SAN JOSE The Sharks had a chance on Saturday night at home to at least give some credence to their claim that they should still be in the discussion of the best teams in the Western Conference.
After a 3-1 loss to the impressive St. Louis Blues San Joses 10th defeat in the last 15 games the Sharks instead illustrated why they dont deserve to be considered among those elite few anymore.
The Blues (41-18-7, 89 points), who swept the four-game season series from the Sharks, all in regulation, are just one point behind Vancouver for the most in the conference. Thats a full 16 points better than the nose-diving Sharks (33-24-7, 73 points), who look like nothing more than a second-class citizen with just 18 games remaining in the regular season.
The Sharks werent necessarily outworked, despite getting out-shot 32-19. The Blues simply looked like the more tenacious and therefore more talented team, that San Jose would be wise to avoid in the playoffs if they even manage to qualify.
It wasnt good enough. No line really generated a lot of chances. Its unfortunate right now, Logan Couture said. We need to win more battles in the other teams end and be hungrier for pucks to create some chances. They were the hungrier team tonight. They out-shot us, outplayed us, and beat us.
Matt Shaw, once again filling in for an ailing Todd McLellan, said: Those shot totals, or the way the stat sheets look, might be generous tonight. I dont know if it fully portrayed our lack of ability to create any sort of net pressure or zone time or put them back on their heels.
After falling behind 1-0, the Sharks tied the game after a rare extended shift in the Blues zone. Torrey Mitchell threw one towards the net from the boards, and it somehow got past Jaroslav Halak at 15:29. It was Mitchells first goal in 20 games.
St. Louis responded just 20 seconds later, when TJ Oshie deflected a Carlo Colaiacovo shot past Antti Niemi to give the Blues the lead back.
The Blues out-shot the Sharks 12-3 in the second period, but special teams was the difference as they increased their lead to 3-1 after 40 minutes.
With Justin Braun off for cross-checking at 11:39, Oshie drove hard to the net from the corner boards. Kevin Shattenkirk was in front and knocked in a loose puck at 12:38 to give St. Louis a two-goal cushion.
The Sharks had a pair of man advantage chances to get back to within a goal before the intermission. Vladimir Sobotka went off for cross-checking Tommy Wingels into the boards at 14:24, but an inept power play was abbreviated on a boneheaded holding penalty by Joe Thornton at 15:39.
Wingels drew another penalty with less than two minutes to go in the second, but the Sharks were once again unable to set up in the offensive zone.
The Blues killed off all three Sharks power plays relatively incident free, by the time the night was through. What was the problem?
Outworking us, Couture said. On a power play youre got five, theyve got four. When youre outworked, youre not going to score.
Shaw said: There were some plays that weve seen our team make time and time again, that we werent making. If youre not executing very well your power play is not going to do a thing, and ours didnt do a thing tonight.
St. Louis took a 1-0 lead on the power play thanks to a fortunate bounce. Shattenkirk dumped the puck in from center ice, and as Niemi went behind the net to play it, it caromed off of the boards to the front of the net where Andy McDonald easy tapped it in at 2:52 of the first period.
The Blues finished 2-for-5 on the power play.
The Sharks nearly took the lead a couple times before McDonalds goal. Thornton set up Pavelski with a nice pass in front of the net in the games first minute that was stonewalled by Halak. Marleau had a shorthanded rush just before that opening score, but Halak stopped it.
Those may have been the Blues goaltenders two toughest saves of the night, and they came on the first two Sharks shots. After that, the Blues consistently prevented the Sharks from setting up shop in their zone.
Theyre a great defensive team. Thats what they do, and we only got one, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.
Shaw said: Hockey is a physical game and their compete level and level of success in those one-on-one battles, which you always talk about, was dramatically better than ours.
The Sharks welcomed back two key players to their lineup. Couture returned from a two-game absence with an apparent knee injury, while defenseman Douglas Murray played after missing the last eight games with a fractured Adams apple.
Murray brought some energy and physicality to the lineup, but was just as frustrated as his teammates, who lost for the eighth time in the last 10 games (2-7-1).
Its small details right now, Murray said. Obviously, a bad bounce on the first goal, but you earn bounces, too. You not only have to work hard, youve got to execute, too. They had better execution that we did.
The Sharks remained in seventh place in the Western Conference, once again failing to move back into the Pacific Division lead after Phoenix lost earlier in the night.
Odds and ends: Michal Handzus, Jason Demers, Benn Ferriero and Andrew Desjardins were scratched for San Jose, all coachs decision. Daniel Winnik recorded his first point as a Shark with an assist on Torrey Mitchells goal. Mitchell's goal ended the Sharks scoreless streak against the Blues at 164:11 after they were shutout in the previous two matchups, both in St. Louis. The Sharks barely used their fourth line forwards in Jim Vandermeer (1:43 of ice time), Brad Winchester (2:13) and TJ Galiardi (2:30). The Blues blocked 19 shots. The Blues finished their road trip 5-1-0.