Blues Look to End Series
The San Jose Sharks have a firm understanding of what it’s like to have your back against the wall. They handled it late in the season needing to win down the stretch just to make the playoffs.
Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan says the pressure builds on the closeout team opposed to the team facing elimination.
There’s some truth to this, we’re seeing it in the Pittsburgh, Philly series and if Vancouver wins game five against Los Angeles we’ll say the same thing about the Kings.
The difference between those series and this one is Vancouver and Pittsburgh were favored entering the series. No one is surprised how the series with St. Louis and San Jose has played out so far. The Blues won all four regular season meetings and finished with the third most points in the entire league.
All I’m saying is Los Angeles and Pittsburgh might feel pressure simply because they didn’t expect to be up 3-0 to begin with.
Is there pressure on the Blues to win tonight? There’s definitely incentive not to give the Sharks any life and this team would love nothing more than to stay away from the airport tomorrow morning.
We do know one thing…it won’t be an easy game Saturday night. The Sharks have plenty of experience and there isn’t any panic inside their dressing room. As McLellan puts it “we have more silver sticks running around in our locker room” in reference the multiple players who’ve played more than 1,000 career NHL games.
Both sides have been fighting to get the matchups they desire and the Blues have the advantage with the last change on home ice.
David Backes, T.J Oshie, and David Perron have drawn the assignment of playing against Joe Thornton for pretty much the entire series. San Jose beefed up their top line in game 4 adding Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture to compliment Thornton.
Backes and company have done a solid job even if their even strength contribution has taken a hit. Ken Hitchcock calls it an “awesome responsibility” when you consider the how much ice time these guys see in all phases of the game.
I wouldn’t call the Backes line a pure shutdown line though. They still want to push offensively but err on the defensive side of the puck especially in 50/50 situations. Seeing top offensive lines fail to produce at their usual clip is far from unusual in the playoffs. This is why we see checking lines step up offensively so often in the post-season.
It just so happens the Blues use their top offensive guys to also play a shutdown role.
In the playoffs it’s all about team and so far the approach is working.
The Backes line is doing a nice job of getting pucks behind the San Jose defense but could probably get away from the one-on-one play we’re seeing once they do get possession. Guys like Oshie and Perron are skilled players but quicker puck movement could lead to more quality offensive chances.
The Blues got a little panicky with the puck especially late in the Game 4 and could use just a tad more composure. They can expect a pretty decent push from San Jose tonight.
Face offs Dictating Matchups….
Hitchcock has said numerous times this series how pleased he is with the job his team has done on the face off dot. He expected his team to hover around 45% against arguably the top face off team in the league. The Sharks finished second during the regular season behind the Boston Bruins.
The Blues have won the face off battle in three of the four games including Thursday where guys like David Backes, Vladimir Sobotka, and Scott Nichol each took care of business. Andy McDonald handled his own as well winning 50%. Patrik Berglund struggled winning just 22% as Joe Thornton was a monster at the other end winning 10 of 14.
Winning face offs are about more than just puck possession. McLellan touched on it this morning saying face-offs dictate mathcups. This statement couldn’t be truer. Winning face offs prevent the losing team from getting changes after the puck is dropped. Winning draws in game four allowed the Blues to get the bodies they wanted on the ice. This is why we saw so many changes within just a few seconds after the puck was dropped.
D-man Kris Russell has picked a perfect time of the year to elevate his play. We all focus on his ability to skate and escape pressure but it’s his compete level that deserves more attention. He’s seeing ice on both special teams and more importantly he’s sacrificing his body. He was credited with four blocks on Thursday, two in particular really stood out one on Pavelski and the other on Douglas Murray. His play is earning him more even strength time as well as Hitchcock used Russell and Roman Polak a lot against Havlat, Marleau, and Clowe.
Havlat by the way I thought was San Jose’s best player in Game 4. Marleau still needs to be better, but looks comfortable playing center and was around the puck more on Thursday than he was in the first three games.
Elliott Eating Up shots…
You know a goaltender is on his game when puck are hitting him square in the chest and he’s allowing almost zero second or third chances.
Fundamentally speaking Elliott is nearly flawless in how he’s moving in the crease. He’s been either catching pucks with his glove or corralling them in his chest. You can be sure San Jose will look to keep pucks away from these areas tonight. One Sharks player told me they have to do a better job of not allowing him to get to his spots in the crease. Looks for San Jose to try limit his ability to move in the blue area.
Elliott has done a great job of making the saves he's supposed to make. He's come up with the big saves as well including a breakaway save on Logan Couture early in Game 4, but for the most part these chances have been few and far between for San Jose.
Elliott by the way is very close friends with Pavelski as the two won a National Championship together at the University of Wisconsin. They train together and see each other a lot in the summer. Pavelski tells me (with a straight face) he thinks Elliott has gotten a little lucky this series.
Halak to Resume Skating?
Halak by the way is no longer wearing a walking boot. Word is he’s doing better and I expect him to try to skate sometime in the next few days.
With the way Elliott is playing Halak knows getting back into an actual game will be a tall order. I don’t see the Blues going away from Elliott anytime soon with the way he’s been playing. We all know things can change in a hurry in a playoff series.
Allen Ready If Needed…
Goaltender Jake Allen is preparing each day as if he’s going to play. Goaltender coach Corey Hirsch has done a nice job of preparing him if needed and keeping him focused. They’ve watched limited video to prevent Allen from over-thinking if there is an emergency and he has to play.
San Jose Using Horses…
One thing that won’t change tonight is the way Todd McLellan uses his bench.
On Thursday San Jose had six forwards play at least 19:12 with three surpassing the 20:00 mark.
Their bottom six forwards didn’t have a player see more than 10:22 of ice time.
Joe Thornton played over 17 minutes the last two periods on Thursday and D-man Dan Boyle played a whopping 12:25 in the third on his way to playing over 30 minutes.
Former Blues forward Brad Winchester will play again as he ties his best to be physical and get under the skin of the Blues. He and Jackman are good friends off the ice but have a nice battle going during and after the whistle. Winchester put a pretty good two-hander across the back of Roman Polak’s knee in the previous game.
Chris Stewart registered five shots on goal in just 11 shifts on Thursday. He led a few odd man attacks and his performance led to a pat on the back from Ken Hitchcock after the game who told Stewart he played well.
Both Andy McDonald and Alex Steen have a nice battle going with Sharks D-man Brent Burns. McDonald also took exception to Thornton and several of his teammates who have no problem swinging their sticks around.
This is the best Andy McDonald has played since coming over from Anaheim. Ever since he took a hit from Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu that left him with a shulder injry, he’s played with an edge that’s gotten him the attention he deserves. McDonald is playing as well as any player in the playoffs.
People keep asking what has gotten into Patrik Berglund. To me the biggest difference is he doesn’t have the puck as much as he used to. He’s more focused on playing in straight lines and playing like a player who’s 6’4 and over 200 pounds. He can be a very effective player on the rush but he’s better when he isn’t handling the puck. As I mentioned a few days ago, he’s done a great job of adapting his game to play with McDonald and Steen.
Legends CEO Dave Checketts took in Game 4 in San Jose and was seen hanging with John Davidson after the game.
Future Blues Owner Tom Stillman also made the trip to California.
We mentioned several weeks ago the Blues were interested in signing Clarkson goaltender Paul Karpowich. They made the signing official yesterday and he is likely to back up Allen next season in Peoria. Karpowich played every second of every game last season for Clarkson except for two when he had the flu. He’s with he Blues for the remainder of the playoffs and will practice with the other AHL players who have been called up.
More to come,
The Latest Truth
Post about tonight's Isles-Blues game with your fellow TrueHockey.com fans. Read more
Berglund Says He's Full of Confidence
Post about tonight's Blues-Kings game with your fellow TrueHockey.com fans. Read more
Blues Look to Rebound in LA
Post about this afternoon's Blues-Sharks game with your fellow TrueHockey.com fans. Read more
Post about tonight's Blues-Avs game with your fellow TrueHockey.com fans. Read more
Post about tonight's Wild/Blues game with your fellow TrueHockey.com fans. Read more