Instant Replay: Sharks feel the Blues again, St. Louis sweeps season series

Instant Replay: Sharks feel the Blues again, St. Louis sweeps season series

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – The way the standings are shaping up, the Sharks and Blues could see each other again in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That might not be so great for San Jose.

The Blues skated to a 4-1 win at SAP Center on Thursday night, holding the Sharks to just 20 shots on goal in sweeping the three-game season series – with all of the wins in regulation.

St. Louis outscored the Sharks 8-1 over the final two meetings, including a 4-0 shutout victory in San Jose on Jan. 14.

Zach Sanford’s second period goal broke a 1-1 tie. A deflected puck banked off of the end boards to his tape, and he lifted it over Aaron Dell at 5:49 of the middle frame.

The Blues didn’t get a power play until midway through the third period, but utilized the opportunity. Alex Steen hit the crossbar with a wrist shot, and Vladimir Tarasenko dove in to poke in the loose puck before Justin Braun could clear it out of the way with less than 12 minutes to go in regulation.

Earlier in the third, Jannik Hansen passed up an opportunity to shoot on a two-on-one, passing the puck to Thornton, who then tried to find Joe Pavelski in the slot but missed the mark. The Sharks managed just seven shots on goal from their forwards.

Tarasenko’s empty net goal with 1:50 to go was the final marker.

The Sharks fell to 3-2-0 on their season-long six-game homestand, with one game remaining. They squandered a chance to leapfrog Minnesota for second place in the Western Conference, although remain seven points ahead of Anaheim in the Pacific Division.

St. Louis continued its playoff push under new coach Mike Yeo, winning its sixth game in the last seven (6-1-0). The Blues improved to 13-7-0 since firing Ken Hitchcock and promoting Yeo on Feb. 1.

The Blues struck first. Scottie Upshall got in the way of a Brent Burns outlet pass in the neutral zone, brought the puck over the offensive blue line, and used Paul Martin as a screen to beat Dell at 16:40.

San Jose tied it just about a minute later, getting some help from defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who booted an attempted pass from Marc-Edouard Vlasic to Joel Ward through his goaltender at 17:45. Vlasic was credited with his fifth of the season.

The Blues, who lost in Anaheim on Wednesday night, are 9-2 in the second half of back-to-backs including seven straight wins.

Special teams

The Sharks finished 0-for-2 on the power play, and were 0-for-11 in the season series with the Blues. They are 3-for-29 in the last nine games overall.

St. Louis was 1-for-1, and 3-for-8 against the Sharks for the season. San Jose had been 10-for-10 on the PK in its last four games.

In goal

Dell lost for the first time in his career at home, after six straight wins, allowing three goals on 35 shots. He started for the fourth time in the last eight games, as the Sharks opt to rest Martin Jones more often down the stretch.

Hutton continues to own the Sharks. He improved to 4-0-1 in his career against San Jose with 19 saves, following up on his 23-save shutout in the previous head-to-head matchup.

Lineup

Thornton’s five-game point streak came to an end.

Up next

The Sharks conclude their homestand, and their season series with Anaheim, on Saturday. San Jose is 2-2-0 against the Ducks this season with a pair of overtime wins, as Anaheim has recorded at least a point in all four meetings (2-0-2).

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

Brent Burns working through offensive dry spell

DALLAS – Brent Burns hasn’t altered his routine, despite his name not showing up on the scoresheet for a little while.

“It’s not like I stopped eating the same meal or I’m not sleeping anymore,” Burns said on Thursday, after a rare Sharks road practice. “It’s the same. I do the same thing every game.”

What he hasn’t been doing every game, like he seemed to be for the first three-quarters of the season, is racking up points. The Norris Trophy frontrunner hasn’t potted a goal in his last 14 games, and is scoreless in his last seven. He still leads the Sharks with 70 points, and has four more points than Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the most among NHL defensemen, but there’s no denying he’s hit a cold streak. Previously, he hadn't gone more than three games without a point.

He’s not the only one, of course, as the Sharks have managed just four goals in their last four games, all regulation losses. But when a team is struggling to put the puck in the net, it’s often the top guys that have to lead the resurgence. And no one has been better or more important to the Sharks this season than the 32-year-old blueliner.

Could it be that as Burns goes, so do the Sharks? The team is 33-9-3 when Burns finds the scoresheet, and just 9-15-4 when he doesn't.

Coach Pete DeBoer doesn’t think so, though, pointing to the Sharks putting up plenty of offense at the start of Burns’ dry spell, including nine combined goals in wins over Dallas and Buffalo last week.

“I don’t think we only score when Brent Burns is on. I think we’re deeper than that. I think we’ve shown that,” DeBoer said. “He hasn’t scored in awhile, and up until a few games ago we were putting up some significant goals and numbers and offense. 

“I think even the nights he’s not scoring, we’ve generated lots of chances. Other than the St. Louis game (a 4-1 loss on March 16), the last three games we’ve lost, we’ve generated enough chances that on a lot of nights that’s three or four goals. But, that’s not just [on] Burnzie…It’s some other guys bearing down and sticking it in the net. It will come.”

Joe Thornton believes that the forwards can also do more to help Burns, who has become the team’s most valuable offensive weapon with his ability to get shots or passes through from a distance with velocity and precision like few players in the NHL can.

“He’s obviously a dominant player, and I think we just need to help him out,” Thornton said. “It shouldn’t always be on one guy, I think we’ve got to give him better opportunities to put him in better spots. It shouldn’t all lay on his shoulders. We’re not doing a good enough job to kind of work away from him, and getting him opportunities.”

Burns, of course, is a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. During practice, his hooting and hollering can typically be heard echoing throughout the rink. Simply put, no one has more fun than this guy.

So, is the cold streak weighing on him? Maybe a little bit.

“I think it weighs on him, for sure,” DeBoer said. “We have good dialogue, there’s a lot of communication, especially with him and [assistant coach Bob Boughner]. And also, him and his teammates. The guys know how much responsibility he takes on himself – sometimes too much. Guys are good with that, they recognize that.”

Thornton said: “When you’re a d-man and you get so many goals and so many assists, you kind of expect it’s going to happen every night, but that’s just not the reality of it. He’s doing something that hardly [any] d-men do in the history of the game. … He’s capable of just getting out of that quick, and pouring it on like he has in the first 65 games of the year.”

For now, Burns is taking every new day and new game as it comes, and said: “It’s no different if you’ve won four in a row and you’ve got 10 points.”

And if he did have 10 points in his last four games?

“You want 12. If you’ve got zero, you want one. Then 12,” he said.

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

Notes: Injured Sharks Hansen, Karlsson return to practice

DALLAS – Injured Sharks forwards Jannik Hansen and Melker Karlsson both returned to the ice for Thursday’s practice in Dallas, in what Pete DeBoer called “a good first step” in their recoveries.

The coach left open the possibility that one or both could play against the Stars on Friday night, even though neither was skating on a set line for practice.

“We’ll have to wait and see how they feel [Friday] morning and what the recovery is,” DeBoer said. “I’m not prepared to say they’re in tomorrow, but it’s a good sign they’re on the ice and participated.”

Hansen has been out for the past two games since getting a stick in the head from defenseman Brandon Montour on Saturday against Anaheim. 

“Took a couple days [off] to make sure everything was aright,” Hansen said. “Getting better, back on the ice today.”

Officially, it’s an upper body injury. When pressed if it was a concussion issue, Hansen said: “I don’t know. It’s tough to say to begin with, but obviously you do all the precautionary things that [are] involved now.”

Although he has just one assist in his first six games with the Sharks, Hansen seemed to spark the Sharks’ top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, as the line generated one even strength goal in each of the first four games Hansen played.

Karlsson has missed the last six games with a lower body injury. He has 19 points (9g, 10a) in 60 games with a plus-nine rating.

* * *

The lines remained the same for Thursday’s practice. Patrick Marleau was with Thornton and Pavelski; Logan Couture centered Joel Ward and Mikkel Boedker; Tomas Hertl was between Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, while the fourth line sweaters were worn by Chris Tierney, Micheal Haley, Timo Meier and Danny O’Regan.

San Jose stayed over in St. Paul on Tuesday night and flew to Dallas on Wednesday morning on their day off.

The Wild game, a 3-2 loss, was the Sharks’ fourth straight. They’ve generated just four goals over that span.

That game also capped off a stretch of seven games in 11 days for the Sharks, who now have just a two-point lead on Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division – a lead that was nine points before the losing streak began.

Was the day off good?

“Yeah. We’ve been kind of struggling scoring goals, so just to kind of relax yesterday and then kind of get back and refocus today,” Thornton said. “But sometimes you just need a little time away from the rink. I think yesterday was needed.”

DeBoer said: “I think our group is pretty mature. I don’t think we’re overeating to the situation. No one’s happy we’ve lost a few, but we also know that we’ve done enough good things that we could have won two or three of those games. We’ve just got to stick with it, clean up a couple things, and score some goals.”

* * *

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic skated after missing Tuesday’s game with the flu. Tierney missed Monday’s game in Dallas, also due to illness.

Is that all gone now?

“Knock on wood. Nothing today. Hope so,” DeBoer said.