| A Quick Fix in San
Speed things up already
|12/10/14 - By Ryan Hall -
The San Jose Sharks are not a good team right now.
The dramatic win versus Philadelphia, while good for a frustrated fan base,
can't hide that fact that for most of that 60 minute contest these two teams
were locked into a colossal stare down. Now, tight checking games between two
quality opponents is one thing, but the Flyers aren't exactly tearing up the
Metropolitan Division these days. It's exactly that reality that made last
night so hard to watch as the Sharks should be able to handle teams like that
with more ease then they showed.
What struck me the most about the
contest was the parity in speed between these two clubs; and I don't mean that
in a good way. The Flyers are widely held to be one of the slowest skating
clubs in the Eastern Conference, a fact that has seen them hemmed in and beated
by a host of younger, faster squads such as the Islanders, Rangers, Penguins,
and Capitals. Yet the Sharks were unable to take advantage of that, and the
result was a close contest.
All of this bears the question: Is the
real problem with San Jose simply that they aren't fast enough?
think about it, the case become rather compelling.
To start with, you
can't deny that Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and good hockey players. The
stats simply prove that they have been dominant offensive players for over a
decade. With that being said, Thornton has never been confused for a fast
skater, and lately that lack of get-up-and-go has started to become more
pronounced. Similarly, Marleau seems to have lost a quarter step, and in the
NHL that makes all the difference between getting past you man or being angled
out of the play. For both of these stalwarts, the ravages of a long career and
age might be starting to bite into them; and that isn't something that they can
be blamed for.
But so what, you might be thinking, that doesn't
explain the rest of the team!!
However, it really does as the speed of
any particular line can only be measured by its two fastest skaters. That's
right, it's TWO. I think we can all agree that going one-on-the-world usually
doesn't work, so any effective attack needs at minimum two players; which means
the threat value of an attack is directly tied to how quickly that second
player can get into a dangerous position. When a team lacks the speed to press
home those moments of opportunity, then their offensive attack fails - or they
are forced to play on the outside where they can rack up shots but not scoring
chances. Does any of that sound familiar?
In reality, a truly good
offensive push requires having that third man jump into the attack, creating
problems for defenders and forcing back-checkers to work harder. When that
third attacker is slow getting into the mix, the defenders can regroup and once
again the puck is forced to remain on the outside because any move into the
middle of the ice will result in a turnover. Now, if the second AND third
attackers are slow arriving, then you have can't generate any real offensive
threat at all; and that is where the Sharks find themselves.
watched the Sharks play these past 5 years you'll know that they are a puck
possession team, which means that unless there is a play to be made they
believe it is better to keep control of the puck on the outside, cycle it
around, and wait for an opening. Love him or hate him, but Todd McClellan has
preached limiting turnovers on forced plays into the middle of the ice, and
it's a message the team has embraced whole heartedly.
It's a good theory, and one that successful teams (the
Sharks included) have used to great effect. Unfortunately, holding the puck
doesn't mean anything when you aren't fast enough to create openings and
breakdowns in the defense coverage you are facing.
What does all of
Well, the answer looks to be simple: the Sharks need to get
faster. There is some speed on the team in Nieto and Hertl, but after that can
you really say that San Jose is a quick team? Couture is youthful, Pavelski has
heart, but neither is known for their foot speed. Braun, Burns, and Vlasic are
slightly above average, but what about the rest of the team? You'd be hard
pressed to find anyone who could really be classified as fast, and that needs
More than anything else the future of the Sharks depends on
this one change. That doesn't have to be mean they need to get younger, but
that is the easiest path towards injecting speed into your line-up. For my
money that falls not on the coach, but on management to see that the current
roster doesn't have the acceleration to take advantage of the opportunities
presented by their offensive philosophy. After all, it's hard to critique puck
possession and limiting turnovers - but that only works when you have the
players to execute the final step: creating scoring chances. For years that was
the bread and butter of the Sharks, and I truly believe it's the pathway to
future success as well. But until there is a quick fix applied to this roster,
that potential will remain unrealized.
Contact Ryan at at
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