SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Sharks spent the past three months doing the little things—blocking shots, battling for the puck along the boards, relying on teamwork.
The result was a jump from 12th place to second in the Western Conference.
After being frustrated early in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series, the Sharks returned to the bad habits that led to a six-game losing streak and a rough first half of the season.
The Sharks spent Sunday tying to regroup from a 4-0 loss that evened their series with the Kings at one game apiece with the series shifting to Los Angeles for the next two games. They had an optional skate and a film session that looked just as bad as the game did the previous night.
“I was actually hoping that when I watched it again we could find a few more positives as far as battles and competitive situations, but we didn’t find them,” coach Todd McLellan said. “Sometimes when you get humbled as bad as we got humbled last night, it’s a lot more effective than losing in overtime. Hopefully the message resonates here in the locker room today.”
McLellan’s message did appear to hit home as most of the players who made it to the locker room during the media availability echoed a similar tune of guys trying to do too much as individuals instead of relying on their teammates.
Whether it was a defenceman carrying the puck too deep into the offensive zone, a player looking to make the difficult pass instead of the easy one, or someone staying on the ice for more than two minutes on a shift, the Sharks got away from what worked so well the second half of the season.
“What’s gotten us here and how we’ve played that last couple months of the season that made us successful has been playing a team game, rolling the lines over and keep coming at teams,” forward Dany Heatley said. “I think last night we got away from that in the second half of the game.”
The Sharks blocked just eight shots compared to 22 for Los Angeles in Game 2 and had 19 giveaways compared to six for the Kings—evidence of what went wrong.
San Jose also gave Los Angeles four straight power plays with mostly unnecessary penalties, allowed two power-play goals and failed to convert five chances with the extra man, falling to 0 for 7 in the series.
The Sharks also have received no offence from their top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi, who have 20 shots and no points in the first two games.
After Heatley’s goal just 28 seconds into the series, San Jose has managed just two goals in the last 134:16 against Jonathan Quick and the Kings.
“At the end of the day, they have to produce,” McLellan said of the top line. “They have to get on the scoreboard. They have to find a way, and the power play is a great opportunity for them to do it. But we also have to stick with the game plan and a team plan and they have to be part of it.”
San Jose started Game 2 with good energy and got a power-play chance midway through the first period. They were unable to convert with the man advantage, then committed a pair of undisciplined offensive zone penalties that led to power-play goals by Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty.
After scoring just one power-play goal in the final seven regular-season games, the Kings have struck for three in the first two games against the Sharks.
“We were moving the puck well,” said Doughty, who had two goals and two assists. “We studied their PK. We saw their tendencies and we exploited them. We moved the puck quick, found the seams and got pucks to the net and had great net presence as well. Those are the keys to successful power plays and we have to continue them.”
The Sharks did receive a bit of good news Sunday when doctors cleared Ian White to return to practice on Monday after being knocked out of the series opener with a concussion.
White passed all of his neurological tests and will be able to play in Game 3 on Tuesday as long as he feels good after practicing Monday. White is a puck-moving defenceman who plays on the power play and could help spark that group when he returns.
White played 401 regular-season games before making his playoff debut in Game 1 and said it was hard to watch his team when he wanted to be on the ice so badly.
“It was excruciating,” he said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. You just want to be there with the guys and help battle and work through the ups and downs. It was really difficult to watch that game.”
The Kings will also get a key player back for Game 3 when second-line centre Jarret Stoll returns from a one-gamesuspension for his hit from behind on White.
Los Angeles, which already is without top centre Anze Kopitar, managed just fine without Stoll for one game.
“It hurt a bit not having him, but guys dug in,” Quick said. “We had a big effort from everyone in the locker room. At the end of the day it’s just one win. We need three more to move on. We’re looking forward to Game 3 and looking forward to getting the same result.”