The Stanley Cup playoffs spotlight has shone on Sharks starting goaltender Martin Jones, following him into San Jose's second-round series with the Colorado Avalanche.
Not quite as much focus – at least, up until Game 4 – centered on his opponent in the opposite crease. But after goaltender Philipp Grubauer blanked the Sharks in the Avalanche's 3-0 win in Game 4 on Thursday night at Pepsi Center, the attention has shifted in his direction.
As has the Sharks’ focus on figuring out the best way to beat him as the best-of-seven series moves back to San Jose for Game 5.
“I feel like we made it pretty easy for him,” Tomas Hertl told reporters in Denver after Game 4. “We had a couple good chances. But we have to be in front of him.”
Hertl was very candid in the first round about San Jose’s ability to frustrate Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. If the Sharks obscured Fleury's vision when creating chances, they were able to bury the puck much more readily. Hertl referenced that same strategy after being Grubauer shut out the Sharks.
“Like when we played against Vegas, there was always one guy in front of him and Fleury got frustrated because he wasn’t seeing the puck,” Hertl explained. “We have to be a little bit better and make it tougher for (Grubauer).”
The Sharks knew the challenge Grubauer presented heading into the series. Colorado won eight of its final 11 regular-season games, and the 27-year-old goalie picked up seven of them. He also played a critical role in the Avalanche's five-game, first-round upset of the top-seeded Calgary Flames, posting a .939 save percentage and 1.90 goals against average.
Whether Grubauer has a chip on his shoulder after ceding his crease to Braden Holtby during the Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup run or has simply gotten hot at the right time is anyone’s guess. No matter the reason, the Sharks will have to do a better job of testing him if they're going to take a 3-2 series lead in Saturday's Game 5.
“I think we had some good looks, I thought he made some saves,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters in Denver after Game 4. “I thought we could have made it tougher on him, sure.”
Creating those chances against Grubauer in Games 5, 6 and potentially 7 will also depend on how well the Sharks can keep the puck out of their own end. Despite outshooting the Avalanche, the Sharks ran into trouble holding onto the puck in Game 4. When the Sharks did get out of their end, they weren’t finishing their chances. Colorado, on the other hand, was able to find room and challenge Jones on the other end of the ice.
“It’s been the story of the series,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said Thursday, “where we’ve had some good looks, we don’t score and it costs us. The amount of times that we’ve had breakaways or good looks in the slot and we don’t score, and they come back and they score soon after.”