SAN JOSE – To the surprise of no one, San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer placed a considerable amount of distance between himself and the musings of his player Logan Couture, who claimed after the Sharks 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final that Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby cheats on faceoffs. “I’m not going to weigh in on that,” DeBoer said in a conference call with a fair amount of terseness in his voice.
DeBoer most definitely did not want to add gas to that inferno at such a crucial time. And even more so, he’s smart enough to know that the last thing he wants the Penguins to think is that Crosby is inside the heads of his players. (It might be too late for that. In Game 2, Joe Thornton responded to some Crosby interference by whacking Crosby's helmet clean off his head and crosschecking him in the back.) We get why Couture said what he said after Game 2. After all, Crosby had just picked Joel Ward of the Sharks clean on the overtime goal – albeit it on what has been universally described as a fair faceoff win – and Couture wanted to send a message to the on-ice officials for Game 3 and beyond.
But here’s perhaps where the Sharks inexperience in these kinds of situations is beginning to show through. Players who know what it takes to win find ways to change things themselves. Those who complain publicly about another player cheating on faceoffs come across looking desperate and without a real response for what is happening to them. So if the Penguins took Couture’s comments as a boost, as an indication that Crosby and his teammates have them right where they want them, they may end up backfiring on the Sharks.
Does Sidney Crosby cheat on faceoffs? Yeah, probably. Does every other elite center in the NHL cheat on faceoffs? Without question. As the old saying goes, it’s only cheating if you get caught. If recent history of this game has taught us anything, it’s that players, coaches, GMs and pretty much everyone else involved in this game will stretch the rules as far as they possibly can. GMs cheated the salary cap by signing players to front-loaded contracts. Goalies have been cheating for years by wearing equipment they know full well is being used to stop the puck more than protect them. Knowing what we know about Crosby, would it surprise you if he has an extensive book on the tendencies of every NHL center and every NHL linesman, a catalogue that he takes mere seconds from which to retrieve relevant information before every draw?
DeBoer knows this very well. He also knows that putting the focus on Crosby will do a disservice to his team. It’s about the Sharks now and how they’re going hold serve in this series. It can certainly be done. And even though the Sharks have been outplayed by an enormous margin for long stretches of this series, they were in both the first two games right until the end. DeBoer knows this series is much more about how Joe Pavelski, who has been invisible so far, is going to get going. It’s about how Thornton, Couture and Brent Burns are going to start to produce offensively. It’s also about how the Sharks are going to make the adjustments they need to make to their game to limit the number of brutal turnovers in all three zones that are making them chase the game and sapping them of their energy. It’s about how the Sharks can coax some sense of urgency out of their players for three periods instead of just one.
“I thought we did a better job of limiting their time and space,” DeBoer said. “We got the shot totals down from 40, which is an unacceptable level for us, to the 20s and I still think we can improve there.”
DeBoer also said he thought the Sharks were better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1 and he expects them to be better in Game 3 on home ice than they were in the first two games. By the time they hit the ice at the SAP Center Saturday, the Sharks will have gone 11 days between home games in these playoffs. More importantly, they’ll be hitting the ice as a Stanley Cup finalist for the first time in their 25-year history. That’s a long time for fans to wait, which gives them time build up a lot of energy.
“Obviously we’re not coming home under the best circumstances,” DeBoer said. “But we also know we’re a tough out…we’re going to be a tough team to beat at home. Pittsburgh showed that being at home, with the home crowd, definitely made a tough environment for us on the road. We want to do the same to them, return the favor.”