If you had the entire NHL to draft from, you might not be able to construct a more logical top power-play unit than the one the Sharks can ice every night. Maybe not the “best”—third best in the NHL this year, though—but there’s not another that’s so well-defined, that offers such weapons from every angle. The skaters involved have been together so long that everyone knows their roles and knows where their teammates are and will be. Last night was an absolute clinic.
The San Jose power play had been whatever this series, scoring once in each of the first two games (both wins in Los Angeles) but going 0-for-5 in Monday’s loss. Last night, it all came together: three power-play goals to win the game 3-2 and push the Kings’ backs to the wall, and all three goals came from the guys the Sharks are counting on.
Only the first man-advantage took long enough for the Sharks to change lines, but it was still top-unit D-man Brent Burns who potted home the one-timer. That’s where Burns loves to be: hanging around the point, either drawing a defender toward him and creating space in the slot for his teammates, or, as happened here, being the benficiary of good puck movement that causes defenders to leave him be. The Kings’ PK forgot about Burns for a second, and he had time, and space, and did not miss.
It’s Joe Thornton that captains the Sharks’ power play. If all goes well, the puck moves through him, but he’s not necessarily the center of gravity—he’ll go where he needs to be. On San Jose’s second goal, Patrick Marleau found himself with the puck along the side, with Joe Pavelski casually circling around into the slot. (That’s Pavelski’s office on the PP, and everyone knows it.) But Marleau didn’t have a clean avenue to Pavelski.
So watch Thornton, acting as a counterweight to Pavelski’s rotation, skating past the crease then around behind the net. At worst, he was giving Marleau another option for a pass. At best is exactly what happened: the Kings collapsed in on the goal, and a perfect feed from Thornton gave the now-ignored Pavelski the cleanest, least hindered look you can have from eight feet away.
The third goal came just seconds into the power play, off an offensive-zone faceoff. Note Marleau at left wing—when Thornton wins the draw, Marleau skates right over to the boards and “touches up.” That’s his spot, ready to cycle the puck or crash the net as need be.
Logan Couture pushes the puck over to Burns, who takes a second to settle it—so by the time he takes his shot from the point, Marleau is already dashing in, uncovered. The shot deflects off a King’s leg, a lucky bounce to be sure, but there’s no one near Marleau when he corrals the puck with his skate and backhands it into net. That’s skill and reflexes on Marleau’s part, but it’s also preparation—he was where he was just on the off-chance the puck found him there.
Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Couture, and Burns. I don’t know how you beat that. (It looks pretty clear, at least last night, that the Kings can’t.) Yes, we’ve seen these Sharks one game away from eliminating L.A. before, and yes, they haven’t been able to clinch it the last four tries. But this should be different. These Kings are more flawed, for one, though that does a disservice to these Sharks, who are getting their offense in the exact place it needs to come from.