Sharks Get Their first Bite of the Series
We have a series.
The San Jose Sharks avoided becoming the first team in NHL History to lose their first 5 overtime games in the playoffs and by doing so they have made it a series.
Joonas Donskoi provided the heroics scoring at 7:18 of overtime to give the Sharks a 3-2 victory in Game 3. San Jose was again badly outshot, 42-26, but for the first time this series the Sharks were able to play to their strengths by getting separation from the Penguins through the neutral zone and getting to work below the hash marks.
The Sharks had 76 shot attempts, the most shot attempts the Penguins have allowed since Matt Murray’s sensational performance in Game 3 vs the Capitals in Round 2.
This game was as close to a do or die as it can get for a San Jose team that has clearly looked like the inferior for games 1 and 2, and the first period of Game 3.
The Penguins were so good in Games 1 and 2 and dominant in so many areas, it’s only natural that there was probably some doubt in the Sharks room that they could actually win this series.
Getting the series to 2-1 will obviously be a jolt for San Jose going into Monday night, but strategically the way they were able to get to their heavy game for much longer stretches than the previous meetings and able to limit the Penguins speed more effectively through the neutral zone (awful ice also helps), is surely going to give San Jose a big mental boost in the short-term that they can play with the Penguins and win this thing.
When the Penguins took a risk, the Sharks were able to counter up the ice with much more speed and separation than at any point in Games 1 or 2.
Pittsburgh’s best players had mentally lapses in this one.
Kris Letang late on a four-minute penalty kill is thinking offense and trying to score a goal by jumping up in the play that results in a turnover and Joel Ward in transition blows a shot past Matt Murray to tie the game at 2-2 in the third.
Murray was very good for long stretches in this one but all anyone is going to be talking about is the final two goals against. The Ward shot happens to goaltenders every once in a while but obviously can’t happen in that situation.
The Joonas Donskoi overtime winner had Murray playing the situation/angle like Donskoi was going to make a jam play when coming around the net. By taking the puck wide and Murray already down, it left Murray vulnerable up high and Donskoi made a phenomenal shot.
“I thought Matt was solid,” Mike Sullivan said. “He made some big saves for us. He gave us a chance to win tonight.”
“He [Matt Murray] made some big saves for us,” Sidney Crosby said. “They were pressing there late and he made some saves. He gave us a chance after they got that goal and they got some momentum. He was really solid for us.”
The Ward goal was a play that should have never happened as Crosby should have got the puck deep and Letang should have never been driving to the net, and Donskoi should have been stopped in his tracks below the goal line by Evgeni Malkin.
What the Penguins get from Evgeni Malkin offensively hasn’t mattered. He has one goal in his last 15 games and since the Capitals series, he’s been the Penguins 8th or 9th most impactful forward.
Tonight what they got from him did matter and not in a good way.
Malkin had the puck on his stick 15 feet from the net in overtime to win it and shot it wide on an attempt that wasn’t even close to hitting the net.
He had 2 shots on goal, just 3 attempts with 0 blocked shots and 0 hits. He wasn’t engaged.
His effort defensively on the game winning goal was downright embarrassing. In Game 3 of a Stanley Cup Final, playing your own end like it’s a preseason game is just inexcusable.
Malkin played the Donskoi goal like it was a preseason game. There’s no way to defend Malkin.
Malkin has 3 inches and over 20 pounds on Donskoi. Easily should be able to out-muscle Donskoi and pin him into the boards, instead Malkin doesn’t try to take the body and gives him a tap with his stick as Donskoi freely blows by him.
The Penguins had 38 blocked shots in the game. Malkin had none, along with Justin Schultz as the only two players who didn’t block a shot. Centers Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Sidney Crosby combined for eight blocked shots.
In games tied late in regulation or in overtime, Malkin is a risk in the defensive zone because you don’t know if he’s going to be engaged or not. The centers in Mike Sullivan’s system call for them to put their bodies on the line and be in shooting lanes in the middle of the ice.
That is not Malkin.
He’s never going to be someone who plays Sullivan’s way in his own end and if you’re not, you better be playing a north-south game like Phil Kessel and being a difference maker offensively.
Malkin is neither right now and probably better suited on the wing in pressure situations.
Winning overlooks everything and it’s given Malkin a free pass this post-season.
This is Mike Sullivan’s team and will be for at least the next couple years. He coaches to the strengths of his offensively gifted players but he also demands all 18 skaters to play the right way in all three zones.
It’s why Malkin continues to get deployed as a third line forward.
Tonight in a game where the Penguins could have put a stranglehold on the series, Malkin again looked like a player who doesn’t mesh with what 90% of the other skaters are bringing to the table.
That probably still doesn’t need to change for Penguins to win their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, but it doesn’t mean his fit isn’t still concerning for the short-term and long-term.