Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

ST. LOUIS The Sharks and Blues faced each other four times in the regular season, but the first period of Thursdays Game 1 at Scottrade Center still resembled two clubs feeling each other out a bit.

That will likely change in Game 2. The Blues cant afford to drop both of their home games before it shifts back to a raucous HP Pavilion for games three and four, and there is little doubt that will show early on. San Jose won Game 1 in double-overtime, 3-2.

We know theyll be better, so we have to be better as well, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. Well have to match their intensity.

Todd McLellan would like to see his team match and overtake the Blues initial charge and energy.

I expect San Jose to come full bore. Thats what I expect from our group, McLellan said. I will say this they will have a push and they will come out hard. Theyre proud, theyre well coached, theyre a good hockey team. We have to expect that from them.

But, I want us to push. I want us to be the team that plays the first five or seven minutes in the other teams zone. Win faceoffs, and go to work. Thats what Id like to see from our group.

Blues changes: St. Louis will make three changes to its lineup from Game 1. In are forwards Matt DAgostini and B.J. Crombeen, and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo. Chris Stewart, Ryan Reaves and Kent Huskins will sit.

San Jose doesnt expect the Blues game to change all that much even with the changes.

Vlasic said: Whoever replaces them is going to do the same thing. Theyre changing things up, theyll play the same way.

San Joses lineup isnt expected to change from Thursdays Game 1. Antti Niemi will face Jaroslav Halak in net.
Matching lines: The Sharks got a key goal from their third line on Thursday, when Andrew Desjardins marker tied it late in the third period. The top lines for each club essentially cancelled each other out, as Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau went scoreless while skating primarily against the David Perron, T.J. Oshie and David Backes trio which was also without a point.

McLellan didnt seem to mind that three of his top scorers didnt generate much offensively. They were, after all, effective on the other side of the puck.

When we went through our scoring chances for and against each line. Jumbos line didnt give up much, which was good, McLellan said. To play against that Backes-Perron-Oshie line is a job well done, also. Theyre very dynamic, quick, and do a lot of good things.

Perron, perhaps the Blues most dangerous threat, knows his line has to generate additional offense, too.

I thought we played a pretty good game last game but it was not enough, Perron said. We just need more, its as simple as that.

If the games come down to the bottom two lines needing to get on the board, it could be a huge advantage for San Jose, which has found a pair of effective combinations.

They have a speed element to them, and a bit of a grit element to them, as well, McLellan said of Desjardins, Tommy Wingels, Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi, Dominic Moore and Torrey Mitchell.

This is the most comfortable weve been this season with lines three and four.

Searching for shots: The Sharks finished the regular season with the second-most shots on goal per game (33.8), but are averaging just 27.6 per game in the five against St. Louis (including Game 1, which went into double-overtime).

St. Louis, of course, was the NHLs best defensive team all season long, finishing with a goals-against average under two (1.89).

San Jose would like to get a little more rubber to the net.

Theyre a tight defensive team. During the season we havent had many shots against them, and same thing in the playoffs, Vlasic said. Were going to have to get more pucks at them, and get more traffic.

Logan Couture said: Theyre got five in and around the net in their own zone at all times, and its tough to find holes. Weve got to find a way to get more pucks to the net.

Of course, in order to get more shots, the Sharks will have to spend more time in St. Louis zone. In Game 1 San Jose was hemmed in far too often, especially in the first overtime, although it played good team defense in minimizing the scoring chances against.

They forecheck hard, so theyll be in our zone quite often. We just want to keep everything to the outside, Vlasic said. I thought they were in our zone a lot more than we would have wanted to.

Wed enjoy it if it was spent more in their zone, Couture said. We spent a lot of time in our end last game, and thats obviously something wed like to change. Nemo was great for us. Were going to have to spend more time in their end tonight.

Odds and ends: Hitchcock on the Sharks: Since the series against Dallas, theyre dialed in. Theyll be a hard opponent for everybody, so we have to make sure were ready for this kind of competition. The Blues havent won a playoff game since April 12, 2004 against San Jose. Marty Havlat has 29 points in his last 29 playoff games. San Jose is 11-16 all-time in Game 2, including a 6-7 record after winning Game 1. The Sharks have won the first two road games of a playoff series just once: 1995 vs. Calgary in the first round.

NHL Gameday: Sharks face Preds, look to rebound from 'crap' performance

NHL Gameday: Sharks face Preds, look to rebound from 'crap' performance

Programming note – Sharks-Predators coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-25-7, 91 points, 1st Pacific Division
Predators: 37-25-11, 85 points, 4th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The freefalling Sharks will again try to put an end to their losing streak in their only visit to Nashville tonight. Friday night’s unsightly 6-1 loss in Dallas, their fifth straight in regulation, was surely their worst game of the season. Their typically strong defensive game handed the Stars all kinds of opportunities that they cashed in on.

“Uncharacteristic missed coverage," Pete DeBoer said of the Stars' third goal in which Jamie Benn was left uncovered, "but [I] think that you could say that about six of the goals – breakaways, two-on-ones. Just, crap. Not very good.”

Despite having a nine-point lead on the division on the morning of March 15, the Sharks are now tied in points with Anaheim (San Jose owns the tiebreaker, so is still officially in first place). The Ducks are idle Saturday, but Edmonton, two points back, is hosting putrid Colorado.

Nashville is 5-1-0 in its last six games, and 6-1-0 in its last seven at home.

***The Sharks have managed just five goals over their five regulation losses. Two of those scores have come on the power play, including one on a five-on-three; Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s goal against St. Louis deflected in off of a Blues player, and one of Patrick Marleau’s two markers in Minnesota on Tuesday came in large part to a miscommunication between Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Suter.

They are simply not generating anything lately.

“Some teams are doing a good job of taking some of our plays away, but it’s on us as players,” Joe Pavelski said. “You’ve got to win some battles, you've got to create some energy, some speed throughout the team. It’s hasn’t been one guy. It’s been all of us. We’re in this together. We’ll change it as a group."

***There was no morning skate on Saturday, so no word on whether Vlasic would be in the lineup after he took just one shift in the third period on Friday before departing.

The Sharks are 2-3-1 in the six games Vlasic has missed this season, including Tuesday in Minnesota when he was out with the flu. Just one of the two wins came in regulation (Jan. 7 against Detroit).

If he’s out, Dylan DeMelo will presumably draw back in on the third pair.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Tomas Hertl. It didn’t take long for Hertl to be bumped up to the Joe Thornton line after Friday’s game started to go sour. In the first period, Hertl looked like one of the few Sharks players actually performing decently, and he finished with a team-high four shots on goal. He remains without a point in his last 11 games, though.

Predators: James Neal. The Predators forward has goals in each of his two games against the Sharks this season, and is third on the Predators with 21 overall. After scoring in three straight games from March 11-16, Neal hasn’t found the scoresheet in his last three.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Marcus Sorensen – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (likely starter)
Aaron Dell

Predators
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala – Calle Jarnkrok – James Neal
Colin Wilson – Colton Sissons – Craig Smith
Cody McLeod – Vern Fiddler – Austin Watson

Romas Josi – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – P.K. Subban
Matt Irwin – Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne
Jusse Saros

INJURIES

Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic (possible lower body) and Melker Karlsson (lower body) are questionable.

Predators: Mike Fisher (lower body) is questionable.

QUOTEABLE

"The nice thing about this is we get to go back at it again tomorrow. There’s going to be no excuse for not playing hard tomorrow.” – Brenden Dillon, after Friday night’s loss in Dallas

 

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

DALLAS – In just two-and-a-half weeks, the Sharks will have the opportunity to defend their Western Conference title when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway.

(Take a deep breath. They won’t fall out of playoff position.)

Still, it’s a terrible time for them to be playing their worst hockey of the season, and going through the foulest stretch of coach Pete DeBoer’s two-year tenure.

The Sharks were flat-out embarrassed by the Stars on Friday night in their fifth straight regulation defeat, 6-1 in Dallas, showing no signs of life for the duration. Not even a verbal tongue-lashing from their normally reserved head coach in full view of the cameras in the second period got their motors going.

How do you explain this one, Joe Pavelski?

“I don’t know, good question,” said the captain. “There’s a commitment that needs to be there to win in this league right now consistently. Right now, we’re searching for that.”

DeBoer, too, was puzzled.

“You have a handful of those a year where nothing goes right and nobody’s got any kind of legs or energy,” he said. “It was one of those nights. I don’t have an explanation for it. I felt we prepared the right way the last couple days. I thought we felt pretty good about ourselves. Then, the puck dropped and everything went bad.”

It was evident early that the Sharks were off, as they couldn’t figure out a way to get the puck through the neutral zone for the first several shifts and didn’t register a shot on goal until 7:17 into the first period. The first of three Adam Cracknell goals – yes, Adam Cracknell – had them trailing 1-0 after the opening frame.

Traditionally, the Sharks would have found a way to jolt themselves to life at the intermission, as it was so plainly obvious that they didn’t seem focused or driven over the first 20 minutes.

This was a game, too, in which they were healthier, getting Jannik Hansen back in the lineup, and more rested than the Stars, who were playing their second game in as many nights while San Jose was coming off a rare two-day break. Furthermore, the Sharks have seen a nine-point lead in the Pacific Division evaporate to just two points headed into Friday’s action. Motivation should have been easy against a team that shut them out on Monday, to boot.

But the mental mistakes to start the second were even worse. Brett Ritchie was left alone by Brenden Dillon for a goal just 1:58 into the middle frame, and at 5:19, Brent Burns was caught staring at the puck off of a faceoff as Jamie Benn got free in front of the net to push the Dallas lead to 3-0. DeBoer's timeout and screaming session after that third goal did nothing, as Dallas got two more goals off of the rush and another on a breakaway by Cracknell after a gift turnover by goalie Aaron Dell before the night was through.

“That’s a month worth of mistakes in one night, so hopefully we get it out of the system,” DeBoer said.

The defensive miscues should be easily correctable, according to Dillon.

“If you look at a good chunk of those goals, we kind of know whether it was d-zone coverage, or off the rush, or just communicating with one another,” he said. “Stuff that’s not like us. I think if we watched the other 70 games this year, those kind of things don’t happen.”

Of course, the defensive errors become all the more glaring when a team isn’t scoring, either. The Sharks managed just one Joe Thornton power play goal, and have just five total goals in their last five games.

That part of their game wasn’t any better against Dallas than their defense, as Kari Lehtonen had a relatively tranquil evening.

“We have a lot of guys that are going through some tough times right now and struggling to get on the scoresheet,” Logan Couture said. “We're going to need all of those guys to bring more. That's from our top guys, including myself and on down. We need to do more offensively. Score goals, and do more defensively, as well.”

They have just eight more games to figure it all out.

“It’s not ideal, by any means,” Dillon said. “I think it’s maybe a bit of a wakeup call for us. … You can’t take a night off and you have to be emotionally invested. You’ve got to take every shift as hard as you possibly can.”

* * *

DeBoer had no update on Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who didn't play in the third period. The defenseman was seen leaving the dressing room under his own power, but looked to be walking a bit gingerly.