By Mary Walsh
SAN JOSE-Friday afternoon, the San Jose Sharks defeated the St. Louis Blues, scoring six goals against them for the second time this season. Four of those came in the first period, during which time the Blues went scoreless and only registered two shots on goal. The Blues’ game picked up after that, but that first period gave the Sharks a lead too great for St. Louis to overcome. The final score was 6-3, with three goals for the Sharks coming from Brent Burns, and one each from Tommy Wingels, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl. The Blues’ goals were scored by Ian Cole, David Backes and Jaden Schwartz. The Sharks outshot the Blues 32-24.
Is scoring six goals against St. Louis likely to become a pattern? Tommy Wingels addressed that and some possible reasons for the Sharks’ success against the Blues this season:
I think our game is simplified when we play a team like that, … making the easy play. We know that they’re aggressive and if you don’t, we’re probably going to be hemmed in our zone… are we going to score that many goals against them every time? I doubt it. Other games might be 1-0, 3-2 games but we’ll take the goals as they come.
The Blues started Friday’s game with a blind spot that their starting goaltender Brian Elliott could not make up for. Through the first period, the Blues treated the space between the inside of the right face-off dot and the slot like dark territory. Three Sharks scored from that space: Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Tommy Wingels. Joe Pavelski took a shot from there as well, but Elliott grabbed it.
Two first period goals were scored by Burns. The ex-defenseman went on to score again in the third period, for his first career hat trick. Burns might seem to be back to 100% since returning from injury, but he thinks there is more improvement to come:
Hopefully the legs are going to keep getting better… I feel like I stayed in really good shape but gym shape and game shape [are] different, so I think it’s going to get better every game. I’m hoping to feel better than… today was a little weird with Thanksgiving yesterday, a lot of food, and then no skate in the morning. I think it’s going to keep getting better and better.
Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan was very pleased with the start.
A hell of a period. Really happy with it, excited about going out and playing the next, a really good start.
Nevertheless, the Sharks had to be prepared for the Blues to push back, as they did:
They’re a first place club for a reason. They’re not going away, they weren’t happy obviously with their first. They came back and played their game and that’s the type of team you’ve got to play against for the last forty minutes.
The Sharks started the game fast and furious, going right to the Blues net. After 25 seconds in the Blues’ zone, Brent Burns put the Sharks up 1-0.
The Blues’ Kevin Shattenkirk went to the box for interference 2:06 into the first. A shot from Couture bounced off of Brian Elliott. Pavelski picked up the rebound and back-handed it to Joe Thornton, who did not wait to shoot it.
With the score 2-0 Sharks, after four minutes of play, the Blues still did not have a shot on goal. Their first came in the next minute, but it was clear that the Sharks had come ready for the top-ranked opponent.
The Blues did not score with that shot, and did not get credit for another shot until 6:40 into the period, when they also took another penalty. Patrick Berglund was called for cross-checking Martin Havlat. Eight seconds later, Logan Couture went to the box for hooking Roman Polak, so the Sharks’ second power play was neutralized.
No matter. Shortly after the penalties expired, the Sharks made another fast rush through the neutral zone, and Burns scored his second from the slot off a pass from Thornton. The second assist went to Tomas Hertl.
Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock called a time out. When that was over, the Sharks went right back on the attack.
Wingels got on the board at 11:27 of the first, putting the Sharks up 4-0. The shot count now stood at 11-2. Assists went to Couture and Justin Braun.
With 5:08 left in the period, Patrick Marleau was called for tripping Alexander Steen, giving the Blues their first full power play of the game. They did not register a shot through the power play, though one shot rang loudly off the outside of Niemi’s post.
The Blues started the second with more composure and a new goaltender as Jaroslav Halak replaced Elliott. The Blues had a good early chance in front of Niemi, and the Sharks’ goaltender had to be sharp, stretching out a toe to stop a shot from T.J. Oshie. It took the Blues a little under six minutes to triple their shot count.
By then, it was time for another penalty. David Backes took it, two of them: a cross-checking minor and a ten minute misconduct. The Sharks’ power play did not score, though Couture had a good chance off a Thornton pass.
With nine seconds left in that power play, Pavelski was called for interference. The Blues’ power play started to show some of its mettle, with the Blues holding the zone fairly well and getting a couple of shots off.
As the power play wound down, the Sharks had a short-handed chance but that ended when Havlat was called for high-sticking Alec Pietrangelo. The Sharks would have had to kill back to back penalties. Instead, the Blues’ Derek Roy took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with 1:21 left in the Blues’ power play.
With the teams playing four on four, the Sharks had a couple of good chances before the Blues went the other way and Ian Cole shot the puck in to make it 4-1.
The Sharks took another penalty at 17:23, when Dan Boyle was called for holding Vladimir Tarasenko. As that penalty expired, Niemi made a beautiful glove save on a shot from the blue line, despite being screened by numerous players. That puck had been going right where the first Blues’ goal got by him.
By the end of the second, the shots for the period were even at 12 apiece. The total count was still 24-14 Sharks.
The Sharks started the third period with an early penalty, to Brad Stuart for tripping Tarasenko. It took the Blues over a minute and 20 seconds, but their power play finally produced, closing the gap to two goals. The goal was scored by David Backes, with assists going to Derek Roy and Alexander Steen.
That goal woke the Sharks up. They made themselves comfortable in the Blues’ zone for a couple of shifts after the goal, but the Blues were not backing down. The teams traded chances and both goalies were busy for a few minutes before T.J. Oshie took an interference penalty at 5:19. This gave the Sharks their fifth power play of the game, and possibly their least impressive. They didn’t score and spent too much time trying to get set up. The Blues’ penalty kill made it nearly impossible with timely clears and extended board battles.
The Blues followed up that penalty kill with some very tough play in the Sharks’ zone. Brad Stuart was pushed into the boards but it went uncalled. After a couple more players were knocked to the ice, Niemi covered the puck as it sat on the outside of the net. Tensions boiled over behind the net but the referees quieted the scrum without assigning any penalties.
At 9:26, they did call Boyle for high-sticking. Sharks blocked shots relentlessly, and managed three good clears, including a solid kick of the puck from Stuart. With several line changes and a timely stop by Niemi, the Sharks’ penalty killers stayed fresh until the Blues’ power play was neutralized with a holding call to Kevin Shattenkirk. With just seven seconds left before the Sharks’ power play would start, Vladimir Sobotka skated into the sharks’ zone, two-on-one with Jaden Schwartz. Sobotka passed and Schwartz scored, making it a one-goal game at 11:19. The second assist went to Roman Polak.
Seconds later, as the Sharks’ power play was just getting under way, Burns skated down the left side with the puck, evaded the Blues’ defenders and threw the puck at the net from the left faceoff circle. With Pavelski in front of the net, Burns’ shot went by Halak on the far side, giving the ex-defenseman his first NHL hat trick. That also restored the Sharks’ two-goal lead.
With just 3:54 left in the game, the Blues took a defensive zone tripping call on Shattenkirk.
That power play didn’t pay off for the Sharks. The Blues pulled their goaltender. With under 50 seconds left, Tomas Hertl extended the Sharks lead to 6-3, with assists on the empty netter going to Burns and Thornton.
The Sharks’ scratches were James Sheppard, John McCarthy and Jason Demers. That left room for both Mike Brown and Matt Pelech on the fourth line, and Matt Irwin on the blue line.