SAN JOSE Their miserable penalty kill notwithstanding, the Sharks were among the most disciplined teams in hockey this season. In fact, the club finished the regular season with a league low of just 2.88 times shorthanded per game.
You wouldnt know that watching the four games against the Blues, though. The Sharks left an abundance of skate marks leading to the doorstep of the penalty box, and it was a major reason they failed to record even a single point in the standings against St. Louis. That was especially so at Scottrade Center, where San Jose was shorthanded 11 times in two shutout losses and where they begin the postseason on Thursday.
Overall, the Sharks were shorthanded 19 times in the four games against the Blues, almost a full two per game more than their season average.
Simply put, that will have to be remedied if the Sharks have any hope of advancing to the second round.
Ryane Clowe said: Thats something mentally thats all a part of the playoffs.
San Jose failed to score a single goal in St. Louis this season, suffering a 1-0 shutout loss on Dec. 10 there followed by a 3-0 defeat on Feb. 12. Of the four goals they surrendered, three came during a two-man advantage for the Blues, and one was an empty-net goal.
In all, just five goals were scored during five-on-five play in the four games (discounting empty-net goals).
Special teams play is already magnified in the playoffs, but in this series, it could be even more so.
We got into a lot of penalty problems, Thornton said. I dont know how many five-on-threes they scored against us. Just stay out of the penalty box, thats probably number one. We werent disciplined in their building, or here.
I think with us, it wasnt so much the penalties but the timing of some of the penalties, putting us down five-on-three, Clowe said. A lot of them are penalties, so you cant really complain about them too much. Weve got to be better in that area. Obviously, our PK has got to be strong. St. Louis is a disciplined team, so I dont see them taking a whole lot of minors. A lot of it will be five-on-five.
What should also be of concern is that the Sharks got away from their disciplined style in the final two games against Los Angeles. San Jose surrendered six power play goals in nine chances to the Kings in the final two games, yet remarkably found a way to win them both.
They cant expect that to happen against the stingy Blues, who finished the season as the NHLs best defensive club.
I thought we started to sneak in some penalties that we didnt need to take, Todd McLellan said of the Kings games. We werent an overly penalized team during the year, so we were reminded down the stretch.
It will be a factor against St. Louis. They improved their power play immensely under Ken Hitchcock, they have a lot of confidence, so well have to be aware of marching to the penalty box.
As for the power play, the Sharks finished just 1-for-15 against the Blues in the season series. On paper, thats one area the Sharks had a distinct advantage over St. Louis San Jose had the second best percentage (21.0 percent), as compared to the Blues 16.7 percent (20th in the NHL).
The goals against came in unique ways, and we can clean that up, McLellan said. The goals for, we didnt score enough. So thats going to be a focus of ours.
Clowe expects the team to clean up its lack of discipline both down the stretch and against St. Louis. Kind of.
I think every guy knows whats on the line, he said, before adding, its easier said right now, than when youre not getting fired up when someone punches you in the face, or cross-checks you in the back.
When you look at playoff series when they start, its always special teams, Joe Thornton said. If your penalty kill is good and your power play is good, youre probably going to win the series. Theres no exception here.