ST. LOUIS -- The drama from this mornings skate came entirely from the St. Louis side, where Blues coach Ken Hitchcock turned over his roster, for three separate reasons, one more fascinating than the other two.The big one was making third-line wing Chris Stewart a healthy scratch for the first time all year in exchange for Matt DAgostini, a response not only to Stewarts intermittent work in Game 1 but over the course of an up-and-down year. Stewart was clearly surprised by the move, referring at one point to its hard to do a lot in a few minutes of playing time, but Hitchcock was not sparing in his analysis of the Stewart move.We need more from him, Hitchcock said. We need more from that position, more tenacity, more determination, more second and third effort from that position.But he went on from there to describe the decision in terms of the evolution of a career. Hes had an off year. That doesnt mean he cant come back. But if youre talking about a second-line player, you can afford to be a little patient. We expect him to come back and give more. You cant keep talking about it.Stewart, for his part, was visibly shaken by the move, even though he said he expected something might be up Friday."There's obviously more to give, he said. Also, you do need the opportunity. I didn't get the most ice time in the world last game, but it's up to me to earn it. I've got to go out there with the ice time I do get and show them that I deserve more. You look at our team and our depth, there's guys that demanded the ice time and I wasn't one of them. That's why am I where I am right now."Yeah. I thought I ended the regular season on a high note. Every game matters. So, he's going to put the best 12 guys at forward that he thinks are going to get the job done. That's a tough job to do and he has to do it. Somebody has to be the bad guy."It's a pretty bad feeling, but like I said, this is the time of year that it's no time to pout or be down on yourself. We're all professionals here, and we're all a team. It's one game at a time.""Obviously when you lose a game, there is going to be changes. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. I kind of got the idea that if there was going to be changes, I was a possibility that I could be coming out. Not to my surprise, I was out this morning.But given his successes in Colorado as a first-liner and his struggles this year, Hitchcock chose a dramatic moment to send his message.The other changes were more tactical B.J. Crombeen for Ryan Reaves on fourth-line wing, a bit of a surprise, and Carlo Colaiacovo for Kent Huskins as Alex Pietrangelos partner on the second defense pairing. The Blues struggled to make full sense of San Joses third-line-fourth-line exchanges, and though Reaves was effective as a disruptor, Crombeen can do many of the same things and more still. Both he and DAgostini will flank Scott Nichol on the Blues fourth line, while Jamie Langenbrunner gets bumped to the third line with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Sobotka.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com
SAN JOSE – Struggling to score goals lately with two or fewer in eight of their last 11 games, the Sharks may soon turn to their biggest prospect to try and give the offense a boost.
Timo Meier, the ninth overall pick from the 2015 draft, is tearing up the American Hockey League lately with the Barracuda. He scored four goals (and registered 15 shots) in two games in San Antonio over the weekend, has eight points (5g, 3a) in his last four games, and leads the Barracuda with eight goals.
On Thursday, Pete DeBoer was asked what he’s heard about Meier lately and how close he may be.
“Good things, and real close,” DeBoer said. “I think he would have been even a consideration [Wednesday], but he came down I think with the flu.
“You feel for him because we’re looking to bring some guys in, and he obviously had a great weekend. He’s one of quite a few guys down there that we feel real comfortable can come in here and are going to help us before the year ends, for sure.”
It’s the second time an illness has affected Meier’s status, as he came down with mononucleosis early in training camp and missed a month of action. He did, however, return to Barracuda practice this week.
One month ago, Barracuda coach Roy Sommer told CSN that Meier had to make some adjustments coming out of juniors.
“He’s just has to simplify his game,” Sommer said on Nov. 9. “I think he’s just trying to do too much. He’s got to be north-south, and [forget] this circling and trying to put pucks through people. … It’s not going to work.”
Apparently, Meier has figured it out. On Tuesday, Sommer told The Gackle Report: “He’s getting better every game. At the start, I was going, oh man, he’s all over the map, circling and not using his teammates. But shoot, now he just keeps producing.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time with him on video and he picks stuff up.”
The 2015 draft has already produced several players that are regular contributors for their respective clubs, led by Connor McDavid (Edmonton), Jack Eichel (Buffalo), Mitch Marner (Toronto) and Zach Werenski (Columbus).
Meier is the only player among the top 11 picks that year that has yet to play an NHL game, while 17 of 30 of the players overall chosen in the first round have played at least one NHL game.
SAN JOSE – There are games where the Sharks’ lack of offensive firepower isn’t an issue. Recent 2-1 wins over two of the best teams in the league, Chicago and Montreal, were impressive in that San Jose kept a pair of the league’s better offenses from getting more than a single score.
In other instances, though, that necessary goal from the team’s depth just hasn’t come. Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Ottawa was one example. The Sharks got goals from Logan Couture and Brent Burns – no surprise there – while Joe Pavelski was all around the net, generating more scoring chances than any single player on the ice.
Again, though, the depth forwards and defensemen other than Burns never found the scoresheet.
And it’s becoming a real issue.
In fact, in the Sharks’ last 11 games in which they’ve gotten 25 goals total, 60 percent of them have come from just those three aforementioned players – Couture (7g), Burns (5g) and Pavelski (3g).
Also over that span, in which San Jose has gone 6-4-1, they’ve gotten no goals from Joe Thornton, Joonas Donskoi, Mikkel Boedker, Micheal Haley or Melker Karlsson; one goal apiece from Joel Ward and Tommy Wingels; and just one goal by a defenseman other than Burns (Dylan DeMelo). Of the 12 forwards that dressed against the Senators, eight of them had two or fewer goals.
The Sharks sit at 23rd in the NHL at 2.38 goals-per game. Sure, it’s just fine winning games by 2-1 final scores. But at some point, other guys are going to have to start putting the puck in the net if this team is truly going to contend for the Stanley Cup.
Couture – who himself got off to a slow start offensively – believes it’s going to come soon.
“Everyone wants to score,” Couture said after the Senators game. “It’s not about trying, it’s just the way that things are going right now. Pucks just aren’t going in for some guys, and, hey, I went through the same thing for awhile there where I wasn’t finding the back of the net.
“That’s the way that goal-scoring works in the NHL, is you go through streaks where you’re hot and when you’re cold. Some guys are going to get hot soon. It’s going to happen.”
For his part, coach Pete DeBoer also believes the offense will pick up shortly. In the Senators game, the coaching staff internally tracked the scoring chances as 22 for the Sharks and just eight for Ottawa.
When that happens, “you should win, and you should score more than two goals,” DeBoer said.
Without getting into specifics, DeBoer pointed to the “analytics of where we are in the league” as a reason not to panic. Perhaps he’s aware that the Sharks are sixth in the league in shot-attempt percentage (52.25), and first in the NHL in shot-attempt percentage in close games (55.67).
Still, those numbers don’t mean anything when the puck isn’t going in. So what’s missing?
“I just think finish. I think we’re doing a lot of things right,” DeBoer said.
“Obviously I’d love to see us score some more goals five-on-five, but we’re getting some chances,” Ward said. “I would think if we weren’t or if we were getting shelled then it would definitely be something to be concerned about. … We’ve had some good looks and some really quality chances. Things just haven’t fallen in five-on-five, but I think that will come around.”