New York Rangers at San Jose Sharks
Let's all take a good, deep breath here. That "contest" back on Thursday night? In the history books, lesson learned, let's move forward.
Well, let's hope so. Because even though the Rangers are still smarting from being the other guy in the Mats Sundin love triangle, they're still a pretty good team. Pretty good, as in alternating between a Cup contender and a team that wins 1-0 games thanks to Henrik Lundqvist.
So where does that leave us today? (That is, besides in search of another pizza.) Let's look at the big picture.
-Evgeni Nabokov has to bounce back from a pretty awful game. Long, clear shots from the point? Yeah, Nabby, you might want to try stopping those.
-There's no word as to whether or not Milan Michalek will be in the lineup yet, but look for stronger games from Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Pavelski. Not just because the whole team should be better from the Motor City Disaster, but a few more days should help Cheech and Pavs get a little more of their usual strength and agility into their "upper bodies" and "ding-ups."
-The defense has to be better. I mean, it can't be much worse, right? Hey, at least we can't blame the whole thing on Alexei Semenov.
-Other than the first ten minutes, the forwards lacked any forecheck against Detroit. This shows two things -- yes, the Sharks can be stupid and frustrated even in the Mighty McLellan System AND the Sharks can be shut down if the opposing team plays a suitably smart defense.
All right, so that's all the doom and gloom talk here. This is the first real big adversity test -- all due respect to Sleek and his Ducks, the 4-0 Anaheim loss was early in the season before the Sharks became the consensus pick for Greatest Team Since Time Began. Now the pressure's on to put up or shut up, and why not do it in another high-profile matchup against a tough Eastern team?
From a tactical standpoint, we saw McLellan mix things up for pretty much the first time all season when the Sharks tried to get anything going. Do you change things up from the usual suspects against the Rangers? I would do it, and not just because I'm being reactionary.
McLellan talks about process, and in the playoffs, you're going to have teams that figure out your system and your line combinations, even if it's just for one night. How do you react? Do you stick with things or do you mix it up a little bit? I'm for mixing it up because you need to be flexible and adaptable to win a playoff series. Mixing things up also keeps players on their toes and lets them know that the status quo won't be acceptable after a poor loss.
With that in mind, I'd separate Thornton and Marleau to start the game. It's not a Ron Wilson-esque Screw You to either guy, it's just seeing if a different look will work -- because if it does, that's all the more weapons in McLellan's arsenal later on down the line.
Assuming Milan Michalek is playing, I'd revert back to the Thornton/Cheechoo/Michalek group for the top line and Pavelski/Marleau/Setoguchi for the second line. See how it goes and give it a period to see if these different looks can establish a solid forecheck and create scoring chances. It's always good to have options, and all of these guys have played together in some form over the past few seasons, so it shouldn't be too difficult getting in a groove.
And if it is a total disaster? Then just go back to what's worked before Thursday night.