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.

GMs have taken all the fun out of Trade Deadline day


GMs have taken all the fun out of Trade Deadline day

The NHL trade deadline came and went Monday night when the Washington Capitals went chips-in on St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

(For the record, the actual details of the trade are so absurdly complicated that all you will be permitted to know here is that the Caps got Shattenkirk).

But the fact is that, yet again, all the air rushed out of Wednesday’s trade deadline balloon for the hockey media, and the poor sods on set to babysit all the deal-lets and non-deals will weep bitterly as their phones spit out hour after hour of non-information.

At least that’s the way it is playing now. Maybe Pittsburgh will finally close that long-rumored (well, by me, anyway) Sidney Crosby-for-Phil Di Giuseppe deal, but that’s not the way to bet.

But the trade deadline has been slowly but surely dying as general managers find far greater advantage in making their deals away from the time crunch and the persistent phone calls from other general manager, agents and worst of all, media weasels.

For example, the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans broke the NBA trade deadline as well as the All-Star Game by doing the DeMarcus Cousins deal four days early and midway through the first half, in that order.

And though this wasn’t actually a trade, the Golden State Warriors broke the market back in July by maneuvering their way for the prize of the summer – Zaza Pachulia.

Oh, and the other guy.

In short, the general managers seem to have figured out the simplest way to foil the pressures of the trade deadline – by ignoring the deadline and acting ahead of time, creating their own spoiler alerts by spoiling everyone’s fun before they were fully alerted.

And that leaves the rest of us faced with an empty day of blather after we’ve all gone to the trouble of doubling down on beer and chips.

Ultimately the idea behind the coverage of a trade is to break the news of the trade whenever it happens. And the idea of the trade from the general manager’s view is to better the team and minimize the chance of being fired.

All laudable goals, by and large.

But a trade deadline without some recognizable trades is just another day when you can’t fake working, and who needs that?

What’s needed here then is a trade deadline with teeth and real tangible punishments for everyone involved. I mean, we have chips and guacamole to think of.

For instance, there is no reason why the leagues couldn’t install rules that say that no trade can be announced even to any of the principals (players, agents, medioids, et. al.) except on the day of the deadline. Any teams involved in a deal that breaks the embargo is fined a massive amount of the owners’ (as in both teams’ owners) money.

To make this work, the teams would have to agree no trade could be made between, say, Thanksgiving and the deadline. Or Christmas, depending on how you feel about tryptophan overdosing. But the point is, nothing could get done until the agreed-upon deadline, and it could only be announced to anyone on the day of the deadline.

This is profoundly unfair to the players, of course, but that little issue has never bothered management before when the alternative was money.

It is also not much fun for the media, which has to twiddle its opposables floating rumors that can’t be proven or disproven except on that one day when everyone works from midnight to midnight, wired to the eyelids on six-buck coffee and enough green tea to turn a gall bladder into a souvenir ash tray.

No, this is about making a worthwhile and ironclad trade deadline for the good of the sport, and the business.

Okay, this is about our amusement.

We all like trade deadlines. It gives order to the market, and it centers everyone’s focus on one hyper-adrenalized day to watch out for double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses from general managers wanting to jump each others’ action in search of their own personal Shattenkirks.

It spikes Verizon stock, it makes lots of business for movers and real estate vultures, it provides cheap and disposable fame for about two-thirds of the players in the league, and it makes everyone involved look like twitchy red-eyed zombies on television.

It beats the Bachelorette every time, because among other things it looks a lot more like parents do when they’ve been up all day and night with the colic farms.

In short, a trade deadline is a precious thing not to be discarded just because it’s inconvenient for a few suits and about-to-be-moved employees.

So yeah, Kevin Shattenkirk could have held another day or so. You know, for the good of the game.


Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

SAN JOSE – Less than 48 hours before the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday at noon, the Sharks’ brain trust has at least one important decision to make.

Are they comfortable rotating left wingers in and out of the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski line, or should an upgrade be attempted via the trade market? There are a number of players said to be available that could provide the team with some forward depth and scoring punch ahead of the playoffs.

Seven different wingers have played on that so-called top line, none of them lasting more than one continuous stint there than Patrick Marleau from Nov. 21 – Jan. 3. 

In total, seven different players have started a game on that line, including Marleau (25 games), Tomas Hertl (13 games), Kevin Labanc (6 games), Mikkel Boedker (5 games), Timo Meier (4 games), Joel Ward (4 games) and Melker Karlsson (4 games). Injuries have played a role, of course, but it seems as if coach Pete DeBoer has been looking for someone to seize that position. 

Pavelski, though, didn’t seem overly worried about the ongoing alternation.

“We’ve had a few different players there, and I don’t think it’s a concern,” said the captain. “You’re always looking for chemistry and something set in stone if you can get it, but throughout a game, things change.”

DeBoer laid out what he’s looking for in a player to skate alongside Thornton and Pavelski, as well as the kind of player that wouldn’t fit in that role.

“You have to play [at Pavelski and Thornton’s] level and their work ethic,” said the coach. “They want the puck. They want to hunt the puck and want someone to get in there and retrieve pucks so that they can have possession. 

“I can tell you a guy who doesn’t fit would be a guy who is strictly a shooter, or kind of lets other people do the work and just goes to holes. They need somebody that’s going to work at their level and hunt the puck, so that’s got to be part of it.”

Labanc is the latest player to hold down that spot, starting there for the last four games and remaining there for Monday’s practice at Sharks Ice. Just 21 years old, Labanc has contributed a respectable seven goals and 18 points in his first 46 NHL games. Still, he hasn’t scored a goal in his last 22 games, and has just one assist and four total shots in the last four games.

It’s debatable whether the still-smallish Labanc is ready for the rigors of an NHL schedule on a full-time basis, which would make it dangerous for the Sharks to go into the postseason with someone like him in such a key position. DeBoer, though, praised the rookie’s recent efforts.

“I thought he’s done a good job. He’s got some of those [aforementioned] attributes,” DeBoer said. "He’s an offensive guy, [and] he thinks on their level offensively.”

Other teams in direct competition with the Sharks for a Western Conference title are adding pieces, particularly up front. Anaheim acquired scoring winger Patrick Eaves from Dallas, the Blackhawks brought in Detroit forward Tomas Jurco, and Minnesota gave up a haul to Arizona for center Martin Hanzal.

If the Sharks don’t make a move, they will likely go the whole season without bringing in a single player from the outside other than their young prospects. That would be unique, especially for a team that has championship aspirations.

Pavelski seemed to insinuate that he expects at least one body to arrive.

“Whoever we get, hopefully they’ll fill a little depth or add a little something, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

But if not?

“It doesn’t change anything if nothing happens, that’s for sure. We’re going to keep trying to get better.”