Through six regulation periods of the Stanley Cup final, the San Jose Sharks have been the better team in just two.
In the other four, the Pittsburgh Penguins have carried the lion's share of the opportunties. Pittsburgh may have escaped with a pair of slim 1-goal victories in the first two games, but there is no doubt that they deserve to be up 2-0 in the series.
There is some optimism headed into Game 3 for the Sharks. San Jose finally started to get their game going in the third period of Game 2 after head coach Peter DeBoer mixed up his bottom three lines. However, it might be too little too late, as San Jose has never won a series in which they trailed 2-0 (all time record of 0-10).
Too Little Too Late
There is no denying that all 19 Sharks skaters could have played better than they have thus far. Unfortunately, even had they been better as a team, the Sharks still might have found themselves down in this same 2-0 hole.
In my preview column for this series, I mentioned that DeBoer might want to move Joel Ward back onto the Logan Couture line and drop Patrick Marleau down to the third line to combat the speed of Pittsburgh's "HBK" line. While DeBoer finally made this switch to start the third period of Game 2, it was a move that came far too late.
DeBoer has pushed a lot of the right buttons for the Sharks to get to this spot, but unfortunately he has been slow to adapt his team to be able to skate with the Penguins. There were three opportunities to switch Marleau and Ward before DeBoer finally pulled the trigger. He could have started the series in this fashion. He could have started Game 2 this way after Pittsburgh carried the play in Game 1. And he could have made the switch in the middle of the second period when it was clear Pittsburgh was carrying the play for the second straight night. Waiting until the the third period was simply too little too late.
Yes, the Couture, Ward and Joonas Donskoi line ended up tying the game in the third period and the Sharks had a chance to win the game in overtime after a strong third period. As we know, hindsight is 20-20 and the narrative would be different had the Sharks won. But the Sharks would have had a far better chance to win had they mixed up the lines far sooner than they did. San Jose was in clear need of a spark in the second period of Game 2 and the lines remained the same.
It is certainly commendable that DeBoer has shown faith in his lines and not always mixed things up as fast as his predecessors Ron Wilson and Todd McLellan often did. Too much faith though might haunt this team during what will be a short, but possibly very dark offseason.
3rd Pair Predictably Poor
As forecasted before the series, the Sharks third pair has been down right miserable against the Penguins. Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon are simply lost when it comes to trying to lead a successful breakout. One of the reasons they both chip the puck out off the boards far too often is because they are not confident enough to make a quality outlet pass. Passing is not a strength of either player.
Case in point, Polak's hideous turnover that led to Pittsburgh's only goal in regulation was a play where he tried to make a quick feed to Dillon but rushed the pass. He could have made the safe chip play off the near side glass or at the very least make sure the puck was flat before dishing towards Dillon. Instead the puck jumped up on Polak's blade and the pass was able to be broken up by the Pittsburgh forecheck which led to a Grade-A scoring chance and a goal.
Whether influenced primarily by General Manager Doug Wilson (who wasted a second-round pick to acquire Polak), or if it is just DeBoer's preference to play veteran defensemen, the unwillingness to use rookie defenseman Dylan Demelo the last two months has been a huge backfire.
The only way the Sharks are going to get back into this series is if they improve their puck management. Dillon and Polak are slow to move the puck and are often icing it because they don't have the vision/passing ability to make plays on the breakout. San Jose has to find a way to move the puck faster. Demelo is a confident puck mover that was getting better and better each game he played before the Sharks inexplicably scratched him every single game since acquiring Polak.
At this point in time, putting in a rusty rookie defenseman is not a move I would necessarily advocate, but the Sharks have to make better decisions with the puck. As the saying goes, no skater can skate faster than the puck can move. Beating a fast team is all about puck management and executing smart plays. At this point, while a rusty Demelo scares me, he could provide a boost in sheltered situations with tougher minutes going to the top two pairs.