Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win vs. Blues in Game 1


Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win vs. Blues in Game 1


SAN JOSE – It was fast, feisty and darn entertaining right up to the final buzzer. Game 1 of the Western Conference final between the Sharks and St. Louis Blues was every bit as entertaining as advertised.

The Blues made things very interesting in the final minutes, but San Jose's second-period scoring surge was enough for the Sharks to hold on for a 6-3 win Saturday at SAP Center.

Here are three takeaways from Game 1.

Physicality is at an all-time high

The Sharks told the press a day before Game 1 they were expecting a far more physical series with the Blues than with the Colorado Avalanche in the second round – and they weren’t kidding. St. Louis didn’t hold back any physicality in Game 1, out-hitting the Sharks 41-35.

San Jose cranked up its own intensity as the game went on – but this is also an area where the Sharks can get into trouble later in the series if they don’t keep their game clean. While they responded with hits of their own, they were also smart and only went to the penalty box once before a few scrums broke out late in the game. Smart physical play is going to be key through the rest of the series.

Timo Meier checks off all the boxes

A physical series such as this one is a good opportunity for power forward Timo Meier to really use his mix of strength and speed. Meier showcased both in Game 1, as he scored two goals and led the team with five hits.

Meier's work on the first goal really stood out. He muscled his way around Blues defense Jay Bouwmeester before putting his foot on the gas and holding onto the puck until he was in perfect position to power it past goaltender Jordan Binnington. 

Sharks get to Binnington in his San Jose debut

The Sharks fielded a lot of questions after Friday’s practice about what they thought they could do to be successful against Binnington, who led the Blues' playoff push after taking the reigns in St. Louis' crease. San Jose had not faced the rookie netminder at all before Saturday night, but still managed to get the jump on him. Game 1 was the second time Binnington had allowed five (or more) goals in a game this season.

That doesn't mean the Sharks will score five goals a game en route to the Stanley Cup Final, considering Binnington was one of the NHL's best goalies down the stretch. Plus, Alex Pietrangelo and the rest of St. Louis’ blue line are likely going to tighten up their game in front of Binnington as the series continues.

It’s going to be up to the Sharks to keep grinding for goals like they did Game 1.

Erik Karlsson injury creates opportunity for Sharks' depth defensemen

Erik Karlsson injury creates opportunity for Sharks' depth defensemen

It would be difficult for the Sharks to find a positive in the wake of Erik Karlsson's season-ending broken thumb.

Their 2019-20 season was lost well before the two-time Norris Trophy joined the ranks of their walking wounded. San Jose faced an uphill climb -- we're talking a 90-degree incline -- to make the playoffs with the defenseman in the lineup down the stretch. Without him, Tomas Hertl (knee; out for the season) and Logan Couture (ankle; out indefinitely), the Sharks are certain to clean out their lockers soon after the April 4 regular-season finale. 

That doesn't mean the season is a lost cause for Karlsson's teammates, particularly those behind him on the defensive depth chart. 

"You're gonna see a situation where a lot of guys get to step up, and see what they can do and prove that they deserve to play in the NHL," former Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan said on Sharks Postgame Live after San Jose's 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. "Sometimes, it's [an] opportunity for other guys, but [it's] just an unfortunate circumstance. When it rains, it pours, and it seems like that's the way it's going for the Sharks right now."

The Sharks recalled Jacob Middleton from the AHL Barracuda before Saturday's game, but defenseman Tim Heed got the first look in Karlsson's absence. The Swedish defenseman skated 14:08, including 1:04 of power-play time. 

Heed had not played since Jan. 16, but was second among Sharks defensemen with two shots on goal Saturday. The 29-year-old seems poised for his longest look in the NHL since making his Sharks debut three seasons ago, and at an opportune time. He's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the summer, and he can use the stretch run to prove he's worthy of an NHL look -- whether in San Jose or elsewhere. 

Heed's fellow Swede, despite the injury, doesn't face nearly as much uncertainty. Karlsson is under contract through 2027 after signing a massive eight-year extension this offseason. The 29-year-old will have played in just 109 of a possible 164 regular-season games with the Sharks over his first two seasons in teal, as a groin injury hobbled him down the stretch last year, too.

[RELATED: Kane rips 'ridiculous' NHL Player Safety discipline record]

Karlsson previously sustained a lacerated left Achilles tendon in 2013 and underwent major ankle surgery in 2017. Another lower-body injury would've been much worse news for Karlsson and the Sharks, according to Hannan.

"And on a positive -- not knowing, of course, what the extent of that broken thumb is," Hannan said, "but it's not like it was the groin injury [again] for someone that relies so much on his skating, and his ability to evade checks and get away from people. So hopefully, this thumb injury is not that serious and he's able to just get that thing healed and be ready for the start of the season."

The Sharks will count on Karlsson to be at full strength this fall in order to ensure their playoff drought doesn't last longer than a season. His replacements, starting with Heed, will have plenty of motivation to make an impression in his absence. 

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in surprising 2-0 win over Wild

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Sharks takeaways: What we learned in surprising 2-0 win over Wild


The Sharks were in a hole before the puck dropped Saturday.

They didn't trail before facing off against the Minnesota Wild, but they might have felt that way on the second night of a back-to-back. Star defenseman Erik Karlsson was ruled out for the rest of the season with a broken thumb and Evander Kane was handed a three-game suspension hours before the game. 

San Jose, somehow, found a way to win Saturday night, beating Minnesota 2-0 at Xcel Energy Center. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones stopped all 39 Wild shots, picking up San Jose's first shutout of the season in Dean Evason's first game as Minnesota's interim coach. 

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' second win in fewer than 24 hours.

Feel-good win in absence of good feelings

The Sharks had every reason to lose Saturday. The Kane and Karlsson news would have deflated any team, and playing on the second night of a back-to-back wouldn't bring out their best, either. 

San Jose wasn't necessarily at its best against Minnesota, as the Wild pressed their puck-possession advantage from puck drop through the final whistle. But the Sharks largely prevented the Wild from creating any quality chances, hanging around long enough to take the lead on a fortuitous bounce when Brent Burns' third-period shot bounced off Sharks forward Dylan Gambrell and in the net. 

Melker Karlsson's empty-netter sealed the game with under a minute remaining in regulation. Sometimes, luck is all you need in hockey, and the Sharks will take a feel-good win in a disappointing season devoid of many good feelings -- however they could have gotten it Saturday. 

Jones stands tall

Jones must love playing the Wild. He shut out Minnesota on March 11, 2019, and the 30-year-old picked up his first shutout since then -- and his fourth overall against Minnesota -- Saturday. 

His first start in over two weeks wasn't the most challenging, but Jones was a steady presence in the Sharks' crease. Saturday's start easily was Jones' best in 2020, after giving up at least four goals in each of his first three starts of the year.

Aaron Dell has seized the Sharks' starting role, but Jones has plenty to play for down the stretch. One shutout isn't enough to prove Jones -- who's under contract for four more years -- has a future in San Jose, but the Sharks' onetime franchise goalie surely hopes it's a start. 

[RELATED: Kane rips 'ridiculous' NHL Player Safety discipline record]

Power outage

Kane and Karlsson lead the Sharks in power-play goals (11) and assists (12), respectively, so San Jose's listless performance on the man advantage Saturday isn't a surprise. The Sharks' power play has recently struggled with both players in the lineup, scoring just three power-play goals in 20 opportunities over the last 10 games entering Saturday. 

San Jose didn't generate a single scoring chance on its lone power play, and that's probably going to be the norm with Kane, Karlsson and injured centers Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, all out of the lineup. You shouldn't expect much from the Sharks' power play when Kane returns to the lineup, either.