You will forgive—well, anyone really—for not getting too excited that the San Jose Sharks have a 2-0 lead in the Pacific Division semifinals after beating the Los Angeles Kings again Saturday, April 16. Everyone knows the last time these teams met, but the photo list of stars seem to be be changing the script.
So far in the 2016 Pacific Division semifinals, the Sharks have been grittier with bigger plays from their stars while the Kings were ones failing to make the plays at key moments. There is a reason behind that.
San Jose captain Joe Pavelski declared key moments to be a focus earlier in the 2015-16 NHL season, and the team has followed his lead. Saturday, Los Angeles won almost every event summary statistic (41-27 faceoffs, 14-7 giveaways, 0-2 takeaways, 47-40 hits, 79-53 attempts, 27-23 shots, 17-28 blocks) but just did not have anyone lead it to victory.
Pavelski led by example when it came to starting the game more quickly, as well. It was an area he had said the Sharks needed to improve from the series opener, and he scored just 3:37 in after getting a feed from Brent Burns on a play that speaks volumes to their road game.
In San Jose, the team looks to make big plays. On the road, it makes little ones.
Pavelski helped settle a bouncing puck as it entered the zone and then went to the right-wing circle to be between it and the goal. Burns needed the help of Joe Thornton (who got a secondary assist) to control it before sending the pass quickly to avoid turning it over high in the zone.
Pavelski’s shot was quick and through a screen by Tomas Hertl, but it would not have come had he tried to tame it initially himself. Everyone did their part rather than trying to make the play themselves.
Ten Sharks remain from the team that choked away the 3-0 series lead in the 2014 Pacific Division semifinals, but this one does not have the DNA of the one that had offensive explosions then but of their new captain. They are improving every game because they are identifying and correcting their areas of need.
Saturday, they even did it within the game. On a broader scale, San Jose won six of eight faceoffs in over eight key minutes in the third period after being dominated 37-21 up until that point.
However, the better exemplification might be two scrambles in front of Jonathan Quick. Both led to him being out of position when the puck came to Logan Couture.
The first sent a great Thornton feed right into Luke Schenn’s sprawling body. Couture was much closer to the net when the next came on a two-man advantage after rebounds of Patrick Marleau and Pavelski shots and all the Kings horses and all the Kings men couldn’t put the defense back together again to stop what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Los Angeles was able to cash in on a net-front scramble of its own with 5:01 left when Tanner Pearson picked up a puck from a Jake Muzzin attempt and sent it on net. Vincent Lecavalier was just far enough out of the scrum to punch the rebound home while Martin Jones was out of position.
Jones may also be a big part of the difference in the 2016 Pacific Division semifinals. So far, the former understudy has outplayed the star Quick in both one-goal games and was almost unbeatable Saturday in turning away 27 of 28 for a .963 save percentage.
Most of the Kings were with the team that came back from that hole to win the 2014 Stanley Cup, but there have been some significant losses among the few changes and there is a lack of blue-line experience. Those left have to find a way to win four of five to win the series.
Now that the Sharks have established themselves as a different road team than the one that blew that Pacific Division semifinal, it is time to show they are different from the one that has lost 47 of its last 84 at home. They must again follow their captain’s lead about what the 2-0 lead means:
It’s means it’s a good start—that’s all it means. There’s still a lot of work to do. You know, we didn’t win the series tonight.