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DeBoer's First Playoff Tweak Pays Off in Game 1

By: Andrew Bensch | Published: 842 days ago.

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The game of hockey is far more complex than simply who scores more goals.

An average 60-minute game features roughly 90 shifts of around 45 seconds, but only five or six goals.

Six goals out of 90 shifts is less than seven percent of the game. Or in other words, more than 93% of a hockey game is played without a goal being scored at either end. 

However, how those 93% of the shifts are played matters a lot. Hockey is a game of confidence, momentum, health, and bounces. Teams that get the bigger percentages of shot attempts are often more successfull as the game goes a long because they are generating confidence and momentum.

Even if the goals aren't coming, sooner or later the flood gates will open, the bounces are bound to go their way eventually. This is exactly what happened in the Sharks 5-2 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semi-finals against Nashville on Friday night.

San Jose played a pretty even tilt in the first period with the Predators, but after Nashville went ahead 1-0 in the second period, it was all Sharks from there. Team Teal started the third period still down 1-0, but you could sense it was only a matter of time. Eventually goals by Tomas Hertl, Joel Ward and Logan Couture powered the Sharks to a much deserved victory. 

DeBoer's First Shakeup Pays Dividends 

Lost in the headlines though of the second line's dominant performance was a subtle, yet key move from Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. 

In the first round against Los Angeles, the Sharks' forward lines and defense pairs remained intact all series long (even though this pundit argued there should have been changes for Game 4). After a week off though, San Jose's bottom-six weren't quite as sharp in the first two periods of Game 1 on Friday. 

In the second intermission, DeBoer elected to mix things up a bit between his third and fourth lines. Matt Nieto had taken a bad tripping penalty and notably committed a poor icing while skating in his usual third line spot with Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson. Therefore, the first shift of the third period saw Chris Tierney elevated onto the third line at center, with Marleau being pushed to what had been Nieto's spot on the wing. 

While neither of the new-look bottom-six lines were able to beat Pekka Rinne with a goal, they were both significantly more effective than they were in the first 40 minutes. Tierney and Marleau combined for a couple of decent looks at the net, and the Nieto-Spaling-Wingels line skated extremely well. Nieto replacing Tierney on that line gave it a significant boost of speed. The new trio did a good job of cycling in the offensive zone, helping sustain momentum through all four lines.

The Sharks have run pretty much the same forward lines the last few weeks, but Deboer has found a couple of go-to moves when things are a bit stale. One of those is the move he made last night with Tierney. The other is to overload his top line with Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, instead of the usual Tomas Hertl. So far in these playoffs DeBoer hadn't had to make a significant tweak to the lines, but his first one worked out wonderfully in Game 1, even if it went rather under the radar. 


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