Three takeaways: Sharks not concerned about potential rematch

Three takeaways: Sharks not concerned about potential rematch

SAN JOSE – There wasn’t a whole lot of action in the Sharks-Blues game at SAP Center on Thursday. That’s usually a good sign for the road team, and it was in this case, too, as St. Louis claimed a convincing 4-1 win. 

Still, we can find a few topics to discuss in our three takeaways…

1 – Worried about a potential rematch?

There’s a decent chance the Sharks and Blues will get to rematch their Western Conference Final series from a year ago in the first round. If San Jose surpasses the Wild and Blackhawks and gets the top seed, or the Blues move up to the first wild card position, it would make it much more likely.

Should the Sharks be worried about that, considering they were handled fairly easily by the Blues in the three-game season series?

“I’m not concerned about it,” Pete DeBoer said. “We’ll deal with that if we get them in the playoffs. I think if you go two games back we’re not very good, if you go the last 10 games against them we’re pretty good against them. I’m not worried about it.”

The Blues are surely doing something right against the Sharks. Since Jan. 1, two of San Jose's three lowest shot totals have been against St. Louis, including 23 shots on Jan. 14 (a 4-0 loss) and just 20 on Thursday, tied for a season-low.

Paul Martin said: “The last time we played them (on Jan. 14) was awhile ago, and two different teams I think from last time, but definitely we were not happy with our performance or the way we’ve been playing against them. We were off tonight, we didn’t have one of or better games, obviously. They did the job of bottling us up and not giving up a whole lot.”

2 – Burns going cold

It’s now been 11 games since Brent Burns has scored a goal, despite his registering 43 shots since Feb. 19. He still leads the Sharks with 70 points, but that’s now tied for seventh in the league, nine behind leaders Connor McDavid and Brad Marchand. He’s also just seven points ahead of Erik Karlsson for the NHL lead in scoring among defensemen, too. Is the Norris Trophy still a lock?

More concerning, though, is that Burns hasn’t been all that effective in his own end lately and is making some curious decisions with the puck and with his positioning. While Thursday’s game was a team loss – as we mention below, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun weren’t any better in terms of defensemen – it was Burns’ unforced turnover to Scottie Upshall in the neutral zone led to the Blues’ first score.

"When you pick off a pass from the best defenseman in the league," Upshall told the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "and make them pay for it, it's a big added bonus for your team, so it was a big goal for us to get us going."

As the team’s most important player now, Burns’ game will be something to monitor over the next little while. 

3 – Tarasenko takes over

One of the biggest reasons that the Sharks got past the Blues in six games last season was keeping Vladimir Tarasenko under wraps. That didn’t happen on Thursday, as the Blues’ forward registered a game-high eight shots and 12 shot attempts while recording a power play goal and an empty netter.

His line, with Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny, was dominant while skating mostly against the Sharks’ top shutdown pair of Vlasic and Braun, as Stastny had five shots and Schwartz another two.

Blues coach Mike Yeo like his team’s game overall, as it responded from Wednesday’s loss in Anaheim.

"I thought we competed at a real high level tonight,” coach Mike Yeo told reporters. “Right from the drop of the puck, guys were paying a price for each other.”

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

SAN JOSE – To borrow a phrase from Chuck Woolery, Todd McLellan was back in two and two.

Saturday’s Game 6 between the Sharks and Oilers marked exactly two years and two days since the Sharks-McLellan love connection was broken up, as the coach and his staff were all essentially fired on April 20, 2015. But McLellan and assistants Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft quickly resurfaced with the Oilers a few weeks later, and now they’re moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the expense of their former employer.

At what was his home for seven seasons, McLellan took the press conference podium at SAP Center as the victorious visiting coach after Edmonton’s 3-1 win clinched the series in six games. Asked what the moment meant to him, McLellan preferred not to focus on himself or his staff.

“It’s not about Todd, it’s not about Jay or Jimmy. It’s about the Oilers and the group of players there that are growing up in front of us,” McLellan said.

“We’re part of this team now. I obviously have a soft spot for a lot of the players that are here in San Jose. They gave us a hell of a series. They helped us grow up by pushing us, and we’re lucky to get through. That’s an important thing for us.”

Amazingly, the Oilers managed to prevail with just one even strength point from Connor McDavid, who led the league in scoring in the regular season. That point came with less than a second remaining on the clock on Sunday when McDavid converted on an empty net.

The focus from the outside, among many of the Edmonton and San Jose media, was that the Sharks were doing an admirable job of defending the 20-year-old, who had 30 goals and 100 points in the regular season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, in particular, were keeping McDavid frustrated.

While that may be the case, McLellan said after Game 6 that he had no problem with the McDavid vs. Vlasic showdown. In his view, the Oilers could win the series elsewhere.

“There was a lot of talk in this series about us trying to get Connor away from Vlasic and Braun. Obviously we don’t want to talk about it during the series, but we had an eye on [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] against [Joe Thornton’s] line, especially since they put them together. That was a match we were looking for.

“You can’t get everything. When you’re a coach, the media experts find something and they keep going to it. But coaches have different plans sometimes. Peter [DeBoer] had his plan, we had ours. Ours wasn’t about getting Connor away from Vlasic and Braun, ours was getting [Nugent-Hopkins] on the ice against [Joe] Pavelski and Jumbo and Patty Marleau. For the most part, it worked in our favor.”

It worked, because as the stars on both teams were essentially neutralized, the Oilers’ depth players contributed just a little bit more than the Sharks group did and at more opportune times.

Zack Kassian had a pair of game-winning goals in games two and three; David Desharnais was the Game 5 hero with a game-tying assist and game-winning goal; and Anton Slepyshev posted the game-winner with a breakaway in Game 6. Not exactly big names.

DeBoer was particularly disappointed with Game 3, a 1-0 loss on Kassian’s third period goal; and Game 5, in which the Sharks had a 3-1 lead that they couldn’t protect. That the Sharks only got one power play goal in 18 chances not counting the Game 4 blowout was also one of the reasons for their downfall.

“If you had told me before the series we would have held McDavid in check, we would have won the special teams battle on paper, I probably would have felt pretty good about our chances,” DeBoer said.

Instead, McLellan will take his up-and-coming team to the next round, where it will face off with the Anaheim Ducks.

“For our team, we’re watching them grow up right in front of us, which is a great thing,” he said.

 

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.