The San Jose Sharks are looking to change things up after dropping two straight games to the St. Louis Blues in their first-round series, and if the San Jose Sharks’ big guns don’t start scoring goals soon, they might have a quick stay in the playoffs after making it to the Western Conference final for two straight years.
While San Jose won game one in overtime, the St. Louis Blues have since throttled the top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.
As a result of this the Sharks have tinkered with lines and are considering line-up changes if Wednesday practices is any indication as they look to tie the series at two games apiece.
Marleau has been moved from top-line wing to second-line centre, flipping spots with Logan Couture. While Michal Handzus and Brad Winchester were skating on the bottom two lines and could replace TJ Galiardi and Dominic Moore if Sharks head coach Todd McLellan decides to go with these moves.
The Sharks high-powered first line trio that combined for 79 goals in the regular season has none this series or in four regular season games against the Blues. While with Couture, who was one of San Jose’s three 30-goal scorers along with Marleau and Pavelski, got his first in seven games this season against St. Louis with 17 seconds remaining in a 4-3 loss in Game 3. But it was far too late to make any sort of difference aside from making the score look respectable.
The Sharks top players have not been doing very much through the first three games so far this series. However, Thornton did chip in three assists in the loss Monday night, but two of those came in the final 3:02 when the game had essentially been decided.
The Sharks have been held to just six goals this series, with only Couture’s coming from the team’s top five goal scorers in the regular season.
San Jose has struggled at times to even to set up in the offensive zone against a tenacious St. Louis defence and has not generated enough quality scoring chances against either injured Blues goal tender Jaroslav Halak or his replacement Brian Elliott so far. St. Louis have out skated the older Sharks in the two victories using their team speed to nullify any Sharks attack.
The biggest change for the Sharks will need is in their special teams play. A potent power play and an aggressive penalty-kill unit are the biggest reasons why the Blues lead the series 2-1.
The Blues have also scored three power-play goals in a 4-3 win in Game 3 to take the series lead and have scored five of their nine goals with the man advantage, striking with remarkable efficiency. The Sharks, 2nd ranked regular season powerplay, on the other hand, have struggled to set up in the offensive zone and have just two power-play goals in 11 chances, while playing St. Louis even at even strength.
The Blues weren’t always this successful on the power play this season. In fact, they were dreadful at the start of the season, with a 10.3 per cent success rate at Christmas. They more than doubled their proficiency the rest of the season, converting 21.4 per cent of their chances to finish the season in the middle of the pack in the league.
The Blues have done a great job all season limiting scoring chances, setting an NHL record by allowing 155 goals in an 82-game season. It hasn’t mattered whether Halak or Elliott has been in goal and both players have been sharp against the Sharks. When you combine that with the Blues team speed and defence, and its made the Sharks game feel smoothered at times.
With two days off before Game 4 on Thursday in San Jose, both teams took it easy on Tuesday. The Blues cancelled their practice, while the Sharks held meetings and an optional skate that most of the top-line players chose to skip.
The situation the Sharks face themsleves heading into tonight game is somewhat similar to the predicament they found themselves in two years ago when they fell behind 2-1 in the first round to Colorado, with the top line failing to score, before rallying to win the final three games.
The biggest difference from that series is that the Sharks were the better team early in the series against the Avalanche but fell behind because of a few bad bounces. The Blues have mostly controlled the first three games here, trailing for less than 15 of the more than 203 minutes in the series.
The Blues have little experience to draw on at this time of year. Before winning Game 2, they had not won a playoff game since 2004 and the Game 3 win was their first on the road in the post-season in nine years.
With each win, the Blues are looking more and more like a seasoned playoff team that has the ability to make a deep run.
So unless the Sharks can address their overall team speed, and get their top line players firing. The series could be over in short order.