The San Jose Sharks made it clear they don’t have the star power the Pittsburgh Penguins have, but the difference in the Stanley Cup final so far is the Penguins stars have badly outplayed the Sharks stars.
SAN JOSE – Down 2-0 in the Stanley Cup final is as good a time as any to start portraying yourself as the plucky underdog. So that’s what the San Jose Sharks have done going into Game 3.
Going into the final, there was a healthy amount of support for the Sharks to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. But faced with the prospect of having to win four of the next five games starting Saturday night, those projections have been tamed. In fact, there are only three teams in NHL history – the 1971 Montreal Canadiens, 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2011 Boston Bruins – who have dropped the first two games of the Stanley Cup final on the road and have gone on to win the series. (Two other teams, the 1966 Montreal Canadiens and 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, actually lost the first two at home to come back to win the series.)
So the Sharks are pulling out all the stops in an effort to make the Penguins feel a little overconfident and one way of doing that is to place themselves in the role of overachiever. It started after Game 2 when Sharks center Logan Couture claimed that Sidney Crosby cheats on faceoffs. He didn’t backpedal on his claim when asked about it Friday afternoon, but did acknowledge that Crosby’s faceoff win over Joel Ward to set up the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 2 was a clean win. He also admitted that the Penguins would probably say the same thing about the Sharks. So no harm, no foul.
Then, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer got into the act, saying that the Penguins have been so difficult to beat because they’re loaded with such star talent. “When you have (Phil) Kessel, Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin on three different lines,” DeBoer said, “I mean all three of those guys make more than anybody on our team.”
And he’s right. Malkin (average annual salary of $9.5 million), Crosby ($8.7 million) and Kessel ($6.8 million) all have a higher cap hit than that of Joe Thornton, who tops San Jose’s money makers with an average cap hit of $6.75 million.
But this series has been less about how much players make and which players are earning their salaries to this point. Technically, none of them is earning his money because players are not paid for their work in the playoffs. But the salaries they make are reflected in their potential to deliver success in the playoffs. And in the final, the Sharks simply are not getting much of a bang for their bucks.
Joe Pavelski, who pulls down an average of $6 million a year, is either playing with a really bad injury right now or he’s simply drained. He has very little jump so far in the final and has had no more than a couple of legitimate scoring chances. Thornton has more to give. Couture, who pulls down $6 million, was better in Game 2 and put in a yeoman’s effort that led to the Sharks only goal, but the Sharks have just one point in the final from the leading scorer of the playoffs. Through the first two periods of Game 2, the trio of Pavelski, Thornton and Couture had just one easily handled shot.
The Sharks are clearly looking for answers here. One of them lies in the fact that they haven’t been able to exploit their explosive power play in the first two games. They have had just four power plays through the first two games, just one of them in Game 2, largely because the officials are keeping to the time honored tradition of allowing everything short of felony assault go unpunished. And that’s been the case for both teams. But the dearth of power plays definitely hampers the Sharks more than it does the Penguins.
“I think we got to have the puck more,” DeBoer said of Game 2. “I think we got to attack a little bit more. I think there’s penalties out there, I do believe that. I think there even has been in the first couple games. It seems like the players are going to get an opportunity to play here. Unless it’s blatant, you’re not going to get it. So we’ve got to make sure that we’re attacking holes and making it so there’s no choice but to call them.”
Perhaps the fact that they’re now the plucky underdogs will play into that notion with the officials. Couture made sure the Sharks got their attention. But if they’re going to paint themselves as underdogs, they’d best play like underdogs and that will require a lot more desperation than they’ve displayed so far.