A look at how the Sharks and Blues match up against one another, headed into the Western Conference Final beginning on Sunday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis…
San Jose: The Sharks are getting plenty of production from their top two lines, including Logan Couture’s NHL-leading 17 points and Joe Pavelski’s nine goals, tied for the league lead. Midway through the Nashville series, coach Pete DeBoer bumped a struggling Patrick Marleau up to Couture’s line, where he thrived, but that may hurt the team’s depth on its bottom two lines if DeBoer sticks with those combinations for Game 1.
St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko paced St. Louis in the regular season with 40 goals and 74 points, and he’s got seven goals and 13 points in the playoffs, tied for the team lead with rookie Robby Fabbri. Just like San Jose, the Blues believe their depth is a strength, with players like David Backes, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen and Paul Stastny all significant threats offensively.
Advantage: St. Louis. The Sharks are better suited depth-wise than they have been in years past, but the Blues are a little more skilled further down the lineup, particularly with a third line of Steen, Backes and Patrik Berglund.
San Jose: Brent Burns has picked up where he left off at the end of the regular season with 15 points, leading all NHL defensemen, and a plus-three rating. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has contributed eight points, all assists, and is a team-high plus-seven. The Sharks depth shined in a dominant Game 7 against the Preds, particularly former Blues d-man Roman Polak, who had four hits and four blocked shots.
St. Louis: While Nashville’s defense was generally viewed as one of the best in the NHL, the Blues’ group may be better from one through six. Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk are all very good two-way blueliners, while big rookie Colton Parayko gives the Blues some size and depth. All of the Blues’ defensemen are averaging more than 11 minutes per game.
Advantage: Even. While the Blues’ defense core may be a bit stronger than San Jose’s, St. Louis doesn’t have a weapon like Burns, who can singlehandedly take over a game.
San Jose: It’s safe to say at this point that Martin Jones hasn’t allowed his game to slip with the pressure of the playoffs now upon him, with a 8-4 record, 2.16 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in his first year as a starter. Like the his teammates, he quickly put a poor Game 6 against Nashville behind him, recording a shutout in his first career Game 7 on Thursday.
St. Louis: Brian Elliott has emerged as the Blues’ playoff starter after splitting time in the regular season with Jake Allen. He’s 8-6 with a 2.29 GAA and .929 SP through two rounds and against two high-powered offenses in Chicago and Dallas.
Advantage: Even. Jones has been a little more consistent throughout the past month, but Elliott’s save percentage is better. Backups James Reimer and Jake Allen are a wash, too.
San Jose: The Sharks’ third-ranked power play in the regular season has taken it up a notch in the playoffs, going 13-for-42 for a 31.0 percent success rate. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture have four power play goals each, tied of the league lead. San Jose’s penalty killing has been decent, at 82.4 percent, but perhaps more importantly the Sharks have been shorthanded just 34 times in 12 games.
St. Louis: The Blues have also utilized a strong power play to the Western Conference Final, operating at a 27.5 percent success rate (11-for-40). Jaden Schwartz has three of the 11. Just like the Sharks, the Blues have managed to stay out of penalty trouble, going 31-for-39 on the PK in 14 games (79.5 percent).
Advantage: Even. Yes, the Sharks power play has been something to watch in the postseason, and they get the edge over the Blues in that department. But on the PK, St. Louis was third in the NHL in the regular season at 85.1 percent, while the Sharks were 21st (81.0 percent).
Health and energy
San Jose: The Sharks are down only Matt Nieto, who did not skate on Saturday and could be unavailable for at least the start of the series. Still, Tommy Wingels or Dainius Zubrus can fill in for Nieto just fine, and may be preferable options anyway in that they bring more size and physicality in what will be a heavy series.
St. Louis: The Blues are seemingly healthy, although after playing a pair of seven game series against Chicago and Dallas, are surely nursing some bumps and bruises like every other team this time of year.
Advantage: San Jose. It took the Sharks seven games to finish off the Predators, but other than the Game 6 stinker, they seemed to be gaining steam throughout that second round series. The Sharks got a week off between the first and second rounds, too, and that could pay dividends against St. Louis, which hasn’t had much of a break.