San Jose Sharks Four Keys Vs. St. Louis

Feb 4, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Matt Nieto (83) shoots the puck to score against the St. Louis Blues during the third period at Scottrade Center. The San Jose Sharks defeat the St. Louis Blues 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Jose Sharks left wing Matt Nieto (83) shoots the puck to score against the St. Louis Blues during the third period at Scottrade Center. The San Jose Sharks defeat the St. Louis Blues 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

San Jose will be an underdog heading into their series in St. Louis, but they should be a confident group facing the Blues.

The San Jose Sharks have a much different feel about them than the last time they squared off against the St. Louis Blues during the postseason. Back in 2012, it felt like San Jose was overmatched as St. Louis steamrolled their way to a five-game series win over team teal.

This year, both teams have been on a path of playoff redemption to this point as each franchise looks to finally break through with a berth in the Stanley Cup Final. The Sharks won’t be an easy out for this Blues team like they were back in 2012, and this has the makings of another series capable of going the distance.

Without further adieu, here are four keys to this series for San Jose to upset St. Louis in the Western Conference Final:

1. Own the Front of the Net

The Blues are a big team that likes to cycle the puck down low and get bodies to the front of the net. The Sharks will need to do a much better job of preventing their opponents from getting in tight against Martin Jones. When Jones was able to see the puck, he’s been solid, but problems have arised when there’s been traffic around him.

On the other end, San Jose has to get inside and pressure Brian Elliott. Elliott has been very good throughout these playoffs with a 2.29 GAA and a .929 save percentage.

When the Sharks beat him twice in the regular season, they were able to get traffic in and around Elliott’s crease and make life difficult for him. Elliott has been shaky at times during this postseason so San Jose must focus on getting bodies and pucks to the net.

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2. Special Teams

It’s a big key in any playoff series and this one will be no different.

The Sharks have been lethal on the power play throughout these playoffs with a postseason-best 13 power-play goals and 31 percent conversion rate. Meanwhile, the Blues aren’t far behind with 11 man-advantage markers and a 27.5 percent success rate.

San Jose’s power play has been a true difference-maker with goals in three-straight games and could be a vital weapon against a St. Louis team that gets itself into penalty trouble from time-to-time.

On the flip side, the Sharks penalty kill really responded after Game 3 against the Predators, killing off their last 10 penalties against. St. Louis brings a much more potent power-play attack so San Jose will have to be on their game.

The Sharks can ill-afford to lose the special teams battle if they want to be the ones left standing at the end.

3. Re-establish Road Dominance

San Jose was the top road team in the NHL recording a franchise best 28 victories away from SAP Center, including both matchups against the Blues at Scottrade Center. They continued their road-winning ways in the first round by taking all three games against the Kings at Staples Center en route to a five-game series win over their bitter rivals.

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However, the script was flipped last round against the Predators whom the Sharks couldn’t figure out on the road. San Jose dropped all three games in Nashville and were vastly outplayed at Bridgestone Arena.

A positive sign for team teal is that they’ve been great at home throughout these playoffs with a 5-1 record, while outscoring their opponents by a 22-9 margin and recording a .946 save percentage.

The numbers are drastically different on the road as the Sharks have been even on the road in these playoffs with a 3-3 record, scoring 19 goals and allowing 19 goals while posting an .891 save percentage.

San Jose will have to re-establish their game away from home ice and play with more confidence and a greater desperation level.

Remember, in their three previous trips to the Western Conference finals, the Sharks have trailed 2-0 in each one of those series. They can’t do that again if they want to have any shot of eliminating the Blues.

4. Top Players

Simply put, your top players have to be at their best in order to advance. The Sharks best players proved that in Game 7 as they led the way in a decisive victory. The hard part is backing it up against a St. Louis team that has done a great job of shutting down the other team’s best players thus far.

In the first round, they did a number on Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and in round two, their sights were set on Jamie Benn.

Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski will be the next ones in the cross-hairs and they have to hold their own and produce for the Sharks. Also, Logan Couture needs to continue his scoring ways after setting a new franchise record with 11 points last series.

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From the back end, Brent Burns will have to maintain his offensive ways as this San Jose team feeds off the opportunities he creates. Meanwhile, Marc-Edouard Vlasic will need his best series ever as he will be tasked with trying to shut down Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The Sharks best players have answered the bell throughout this postseason, rewriting their narrative along the way. They’ll need to write another chapter in that story if they want to advance past these Blues.