It’s kind of startling that through four games, the only time the Sharks have led this series is after Donskoi’s goal in OT in Game 3. While every game has been “close,” that has more to do with Martin Jones and the nature of playoff hockey than these two teams being evenly matched. That’s exacerbated when the Sharks’ coach is running this series with both hands around his throat.
It may seem strange that two years ago, at this time, we were bemoaning Joel Quenneville opting to basically play eight forwards against the loaded Kings and now we’re in utter shock as to why Peter DeBoer insists on playing all six of his d-men. These things are fluid, and given the difference in requirements of the positions the same needs don’t apply.
The biggest problem the Sharks have had in this series, and not that there’s a shortage of them, is that their third pairing of Roman “Circus Bear” Polak and Brenden “I Only Spell My Name This Way Because I Thought Morrow Was Cool Once” Dillon have been getting utterly shelled every shift. In Pittsburgh, there’s only so much you can do to avoid this, though DeBoer could have tried a hell of a lot harder. In San Jose, he hasn’t made up this difference at all.
So there was Polak charging across the ice to assault Evgeni Malkin for what I’m sure were totally logical reasons, watching Malkin not care and hold onto the puck and then have Ian Cole take advantage of the entire side of the ice Polak vacated. In the 3rd, when the Sharks were charging and looking like they just might get an equalizer, there was Dillon getting completely horsed into a turnover by Carl Hagelin leading to the game- and probably series-clinching goal.
What was he doing out there? It’s been obvious to everyone from jump street that Dillon and Polak cannot hang in this series (and each cost the Sharks a 2nd round pick). This is the Final, there is nothing to save it for. DeBoer should have taken a page from Quenneville last year, realize he only has four d-men, and basically make them each play half the game and spot the other two when he can where he can and only when he absolutely has to. Considering the threads these games are decided on, one shift can turn the whole series. Pretty much every shift from the Sharks’ third pairing has turned their lunch.
What I find curious is that what we will have now is the last seven of eight Cups will have won by three teams. Six of those versions would have done it by simply playing faster than anyone can handle. Yes Virginia, the ’14 Kings were not the big, bruising, drooling Frost Giants that simply bullied their way to a parade. They were loaded with speed and were actually able to outskate the Hawks (with their aforementioned eight forwards). And yet, here we have teams still interviewing Randy Carlyle and his ilk, or vying to sign Milan Lucic to far too much money and way too many years, or still bleating about how they have to be tougher to play against. We’re seeing it in Anaheim, Calgary (which really does have a young core that could be something), they’re talking about flogging RNH or Taylor Hall in Edmonton, the Blues could overpay Backes, I could go on and on. It’s still startling how much of this league simply doesn’t understand what makes for a year-to-year contender.
While the Penguins roster might not contain the most speed we’ve ever seen, it’s hard to remember a team that plays at a higher pace. The way the pressure the points and get out of their own zone with speed is pretty startling. Sure, this Penguins team had the Eastern Conference kind of come back to them with no dominant team other than the Caps (who were flawed themselves) and the West taking something of a step back as well. But still, the Pens have been the best team since somewhere in January.
They’ll get their night Thursday, especially if DeBoer continues to be democratic in his defensive shifts instead of fascist.