Sharks return home after power-play binge vs. Preds
Ron Wilson's playoff predictions have been correct so far.
The San Jose Sharks coach said the officials wouldn't swallow their whistles, as they've done in previous playoff seasons. Wilson also guessed his club's first-round series with the Nashville Predators would be decided on the power play.
That's been the case through the first two penalty-filled contests in the best-of-seven series, which resumes Tuesday night tied 1-1. The Sharks gave up four power-play goals in a Game 1 loss and then scored three of their own to win Game 2.
"There have been a ton of penalties called, so special teams is going to dictate a lot of games," Sharks defenseman Kyle McLaren said Monday when the Sharks returned to their practice rink. "Whoever has good special teams can go far in the playoffs, and I think we have good special teams play when we want to."
The Sharks were built for the new NHL, with fast-skating forwards and defensemen who specialize in creativity alongside physical play. San Jose was among the NHL's least-penalized teams during the regular season -- but that discipline vanished in Game 1 in Nashville before returning for the first two periods of Game 2.
Wilson knows his top three forwards -- league scoring champion Joe Thornton, goals champ Jonathan Cheechoo and high-scoring captain Patrick Marleau -- are particularly dangerous on the power play, when Nashville can't play its excellent five-on-five defense. Wilson also knows the Sharks must avoid giving the same chances to Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan on the other end.
"All we have to do is keep our mouths shut and kill off the penalties they do call," Wilson said. "We're still learning it, and we're just now experiencing it. Playoff hockey is fast, and it's going to be physical -- more physical than you'd expect in the regular season."
The Sharks improved in nearly every aspect during a late-season eight-game winning streak that propelled them from 10th place in the Western Conference to fifth, but they still had difficulty on special teams. Their power play was only sporadically effective, and their penalty-killing improved but still wasn't air-tight.
But after wasting a handful of five-on-three opportunities in the regular season's final weeks, the Sharks were appropriately sharp with a two-man advantage against San Jose, getting goals from Cheechoo and Marleau in the first period of a 3-0 victory that evened the series.
"So far, the series has been special teams," McLaren said. "If you control the puck, you're on offense more than defense. The key is not allowing them to control it as much as they would like. In five-on-five, when our key players are holding it, it's helped us draw penalties."
But in the third period of Game 2, the Predators showed a possible counter to the Sharks' aggressive play. Jordin Tootoo, the Predators' sparkplug forward, aggressively agitated San Jose into giving up five Nashville power plays.
They didn't result in goals, but the Predators gained an emotional edge that could carry over to Game 3.
"It's going to be a battle to win any games in there," Nashville's Adam Hall said. "You've got the talent. We have work ethic. We have all the pieces in here. It's a matter of us putting it all together."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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