward Tomas Hertl.
DeBoer said the Sharks have “got to have the puck more,” but also indicated the refs are letting the two teams go at each other, as opposed to calling every little infraction.
“It seems like the players are going to get an opportunity to play here. Unless it's blatant, you're not going to get it. So, we've got to make sure that we're attacking holes and making it so there's no choice but to call them.”
Thornton said: “They’re not taking penalties. That’s the bottom line. We’ve got to work a little harder in the offensive zone for them to make some calls. I know we only got a couple. We’ve got to earn more.”
It’s not a series, as they say, until a team loses at home. And although the first two games were concerning from the Sharks’ perspective, they were still both one-goal losses on the road.
Clean up a few areas, and they still have a shot at this thing.
“Especially for the first game, we were just feeling it out. We weren’t playing the way that we want to play, or the expectations that we have for our team as a group,” Martin said. “We warmed up a little bit in Game 2 and it was right there for us. We couldn’t find a way to get it done.
“Now we’re home and we’ve been good at home throughout the playoffs. That’s something we can use to our advantage and hopefully we come out and just play our game.”