Sharks-Blues Game Preview

St. Louis plays host to the San Jose Sharks Thursday night at 5:30pm PDT. This is their fourth and final meeting, so let’s take a look at the tale of the tape.

Head to head: slight advantage Sharks

Every game so far has been tight. Two of the three games so far went to a shootout, with the home team winning each. The other game in San Jose went to the Sharks, 5-4, in regulation. St. Louis has had the superior work ethic, while San Jose has shown the better talent.

San Jose has won 14 of the last 17 meetings between the teams, but for most of that time, St. Louis has been a bad team. They are now a better team than when the two last met December 27.

Recent play: big advantage, Blues

Like former coach Ron Wilson used to have posted in the locker room, “Hard work beats talent when the talent doesn’t work hard.” Too bad they still have not applied that lesson.

The Sharks have lost five of seven. In the first four games, they surrendered the early lead, including three goals to Montreal in the first period. In the last three, they surrendered a three goal lead twice and gave up the first two goals of the game in the other.

Why is this happening? A lack of intensity. In their past eight games, the Sharks have been out-shot in six. Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News pegged it with this quote:

“(They) go ahead by two or three goals and seemingly say to themselves, ‘Well, that obviously proves we are the better team by far, so our opponent surely realizes it and will skate away submissivley into defeat as we cruise to the finish.”

The problems don’t just go back seven games. It goes back to previous seasons. This is why I have been raising the alarm about regular season troubles even though it is the post-season that matters. Some things carry over, and work ethic is one of them.

In fact, San Jose is 7-6-5 in their last 18 games, so even just looking at this year, we can no longer call this a stumble—it is a full-on slide.

Meanwhile, St. Louis is headed in the opposite direction. In their last 24 games, they have only failed to get a point five times (14-5-5). They went 6-1-1 to close out February before splitting their last four games. That has gotten them back in the playoff hunt, as they now are just a game and a half out of the eighth spot.

Scheduling: even

St. Louis played last on Tuesday night just like San Jose, but they were at home and San Jose is completing a three-game road trip. On the other hand, St. Louis will be playing their fourth game in six days, and it is only the Sharks fourth in eight games. Nevertheless, being at home will compensate for the disadvantage in concentration of games.

Injury Report: even

Sure, the Sharks are without several players, but only goalie Evgeni Nabokov and defenceman Rob Blake are the only key ones gone, and Brian Boucher is not much of a drop-off from Nabby. Torrey Mitchell has been out all season and Jeremey Roenick will now have missed as many as he has played in. RW Mike Grier is a significant role-player, but Claude Lemieux has been a non-factor. San Jose could use centre Marcel Goc, who is day-to-day with a lower body injury, to return because they are thin in the middle, but indicators are he will not.

Meanwhile, St. Louis is without only four players, but they are far more key. Arguably their two best defencemen are out in Erik Johnson (out all season) and Eric Brewer, along with one of if not their best scorers, LW Paul Kariya. They are also missing LW D.J. King.

By the numbers…

  • The Sharks have the NHL’s best record with a .738 point percentage, while St. Louis is 21st at .515. The Blues are five games above .500 at home, only 19th, while the Sharks are eight over .500 on the road, fourth in the league…big advantage, Sharks.
  • The Sharks have the league’s third-best defence (2.45 GAA) and are tied for the third-best offence (3.26 GSA); that means their goal differential is +0.81, second best in the league. St. Louis is 20th in offence (2.73 GSA) and 17th in defence (2.89 GAA), making their differential -0.16; only 12 teams are worse…big advantage, Sharks.
  • Both teams are strong on special teams. San Jose has the second-best power play (24.4 percent) and sixth-best penalty kill (83.4). St. Louis has the eighth best power play (21.1) and 12th-ranked penalty kill (82). The sum success ranking of 107.8 for San Jose is second best in the NHL, while St. Louis’ 103.1 is ranked eighth…slight advantage, Sharks.

Intangibles: even

This is a game that both teams need. San Jose has seen its lead over Detroit for the top seed drop to one game and desperately needs a bounce back. St. Louis needs every point they can get because they not only need to make up a game and a half, but leapfrog three teams.

The Verdict: Blues 4, Sharks 3, SO

The Sharks have more advnatages in this match-up, but recent play is probably the most important indicator of a team’s chances. Plus, I could see the Sharks, who lack the killer-instinct normally associated with their name-sake, being satisfied with a point in this one.

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