Sharks must find discipline against Blues

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Sharks must find discipline against Blues

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.

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Mailbag: Should Sharks trade a d-man for scoring help?

Tuesday’s practice was canceled, as the Sharks boarded an afternoon charter flight to Los Angeles with the dads in tow for the annual fathers trip. That leaves us some extra time for a mailbag…

Why is no line set over halfway through the season? (Kevin Cocquyt @KevinCocquyt39)

The shuffling up of lines is one of those aspects of the game that I think gets overblown a bit. I can’t put a number on how many times Pete DeBoer has prefaced his reply to a question about the latest line changes with the phrase, “we’re not married to any lines…”

That said, I do think the preference would be to ice a more consistent top six at this point. The fact that they haven’t found a left wing to consistently skate on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is concerning. On the second line, it remains to be seen if Kevin Labanc can stick with Logan Couture, or if he’ll start to fade a bit in his first NHL season. The other players that started the season on the second line, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, have been moved all up and down the lineup all season long (more on that below).

Tomas Hertl’s absence has thrown a monkey wrench into all of this, of course. Assuming he gets back next month, there’s still plenty of time to get the lines sorted out for the playoff push. Regardless, though, they are almost always fluid, and keep in mind when DeBoer made a major change to his lines last playoff run – moving Patrick Marleau up to the second line and Chris Tierney to center the third line in the middle of the Nashville series – the Sharks finished off the Predators in the second round and went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final.

So I guess my message here would be, don’t panic all that much at this point. It’s a long season.

Largest surprise and disappointment with the Sharks halfway through the season? There's a lot to pick from on both fronts. (Drew Cormier @DrewCormier)

I’ll give you one obvious and one maybe less obvious for both.

I’ll start with biggest surprise. It has to be Labanc. I know he tore up juniors last season, but this is still a kid who just turned 21 years old and wasn’t a high-round draft pick (sixth round, 2014). I knew the organization was high on him, and I even had him down as a dark horse player to make the team out of camp, but to come up so soon, and play regularly on a top scoring line and score seven goals – more than Donskoi, Boedker, Tierney, Joe Thornton and Joel Ward – is impressive, and, frankly, surprising.

One guy that’s gone under the radar a bit, though, is Brenden Dillon. The 26-year-old defenseman is simply faster and more mobile than he was last season, and he’s really made this defense corps one of the best in the NHL one-through-six. I know the numbers don’t show it, as Dillon has just four assists and a minus-five rating, but he’s a better player than he was last season.

As for disappointment, Boedker remains at the top of that list, even after his hat trick against the Oilers. He just doesn’t seem like the type of player that fits in with this forward group. At this point, I have to think there’s some buyer’s remorse there with Boedker owed $4 million a season through 2019-2020.

But another player that just hasn’t taken that next step so many thought he would is Donskoi. He was downright electrifying on some nights in the playoffs last season, and I thought this season we might see him get to 15-20 goals and 40-50 points. Instead, he’d be on pace for just 28 points in a full 82-game season. I thought he’d be better.

What do you think [Justin] Braun is worth? Can he be used as part of a deal for a top scoring forward? We need extra scoring. (Backhand Shelf @ChrisRivs)

I can understand the concern with the Sharks’ lack of scoring, and that many of their key forwards seem to be underperforming. Perhaps adding a little more scoring punch to their roster at the trade deadline is something that Doug Wilson will explore.

But, I don’t see any way this team will move one of its top four defensemen for a scoring forward. The strength and identity of this team this season has been its defensive structure and its ability to limit the opposition from getting shots and scoring chances in front of goalie Martin Jones. Moving Braun, or any of their other big minute defensemen, just wouldn’t make any sense.

I do, however, expect they’ll lose at least one of their current top six before next season, either through a trade or the expansion draft. That could very well be Braun, who might not get protected. In the meantime, though, they need him on the blue line.

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

Sharks recall three; Donskoi to IR

The Sharks placed forward Joonas Donskoi on injured reserve Tuesday, and recalled a trio of players for their game against Los Angeles on Wednesday at Staples Center.

Donskoi has not played since Jan. 11 at Calgary, dealing with an upper body injury that is not believed to be serious. Although he’ll miss his third straight game on Wednesday, the 24-year-old could technically return for Thursday’s home game against the Lightning. In 41 games this season, Donskoi has six goals and 14 points.

Up front, forwards Ryan Carpenter and Barclay Goodrow were recalled, suggesting that someone from Monday’s 5-2 win over the Jets might not be able to play against the Kings. Logan Couture blocked a Toby Enstrom shot with about nine minutes to go in that game, and there was no immediate update on his status. The Sharks did not practice on Tuesday morning.

Carpenter has one goal in three games with the Sharks this season, coming on Nov. 30 in Los Angeles. He has 20 points (8g, 12a) in 29 AHL games this season. 

Goodrow has yet to make his Sharks season debut, but is first on the AHL Barracuda with 12 goals. He has 15 points (4g, 11a) in 74 career NHL games.

Tim Heed, also recalled, will likely serve as the seventh defenseman filling the void left by an injured Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist).