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Bourne Blog: How Sharks can neutralize Canucks’ defensive mobility

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The most telling quote to surface after Vancouver's 7-3 trouncing of San Jose in Game 2 came from Sharks head coach Todd McLellan: "The game was still 3-2 halfway through the third period basically, 12 minutes left, and I thought prior to that we already lost our composure. It wasn't like we lost it when it was 5-2 or 6-2. We lost it at 3-2."

Frustration had already set in for Sharks' forwards. They were unable to establish any sustained pressure in Vancouver's zone — every time the puck found the stick of a Canuck defender it seemed like it was immediately headed back toward the Sharks' zone, where long stretches of pressure seemed to be the norm.

Vancouver's d-corps frustrates with precision — there's a reason the Canucks are outscoring the Sharks 6-1 in the third period after two games. After two periods of quick transitions that quell offensive chances before they start and force more time to be spent in the d-zone, the ice starts to feel sloped.

The good news for the Sharks is that they have more than enough talent to turn the tide and swim this series back in the other direction; it's just a matter of neutralizing those mobile d-men, which is no easy feat.

Not easy, mind you, but fun. It's officially time to play the type of hockey most skill guys love as the playoff standard of "play it safe" and "get it deep" hasn't accomplished a whole lot for the Sharks' forwards. It's time for a little offensive shinny.

Dump-and-chase hockey is based partly on the concept that you assume the other team's defensemen are morons. You rarely have enough speed to dump it in and be the first person to get to it, so you're hoping that with a good forecheck, whichever d-man gets to the puck first will make a mistake and fail to get things moving back the other way.

The answer to breaking the puck out against the dump and chase is to have skilled defenseman, which the Canucks do (this is why the dump and chase in the NHL is dying, by the way. Most defensemen are just too good these days, from top to bottom.)

So far in this series Vancouver D looks a bit like Chicago's last year -- it got big minutes from its top four, all of whom stubbornly continued to get the puck in the hands of their team's talented forwards with nearly every chance they got.

All this adds up to show that the Sharks have to keep the puck off the stick of their opposing defenders at all costs, something most players are not used to being told. It's usually accepted that to advance zones, you basically "punt." Fire it down the ice and get a stop.

But that's not easy when you're up against high-end quarterbacks.

On zone entries — whether they have numbers or not — the Sharks need to place puck possession at a premium. Whether that means they need to run some delays and wait for help, or they need to curl back in the neutral zone until they can regroup and take another offensive run, it has to happen. They need to keep the puck in their hands until it's time to fire.

When you work so hard to get possession, and find that the second your opponent touches the thing they establish solid control right back, frustration builds.  As McLellan said, the score was only 3-2 when his team started having a meltdown, but they didn't seem to sense that the game was still within reach.

With that rising frustration, things can unravel on the bench. The D might call out the forwards for not maintaining control or creating chances at the other end, the forwards get mad because their D haven't been as adept as getting the puck into their hands, and if feels like the whole game has been defend, defend, defend. It's just so hard to get into an offensive rhythm.

The Canucks have six defensemen who don't have to be bang-it-off-the-glass-and-give-it-right-back guys, which isn't a trait many teams have. Playing guys that operate like that is a dream.  Chance thwarted! Here's the puck back, try again!

Between the Sharks "big three," Devin Setoguchi, Logan Couture, Ryan Clowe and Joe Pavelski (even if he is still stuck with Kyle Wellwood and Torrey Mitchell), there's enough talent that they don't have to simply donate the puck to the Canucks because they're "playing it safe."

Game 3 is Game 7 for them, and it's time to go river hockey style on the O-side. If the Canucks want the puck in Game 3, they should at least be forced to take it.

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