Sharks-Blues: What to watch for


Sharks-Blues: What to watch for

ST. LOUIS For the first time in his coaching career, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan is preparing his team for Round 1, Game 1 away from HP Pavilion. The seventh-seeded Sharks open up in St. Louis tonight against the Blues.

Will playing at the Scottrade Center be a benefit or an inconvenience? McLellan doesnt know. But, he does feel different than in years past.

Opening up on the road is new to us, and I think its something we need to take advantage of. That may sound strange, but the pressures that go with being a one or a two team are different than the pressures of being a seven or an eight team, McLellan said. We can spin that any way we want. We can say its coaches playing mind games and all that kinds of stuff, but its real. As a coach, I feel that playoff intensity, but I feel different now than I have in some of the other series.

That might be a really good thing for our team, and it might be a bad thing. Thats why we have to play it.

Dan Boyle has experienced just about everything in his long career, and said that the Sharks need to try to turn the rabid home crowd against its team early.

Sometimes when you start at home and you dont start out the right way, the fans get on you pretty quickly, Boyle said. In this case, the pressure is kind of on them to have a good start. Hopefully we can have a good start of our own, and the fans can sort of turn on them a little bit.

When you go on the road, it would be nice to take tonight just to get an early lead on them and really put the pressure on, Joe Thornton said. Is it different? I dont know. Its playoffs, every game is so important, and its important to get a lead in games. Its strange, but it is a good thing I think.

Incidentally, the last time San Jose opened a first round series on the road was in 2007 in Nashville. The fifth-seeded Sharks beat the fourth-seeded Preds, four games to one.

The first 10: The Sharks expect a strong push from the Blues early on, and a tie score through the first half of the opening frame would be an accomplishment for the road team.

Getting a lead would be even better, as the Blues just won half of their games when surrendering the first goal of the game (15-23-7). The Sharks were 34-8-3 when taking a 1-0 lead.

It will be a good test for us. If we can get a goal early and have a little push back, thats what well look to do, Ryane Clowe said.

I think the first 10 minutes of the playoffs as whole is the hardest 10 minutes, Boyle said. Everybody is just insane, and so excited and amp'ed up. The first 10 minutes of Game 1 has been, for me, in my experience, the craziest 10 minutes of the whole playoffs, really.

In the crease: Jaroslav Halak will start for the Blues, opposing Antti Niemi.

Halak was 2-0 against the Sharks with one shutout this season, posting a 0.50 goals-against average and .977 save percentage in the process. Niemi was 0-3 with a 2.04 GAA and .923 SP in three games against the Blues this season.

Brian Elliott, who was nursing an upper-body injury, will back up Halak tonight.

Lineup look: As Ray Ratto reported, Colin White will likely be the odd man odd on the Sharks blue line, meaning Jason Demers and Justin Braun will comprise the third defense pair.

NEWS: Lineup tweaks for Sharks

Torrey Mitchell, who missed the season finale against the Kings, will also play. Mitchell will likely be slotted on the wing next to Dominic Moore and TJ Galiardi, while Michal Handzus will come back out of the lineup.

Clowe, who took a couple days off from practice at the beginning of the week before returning yesterday, is also good to go.

It was nice to get a couple day break, we havent had that in awhile, he said. Im gearing to go now. I feel great, ready to go, and healthy.

St. Louis, like the Sharks, is healthy.

Former Sharks give insight: The Blues' roster features a pair of former Sharks in Scott Nichol and Kent Huskins. It was reported earlier in the week that coach Ken Hitchcock had them address the Blues regarding how to play against San Jose.

Nichol elaborated a bit on that after the Blues morning skate.

I think any little tidbit will help. When I played there we had two long seasons in the Western Conference Finals, so you know how guys react in playoffs, and how they can elevate their game. And, they have, he said.

Theyve been in playoff mode for the last three weeks and they are probably one of the few teams that can turn it on and off. For sure, theyve got it on right now.

Hitchcock, himself, is also familiar with several of the Sharks top players, as he was an assistant coach on Canadas Olympic team in 2010.

I know the players in San Jose. I know a lot of them. Ive coached with and against them in very elite competition, Hitchcock said. I know what they can do and I know how well they can play. Wherever theyve been to get here, they know how to play when theyre here.

Odds and ends: The Sharks were 0-4 against the Blues in the regular season, including getting shut out twice here in St. Louis. Patrick Marleau had five points in the Sharks last four games (2g, 3a), as did Joe Pavelski (2g, 3a) and Marty Havlat (1g, 4a). David Perron scored in five of the last six games for the Blues. David Backes and TJ Oshie tied for the Blues team lead in scoring with 54 points each.

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be


Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.