Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

ST. LOUIS A visit to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis is one heck of a way to start a nine-game road trip.

The Blues have collected points in 18 straight home games (15-0-3), and are 22-3-4 overall here. That includes a 1-0 win over the Sharks on Dec. 10, and a 3-2 overtime victory against the Colorado Avalanche last night.

If theyve got a streak going like that you want to break it, and be the team that breaks it, said Logan Couture on Sunday morning after the Sharks skate. Were looking at two points in the standings that we need to move up.

We know theyre good at home, Joe Pavelski said. Theyre a good team. They play hard, and its going to be a good challenge.

The Blues are among the surprise teams in the league this year, and are challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference with 73 points (37-17-2) just three behind the Detroit Red Wings, with whom they have two games in hand.

The Sharks (30-16-6, 66 points) are looking for back-to-back wins after beating the Blackhawks at home on Friday night.

Mistake-free hockey: The Sharks played a strong first and third period against Chicago, and it was the reason they were able to come away with a 5-3 victory (as was the power play, which finished 3-for-6).

It was the second period they would like to forget, though, as they saw a 2-0 lead evaporate and were outshot 17-3 by the Blackhawks.

Limiting mistakes with the puck, something that Sharks had trouble with in their two losses to Phoenix and Calgary in the games immediately preceding the Chicago win, is paramount against the opportunistic Blues.

I would say essential against this team, Todd McLellan agreed. However, "you cant be mistake-free and go out there thinking or being apprehensive about making mistakes. You have to be allowed to make some. Thats why there are four other guys on the ice to cover up for you and help out. But, its about overall game management. When they spend time in the offensive zone they are a big, strong team that cycles well and we have to turn the tide on them and force them to play in their own zone with that type of game.

If we play our second period against Chicago, we wont win. If we play the other two periods, well give ourselves a chance.

Getting back to the power play, that's one area the Sharks may have a distinct advantage. San Jose is 10-for-22 in the last eight games and 8-for-17 in the last five. St. Louis is 27th in the NHL in power play percentage at just 13.7 percent.

Good road game: Teams and coaches often preach of playing a good road game when not in the friendly confines of their own building.

What exactly does that mean?

When youre on the road youre a little bit more patient with the puck at times, Pavelski said. Youre not pressing to do something, and can play a little bit more boring style. That being said, were trying to accomplish the same exact things.

Establishing yourself right off the bat that youre going to compete hard and play is a big thing, McLellan said. You always like to play with the lead, so getting the first one is important, but not essential. Playing a clich simple, smart game.

In fact, that Sharks werent overly displeased with their game in the 1-0 loss here on Dec. 10, which was a tight-checking affair that McLellan and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock described afterwards as having a playoff-type feel.

It wasnt the most entertaining game as a spectator, but thats due in part to St. Louis style of play.

They give up very, very little, McLellan said. We talk about our number being three goals, but they can get to two and still win. Ive heard Hitch talk about checking for chances, and thats where most of their opportunities come from.
View from above: The Sharks got to St. Louis yesterday afternoon, providing the coaching staff an opportunity to watch the Blues home win over Colorado from the press box.

McLellan was asked about that experience, and if it can help him at all in his preparation for tonight.

Its just different when youre up there. You get another dimension to the game, he said. When youre at ice level its much faster but everything is at eye-level, too. Youve got to look through the trees and the forest. When youre up there, youre looking down on the forest. Its way easier to play from up there that it is down here.
Niemi in goal again: Antti Niemi will make the start for the Sharks, and is expected to face Jaroslav Halak after Brian Elliot went last night for the Blues.

Niemi is 4-3 with a 2.60 goals-against average in his career against the Blues, while Halak is just 2-2 with a 3.17 GAA and .911 SP vs. San Jose.

Both Blues netminders have impressive numbers this season, though. Elliott, an All-Star, leads the NHL with a 1.63 GAA and .939 SP (tied with Henrik Lundqvist), but Halaks stat line (2.04, .919) isnt far off. Elliott shut out the Sharks in Dec. 10 with 24 saves.

As a team, the Blues allow the fewest goals-per game in the NHL (1.94). The Sharks are fifth at 2.33 per game.

That could afford Thomas Greiss the opportunity to play in Washington on Monday night when the Sharks visit the Capitals. Greiss last appeared in a 5-2 win against Dallas on Feb. 2.

Odds and ends: Look for Jim Vandermeer to play at forward tonight in place of John McCarthy, as he skated there during practice while McCarthy was on the ice late. Blues forward Andy McDonald, who has missed the last 51 games with a concussion, was activated before the game. Logan Couture has an eight-game scoring streak (5g, 7a); Joe Thornton a five-game streak (4g, 5a); and Burns (8a) and Clowe (1g, 5a) have four-game streaks. The Blues are 2-0 against San Jose, including a 4-2 win at HP Pavilion on Oct. 15. David Perron has five goals in his last three games, including two against the Avalanche last night. Jason Demers (lower body) and Tommy Wingels (left shoulder) remain out, although both are expected to play on the road trip at some point.

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will compete in the upcoming IIHF World Championships for Team Canada, it was announced on Friday.

The tournament runs from May 5-21 in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. 

Vlasic, 30, a native of Montreal, has played in the tournament twice before in 2009 and 2012. He also represented Canada in the 2014 Olympic Games, helping it to a gold medal, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which Canada also captured.

In 75 games with the Sharks this season, Vlasic posted 28 points (6g, 22a) and a +4 rating. He was second on the team in shorthanded time on ice (2:04 per game) and blocked shots (146).

A pending restricted free agent in 2018, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson called getting Vlasic signed to a long-term deal an offseason priority for the club. The two sides can begin negotiations on July 1.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” Wilson said. “[He] is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

The Sharks lost in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs to Edmonton, although Vlasic and partner Justin Braun helped to keep Connor McDavid in check at even strength. The league's leading scorer had just one even strength point in the six-game series, an empty net goal with less than one second left in Game 6.

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”