Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

February 12, 2012, 5:34 pm
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ST. LOUIS A visit to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis is one heck of a way to start a nine-game road trip.

The Blues have collected points in 18 straight home games (15-0-3), and are 22-3-4 overall here. That includes a 1-0 win over the Sharks on Dec. 10, and a 3-2 overtime victory against the Colorado Avalanche last night.

If theyve got a streak going like that you want to break it, and be the team that breaks it, said Logan Couture on Sunday morning after the Sharks skate. Were looking at two points in the standings that we need to move up.

We know theyre good at home, Joe Pavelski said. Theyre a good team. They play hard, and its going to be a good challenge.

The Blues are among the surprise teams in the league this year, and are challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference with 73 points (37-17-2) just three behind the Detroit Red Wings, with whom they have two games in hand.

The Sharks (30-16-6, 66 points) are looking for back-to-back wins after beating the Blackhawks at home on Friday night.

Mistake-free hockey: The Sharks played a strong first and third period against Chicago, and it was the reason they were able to come away with a 5-3 victory (as was the power play, which finished 3-for-6).

It was the second period they would like to forget, though, as they saw a 2-0 lead evaporate and were outshot 17-3 by the Blackhawks.

Limiting mistakes with the puck, something that Sharks had trouble with in their two losses to Phoenix and Calgary in the games immediately preceding the Chicago win, is paramount against the opportunistic Blues.

I would say essential against this team, Todd McLellan agreed. However, "you cant be mistake-free and go out there thinking or being apprehensive about making mistakes. You have to be allowed to make some. Thats why there are four other guys on the ice to cover up for you and help out. But, its about overall game management. When they spend time in the offensive zone they are a big, strong team that cycles well and we have to turn the tide on them and force them to play in their own zone with that type of game.

If we play our second period against Chicago, we wont win. If we play the other two periods, well give ourselves a chance.

Getting back to the power play, that's one area the Sharks may have a distinct advantage. San Jose is 10-for-22 in the last eight games and 8-for-17 in the last five. St. Louis is 27th in the NHL in power play percentage at just 13.7 percent.

Good road game: Teams and coaches often preach of playing a good road game when not in the friendly confines of their own building.

What exactly does that mean?

When youre on the road youre a little bit more patient with the puck at times, Pavelski said. Youre not pressing to do something, and can play a little bit more boring style. That being said, were trying to accomplish the same exact things.

Establishing yourself right off the bat that youre going to compete hard and play is a big thing, McLellan said. You always like to play with the lead, so getting the first one is important, but not essential. Playing a clich simple, smart game.

In fact, that Sharks werent overly displeased with their game in the 1-0 loss here on Dec. 10, which was a tight-checking affair that McLellan and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock described afterwards as having a playoff-type feel.

It wasnt the most entertaining game as a spectator, but thats due in part to St. Louis style of play.

They give up very, very little, McLellan said. We talk about our number being three goals, but they can get to two and still win. Ive heard Hitch talk about checking for chances, and thats where most of their opportunities come from.
View from above: The Sharks got to St. Louis yesterday afternoon, providing the coaching staff an opportunity to watch the Blues home win over Colorado from the press box.

McLellan was asked about that experience, and if it can help him at all in his preparation for tonight.

Its just different when youre up there. You get another dimension to the game, he said. When youre at ice level its much faster but everything is at eye-level, too. Youve got to look through the trees and the forest. When youre up there, youre looking down on the forest. Its way easier to play from up there that it is down here.
Niemi in goal again: Antti Niemi will make the start for the Sharks, and is expected to face Jaroslav Halak after Brian Elliot went last night for the Blues.

Niemi is 4-3 with a 2.60 goals-against average in his career against the Blues, while Halak is just 2-2 with a 3.17 GAA and .911 SP vs. San Jose.

Both Blues netminders have impressive numbers this season, though. Elliott, an All-Star, leads the NHL with a 1.63 GAA and .939 SP (tied with Henrik Lundqvist), but Halaks stat line (2.04, .919) isnt far off. Elliott shut out the Sharks in Dec. 10 with 24 saves.

As a team, the Blues allow the fewest goals-per game in the NHL (1.94). The Sharks are fifth at 2.33 per game.

That could afford Thomas Greiss the opportunity to play in Washington on Monday night when the Sharks visit the Capitals. Greiss last appeared in a 5-2 win against Dallas on Feb. 2.

Odds and ends: Look for Jim Vandermeer to play at forward tonight in place of John McCarthy, as he skated there during practice while McCarthy was on the ice late. Blues forward Andy McDonald, who has missed the last 51 games with a concussion, was activated before the game. Logan Couture has an eight-game scoring streak (5g, 7a); Joe Thornton a five-game streak (4g, 5a); and Burns (8a) and Clowe (1g, 5a) have four-game streaks. The Blues are 2-0 against San Jose, including a 4-2 win at HP Pavilion on Oct. 15. David Perron has five goals in his last three games, including two against the Avalanche last night. Jason Demers (lower body) and Tommy Wingels (left shoulder) remain out, although both are expected to play on the road trip at some point.