Monday, May 17, 2004
Short-staffed San Jose makes costly errors
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Ron Wilson believes every great game starts with defense, so the San Jose coach also must know where every disaster begins.
The Sharks' defensemen made countless errors in a 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Monday night. From Rob Davison's step-slow skating to Kyle McLaren's half-hearted effort at a key point, the Sharks' blueliners had only themselves to blame for a 3-2 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
Though San Jose rolled through the first two rounds of the postseason with just three losses, Wilson relied heavily on defensemen Scott Hannan and Mike Rathje to chew up a majority of the ice time. That's because the Sharks have just four respected players at the position: Hannan, Rathje, McLaren and Brad Stuart.
That lack of depth has haunted them in the conference finals -- and it was part of their undoing in Game 5, when the Flames' speedy attack capitalized on errors for two big goals. The four defenders are worn out from playing big minutes, leaving them more vulnerable to the mistakes they made in San Jose's fourth straight home playoff loss.
Jason Marshall, a slow-footed journeyman snatched from Minnesota's minor-league system at the trade deadline, has played an unnerving number of minutes in all situations. Wilson hasn't been able to decide on a sixth defenseman, using Tom Preissing, Davison and Jim Fahey in various combinations.
San Jose was among the teams interested in Sergei Gonchar and Brian Leetch at the trade deadline, but was unwilling to give up any of its young talent to get them.
The Flames' first goal in Game 5 resulted from a miscommunication between wing Alex Korolyuk and Stuart on a power play. Korolyuk's slow pass was intercepted by Jarome Iginla, who outskated both Sharks for a short-handed goal.
Two minutes later, Rathje and Davison couldn't stop an odd-man rush in time to prevent Marcus Nilson from slipping in to score his third goal of the postseason.
But McLaren made the most glaring error midway through the second period. After his pass from the blue line was deflected, he hung his head and banged his stick on the ice in disgust -- and Craig Conroy sped past him, eventually beating Stuart to the net for Calgary's third goal.
Those were the most obvious errors, but San Jose's defensemen also struggled to move the puck in the offensive end. The Flames forechecked with their usual vigor, and Rathje seemed particularly bothered by their speed.
It was a marked change from Game 4, when Rathje scored the game's opening goal and later added an assist. San Jose's short-staffed defense didn't show its weaknesses when playing with a lead.
But in the most important game of the season, the Sharks lost from the blue line out.