ST. LOUIS -– A pair of 7-2 defeats to the Blues, including another spanking on Thursday night at Scottrade Center, seems to clearly indicate that the Sharks are still trying to find some consistency after the Christmas break. San Jose is 3-4-0 since the schedule resumed after the four-day respite.
That’s the short-term concern.
Perhaps more worrisome, though, is that San Jose simply doesn’t seem to match up against a St. Louis team that looks to be a Stanley Cup contender again. Sure, the Sharks have been missing Joe Thornton, but even if Thornton were at the top of his game in the previous two against St. Louis, it’s difficult to imagine his presence would have completely filled a 10-goal gap over those two decisive losses.
The Sharks are still in a playoff position, and they still have a very strong chance of qualifying for the postseason for an 11th straight year.
Are they a true contender, though? It doesn’t look like it lately, and coach Todd McLellan seemed to suggest as much after the latest debacle.
“For us, the two games against St. Louis give us an indication of where we’re at as a club, and where we need to go,” McLellan said. “There’s some high-end players on our team that really have to pick it up, and there’s also some role players that have to pick it up.
“We all have to grow as a group, and we have to get better in a lot of areas if we expect to compete against teams like St. Louis. Right now, it would be hard to find a team better than that.”
The Blues got goals from seven different players, showcasing their tremendous depth, especially when compared with the San Jose’s roster even when Thornton is healthy.
The Sharks’ third line, as it’s been far too often this season, was invisible. Center James Sheppard now has exactly one goal in his last 27 games, second-year forward Matt Nieto hasn’t done anything of note since returning from an ankle injury in December, and rookie Barclay Goodrow is still getting acclimated to the NHL.
As for the fourth line, all it contributed against St. Louis was three minor penalties by John Scott.
And Patrick Marleau? He now has one goal in his last 20 games, and didn’t register a shot on goal in more than 19 minutes of ice time. If you didn’t notice him playing in tonight’s game, you’re not alone.
Special teams has been a disaster lately, too, and that includes Thursday. San Jose failed on its only power-play chance, coming in the second period with a chance to tie the game, and allowed two more goals on the penalty kill. The Sharks have allowed multiple power play goals-against in four of their last seven games.
“It’s got to be a commitment, it’s got to find a way,” Joe Pavelski said. “Special teams are tough right now, so it’s going to take one of those efforts where you fight to the last second of a kill to get it out, and you do it again.”
The key Blues marker was the kind of stuff that drives coaches crazy. The Sharks trailed 3-2 after Melker Karlsson’s early second period goal brought them back to within striking distance. St. Louis didn’t panic, though, and Jori Lehtera took advantage of being inexplicably left alone by Justin Braun in making it 4-2 midway through regulation.
McLellan wasn’t pleased with that one, or the Blues’ fifth goal a few minutes later, when T.J. Oshie whacked in a bad rebound left by Antti Niemi and Brent Burns couldn’t get a body on the surging Blues forward.
“The two mistakes we make in the second period for them to get to 5-2, that’s a crime, because we work on those situations day in and day out,” McLellan said. “Individuals makes mistakes, I understand that, but that’s just a lack of detail and a lack of commitment to getting things done.”
Braun, who has been paired with Brenden Dillon rather than Marc-Edouard Vlasic for the past three games, took responsibility for Lehtera’s important goal.
"Took a step over, they kicked it out, and I went over too far and gave him a pretty good lane,” Braun said. “I’ve got to hold my lane a little more in the middle.”
Even when they were just down by a goal when it was 3-2, though, Logan Couture – one of the few Sharks who had a decent game – wasn’t sure his club was even in it at that point.
“We gave ourselves a chance, 3-2 at the start of the second period, you should have a chance to win on the road,” said Couture, who had one goal and one assist. “We just weren’t good enough overall tonight. We just didn’t play a very good hockey game.”
Pavelski said: “They’ve got good players, but anytime you’re putting up six or seven goals in a game, that’s a lot. It’s solely on us. We’ve got to look at ourselves and commit to the d-zone. It doesn’t matter how good they are. You can’t give up that many.”