The San Jose Sharks picked up three of four possible points in a wild series against the St. Louis Blues, technically giving them the series win. This two-game set saw the Sharks blow a multiple-goal lead and allow a tying goal in the last minute of a game they lost, yet the team should still feel proud of the efforts they had in both games.
The Sharks kept pretty much the same lineup for each game, with the exception of Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk splitting the series between them. The main story entering this game was the Sharks had their second defensive pairing erased from the lineup, with Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek picking up injuries against the Vegas Golden Knights.
New Faces Pick Up Scoring
The Sharks got scoring from uncommon sources, propelling the team to their series win. This started in the first game of the series with Noah Gregor, who despite little ice time and occasional scratches from the lineup is tied for second in even-strength goals with the club. He is quite effective in the offensive zone — the young winger’s speed and quality wrist shot allow him to score goals efficiently.
Another uncommon place the Sharks got scoring from was rookie John Leonard. The 22-year-old scored his second goal of the season in the first game against the Blues. Leonard has also struggled to carve out a consistent role in the team’s lineup, similar to Gregor, but has heated up recently, scoring two goals in his last three games.
Patrick Marleau scored his goal of the season in the second game of the series. With four points in 16 games, the 41-year-old has left a lot to be desired in the offensive zone so far this season. The franchise legend did have a goal and assist in the series against the Blues, and will need to keep producing offensively for the Sharks with Dylan Gambrell possibly injured.
Rudolfs Balcers, after a recent claim on waivers, had two goals in the second game of the series. He was yet to record a goal for San Jose, but made his way onto the second line after impressing coach Bob Boughner.
This trust paid off in spades, with Balcers notching the game-winner in a very eventful second game of the series.
Defensive Mishaps Cost Team
While the Sharks benefited from scoring from some uncommon players, the team almost blew those opportunities with poor defensive play. These mistakes led directly to the goals conceded by San Jose, and must be cleaned up for the team to succeed.
Many of these mistakes are quite fixable. For example, the game-tying goal in the second game resulted from a poor defensive decision by Brent Burns. Burns, nearing the end of his shift, made a poor read deciding to pinch in, leaving Mario Ferraro to defend an odd-man rush on which St. Louis capitalized.
These miscues have happened often for San Jose. The Sharks’ defensive lineup mainly features former stars who are beginning to decline in production and young players still learning the physicality and quickness of the NHL. One player who’s been at the forefront of these defensive struggles has been Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Vlasic for many years was one of the best defensive defensemen in the league, and a cornerstone of the Sharks’ lineup for years. However, his defensive awareness in his own zone has taken a step back recently. Look no further than the Blues’ first goal of the most recent game.
Vlasic and his partner Nikolai Knyzhov did not communicate well when the puck got in deep. However, Vlasic’s leaving the slot to approach a player below the goal line was not great risk management and resulted in a goal against. The Sharks must clean up their defensive play to establish themselves as a threat in the Western Division.
Heading into a Homestand
The Sharks began the season with 14 of their first 16 games on the road. Concluding with this short series in Missouri, the team will remain in San Jose until March 12. These next eight games are critical for the Sharks to establish a home-ice advantage.
Unfortunately, seven of the next eight games will be played against the top three teams in the Western Division. The Colorado Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Blues are all quality opponents and the Sharks must hold their ground against top talents.
Unfortunately, the Sharks could be without Gambrell for a period of time. The center entered concussion protocol yesterday after a rough hit from Kyle Clifford at the end of the second period. Gambrell carved out a nice bottom line center and penalty killing role for San Jose, and will be tough to replace. This would likely see Sasha Chmelevski return to the lineup, as he is a natural center. Marcus Sorensen could also slot back in — moving Gregor back to center — to provide the team another penalty killer.
San Jose will also miss Karlsson and Simek for their next game, as both were placed on injured reserve recently. While the replacements Fredrik Claesson and Nicolas Meloche were not liabilities, they played sheltered minutes and had few defensive zone starts.
With both goalies playing a game in the most recent series, Martin Jones likely won back the starting role with his impressive play in the first game, despite the loss. While neither goalie has impressed, Jones allowed fewer goals than expected according to MoneyPuck — better than Dubnyk — and shutout St. Louis at 5-on-5.
The Sharks have seen mixed results this season. However, improvement upon their recent defensive woes, while receiving scoring from all parts of the lineup, could see the team start pushing for a playoff spot. Only out of the playoffs by a point, the season is far from over for San Jose.