What the Sharks must do better vs. the Blues

728786.jpg

What the Sharks must do better vs. the Blues

When Todd McLellan, the guy with the double-bagged eyes, said he could think of 15 things the Sharks needed to improve before their series with the Blues opens in St. Louis, he probably was overestimating.By two, maybe.But of all the troubling things that being swept by the Bluenotes meant for the San Jose Sharks, the most disturbing would be that the Sharks played their best game of the four losses in October before Davis Payne had been replaced as coach by Ken Hitchcock.They outshot the Blues, 36-20, had more chances and possession time, controlled the faceoff circle, and lost in considerable part because the Blues blocked 26 shots to go with Brian Elliotts 34 saves.REWIND: Box Score -- Blues 4, Sharks 2 Play-by-play
The other three games were played at a more Hitchcockian pace, and the Sharks struggled mightily to dissect the new system and play with the patience required to handle it.In other words, the matchup got worse rather than better, so when McLellan sells the final four games of the season as being indicative of the teams true level, he is omitting the fact that there are horses for courses, and the Blues are a horse the Sharks have struggled to saddle, let alone ride.More immediately, the Sharks got one break when goalie Brian Elliott went down in Tuesdays practice with an upper-body thing (day-to-day, of course), but that was negated by the late-season return of second-line winger Alexander Steen, who missed all of January and February and most of March with a concussion.But more to the point, the Sharks never really did solve the Blues at their best their ferocious ability to surround the puck and remove time and space from the carrier, their devotion to detail in the defensive end, and their shot-blocking capability even in the face of teams like the Sharks, who try to do with volume that which they do not always do with precision.Even the things the Sharks do best most notably faceoffs they didnt do as well against St. Louis.Fact: Joe Pavelski was 32 of 45 in the circle in three games against the Blues (he missed the opener), and Joe Thornton, who played all four, was 34 for 51. For you math-deprived types, thats an absurd 69 percent.But it means that the rest of the lineup gimped in at 46 percent, or nearly 10 percent below their season average.Fact: They were second in the league in shots at 33.8 (only six total below Pittsburgh), but averaged nearly eight less per game against St. Louis. And thats just what got to goal. They attempted 75 shots in the opener, and averaged 53 per game in the three Hitchcock games; in total, they tried 235, and the Blues blocked 79 of those, an average of 1 of every three.Given that St. Louis was slightly below the league norm in blocked shots, this speaks pretty clearly to San Joses lack of patience offensively.And those who are not patient do not control the puck, and those who do not control the puck do not control the pace, and blah blah blah-de-blah blah. They got three goals, lost four games, and finished seventh.This is not as lopsided a series as it seems to be on its face, but the Sharks have to crash-course the Blues, breaking them down as quickly as possible, and then breaking them down consistently. First goal wont pull St. Louis out of its system; second might.But beyond that, the Sharks have to be dramatically better disciplined systemically against the Blues than against any other Western Conference team. That has been their greatest failing of McLellans Unholy 15. When things dont go well, they tend to go solo, trying to break down the opponent alone Dan Boyle cycling in his own end, Brent Burns caught below the red line as the play takes off the other way, Joe Thornton trying to split three players.And then they lose, ignominiously. Like they did four times against St. Louis. Lesson learned? Well see.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

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.