In Monday’s Game 1 preview for the Stanley Cup Finals, talked a lot about the speed of San Jose and Pittsburgh and it was on full display for all three periods of the opening contest.
Though the Sharks are one of the fastest teams in the Western Conference, they looked heavy-legged in the first period and trailed 2-0. With several adjustments, San Jose became the aggressor and took the game right to the Penguins and evened the score at 2-2, with Pittsburgh now on their heels. In the last stanza, the Pens regained control and were flying up and down the ice and it felt it was just a matter of time before they would score and Nick Bonino did with only 2:33 remaining.
The Sharks played like a fish out of water in the first 20 minutes Monday, looking very much like a franchise making first Cup Finals appearance. San Jose was tight, their skating and puck handling was timid and if not for goalie Martin Jones, could have trailed 4-0 after one period.
Coach Peter DeBoer will talk extensively to his players about having better defensive coverage and not leaving so much open space which Pittsburgh freely attacked them. The Sharks will have to do more hitting, especially in the areas inside the circles, to slow the Penguins down and better disrupt their offense from setting up and allowing 41 shots again.
San Jose has to also relax, like take a deep breath and think about how they want to play. The Sharks defense has to clip seven or more shot attempts from the Pens ledger and be more forceful when they have their moments in the game and stay aggressive when Pitt comes at them like blinding speed.
Coach Mike Sullivan had his team well prepared for series lid lifter and will have to anticipate what the Sharks will do to slow his team down. Unquestionably, San Jose will try and attack defensively at the blue line, trying to force Pittsburgh to dump and chase the puck, instead of hitting offensive end with a full head of steam.
Sullivan also understands the Sharks will try and have more puck possession, which does two things, keeps the Penguins from attacking and potentially wears down thin group of defensemen if they have to log extended shifts.
Pittsburgh has been domineering in holding onto the puck the whole playoffs and their superior offensive depth wears teams down, which is what they are seeking.
Ideally, the Pens would love to replicate Game 1, feeling they could go up 2-0 in the series.
What to Expect and Winner
This could well be the fastest two squads to reach the Cup Finals, ever! With this in mind, there will be real ebbs and flows to games, with each taking turns thoroughly having control of individual contests.
San Jose was very nervous and I expect those jitters to be gone, replaced by desperation, not wanting to return home down 0-2. I said in last article, whoever wins Game 1 I would choose the other team in the second battle and I see nothing to deter my thinking, as Jones played with a cool demeanor between the pipes.
Though they lost, the Sharks 10-1 away off a one goal road setback and are 15-5 as visitors against defensive teams permitting 2.55 goals a game this season. The NHL odds have San Jose as +115 and I have grabbed that number.
With the total now up to 5.5, I would play Under or pass.
Free Pick – San Jose Wins