First round series breakdown: Blues (2) vs. Sharks (7)
The Blues' airtight goaltending and defense present problems for the Sharks
Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner add experience to the young Blues
Not as big a bust as he seemed, Sharks d-man Brent Burns still must step up
Season series: Blues win, 4-0
Key injuries: St. Louis -- G Brian Elliott (upper body, day to day). San Jose -- D Douglas Murray (lower body, day to day)
Snapshot: The Blues' goaltending tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott won the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed (165) this season. Their 1.89 combined GAA was the lowest in the NHL since the league expanded in 1967. They coughed up a grand total of three in the Blues' sweep of the four-game season series with Sharks. So, yeah, scoring figures to be a challenge for San Jose in this series. Question is, who will start Game 1 for the Blues? Coach Ken Hitchcock isn't saying yet, but Brian Elliott aggravating an upper body injury during practice on Tuesday likely opens the gate for Halak.
Hitchcock completely changed the scheme and culture of the Blues after taking over from Davis Payne early in the season. The Blues attack the puck, especially in the middle of the ice, and they don't like to give it back once they get it, but they have some offensive concerns of their own. They scored only 210 goals as a team, and lost four for their last five games during the season (two at least went to OT). They'll need big winger David Backes to step up his game offensively, as he struggled through an ordinary second half, with three goals in his last 14 games. But the Blues have a lot of big, fast, physical forwards who have all been well versed in Hitchcock's 200-foot philosophy.
It doesn't figure to be easy skating for old Sharks standbys such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe. San Jose was up and down all season, but showed enough grit down the stretch to make its way into the dance. But there is no question it could be a short spring for them this year.
Spotlight's on: Alex Pietrangelo. It was another terrific season for "Petro" -- 51 points and plus-16 on the Blues' blue line. He's big (6'-3", 206 pounds) and makes smart decisions with the puck out of his own zone. He has no playoff experience, however, so we'll see what kind of player he is when the pressure's really on. It's hard to imagine him being anything but strong and steady, however.
X-Factor for the Blues: Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. Both Blues forwards are 36, have each played in 137 playoff games and won Stanley Cups (Langenbrunner two, Arnott one). On an otherwise young, playoff-inexperienced team, their savvy veteran histories could pay large dividends for St. Louis.
X-Factor for the Sharks: Brent Burns. It wasn't quite the season from Burns that the Sharks had hoped for after giving up a lot to get him from Minnesota, but he wasn't that bad, either (37 points, plus-8, in 81 games). Burns has all the skills to be a dominant rearguard, and he needs to play a tough, physical series against the Blues' group of huge forwards.
The Pick: Blues in six
|Michael Farber's players to watch in this series|