The San Jose Sharks fell short in their bid to tie their opening series against the St. Louis Blues in Game 4 Thursday night, giving the Blues a stranglehold on the series 3-1. Head coach Todd McLellan made changes to the lineup, inserting Handzus and Winchester, while sitting Moore and Galiardi, trading some size for speed.
And for the most part, this tactic served the Sharks well for some stretches in the game as the size helped win some of the scrums for the puck. The Sharks had a decent jump and did a much better job winning the loose puck battles and being stronger along the boards. While the Sharks may have played a good game, at this stage it will take much more to force a Game 6 in San Jose.
A lot was made of the Sharks experience heading into this series, coming off 2 consecutive Western Conference Finals in a row but to this point the young Blues look much more composed and ready to play. The Sharks top line has been invisible to this point, outside of some late assists from Joe Thornton late in Game 3.
The Sharks leaders and “experience” has not netted them the results they have desired so far, with yet another costly penalty taken late in the game with the team trying to build a comeback.
Meanwhile Blues forwards like Andy Mcdonald and David Perron are leading their young and inexperienced team and downright embarrassing the Sharks with their work ethic and hustle. Further, the Blues are continuing the trend of scoring first, and sagging back to the 1-2-2 and stifling the Sharks with an aggressive forecheck.
Brian Elliott continued to look impenetrable with excellent rebound control and looking in control, and the Blues block shots better than any team I have seen in quite some time.
But it’s still another loss in what was almost a must-win game for San Jose, and was it ever a classic Sharks playoff loss.
Sharks fans will recognize the signature style of loss by the familiar problems for San Jose; struggling breakout, horrible shot selection, high neutral zone turnovers, and an overall inability to adjust.
Down 3-1 and heading to St Louis for Game 4, the Sharks just added more weight to their lunchpail and have a huge hill to climb.
Has the window closed on this team? Or are the Blues just that darn good? Whichever side of the coin you believe, the Sharks certainly looked nothing like a playoff team, let alone an elite one.
Elite? Is this team elite anymore? Honestly you’ve got to ask yourself that question given the age of the core and how horribly they have played for the most part outside of Joe Thornton.
Patrick Marleau finally made an appearance last night, although most of his play was marked by soft play along the boards and making questionable choices with the puck.
Factor in his horrible boarding penalty late in the third, that effectively neutralized the Sharks power play and it’s a fair estimation to say that he is struggling to make a difference right now.
Dan Boyle had a horrible game late and he seemed completely flummoxed by the Blues forecheck, especially with just a minute to go and a open net in his own zone.
Joe Pavelski continues to be ice cold, logging 5 shots and getting his helmet cuffed off his head ceremoniously in the third period.
Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, and Ryane Clowe each made several errors during the game, stepping out of their role and trying to do too much. This simply cannot continue to happen, when you are talking about a team that plays defense as well as the Blues do, you have got to make every chance count.
Instead the Sharks desperation has them trying to do too much individually, and hurting the collective.
This is a serious contrast in relation to the Blues, who seem to be more a sum of their parts versus the Sharks not trusting their linemates and trying to do too much.
San Jose keeps talking about the tough breaks and the funny bounces, but a good team makes their own breaks, creates their own bounces. And if this Sharks team wants to make any kind of noise this year, they are going to need to start making their own breaks and playing as a team.