PITTSBURGH – Several Sharks players still insisted on Wednesday that their play has improved throughout the Stanley Cup Final series with the Penguins.
Sure, they trail three-games-to-one, but they haven’t exactly gotten blown out in any of the losses. Pittsburgh is outscoring the Sharks in the series, 10-7.
“I think we’ve gotten better as the series has gone on,” Martin Jones said. “It’s tough. It’s two good teams. The margin for error between winning and losing is really small.”
Coach Pete DeBoer said: “I think the results are closer than it feels right now, I really do.”
Although the Sharks weren’t able to capture Game 4 at home after winning Game 3 in overtime, one important part of their game that was noticeably better. Pittsburgh managed just 20 shots on goal, it’s lowest total of the playoffs, while San Jose recorded 24.
That snapped a string of 12 straight games where the Penguins had outshot their opponents (and it was by an average margin of about 12 shots per game over that span). Through the first three games, the Penguins were outshooting the Sharks, 113-74.
“I think we checked a little bit quicker, a little bit better sticks. Those types of things,” Joe Pavelski said. “Their shot attempts were down. For us moving forward that would be a big thing.”
Paul Martin said: “I think we were a little better in our own end. A lot of it was we were more aggressive offensively. We were able to keep pucks in, we weren’t back on our heels, we were forcing the play a lot of times and spending more time in their zone.”
After downplaying the shot discrepancy before Game 4, DeBoer admitted on Wednesday that it was an issue up to that point.
“I think early in the series, we were just giving them a little bit too much room. They slung a lot of pucks to the net," he said. “Our awareness in that area was much higher. Our guys did a good job.”
The Sharks are still having particular trouble capitalizing on their scoring chances, though. In Game 4 they outplayed the Penguins for the first seven or eight minutes, but still fell behind 1-0 on an Ian Cole goal after a bad line change.
There’s no telling how playing with the lead might change the course of the game against the Penguins. That could be imperative if the Sharks want to get out of Game 5 alive.
“Know that you’re going to get one or two [scoring chances] early, and we’ve got to start making them count early,” Pavelski said.
DeBoer said: “We've got to give ourselves an opportunity that if they stumble, we're going to jump on it.”