Eventually, someone has to fall.
The first three weeks of the 2013-14 season has seen three teams remain undefeated in regulation and overtime. Two of them do battle on Tuesday night as the 5-0 Sharks travel to St. Louis to battle the 4-0 Blues.
The records don’t show the full dominance of each team, though. The Sharks have thwarted teams with an all-out blitz of offense, outscoring opponents 24-7. This includes a 9-2 drubbing of the New York Rangers in the third game of the season on Oct. 8.
The Blues have been just as dominant, outscoring teams 19-7 in their four home games. The largest margin of victory came on Oct. 5, with a 7-0 rout of the Florida Panthers in their second game of the season.
The other undefeated team, the Colorado Avalanche, host the Dallas Stars tonight. By Wednesday, one club could be the lone victorious team.
Sharks are more than offense
The Sharks have been scorching this season. What most sports pundits will tell you is that their offense is carrying the load. But the defense and goaltending deserve their fair share of the praise.
But, first things first. That offense has outshot opponents 212-114.
The three top centers: Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski have thrived. Couture is flying under the radar with seven points in five games; Thornton has molded a youngster into a star overnight; and Pavelski is easily the best third-line center in the league. Next, come the wingers. Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, and some kid named Tomas Hertl. Marleau has four goals in five games, striking twice on the power play. Burns has delivered a balance of six points with his vintage grit and hard-nosed forecheck. And if you’ve been living under a rock…Tomas Hertl is deadly.
But enough about that gaudy offense. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has led this Sharks defense wonderfully. He has established a strong back line that keeps the netminder’s job easy. Odd-man rushes have been few and far between and the blue-liners have been a scoring threat. They don’t need to hit, there’s just no easy shots allowed.
After all that, Antti Niemi will bore you with consistency. He has played all five games this season and posted a 1.40 GAA with a .939 save percentage. When the offense wasn’t absolutely dominant against Vancouver the second time, Niemi stepped up. Making 25 saves, he showed his vintage solid play.
The Sharks have been strong everywhere. Not just up top. There are ways for them to beat you in case one of their units doesn’t show up. Unlike last season’s fast start, the Sharks are scoring at even-strength and on the power play. The defense is contributing goals and Niemi is solid again. This team is scary any way you look at them.
Blues winning with team effort
The ice at Scottrade Center has been tilted all season long. As early as this past summer, the Blues were chastised for not having the ability to score goals in a timely manner. Yes, even by yours truly.
[See related: Blues’ Lack of Scoring Dooms Season… Again]
That has not been the case to open the 2013-14 season. The Blues may still be lacking that clear-cut, No. 1 sniper, but they are getting it done by committee. The whole committee. Dressing the same 12 forwards every game, only two of them have not contributed a goal as of yet (Maxim Lapierre and Chris Stewart). Second-year players Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, both on a line with center Patrik Berglund, have added four goals and seven points between them, showing that any success from last season was no fluke.
The first line of Alex Steen – David Backes – T.J. Oshie has contributed the most impressive numbers (nine goals and 18 points). Backes has stormed out of the gate, posting four goals already on the season; that’s just two tallies shy of his totals in 48 games in 2012-13. Despite the line’s success, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan may still have a difficult time deciding who his top defensive pairing needs to be matched up against.
The defense and goaltending has remained just as steady as goaltender Jaroslav Halak has posted a measly 1.75 GAA along with a .934 save percentage. The Blues defense, led by top pairing Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, has allowed just 26.5 shots against per game, which ranks fifth in the league. The domineering defense also stops the bleeding quick when scored upon, as the Blues have not allowed multiple goals in any period this season.
This is the last match of the Blues’ five-game season-opening homestand, so the boys in blue will look to close it out strong.
Both teams will go into this game ready to do battle. The history of these teams in recent years certainly adds to the flare, but remaining undefeated will be the ultimate goal in both locker rooms.
The great Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” This mentality will surely show up on the ice in St. Louis.