Sharks

Sharks must find discipline against Blues

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Sharks must find discipline against Blues

SAN JOSE Their miserable penalty kill notwithstanding, the Sharks were among the most disciplined teams in hockey this season. In fact, the club finished the regular season with a league low of just 2.88 times shorthanded per game.

You wouldnt know that watching the four games against the Blues, though. The Sharks left an abundance of skate marks leading to the doorstep of the penalty box, and it was a major reason they failed to record even a single point in the standings against St. Louis. That was especially so at Scottrade Center, where San Jose was shorthanded 11 times in two shutout losses and where they begin the postseason on Thursday.

Overall, the Sharks were shorthanded 19 times in the four games against the Blues, almost a full two per game more than their season average.

Simply put, that will have to be remedied if the Sharks have any hope of advancing to the second round.

Ryane Clowe said: Thats something mentally thats all a part of the playoffs.

San Jose failed to score a single goal in St. Louis this season, suffering a 1-0 shutout loss on Dec. 10 there followed by a 3-0 defeat on Feb. 12. Of the four goals they surrendered, three came during a two-man advantage for the Blues, and one was an empty-net goal.

In all, just five goals were scored during five-on-five play in the four games (discounting empty-net goals).

Special teams play is already magnified in the playoffs, but in this series, it could be even more so.

We got into a lot of penalty problems, Thornton said. I dont know how many five-on-threes they scored against us. Just stay out of the penalty box, thats probably number one. We werent disciplined in their building, or here.

I think with us, it wasnt so much the penalties but the timing of some of the penalties, putting us down five-on-three, Clowe said. A lot of them are penalties, so you cant really complain about them too much. Weve got to be better in that area. Obviously, our PK has got to be strong. St. Louis is a disciplined team, so I dont see them taking a whole lot of minors. A lot of it will be five-on-five.

What should also be of concern is that the Sharks got away from their disciplined style in the final two games against Los Angeles. San Jose surrendered six power play goals in nine chances to the Kings in the final two games, yet remarkably found a way to win them both.

They cant expect that to happen against the stingy Blues, who finished the season as the NHLs best defensive club.

I thought we started to sneak in some penalties that we didnt need to take, Todd McLellan said of the Kings games. We werent an overly penalized team during the year, so we were reminded down the stretch.

It will be a factor against St. Louis. They improved their power play immensely under Ken Hitchcock, they have a lot of confidence, so well have to be aware of marching to the penalty box.

As for the power play, the Sharks finished just 1-for-15 against the Blues in the season series. On paper, thats one area the Sharks had a distinct advantage over St. Louis San Jose had the second best percentage (21.0 percent), as compared to the Blues 16.7 percent (20th in the NHL).

The goals against came in unique ways, and we can clean that up, McLellan said. The goals for, we didnt score enough. So thats going to be a focus of ours.

Clowe expects the team to clean up its lack of discipline both down the stretch and against St. Louis. Kind of.

I think every guy knows whats on the line, he said, before adding, its easier said right now, than when youre not getting fired up when someone punches you in the face, or cross-checks you in the back.

When you look at playoff series when they start, its always special teams, Joe Thornton said. If your penalty kill is good and your power play is good, youre probably going to win the series. Theres no exception here.

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

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USATSI

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

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AP

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.

UP NEXT:

Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.