San Jose shutdown the Stars last Saturday 3-0, allowing them to leapfrog into the 8th spot in the Western Conference. Things got chippy between the two rivals late, and you can expect more of the rough stuff tonight.
With a 4-0-1 record against the Stars this year, San Jose has taken care of business both on the scorecard as well as in the faceoff dot. On paper the Sharks clearly outclass the Stars, who are thin down the middle and lack punch on the power play ( last in the league ) having scored twice in their last 10 games in 25 man advantages.
San Jose has also outscored the Stars by a margin of 20-8, providing an illusion of comfort that belies the true challenge at hand.
However skewed this contest may look on paper, on the ice and more importantly for the Sharks, on the road, the story has been quite different this year. On the road the Sharks have been putrid, losing 17 of their last 21 and four straight at the worst time of the year.
Yes, this has the look, smell and taste of yet another trap game.
Dallas will not be coming off a game the night before, as they did this past Saturday either. Playing at home, in front of their own home crowd, in the biggest game of the season, you know the Stars will come out to play hard and fast in the first period.
The Sharks looked sharp last Saturday, jumping out to a one goal lead behind Joe Pavelski’s wrister just 58 seconds into the contest. Fast starts have been far and few between for the Sharkies, but why?
Head Coach Todd McLellan’s seat has been warming up lately, and for good reason. The Sharks aren’t quite as loaded with depth as previous versions have been, but the lack of consistent focus and energy is certainly alarming.
While McLellan doesn’t skate, shoot or pass, he is the head coach and ultimately this season’s poor performance lies directly at his feet.
Want some more good news? Niemi took the ice first at warmups according to the CSN crew on Twitter, which means he’ll be taking his 19th straight start tonight. Managing workload? what’s that??
The Kings overcame their own “trap game” by defeating the Edmonton Oilers 2-0, and if the Sharks want to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2003 they need to put their best game forward.
Lose this game and it’s not the end of the world but it’s damn close. With a home and home against the red-hot Kings still on the schedule, the margin for error is smaller than ever.
Keys to the Game :
3. Contain Mike Ribiero – Pretty simple, this guy is a Shark killer and the only forward in the top six that can hurt us consistently. Did I mention he likes big games? Put the clamps on him early and often.
2. Stick to the game plan – Don’t allow the Stars chippy play or more specifically Steve Ott derail the game plan. Chip the puck deep, control possession and dominate the dot are all keys of the game plan.
Bitching to refs, playing out of your role, and getting caught retaliating aren’t.
1. Score early – Once Pavelski buried the early goal against the Stars Saturday, you could almost see the boys lighten up and get their feet moving. On the road the Sharks must shed the “fragile” label and get into gear quickly for results.
After scoring early, San Jose must also guard against the cute plays or high neutral zone turnovers that plagued them late Saturday.
How this talented team continues to struggle with consistency is beyond me, but the manner in which they turn the puck over with the lead is maddening and too cavalier to be championship play.
Trap game time folks, here’s hoping I’m wrong this time.