Is this really the newer, better, Todd McLellan San Jose Sharks? Or are we seeing Ron Wilson Part Deux?
I'd say in game 1, we saw a little bit of both. Some of the bad habits that were consistent in the Wilson team reared their ugly heads, but at the same time, the team showed plenty of positive atributes.
Ok, first let's look at the facts:
-The Sharks essentially outshot the Ducks 2-1.
-Half of those shots came from the defense.
-Though both teams played physical, the Sharks failed to drive the net or get appropriate space in the slot.
-The power play was rendered ineffective and was often static.
-Despite all this, the Sharks hit a number of posts and missed a few open-net scrums. A few inches here or there and the game would have been an ugly 3-2 Shark win.
So are we seeing the spector of Ron Wilson or is it just a speed bump in the Todd McLellan era?
Here's the Ron Wilson habits that showed up in game 1:
-Poor breakout: Poor passing, lack of speed, lack of communication; too often, the breakout started behind Evgeni Nabokov and ended right by the faceoff dot.
-Lack of speed: One of the first things Todd McLellan talked about when he took over the team was utilizing the neutral zone to build up speed. The Sharks failed to properly use the neutral zone; instead, they were stymied time and again trying to push through the stacked Anaheim defense.
-No movement on the power play: The Ron Wilson power play came down to giving the puck to Joe Thornton on the half-wall, then everyone else standing static while hoping for a miracle pass. You saw that again in game 1. The only difference was that it wasn't just Thornton handling the puck. However, everyone was standing still most of the time.
-Dump and no-chase: This one's familiar to Sharks fans -- unable to gain the zone, the Sharks dump the puck in but the other guys in the zone fail to hit the blue line with any speed, thus nullifying any attempt to actually recover the puck.
But not all is lost. There were some good things to take from game 1:
-Shots, shots, shots: Part of the idea with Todd McLellan's system is that shots beget scoring chances, either directly or through rebounds, bounces, or deflections. While many of the Sharks' shots were from far out, they were the first step in the offensive plan. Of course, if the Sharks fail to drive the net or battle for space in the slot, then that's where things deviate from the plan.
-Active defense: The Sharks' top-four defensemen were very active in taking shots and making rushes. Some of the scoring chances came directly off Dan Boyle's rushes, including one shot that beat Jonas Hiller but hit the post.
-No defensive shell: The Sharks played a pretty strong defensive game, and there were none of the extended panic moments familiar with the Wilson era. You know it well -- the Sharks, seemingly afraid of their own shadow, stand around in their own zone, too terrified to do anything except skate in a dizzying circle, like a dog chasing its tail. There were defensive breakdowns, sure, but you'll get that in every hockey game, but there were no five-minute stretches of facepalming defensive crap-in-your-pants fear.
So what could the Sharks do to eliminate the bad stuff and focus on the good stuff? It's actually pretty simple:
-Battle for time/space in front of Hiller.
-Hit the blueline with speed for dump ins.
-Move your feet all the time, no matter what position you're in.
Now the question will come regarding lineup changes. I think we can all see Jody Shelley sitting -- when a dude's playing time equals the length of a Ramones song, it's not providing any value. I see three options here:
-Tomas Plihal: The most minute-worthy, Plihal's a safe 10-minute player that's defensively sound, can win face offs, and munch time on the power play.
-Claude Lemieux: Pepe hasn't done anything to really hurt the Sharks when he's been on the ice, and perhaps his agitating presence can throw Hiller off his game or goad the Ducks into bad penalties. He can make the most of his 6-7 minutes by tapping into his old bag of agitator tricks. I wonder if he'll blade his forehead a la Ric Flair for extra power play time.
-Jamie McGinn: McGinn's another 6-7 minute guy, but he brings different attributes than Plihal and Lemieux. McGinn's not the most offensively gifted player but he's a good skater who (say it with me) moves his feet and hits hard on the forecheck. He could be a spark plug type of guy.
If it's me making the decision, I'd go with Lemieux. Lemieux's ice time could be totally inconsequential, but I'm guessing he's got the best chance of irritating the penalty-prone Ducks.
Prediction: Mike worries about the consequences of which jersey he wore and how that jinx is destroying the Sharks' Stanley Cup chances. Sleek yells "Heil Hiller" at the TV at least once. And Pronger gets booed.