What we learned from Thursday's games (con't ...)
Before the game, Ken Hitchcock talked about fear being the key to winning in the Shark Tank. "You're so afraid of getting blitzed that you ... play on the edge, and I think we're better when we play like that," he told NHL.com. It's a nice respectful quote, but the Blues don't play with an ounce of fear in their game. This was a team that was determined not to settle for the split, that had its eyes on finishing things off at home this weekend.
I'd still take Kevin Dineen for the Jack Adams, simply because he had to find chemistry with so many disparate pieces. Still, watching the Blues proved Hitchcock is the best in the business. The dense layers of defense, the ability of lines one through four to read and adapt to situations. It's the triumph of smarts over skill. This is the stuff of textbooks.
The Blues were outhit 28-19, but I liked their physical game better. They don't chase big hits, so there's no wasted energy. They channel it into relentless puck pursuit in the corners and in the slot, and their high winning percentage in those battles is what's winning them these games.
Watching the Sharks' new line combos made me think Todd McLellan could have generated more chemistry by dropping some Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke. Over and over, San Jose failed to click on their breakouts. Credit some of that to the Blues' forecheck. The bigger issue was the gaps were stretched, forcing passes that were too long ... and too often picked off.
Martin Havlat and Daniel Winnik both had live legs and some tremendous chances early. Neither could finish.
Save of the night: Brian Elliott getting his pad on a Joe Pavelski bid just after being leveled by Logan Couture. Just phenomenal focus.
Tough luck night for Antti Niemi, who was left hanging by his defense on the B.J. Crombeen goal and suffered for a bad bounce on Andy McDonald's winner. No reason for him to feel down after this one, but every time the camera caught him up close, he had that thousand-yard stare. That's not the look you want to see if you're a Sharks fan.
The game was lost, essentially, when the Sharks failed to capitalize on a sensational shift that saw them pin the Blues down for 1:09 midway through the third. Their best forecheck of the game, combined with failed clearing attempts by Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Sobotka, resulted in a single, glorious chance ... and Dan Boyle fired it 10 feet wide. The drama did end with Barret Jackman in the box after cross checking, but then ...
"Dumb penalties lead to killer goals." That was Pat Burns, although if I remember correctly, he might have added a couple of colorful adjectives in there when he offered that insight many years ago. Anyway, Marleau donned the Chapeau of Shame when he curtailed that critical power play after being called for interference. Just as he's standing up to be released, McDonald scored the eventual game-winner, beating Brent Burns to a puck left wobbling in the crease.
Two points here: First, the entire play was built on another failed clearing attempt, this time by Boyle. The Sharks will be spending a lot of time watching video of their botched transition game on Friday. Second, who else took McDonald in their pool? The Blues now have six power-play goals and he has a hand in each of them (two goals and four assists). He's not doing anything special. He's simply making great reads and getting to where he needs to be to either create, or finish, a play. If you have kids in the game, have them key on in McDonald this weekend. Just a smart, smart player.
Hope Sharks fans took a good look at their heroes Thursday night. If they lose in St. Louis, this will be a very different team next fall. Not too daring a stretch to suggest that means someone new wearing No. 12 or No. 19.
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