It was one of those small plays in a hockey game that lead to something much bigger.
Two and half minutes into overtime Wednesday, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby won a faceoff in San Jose’s end. One pass and one shot later, the puck was in the back of the net, and the Sharks were in a 0-2 hole in the Stanley Cup Final. Game 3 is Saturday at 5 p.m. at the SAP Center.
Crosby won 71 percent of his faceoffs in Game 2, while the Sharks have struggled in this series, winning just 46 percent, the same rate they’ve had in the playoffs. That’s the lowest mark of any team in the postseason and worse than their 50.7 percent in the regular season, seventh best in the NHL.
“We play against the best centermen,” Logan Couture said when asked about the discrepancy, then ticked off the names. “You look at the teams that we’ve played in these playoffs, they’ve got some very, very good centermen.”
Couture made waves after the Penguins’ 2-1 victory in Game 2 when he said Crosby cheats on his faceoffs by getting an unfair jump on the draw and that he gets away with it because of his high profile.
“He times them, and they don’t kick him out for some reason, probably because of who he is,” Couture said after the game, in which he lost three of the four faceoffs against Crosby.
He didn’t retract the accusation Friday, but his words were less charged.
“Jumbo (Sharks center Joe Thornton) tries to cheat; I try to cheat,” Couture said. “That’s what centermen do.”
Despite the faceoff uproar this week, Couture called them “a little part of the game.”
“We want to be tough at it, we want to be better at it, but there’s bigger aspects of our game that we want to improve as well,” he said.
The Penguins, for example, have outshot the San Jose 71-48 through two games, and the Sharks have had only three opportunities to showcase the power-play unit that was so effective in their first three series.
“I think we have to have the puck more; I think we have to attack more,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think there’s penalties out there. I do believe that. … But it seems like the players are going to get an opportunity to play here. And unless it’s blatant, you’re not going to get (the call).”
The Penguins have been quicker and more aggressive, and the Sharks haven’t been in control of the puck for long periods. Those possessions often begin with a faceoff win, something San Jose is not getting in critical situations.
Of the team’s centers, only Thornton – who has won nine faceoffs and lost six – has a rate better than 50 percent. The Sharks also lost the two faceoffs that preceded Crosby’s win on Wednesday, including one on Pittsburgh’s end of the ice.
NHL rules state that the two players in the faceoff circle must have their shoulders squared to each other, should be about a stick length apart and need to have their blades on the ice when the puck is dropped. They also must be stationary. Crafty centers bend the rules by moving before the pick drops.
Couture on Friday, however, said he thought Crosby’s game-winning faceoff Wednesday was clean. So did Joel Ward, who was matched against Crosby on the play.
“The puck went in,” Ward said. “It was my fault on the play. I lost a pretty key draw. I’ve just got to be better. That’s the bottom line.”
Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows