SAN JOSE -- The Sharks have yet to face the St. Louis Blues this season. But that stretch of time doesn’t dull that feeling of disappointment when recalling what happened when the two teams last tangoed roughly seven months ago.
Sure, it’s a new season. But with both rosters comprised of roughly the same players, there’s bound to still be a little bad blood out on the ice on Saturday night when San Jose and St. Louis face off for the first time since the Blues booted the Sharks from the Western Conference final.
And, suffice to say, the Blues pose a lot of challenges for a Sharks team that has struggled with consistency through the first few months of the season.
For starters, St. Louis currently the best team in the Western Conference, sitting at 50 points through 36 games, compared to San Jose's 34 points. Through this first stretch of the season, the Blues have outscored their opponents in all three periods of play and get production throughout their lineup, to boot. They are also 10-4-3 on the road, proving that even the toughest buildings can’t scare them.
Oh, and the Blues visit the South Bay riding a four-game winning streak after defeating the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.
San Jose, on the other hand, is looking more like what St. Louis looked like at this time last year. The Sharks are coming off of a disappointing loss to the Arizona Coyotes and, despite turning things around in the month of November, are once again sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference. Every night poses a different problem, whether it's trouble holding onto a lead late in a game or the inability to score any goals on the power play.
Clearly, Saturday's matchup won't replicate any of the six games the Sharks and Blues played against each other last May.
Now, this isn't to say that San Jose doesn't have a fighting chance in Saturday's game. In fact, the Sharks did a lot of good things against the Coyotes. Well, before giving up the go-ahead goal late in the third period and then not being able to convert on a 6-on-3 power-play opportunity in the final minute of the frame.
But the Sharks are going to have to find another level on Saturday in order to win.
That means all areas of San Jose's game have to clock. The Sharks will need a full 60-minute effort from their defense and they'll need offensive contributions from multiple players -- not just Tomas Hertl, who scored twice in San Jose's last game and is riding a four-game points streak. It probably wouldn't hurt to get a power-play goal as well against the Blues' penalty kill, which is ranked fourth in the league.
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What the Sharks are really going to need is a stand-up game from goaltender Martin Jones, who has watched the last two games from the bench while Aaron Dell got consecutive starts. There is no word yet on whether Jordan Binnington or Jake Allen is starting in net for St. Louis, but both netminders have better save percentages than Jones through the first part of the season. Avoiding that game-opening goal five minutes into the first period or that late-game stunner in the third can make a huge impact on the Sharks' chances of winning.
That might seem like a lot to ask of the Sharks. But they'll have to play at another level if they're going to compete with the Blues. This might not be another Western Conference final game, but it would still mean a lot for the Sharks if they won.