It was all over for the San Jose Sharks just shortly after 7pm Pacific Daylight Time early Saturday Night. The St Louis Blues rallied to score three goals in the third period as they would go on to eliminate the Sharks with a 3-1 victory over team teal. The win by the Blues gave St Louis a convincing 4 games to 1 series win that frankly wasn’t really that close. If not for a Martin Havlat goal in the second overtime of Game One, the Blues probably win this series in a sweep. The Blues with the win become the second team in the Western Conference to advance into the second round of the playoffs, following behind the Nashville Predators who advanced Friday Night. For the Sharks, the reality is that this franchise likely has fallen far enough to where major shake-ups in the team teal organization may be eminent as they face what likely will be a long and telling off season of uncertainty.
Jamie Langenbrunner, David Perron, and Andy McDonald scored for the Blues in the final period as the Sharks nursed a 1-0 lead up until just past the half way point of the third period. The roof eventually would cave in for team teal as Langenbrunner and Perron scored 45 seconds apart at 11:16 and 12:01 of the final period to put the Blues ahead quickly and for good. McDonald, who was an uncontrollable thorn in the side for the Sharks all series, scored an empty netter with 39 seconds remaining in the game to seal the Sharks eminent fate in this series. The Sharks gave good efforts in the final two games of this series however fell short as the Blues were just better when it counted the most. The Sharks made the playoffs as a seventh seed, and finished the playoffs looking like a seventh seed. The Blues meanwhile could assume the top spot in the West if the LA Kings beat Vancouver in the first round of these playoffs this week.
Recapping The Final Game of the 2011-12 Season:
Keeping The Objective Simple- The only strategy for the Sharks going into Game Five was to do their best to simplify things by trying to focus on winning just this one game and not think about what was ahead or what had happened in the previous four games. The Sharks to do this needed to find ways to try and keep the Blues offensive attack at bay while trying to create opportunities of their own. The Blues would control the lions share of the first period and would out shoot the Sharks 7-3. Early in the first period Antti Niemi held off a brief Blues attack on the Sharks net turning away shots on goal from Carlo Colaiacovo and former Shark Scott Nichol. Later with the Sharks a man down because of a Havlat hooking penalty, Niemi would weather another St Louis storm. Jason Arnott and Colaiacovo would take turns getting pucks on the team teal net. Moments later the Blues’ Langenbruner drilled a shot that hit the post to Niemi’s right. Outside of these spurts for the Blues attack, the Sharks did a reasonably decent job in keeping St Louis at bay. For the Blues, their game plan may have been somewhat similar to that of the Sharks. After getting two early shots on goal from Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski in the first 50 seconds of the game, the Sharks only managed one shot from Michal Handzus over the final 19:10 of the period.
Picking Up The Pace- The Sharks started to pick things up in the second period and put more pucks on Blues goalie Brian Elliott. Joe Thornton was the first Shark to challenge Elliott as he attempted a wrap around shot that the Blues goalie would smother. Handzus would later challenge Elliott with a hard wrister from the slot. Meanwhile Niemi was fairly busy on the other end of the ice taking away a strong snap shot from Kevin Shattenkirk. Unfortunately for the Sharks their woes would continue on the power play as they once again failed to take advantage of being a man up when BJ Crombeen was called for goalie interference. The Sharks just never found any sustained rhythm here despite managing to get a couple of shots on net from Boyle and Havlat.
Though it would take awhile, the Sharks finally found a way to get a puck past Elliott. Late in the period, Thornton was able to get a feed pass from Daniel Winnik from near the Blues goal crease and wrist the puck into the St Louis net with just 39 seconds remaining in the second period giving the Sharks a rare lead at 1-0. Winnik as able to get a feed pass from Torrey Mitchell before coming out to the front of the crease to feed Thornton. The Sharks would out shoot the Blues 13-8 in the period and seemed to have a sliver of hope as the second period came to a close.
51 Is Not The New 60- The main criticism the Sharks have had through much of the year has been their at times not being able to play 60 minutes of solid sustained hockey though most points of the season. Niemi over four minutes into the final period made one of his best saves of the game as a Sharks turnover in their defensive zone lead to a Langenbrunner point blank shot from the left slot. Niemi was solid and covered for his teammates error and made the point blank save. Later Niemi would get another point blank challenge from Arnott who came in from the right point. Niemi’s effort here made Arnott just look up in the air skyward after the save was made. The Sharks would go on to shut out the Blues. That was the Good News. The Bad News? Niemi’s shutout would end up being a 51 minute affair. The other nine minutes is where everything went south for team teal and in an hurry.
With 8:50 remaining in the third period, it would be Nichol that would lead a two on two charge from the St Louis defensive zone into the Sharks end of the ice. Nichol would launch a sharp shot that Niemi would save, only to see the puck hit the side of his leg pad and take a strange bounce over towards the open crease. Langenbrunner who was charging just behind Nichol would beat Justin Braun in a race to the puck and stuff home the game tying goal with 8:44 remaining. For team teal this was only the precursor for what turned out to be the beginning of the end. The Blues no sooner had tied the game at 1-1 when they again took control of the puck on the Sharks end of the ice just seconds after the face off. In wasting no time, Perron with possession of the puck at the slot would pass it down to Alex Pietrangelo. Upon receiving the rubber biscuit Pietrangelo launched a slap shot that redirected off of Perron’s stick and into the goal past Niemi. In a 45 second span, the Blues had overtaken the Sharks to grab a 2-1 lead and put team teal behind the eight ball.
The Season’s End- The Sharks again to their credit refused to quit and seemingly had one last chance when the Blues’ McDonald would get whistled for delay of game with 4 1/2 minutes remaining. Team teal was in complete attack mode and actually generated five shots on goal in this final attempt to salvage the season from Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Pavelski and Thornton. Elliott however was in complete command throughout and no pucks really came close to entering the Blues net. A moment later with the Sharks going for broke and Niemi pulled for the extra attacker, McDonald delivered the final knockout punch in scoring an empty net goal from a back handed shot near center ice.
Game. Set. Match. Season. For the St Louis Blues, their first playoff series win in 10 years and time to rest before they start the 2nd round of the playoffs.
For the Sharks, another in a long line of storied playoff failures. This notorious list that just grew larger as the Sharks will have to wait another season to accomplish their ultimate goal. An ultimate goal that right now could not be more further away and out of reach.
Game Analysis- The Sharks in this game as in the previous game played good, however it was simply in the end not good enough to win. Again, this was more a matter of the opponent being better and decidedly so. The last two games may have been “close”, but this series was a blowout otherwise. The Sharks were fortunate to be in the playoffs much less a Game 5 in this series. Team Teal again put forth a reasonably solid effort and held the Blues off of the scoreboard for much of the game, which was probably the only way they could win. You certainly cannot blame Niemi who basically earned combat pay for this series and kept the Sharks in this game as long as he could. Niemi made 24 saves and only gave up two goals late, the first because of a bad bounce. The second after the Sharks were shaken enough afterward to where they could not quickly regroup. Though the Sharks made a late run and did all they could, in the end they simply were no match for the Blues (as in none whatsoever).
Meanwhile the Blues as a team never flinched even when Thornton scored the late goal in the second period. The Blues were calm throughout and seemingly knew their chance would come if they were just patient enough, and they were. St Louis is the surprise of the NHL this year for many reasons, and much of that has to do with the fact they have a strong team concept and understand what it takes to play at a high level. Say what you want about Ken Hitchcock, but to me he is easily the Jack Adams Award winner for NHL Coach of the Year and would get my vote if I had one. The Sharks are not a bad team, but the Blues made the Sharks look bad throughout. This is not a knock on the Sharks, because there are not too many teams from either conference that will beat St Louis. The only team I see that could challenge them would be Nashville (which may be this years Western Conference Final). Congrats to the St Louis Blues for a job well done. The St Louis Blues beat the Sharks handily, and beat the Sharks fair and square…period. When you hold Marleau, Palvelski and Clowe completely off the score sheet rendering them almost as non-factors in the enitre series, what else can you say?
What’s Next For The Sharks?- There are a lot of raw emotions out there right now, and honestly I’m guilty of having a few of those myself. As for what 2012-13 is going to be like for the Sharks, right now that is very hard to say. What will happen in 2012-13 and into the future beyond that could be just about anything. The one thing I can tell you that what the Sharks cannot do is stand pat. This same line-up and team next season as it is comprised of right now I doubt will even make a serious playoff run, they are going to all be a year older and every weakness that can be exposed has been. What started out as an impressive 6-3 win over Phoenix on opening night back on October 8th turned out to be nothing more than a mirage for 86 more games, many which were at times just simply hard to watch. I guess it’s safe to say now the Sharks this year where slightly overrated (and that’s really difficult for me to say). The team was flawed and those flaws eventually reared their ugly heads about 60 games into the season and never really went away. The Sharks fought really hard in the end to make the playoffs, but clearly had nothing left once they finally got there.
My Take on Doug Wilson- I like a lot of the things Doug Wilson has done with this team since he became the General Manager eight years ago. To Wilson’s’ credit, he made the Sharks a viable prime time player and many of his teams were built to contend for the long term and well into the post season. Unfortunately with the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup being the pinnacle, the Sharks there have fallen short. The Sharks have made three Western Conference Finals in Wilson’s’ Eight Year tenure, falling well short each time to a then superior opponent. There are no guarantees in the NHL anymore than their are guarantees in everyday life. Just because a team is good enough on paper to win it all does not mean they will. This is the glass half full argument. As for the glass being half empty, I also feel as much as I like DW, I have to also assess it objectively and conclude that he’s had his chance. There are also players on the roster whom the same could be said for too. Also, there is concern about the farm system being depleted through some recent trades. I don’t know what direction the Sharks will go from here, but I have an idea DW will need to give ownership a good reason to keep him at the helm. That will be a much harder sell this time around.
My Take on Todd McLellan- As for Todd McLellan, there are not many coaches that can say they studied under Mike Babcock’s system. McLellan is a good coach and about as smart of a hockey man as their is out there today. McLellan was brought in after the Sharks fired Ron Wilson following the 2007-08 campaign, after four straight Sharks playoff failures. What I said then was this, “Today you can argue it was RW and it may very well have been RW. If the Sharks are in the same position four years from now they they are today, it won’t be on the coach, it will be on the players.” That is my belief today, this is not McLellan or his staff’s fault. McLellan is a solid man and a solid Head Coach. Besides that, If the Sharks were to let McLellan go, I can almost guarantee you Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster would be on the phone to TMac the next day with a Head Coaching offer. I don’t see too many head coaching candidates out their right now that would make the Sharks situation any better. This will require some player movement and maybe the parting of ways with some household names. This will even require letting a few players who’s contacts maybe expiring to just walk. This will also likely require a new approach and/or philosophy.
I cannot call this campaign either a success or even growth. I can say for the Sharks though it maybe time to do some serious sole searching as a franchise. They’ll have at least four months for that starting now…
THANK YOU FOR ALL OF YOUR EFFORTS THIS SEASON SHARKS, GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!
The King Shark
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