Win, Lose or Draw, Sharks Shoot First

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- Friday’s game was the third of three preseason games that featured a gross shot advantage for the Sharks. It seems that no matter who is playing or how you line them up, Sharks will outshoot the other team. That does not mean they will win, but it certainly gives them a fighting chance. Friday the Sharks lost 2-1 to the Arizona Coyotes in a game that went to a shootout.

What goes in to these shot advantages? Defenseman Taylor Fedun, in his first training camp as a Shark, has had some time to learn something about the team’s playing style:

I think we have a pretty good shoot first mentality and it’s been working for us where we get pucks on net and then we’re able to retrieve them and it kinda gets defensive teams on their heels a little bit. It’s one of the ways to keep the game simple in the preseason here, where you’re not as sharp on the system as you will be a little bit later on in the season. So it keeps things simple, just throwing pucks on net and trying to outwork teams.

This is something the Sharks consistently do,  well into the season. It has been their style for a while now, it will probably continue to be what they do. How do they do it, even with players new to the team or even the league? Fedun said:

It’s something that’s touched on by the coaching staff that we want to get the puck on net as often as we can, try and generate second and third opportunities in doing so.

No surprise there. It is an old idea: you have to shoot to score. So the real question is: why doesn’t everyone do this? Or, do the Sharks just do it better than most?

Shooting a lot is not new for the Sharks, and neither is talking about simplifying their game. It is a style that happens to suit the Sharks’ new and young recruits. Of Fedun and Mirco Mueller, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said:

I thought he and Mirco both did some really good things on the rink, heightened our awareness, both of them and improved their status amongst the club. We’ll have some decisions to make. We often think about just keeping one, but maybe two of them, or three of them could push the veterans out. When I look at the game in Vancouver, we had a couple of players who were sub-par and if we have to make those changes we will, if the young D continue to play the way they do.

We should know after Saturday’s game how many will stay in San Jose to push the veterans.

Friday’s game was well attended, particularly for a preseason game.

The Sharks’ Tye McGinn started with an early penalty, which lead to the Coyotes’ first goal on their only shot for the first 13 or so minutes. That goal was Justin Hodgman’s, with assists to Max Domi and Michael Stone. McGinn tried to make up for it a few minutes later with a beautiful breakaway up the middle of the ice but his shot went awry. His game on Friday was a portrait of energy and hard work with communication gaps. The same could be said of the rest of the team, not surprising for a preseason game. It was the second game for most of the players, but they were not playing with the same group as they played with on Tuesday.

For Antti Niemi, it was the first game of the preseason. That, combined with the sad shortage of shots coming at him, did not show him at his best. He gave up a goal on the first Coyotes shot, but he did stop the rest until the shootout.

Arizona’s one goal lead persisted through the middle of the second period. The Coyotes steadily gained on the Sharks’ shot lead.By the seven minute mark, Antti Niemi had made a seven saves. At the other end, Devan Dubnyk made nine in the first period, and another 13 in the second.

The one he did not make was a power play goal from Joe Pavelski at 7:15 of the second period. The assist went to Brent Burns. Pavelski’s shot came from the blue line and blew right by Arizona’s new backup goaltender.

By the end of the second period, the Sharks had run off with the shot clock again, Niemi had done very little for several minutes.

In the final 19 seconds of the period, Nikolay Goldobin had the honor of being tripped by veteran defenseman Zbynek Michalek. Goldobin was tripped while making a very impressive dash for the net. He didn’t get the shot he wanted, and his team did not score on the resulting power play.

By the end of regulation, the shots stood at 38-16 Sharks with the score tied at 1. There was a symmetry to this result, as the Sharks already had one loss and one win under their belt. Seemed only natural they should have an overtime game.

A little over a minute into overtime, Michalek went to the box for tripping Joe Pavelski. The first power play unit included Goldobin, and the second included Mueller. Mueller wound up for a great big shot at the top of the slot… but he was only faking. He passed it. Neither power play unit scored. Neither team scored, the game went to a shoot out.

Joe Pavelski shot first, and scored. Justin Hodgman shot next, for Arizona. He scored too. Goldobin made one too make moves and lost his balance on the third shot. He did not score by accident either. Lucas Lessio, shooting third for Arizona, did not lose his balance and he scored. Joe Thornton did not score.

Mueller continues to play well, most of the time the puck goes where he is sending it. He perhaps could be more reckless, send the puck to the net more, or not send it anywhere at all. At one point, he executed a very pretty pass to a teammate in the neutral zone, sort of a hand off between players going in opposite directions. The problem with it was that there were two Coyotes in hot pursuit of that other player and Mueller might have accomplished more just by hanging on to the puck or even dumping it in. With time, his decision-making should catch up with his skating and puck handling skills.

Mike Brown made some good plays, including one breakaway that didn’t work out but looked dangerous. He also made a defensive zone pass that got some tired Sharks out of trouble. As he has shown before, he can be helpful in the right situation.

Sharks and prospects will play again Saturday against Anaheim Ducks and prospects. The game will be at SAP Center in San Jose at 5:00.