ST. LOUIS There are two aspects of the Sharks game that have been noticeably dreadful throughout most of their recent inconsistency. Both were on display in a 1-0 loss to St. Louis on Saturday night at Scottrade Center.
Special teams is one. San Jose finished the night 0-for-6 on the power play, while allowing a five-on-three power play goal to St. Louis Kevin Shattenkirk in the first period. The Sharks are just one for their last 26 on the power play.
The other is poor starts, and the Sharks failed to generate anything offensively through the majority of the first two periods of their fifth loss in the last seven games all in regulation.
Several of the Sharks players and the head coach chalked up the teams fourth shutout-against to solid defensive play by the Blues, who improved to 11-2-3 under Ken Hitchcock. That may be true, but the Sharks didnt have any Grade A scoring chances until there was 15:25 remaining in the third period, when Brad Winchester drove hard to the net and goalie Brian Elliott froze the loose puck before Joe Thornton could find it.
You have to get three guys around the puck just to come up with it before you get shots to the net, said Ryane Clowe. A lot of times we did that, but there were a lot of shots blocked and a lot of shots knocked down before they got to the net. Obviously, its a different mentality over there, and a different team and different system (under Hitchcock). They dont give up a lot of shots, and theyll take a 1-0 game any night, Im sure.
In my opinion, it was an April or May game, a lot of tight checking and a lot of playoff style grinding along the boards. Not many chances for either team, said Todd McLellan. Neither of the goalies was really that busy, it was just a lot of ping-pong and grinding type play along the boards. They got the one and we didnt.
Elliott improved on his already league-leading numbers, finishing with 24 saves. His goals-against average dropped to 1.45 and save percentage improved to .947. Still, he wasnt tested much by San Jose until late.
Midway through the third, he made a quick pad save on a one-timer by Joe Pavelski on a cross-ice pass from Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Logan Couture had the best chance with a minute left in the regulation, but Elliott stopped his one-timer from the slot on a feed from Thornton with Antti Niemi pulled for an extra attacker. It was a play that Couture said he should have capitalized on.
I should score in the slot on a one-timer, he said. I didnt shoot it where I wanted to. I wanted to go high glove side, and I wish I had that back. It feels like you get that one, you earn the team a point. I should have scored.
Shattenkirks goal came on a two-man advantage at 19:34 of the first period and held up as the only marker. His low wrist shot through defenseman Colin White beat Niemi, who finished with 18 saves.
I had some trouble tracking it, but I still saw the puck, said Niemi. I was caught a little bit deep there, I think.
Even with the Blues playing strong defensively and along the boards, the Sharks still had no less than a half dozen power plays. Their first two in the first period were especially bad, and the best scoring chances actually came from St. Louis sticks.
First, with T.J. Oshie off on a hooking call just 62 seconds into the game, Niemi made a nice glove stop on David Backes with the Blues on a two-on-one shorthanded rush.
Later, Niemi made a pad save on Oshie with David Perron in the box for holding at 7:15. Oshie spun Jason Demers around while cutting to the slot before lifting a sneaky backhand on net.
I was disappointed in the desperation in our first two power plays in the first seven minutes of the game, said McLellan. I thought thats where we lacked it a little bit. Their confidence went up in that situation and they felt like they had a good plan against our power play. That set us up for the rest of the night on the power play as not being very strong.
Power play wasnt very good, obviously. I think when youre not sharp early, it carries over, said Clowe. We didnt do anything. We didnt get any momentum off of it, and we didnt get any shots. It was disappointing. Our penalty kill did a good job, but the PP wasnt very good.
McLellan tinkered with his power play units, putting Pavelski on the point, where he was most of last season, and inserting Michal Handzus on the wing. Handzus had played just over 11 minutes combined on the power play this season, and skated for more than three minutes on Saturday.
It wasnt a very productive three minutes, though. His hooking penalty late in the first with San Jose on the power play helped lead to the Blues goal, and later, he was caught offsides on an odd-man rush.
We can field a hell of a lineup for power play when it comes to the personnel, said McLellan. Theyve proven in the past that they can do it, and were going through a tough skid right now.
The Sharks killed off four of five Blues power plays, although they caught a break after the Shattenkirk two-man advantage goal. Justin Brauns penalty should have carried over for more than a minute, but the referees incorrectly let him out of the box early.
The game featured Thornton and the Blues David Perron skating on the same ice for the first time since Thornton drilled the 23-year-old last November, causing him to miss 13 months with a severe concussion. The fans booed Thornton early on, and were particularly pleased when Shattenkirk drilled the Sharks captain along the boards in the second period.
Shattenkirk returned to the lineup after missing the previous game with the flu.
The Sharks visit the Blackhawks on Sunday.
Odds and ends: Andrew Murray was a healthy scratch for the second straight game, in favor of Frazer McLaren. Douglas Murray (right hand) and Jim Vandermeer (upper body) remain out. The game was the third 1-0 contest in which the Sharks have been involved in this season. They lost to Anaheim on Oct. 14 and beat Chicago on Nov. 23. San Jose won the faceoff battle for the 11th straight game, 30-29.