Every Avs pundit there is, myself included, expected the defense to be the Avs biggest strength this season, and by all accounts it should be. A lineup consisting of:
Salei and Leopold
Should be one of the best in the league, and were supposed to be the backbone of the Avs squad. However the only defender playing strong at all right now is John-Michael Liles who has been far and away the best Avs defender on the ice this season, in both the offensive and defensive ends. Last night was a microcosm for the entire season, with every Avs defender, Liles notwithstanding, having at least one egregious error that put his team in an awful position. Let's tun down the list of what I noticed last night (please feel free to add others in the comments):
* Adam Foote had two. The first came on the Sharks second goal, Setoguchi's first of the evening. As the Sharks came down on a three on two rush, Clark moved to his left to take the shooter and Foote shifted to take Setoguchi in the center leaving the guy on the far side of the ice uncovered. As Foote came over, instead of tying him up in front of the net, he laid a weak shoulder into Setoguchi's chest and skated right past him. This left Setoguchi open for an easy put back when the puck ended up right in front of him
* Brett Clark was bailed out by Budaj after handing the puck over to Ryan Clowe for a 1 vs Budaj breakaway. Don't feel bad for Ryan Clowe though, later in the game an Av will make a terrible play to get him the goal Budaj robbed from him. Despite this Clark was still the Avs second best defender of the night. In related news: The Sharks scored 5 goals.
* After an icing left the tired Avs players on the ice Joe Sakic does what Joe Sakic always does: wins an important face-off, cleanly, to get his team out of trouble. He won it right back to Scott Hannan who then had to clear the puck so the Avs could get a change. He did not clear the puck, instead delivering the puck to a Shark, which led to a 3 vs 2 down low.
* Hannan then compounded his turnover mistake mistake by laying out on the ice to block a pass, and thereby leaving himself well out of position to have any chance of helping out. Making a 3 vs 2 down low a 3 vs 1.
* Ruslan Salei also helped Setoguchi notch his second goal of the evening by also going to the ice, to try and stop the pass caused by Hannan's turnover. He nearly did break up the pass, but it still got to Joe Thornton, who calmly passed it to a wide open Steoguchi. Why was Setoguchi wide open? Because both Hannan and Salei used the slip and slide defense making a 3 vs 2 into a nice 2 vs Budaj.
* Adam Foote had another truly awful play when he tried to pass the puck to Darcy Tucker. Normally a decent idea unless Tucker is sitting there without a stick which made it easy for former Avs, Rob Blake, to steal the pass. (In Foote's defense Tucker made little-to-no effort in doing anything to stop Blake from intercepting that pass). On the plus side this was the only goal where the Avs defense looked somewhat interested in actually marking someone in front of the net. Michalek was still allowed to get to and put home the rebound, but at least Foote and (I assume) Clark were trying to mark him.
*And proving that no good play goes unpunished, Jordan Leopold made up for his goal by allowing Ryan Clowe to get a free rebound on the final goal of the game. Leopold was initially in good defensive position on the play, but inexplicably decided to move in front of Ryan Clowe, instead of staying between him and the goal.
The best defensive play of the night belonged to Joe Sakic, who decided to show the defense how it's supposed to be done. As Joe Pavelski tried to gather the puck in front of the net Sakic decided he had had enough of this and just leveled Pavelski which led to an Avs breakout and scoring chance.
Avs fans can continue to pin the blame of losses like this on Budaj, and I'm sure the reasons will be such nebulous concepts as "rebound control", but all goalies give up plenty of rebounds. Last time I checked those pads on their legs didn't have gloves attached and so any low shot is likely to end up back in front of the goalie. But quality defensive teams will have guys around the goalie to clear those pucks out of the zone and tie up any attackers looking for those rebounds. The Sharks had several plays where the Avs were circling the net and they were positioned properly allowing a juicy Nabokov rebound to be harmlessly cleared up the ice.