The final score may say 4-3, but the San Jose Sharks gave back home-ice advantage to the St. Louis Blues as if they never wanted it in the first place.
Meanwhile the Blues capitalized where the scouting report told them to capitalize: with the Sharks down a skater. The Blues buried three power play tallies to take a commanding 4-1 lead through 41 minutes of action.
Tape-to-tape, cross-ice passing from the Blues looked more as if they owned the regular season’s second best power play in the league (the Sharks in fact were No. 2, while St. Louis finished at No. 19).
To be fair, the Sharks’ penalty kill was terrible for most of the season. “Team Teal” ended the regular season an abysmal 29th in the league. They were only better than the bottom feeding Columbus Blue Jackets.
But while everyone with an opinion will probably focus on the horrendous penalty kill for San Jose, the real problem lies with the San Jose power play.
Two-for-eleven isn’t terrible production (around 18 percent) against a stingy Blues penalty kill unit but generally speaking the unit has not been able to create any momentum. Furthermore Brent Burns’ power play maker on Monday night came via a fluky bounce, not crisp execution.
So not only is the penalty kill struggling as it did during the season but their power play mimics their overall game, a game that lacks urgency.
The playoffs are played at a faster pace, and the Sharks are not matching the skating speed or the puck movement speed of the Blues. It’s as simple as that.
It doesn’t mean you have to be the fastest skater in the world to win, but simply that your decision making has to be that much faster.
Patience is a virtue, but second guessing leads to mistakes… just ask 49ers kick return man Kyle Williams about the NFC championship game.
Playoffs are about making a decision, making it fast and sticking to it. While Game Three in San Jose didn’t feature the extra curricular action seen in Game Two, it still looks like a mistake on the Sharks part for not inserting veteran tough guy Brad Winchester into the lineup.
Winchester— as CSN California’s Kevin Kurz pointed out prior to Game Three— had been a staple in the Sharks lineup for the majority of the season.
The big, nasty winger has to be chomping at the bit to get into game action as he has been a healthy scratch for the past 12 contests. His presence alone, ought to sound off alarm bells for a forward group that has been rather set in stone down the stretch.
Time is of the essence in a best-of-seven-series, and the Sharks ought to feel fortunate not be down three games to none. They didn’t exactly out-play St. Louis in their overtime victory in Game One.
Now defenseman Colin White did get into the lineup for the first time in the series on Monday night, but flip flopping the sixth defenseman doesn’t send much of a message.
However, cutting into the forward group—a group that had been dynamite down the stretch of the regular season would do exactly that—send a message that nobody is safe.
We saw it on the other side of the ice with Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock sitting out Chris Stewart for the first time all season in game two.
And remember, Chris Stewart is no slouch of a hockey player. San Jose knows first hand what Stewart can do at the top of his game as he was a thorn in their side two playoffs ago while with the Colorado Avalanche.
Hitchcock is looking to push buttons. And through three games, he’s done a masterful job at pushing the right ones.
The Blues look like a team. They once again look like the best “team” in the true sense of the word that we saw during the regular season. San Jose meanwhile looks like a bunch of individuals frantically trying to makeup for each other’s mistakes. And when that happens, the mistakes tend to snowball over and over.
Andy McDonald and T. J. Oshie are out-playing Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe. Jason Arnott and Patrik Berglund are out playing Daniel Winnik and Dominic Moore. Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak are out playing Antti Niemi. And Hitchock is out coaching Todd McLellan.
“It was very frustrating. It seemed we couldn’t really get much going.” commented Sharks forward Daniel Winnik after Game Three. “It comes down to the one -on -one battles.”
San Jose just flat out isn’t winning a high enough percentage of those battles to win a playoff series. Whether in the face-off circle, along the boards, or in the neutral zone. Those battles are being lost all over the ice.
Can the Sharks bounce back? Certainly.
But that starts with winning those battles and while Winchester is a player who can do such a thing, his presence alone won’t nearly be enough.
That “battle-ability”(to borrow a phrase coined by Sharks TV analyst Drew Remenda) of every other Shark has to improve and in a hurry or this series could easily be over in five games.