What the Sharks must do better vs. the Blues

What the Sharks must do better vs. the Blues
April 10, 2012, 7:35 pm
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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