Sharks blanked by Blues in St. Louis 1-0


Sharks blanked by Blues in St. Louis 1-0


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.

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

Melodrama demands that San Jose’s exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs be portrayed as the very likely end of the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau Era.

It probably won’t work that way, and probably shouldn't as will be explained further down your reading, but when you get shoved out of the postseason in your own building, melancholy is the order of the day. Even if the melancholy isn’t for any player in particular, but for an entire era.

Nobody will blame Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinal on bad luck (although Joe Pavelski going crossbar/post on the final power play of their season was close enough to it), or unjust officiating, or even lousy ice (though that was a fairly clear by-product for those who like their hockey a little less sticky). Edmonton took advantage of two critical Sharks errors 56 seconds apart in the second period, Oiler goaltender Cam Talbot cheated the gods multiple times when the Sharks weren’t vomiting up chances on their own, and young legs joined up with growing know-how to make this a just outcome.

But for Thornton and Marleau, a quick round of 30-on-1 interviews asking them if they thought their days in Finville Heights had finally come to an end were their mutual introduction to yet another unfulfilling offseason.

And a team whose core is among the league’s oldest was just exposed for that very flaw by a team that, in head coach Todd McLellan’s words, “Grew up, learned how to get into the playoffs, how to get a lead, how to play with it, and how to deal with a desperate team at the end of a game. Now we’ll see what they have to learn next.”

That learning will comes against the Anaheim Ducks, who are 15-0-3 in their last 18 games, including four straight against the Calgary Flames.

As for the rest of it, Edmonton earned its advancement without a big series, or even a single big game, from Connor McDavid. Rather, their difference makers were Talbot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (whose work with Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic against the Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski line was the defining matchup) Leon Draisaitl (after a rocky start), Oskar Klefbom (their best defenseman), Zack Kassian (who made the most of his 15 minutes of fame), and Drake Caggiula (whose promotion to the McDavid line at the expense of Patrick Maroon helped wake up Draisaitl).

Plus, McLellan finally got to deliver a rebuttal for his firing by the Sharks two years ago. He didn’t, of course, at least not where anyone could hear it, but the exploding fumigant of the 2015 season never sat right with him as the one who paid the full retail price. Now, with this result, he can let the NHL’s Stanley Cup media guide do the talking for him.

That, and having the team of the future, while San Jose is trying to sort out its past. This is a closing window, one which stayed open a very long time and actually pried itself back open a year ago for the run that took them to the Cup final, but it is now clear that they play at a pace the modern game has outrun. Thornton is still hugely important (he remained an impact player despite the leg injury that cost him Games 1 and 2), and there are no clear young replacements for the central group.

This is why all the melodramatic speculations about Thornton and Marleau in particular and perhaps the entire era ignore one central truth – there are not nearly enough replacements for a reboot, or even a course correction. They may be stuck as what they are – a group whose veterans are still their best players, playing a game that younger and faster players are likely to do better. The Pacific Division, being easily the thinnest of the four, may allow one more year of status quo, but while the day of reckoning has not yet arrived, the method is now clear.

And Edmonton, young, impetuous, sprightly and McLellanized Edmonton, has been the instrument of San Jose’s education.