The San Jose Sharks first game of their nine game road trip Sunday night did not get off to the start they would have liked. The St Louis Blues got two 5 on 3 power play goals and Jaroslav Halak made 25 saves look almost routine as they cruised to a 3-0 win over the Sharks. With the L A Kings winning in Dallas 4-2, the Sharks lead in the Pacific Division is cut to two points though the Sharks have three games in hand with the Kings. The Shark also remain in third place in the Western Conference Standings. The Blues are now 3-0-0 versus team teal this season. The Sharks did not score in either game in St Louis this season, and haven’t scored against the Blues in over seven periods head to head. If the Blues were in the Pacific Division and not the Central, they would have a nine point lead on the Sharks in the overall standings.
Simply put, the Blues even without the benefit of the penalties seemed to be in control for most of the evening after the Sharks got a few early chances in the first period. The Sharks power play also went 0 for 4 managing just three shots on goal. You really cannot blame Antti Niemi who still made 27 saves and honestly kept the Sharks close. If not for Niemi’s efforts, the Blues probably would have won by about five goals. Niemi was that good, but the rest of the team looked very ordinary thanks to a Blues defensive strategy that effectively prevented the Sharks from sustaining an effective forecheck. Though the Sharks did have some scoring chances in the final period also, they just were not able to put together any type of offensive consistency.
A Recap of A Very Blue Night:
Blue Ice - The Sharks had a few chances early on with their best chance coming when Ryane Clowe came close to tipping a slap shot from the point by Logan Couture. Later Douglas Murray launched another slap shot that Joe Pavelksi was not able to tip by Halak. The first period would continue with neither team getting anything for the few scoring chances they had as both Niemi and Halak were on their games. With 8:31 remaining in the opening the Sharks would start finding themselves getting into penalty trouble as three straight infractions were called on team teal.
First, Dan Boyle was called for hooking. The Sharks would have good successful killing off this penalty, however this as it turned out was only the beginning of their troubles. Just eight seconds before Boyle was to be sprung out of the penalty box, Brent Burns would be called for interference. St Louis had a very brief 5 on 3 advantage here, but no harm came from it as the Sharks cleared the puck. Then things got even worse for team teal. Andrew Desjardins would get called for delay of game just over a minute later for flipping the puck over the glass in an attempt to clear his defensive zone. The Blues were now set with a full 53 seconds of a 5 on 3 advantage. The Blues only needed 35 of those seconds as T J Oshie was able to feed Alex Pietrangelo who then took the puck to where he could find a shooting lane and fired a shot that Niemi never saw. Niemi was screened out by a few Blues and Sharks around the net. The Blues had a 1-0 lead they would carry into the second period.
More of the Same- The second period was were the Blues just started to take control and dominate. Team teal found it extremely difficult to navigate the puck into the Blues defensive zone, let alone hold the zone long enough to create any really solid scoring chances. The Blues meanwhile despite having a better grip on the puck were held off the scoreboard by Niemi who stayed solid himself. The Sharks had a power play early in the period when the Blues Carlo Colaiacovo was called for interference, however the Sharks could not do anything with this opportunity and were held to just one shot on goal.
Later in the period Clowe and Brad Winchester would draw minor penalties simultaneously. With 4:17 left in the period, Clowe was shown the penalty box for tripping while Winchester was flagged for elbowing. St Louis again had another 5 on 3 opportunity, though this time it would be for a full two minutes. To the Sharks credit, they pretty much handled themselves very well during this difficult penalty kill situation. However, maybe this may have been a bit much to ask of team teal. With just 20 seconds remaining in the two man advantage, St Louis’ Pietrangelo launched a slap shot that Niemi stopped, but the puck was knocked loose. In the scramble for it, David Perron was able to dig out the rubber biscuit and flip it over Niemi for another Blues power play goal. The Sharks now trailed by two and those two goals looked like a mountain to climb. With just over a minute to go in the period Halak continued to be hot stopping a point blank shot from Patrick Marleau.
Not Quite The Power Hour- The Sharks had 20 minutes to try and solve Halak and the Blues defensive pressure which was tough all night. In the final period, the Sharks had three power plays (six minutes of a man advantage spread over the period). The Sharks in those three power plays managed exactly two shots on goal, so it was not as if the Sharks didn’t have their chances. The Sharks simply were not able to cope with the Blues who kept the Sharks shut down rather effectively. The Sharks ended the game with 25 shots on goal, though it’s really tough to say which ones (besides Clowe in the first period and Marleau in the second) came close. The Sharks also fanned on a few pucks around the net that if tipped just right could have been goals. The Blues’ Pietrangelo would add an empty netter with six seconds left for the game’s final margin.
Game Analysis- There are a few ways you could look at this game. Certainly one would be that without the penalties, this game conceivably could have gone to overtime with a scoreless tie. You cannot fault Niemi, he’s the difference between (really 2-0) and maybe 5-0. The Sharks in the end just were shut down by a team that is superior defensively and has totally bought into Head Coach Ken Hitchock’s system. The Blues are now 23-3-4 at home and have pointed in 19 straight home games. The Blues are certainly playoff bound and may very well be that team which nobody wants to play come mid-April. For the Sharks, they have to regroup and quickly. Less than 21 hours after this one ends, the second game of the tennis road trip continues Monday Night against the Capitals in Washington DC.
The Sharks are really going to dig deep on this trip because by the time it’s over we will likely have a pretty good idea of what they are made of and how far they may go. The trade deadline is one day before the Sharks return to the Tank. I don’t know that any changes are on the horizon, but this team right now is just spinning it’s wheels and cannot get any traction. Game to game, you cannot tell which Sharks team will show up. The one that beat Chicago this past Friday Night, or the one that played tonight. Team teal is a puzzle this season that’s not easy to solve.
GO SHARKS, BEAT THE CAPITALS IN DC!!!
The King Shark
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