SAN JOSE – There’s a common trait among the three teams that the Sharks have lost to so far this season, and it’s the same thing that they struggled with in last June’s Stanley Cup Final against Pittsburgh.
Speed. The Rangers have made more of a commitment to playing a fast game this season, and the result was a 7-4 win over San Jose on Oct. 17 in which several of their scores were a result of their fleetness afoot. Three days later, even without arguably their two fastest players in Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, the Penguins defeated the Sharks again in a furious third period comeback.
Finally, on Oct. 22, the Detroit Red Wings drastically outskated, outworked and out-chanced the Sharks in a 3-0 win, flying up and down the ice while scoring twice off the rush.
The Nashville Predators figure to be one of the faster teams in the Western Conference this season, after pushing the Sharks to seven games in the playoffs last season and swapping Shea Weber for P.K. Subban over the summer. Although they’re off to a difficult start at 2-4-1, they have perhaps the quickest, most skilled back end in the NHL featuring Subban and Roman Josi, while forwards like Filip Forsberg, Mike Fisher, Craig Smith and Ryan Johansen can also get up and down the ice.
They visit the Sharks on Saturday.
“They’re a fast, skilled team,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said Friday. “Very dangerous up front with versatile d-men, and a good goalie. … We’re playing a very good team tomorrow.”
Sharks coach Pete DeBoer pointed out that “every team has speed,” although “some teams are four lines deep with speed, [and] some teams are two lines deep with speed.”
When playing against those types of teams, though, being careful with the puck becomes even more important. Feeding into a fast team’s transition game, like the Sharks did against the Red Wings and Rangers, in particular, is suicide.
“It’s attention to detail. Make sure you’re working above, away from the puck, and keeping a good gap,” DeBoer said. “All those things.”
Vlasic said: “When you turn the puck over and feed their transition, fast teams make you pay the price. We did that constantly against Detroit, and against the Rangers [it was] a couple missed assignments [and] battle level. That’s not necessarily struggling against a fast team, it’s struggling against a good team.”
The Sharks are generally pleased with where their game is now, though, after back-to-back home wins against the Ducks and Blue Jackets. Although they are struggling to score five-on-five goals, with none in their last three games, the scoring chances have been there. They deserved better than a 1-1 tie against the Ducks on Tuesday before prevailing in overtime, and had an apparent even strength goal by Brenden Dillon on Thursday get called back due to an extremely close offside challenge.
Eventually, the floodgates should open if they keep their game at the level it’s at currently.
“Our five-on-five offense, I think we’re creating enough chances,” DeBoer said. “If they’re not getting chances it’s one thing, but we’re creating enough to score, so it is just a matter of time before we do.”
Dillon said: “For whatever reason we’ve been putting good shots towards the net, we’ve been getting good opportunities, but whether it’s a post or a big save or an overturned call like [Thursday] night, we’re not able to put up six or seven goals right now. But, I think our team defense has been fantastic.”
That defense is set for another test against speedy Nashville, which is 0-1-1 on a three-game trip through California.
“They lost their last two games, so we have to expect their best,” Vlasic said.