The San Jose Sharks' Game 1 loss at the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference final was like following a complicated dessert recipe and having the food come out tasting like curried burlap. The result is unsatisfying, its cause could be any combination of missteps.
(Not that any of it is really your fault, Antti. But honestly, nothing you could do this week is going to be the most embarrassing moment for a Finnish goaltender. That competition is closed.)
The main one, in our eyes: Their inability to shut down an opponent in the third period, to the tune of blown leads in three of their last four playoff games.
But every armchair psychologist and tactician has their own theory of what went wrong in Game 1 and what needs to change in Game 2; lest the Sharks be left with a 2-0 deficit, whines about diving and wondering if Joe Thornton(notes) and Ryan Kesler(notes) will meet near the monkey bars after the 3 o'clock school bell.
Here are a slew of "keys to Game 2" theories from around the hockey landscape.
The Sharks Don't Shoot Enough
Having averaged 36 shots in the playoffs, third most overall, the normally trigger-happy Sharks were limited to 29 shots -- and just a handful of quality chances -- in Game 1 against the Canucks. It was only the fourth time in 14 playoff games San Jose had less than 30 shots. For a team with so much offensive firepower in the lineup, the low number of shots is shocking. The shot total is expected to be higher Wednesday.
"We'd like to create more offensively and by doing that you get more shots," said defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic(notes). "It's going to be hard but we got to win some battles down low in their zone. We want to create more offensively around their net, break them down by getting shots in waves."
Their shot leader Logan Couture(notes) (five in Game 1) was over his 3.7 average for the postseason. But a glance at the other averages finds Patrick Marleau(notes), Joe Pavelski(notes) and Dany Heatley(notes) needing to lock and load more often in Game 2. And in the case of Heatley, perhaps have one or two of those shots actually fly past the goaltender and into the net. That would help, too.
The Sharks Need To Handle The Canucks' Chips
Mr. Plank from Fear The Fin noticed that Vancouver had both deep penetration and intense pressure, which sounds exactly as dirty as it is. From Fear The Fin, what the Sharks need to do to prevent this:
San Jose did a good job of restricting Vancouver from entering the zone in game one but the defenseman got hung out to dry once the Canucks started chipping the puck past them and beating them to loose pucks. Continued forward support through the neutral zone and deep in the defensive zone is going to be a key to containing Vancouver's entries and cycle game, while at the same time being cognizant of overcommitting down low and thereby allowing the blueline to pummel away from the point. It's a fine line to walk and will require the Sharks forwards to be on their best behavior as possible. Vancouver is so mobile I hear "Hello, hello, hello" in decreasing octaves every time they take the ice*.
*That's probably the stupidest joke I've ever written.
Clowe has been a postseason leader for the Sharks, and admitted after Game 1 that his effort wasn't where it should be. From Mark Purdy:
After returning inspirationally from an unspecified "upper body injury" to help the Sharks win Game 7 against Detroit last Thursday, he was barely a factor in Sunday's 3-2 defeat to the Vancouver Canucks. Clowe has been the team's leading scorer in the playoffs. But he took just one shot Sunday, which was blocked. He has also been one of the team's most physical players. But on Sunday, he delivered just one barely noticeable hit.
"Let's call a spade a spade," Clowe said Monday. "Our line was awful last night. We've got to be better than that."
More to the point, Clowe said on Tuesday that the Sharks need to be a much more physical team in Game 2, especially against the Canucks' blue line:
"I try to establish a physical presence whether it's finishing a hit or protecting the puck," Clowe said.
"Last game it was just one of those games where it was tough to get sustained time (in the offensive zone), some rhythm or momentum going. That comes off a lot of things but a lot of it has to do with wearing them down. That's a big part of my game and we've got a lot of forwards 220-plus."
That physical presence would help against this …
The Sharks Must Stop Canucks' Fluid Defense
So says Jim Morris of the Canadian Press, noting that the tying goal in Game 1 came from a Vancouver D-man moving up on the play:
Putting a road block in front of Vancouver's defencemen is something the San Jose Sharks will need to do when they face the Canucks in Game 2 of the Western Conference final Wednesday. The Sharks lost Sunday's opening game 3-2. With the Sharks clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period, Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa(notes) took a pass from Alex Burrows and ripped the tying goal past netminder Antti Niemi(notes).
"Offence from our defence has been a big part of our team's success all year,'' said Bieksa, who has two goals and three assists in the playoffs. "We have six guys that can do it pretty regularly. It's just a matter of reading when the right time is."
The Canucks have three defensemen in their top 10 playoff scorers: Christian Ehrhoff(notes) (10 points), Alex Edler (six) and Kevin Bieska (five). The Sharks have two: Dan Boyle(notes) (12 points) and Ian White(notes) (seven), who hasn't tallied a point in his last three games.
The Sharks Don't Have Late-Game Conditioning
Harkening back to their third-period problems, the issue of conditioning was raised with Todd McLellan on Tuesday's off-day presser, where he said:
"I feel very, very good about our conditioning and fitness level," he said. "I don't have any doubts that we can play deep into games and well into overtime if we have to. I don't think there's a team probably in the history of the National Hockey League that gets to this point if they're poorly conditioned."
Even those teams in the 1970s that used to pound beer before games?
Finally, The Sharks Just Have To Get Their Heads Screwed On Right
Along with everything else he borrowed from Mike Babcock, Todd McLellan has also borrowed the Red Wings coach's sports psychology dogma. From CSN, the Sharks coach talks about the mental game:
"At this time of the year, you always hear us talk, the team that loses says, 'We've got to be better, work harder,'" McLellan said. "It's not this much, it's only that much. We've got to convince the players of that. We're not asking you to be 10 or 15 percent better, we're asking you to be 1 percent better. Sometimes that's all you need."
Why don't they know that already in, like, the conference finals? McLellan continued:
"My point there in the convincing of the players is sometimes the players think the gap is huge for whatever reason," he said.
"If I talk to Devin Setoguchi(notes), for example, and pull him in and ask him to do a few things better, it's not a big gap. He's done it before. It's just a small gap that he has to close. That's what I mean by convincing them. Getting them to understand that they're not going to be asked to do something they haven't done before. They're only going to do what they're doing and do it better and longer, if that makes any sense at all."
As much as any other theory about Game 2 makes sense, sir.