Gackle: Kane’s suspension, Vegas’ speed and the Sharks’ chances for a series comeback
GLENDALE, NV – APRIL 26: Evander Kane #9 of the San Jose Sharks corss-checks Pierre-Edouard Bellemare #41 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the third period Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on April 26, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Sharks 7-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS — The pain of the most humiliating-playoff loss in Sharks’ franchise history didn’t end at the final horn Thursday night.
After putting up seven goals on the Sharks in Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights scored again Friday when the NHL Department of Player Safety handed Evander Kane a one-game suspension for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the head.
The Sharks biggest challenge in the series is finding a way to close the speed gap with the fastest team in the Western Conference. Without Kane, the disparity will only grow wider in Game 2.
With Patrick Marleau in Toronto and Joe Thornton sidelined by a major-knee injury, Kane’s addition at the trade deadline propelled the Sharks into the playoffs after the team’s season was starting to circle the drain in late February. The Sharks are 15-6-1 with Kane in the lineup, which isn’t surprising considering that he’s collected 12 goals and 18 points in 22 games with the team.
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But it isn’t just Kane’s goal-scoring prowess that ignited the Sharks down the stretch. The trade gave the lineup a dynamic that it had been lacking since the team got run out of the Stanley Cup Final by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016: top-line speed.
As more and more teams jumped on the speed wagon in an effort to mimic the Penguins style of play, the Sharks got caught in the stone ages, sending out the slowest first line in the NHL.
Although the Sharks had quickness further down in the lineup, they lacked the elite speed up top that’s essential to creating offense in the modern NHL. Instead of producing dangerous-scoring chances off the rush, the Sharks top line played a slow, grinding style of game with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, making their hay off deflections and second-chance opportunities.
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They were like a baseball team that has to manufacture all of its offense by playing small ball. It’s a lot easier to put runs on the board when you can hit a three-run homer every now and again. That’s why the Sharks ranked dead last in goals per game and even-strength offense at the season’s quarter pole.
But Kane changed this dynamic overnight.
He can stand flatfooted at blue line and then reach his top speed with just a few strides through the neutral zone. He gave the Sharks the home run power they’d been lacking with the slowest top-line duo in the league. All of a sudden, Pavelski’s slow legs became less glaring. He and Kane developed instant synergy, forming a line with Joonas Donskoi that had everything: speed, skill, physicality, hockey sense and work ethic.
Here’s the good news: the Sharks can stop the bleeding in Game 2 without Kane and his legs. They can slow down the Knights offense by playing a more simple game through the neutral zone.
Instead of throwing stretch passes up the ice, the Sharks forwards need to come down and give the defense support. Get the puck out of the zone with short passes. The long bombs toward the end zone lead to interceptions, fueling the Knights transition game. The Sharks also need to get out of the habit of trying to carry the puck into the attack zone. The Knights close time and space too quickly, which leads to turnovers and rush chances the other way.
In short, the Sharks need to stay patient, dump the puck when necessary and create turnovers with their physicality.
The problem will be finding a way to create offense against a Knights squad that’s surrendered just three goals in five playoff games. Without Kane and a true top line, the Sharks attack will be even more fangless than the Los Angeles Kings offense was against the Knights team speed in the opening round.
GLENDALE, NV – APRIL 26: Evander Kane #9 of the San Jose Sharks is escorted off the ice by linesman Greg Devorski #54 after a 5 minute major penalty and game misconduct in the third period Game One of the Western Conference Second Round against the Vegas Golden Knights during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on April 26, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Sharks 7-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Christian Petersen/Getty Images
But if you need some positive spin to cling to there’s this: resiliency is embedded in this Sharks team’s DNA code. Whenever adversity rears its face, the Sharks seem to respond.
After Marleau jumped the boat, a bunch of players, Chris Tierney, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, stepped up to absorb his loss. When Logan Couture suffered a concussion on Dec. 15, the Sharks went 3-1 in his absence, and they hung around long enough after Thornton’s injury to convince general manager Doug Wilson to go out and trade for Kane.
Head coach Pete DeBoer won’t be surprised if the Sharks manage to scrap out a Game 2 win with Kane in the press box.
“Having said that, it doesn’t mean we’re going win,” he said. “If we don’t, we’ll regroup and go back at it again. We’ve got a lot of character, a lot of pride in there. This series is a long way from over.”
And, after a 21-hour period in which the Sharks lost not only a game but also their most dangerous-scoring threat, you have to think things can only get better.https://www.labula.net/gackle-kanes-suspension-vegas-speed-and-the-sharks-chances-for-a-series-comeback/https://www.labula.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/img_Gackle-Kanes-suspension-Vegas-speed-and-the-Sharks-chances-for-a-series-comeback-1024x717.jpghttps://www.labula.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/img_Gackle-Kanes-suspension-Vegas-speed-and-the-Sharks-chances-for-a-series-comeback-150x150.jpgUncategorizedGLENDALE, NV – APRIL 26: Evander Kane #9 of the San Jose Sharks corss-checks Pierre-Edouard Bellemare #41 of the Vegas Golden Knights in the third period Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on April 26, 2018 in...Bobby SotoBobby Sotoadmin@labula.netAdministrator