The San Jose Sharks played a near perfect game on Tuesday night in Game 2 of their Western Conference Finals series against the St. Louis Blues.
They planted four goals on the Blues, allowed them to score none, and dominated special teams, going 2-for-5 on the power play while stymieing St. Louis on all six of their man-advantage attempts. The Blues did end up with a slight edge in shots, 26-24, and were the better team in the faceoff dot, but by and large the Sharks had the upper hand in all of the primary categories as they skated away with a 4-0 victory that they made look easy.
In a way, it was a microcosm of how the team’s entire playoff run has been going. Sure, the Sharks have lost a few games (five now in total) and played poorly in others, but their biggest source of success thus far has been their ability to do a little bit of everything, using the their balance of talent to win games in a variety of ways.
While teams like the Dallas Stars, who were done in because of their porous goaltending, or the New York Islanders, who succumbed to a lack of scoring depth behind superstar John Tavares, were eliminated from the postseason because their obvious weaknesses were exploited by their opponents, the same cannot be said for San Jose, a team without such a weakness to exploit in the first place.
Offensively, the Sharks are the hottest team in the playoffs right now, scoring at a smooth clip of 3.29 goals per game. Forward Logan Couture is pacing the playoffs in points, with 19 in 14 games, while teammates Brent Burns (18) and Joe Pavelski (15) are the two players right behind him. Pavelski is also tied for the league lead in goals, with nine. Much of the team’s offensive attack has come through the power play, which is rolling at a deadly 30% success rate, easily the highest out of all the remaining teams.
The Sharks aren’t quite as stout defensively as they are offensively, but they are nevertheless a tough nut to crack. They’ve only allowed an average of 2.14 goals per game so far, the second best out of the remaining teams, and are at a respectable 83.3% rate on the penalty kill. The endlessly entertaining Burns has rightfully gathered much of the spotlight for the San Jose blueline, but if the team continues to win then perhaps we’ll see the long-overdue, league-wide recognition of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, one of the sport’s most criminally underrated defensemen.
Goaltending was perceived to be the team’s biggest question mark heading into the playoffs, and aside from a few hiccups, 26 year-old Martin Jones has been nothing short of stellar in his first career NHL postseason as a starting goalie. He’s looked poised beyond his years and has a 2.02 goals-against-average and .923 save percentage, along with two shutouts, to signify his strong play.
Go on and on, checking all the familiar boxes, and the Sharks will be well represented in all areas. Veteran presence? Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have never won a Stanley Cup, but both men have seen and done pretty much everything else in careers that span over 1300 games apiece. Youthful energy? Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney have supplied that, along with some very timely goals. Size, skating, the list could go on and on.
You name it, the San Jose Sharks probably have it. Maybe not to the furthest extend of the four remaining teams, but always enough to find a way to get by.
None of this has yet touched on the superb work of Peter DeBoer, the team’s head coach. He came oh-so-close to a Stanley Cup in 2012 with the New Jersey Devils and is surely relishing his new opportunity this year. He deserves a lot of credit for what he’s been able to get out of this roster in just his first year behind the bench.
The concept of a debilitating weakness was a central theme throughout much of the history of mythology. Achilles had his heel. Samson had his hair. If the St. Louis Blues want to stop the Sharks this series they’re going to need to find some weakness, any weakness, in a San Jose team that isn’t showing any of them right now.