Perhaps the biggest criticism head coach Peter DeBoer made after the Sharks were stunned 6-3 by the Golden Knights on Sunday in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was that not enough players stepped up.
“We didn’t have enough participants playing at a high enough level,” he told the media after the loss. “We weren't good enough across the board to win tonight."
Now, with even more players missing from the Sharks' lineup for Game 4, the stage is set for everyone to step up their game – and not, as Sharks’ radio announcer Dan Rusanowsky said on NBC Sports California’s live Facebook Q&A, “hand the game to another team on a silver platter.”
San Jose is getting a new look for Tuesday evening with Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Micheal Haley all being out of the lineup. While the shuffle is partially to adjust to Joonas Donskoi and Lukas Radil being added to the forward attack, it also serves as a test for the Sharks to get a jump on Vegas’ offense.
The Sharks haven't been able to counter the attack of the Knights’ forward assault in the last two games, particularly the combination of Mark Stone, Paul Stastny, and Max Pacioretty. As Sharks broadcaster Bret Hedican summarized during NBC’s Facebook Q&A that a line needs to make the decision to step up and commit to shutting the Stone line down – or better yet, the whole team needs to rise to meet that test.
Game 4 will also be a big test for Donskoi and Radil, who have been healthy scratches through the first three games of these playoffs. Donskoi told the media after practice on Tuesday that he had been feeling “kind of helpless” watching the team struggle the last two games and not being able to do anything to help.
Tuesday’s game would be a great time for Donskoi, as well as Radil, to really show how they can fill in and make a difference.
Overall, the Sharks as a whole need to step up on the defensive side of the puck. While Martin Jones no doubt has to have a much stronger performance than he did in Game 3, the blame for letting in three goals less than a minute into every period doesn’t rest solely on him.
After doing a great job taking the center of the ice away from Vegas in Game 1, San Jose has let the opposition travel quickly into their zone and make big plays. If the Sharks are going to have any chance of building momentum and not letting the Knights take over the pace of play yet again, they’ll need to get back to having that “defense-first” mentality.
While big performances from any of these parties could help the Sharks win Game 4 and tie the series up 2-2, it will really take all members of the team stepping up and banding together.
The Golden Knights enter Tuesday’s contest with a leg up in the series, plus the support of their home crowd to push them along. It’ll take the collective San Jose squad to shut them down.