SAN JOSE – It might be just wee bit early to call it a preview of the Western Conference Finals, but the upcoming Sharks-Blues game does hold some cachet, regardless.
There are just three NHL teams remaining without a loss of any kind, and two of them – the 5-0-0 Sharks and 4-0-0 Blues – meet at Scottrade Center on Tuesday night. Already thought in the preseason by many to be two contenders to make a push for the Stanley Cup, neither has disappointed in the early going.
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“St. Louis is a good team, and they play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You can see they are on their game right now, and playing hard right from the start. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder, and you see them playing against good teams and playing good games.”
The Blues began the season with comfortable wins over Nashville and Florida, and followed that up with an exciting 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks, in which Alex Steen broke a 2-2 tie with 22 seconds left. Most recently, the Blues beat the reeling New York Rangers, 5-3 on Saturday.
Entering Monday night’s action, the Sharks and Blues were 1-2, respectively, in goals per game, and both clubs were in the top five in goals-against per game.
The number that stands out, of course, is the goose egg in the loss column for both clubs. According to Dan Boyle, that should give the game a little extra oomph.
“I think there’s something about it. You want to take it as far as you can,” Boyle said. “We were 7-0 last year and it was a good feeling, and so we’re kind of feeling the same things now. You want to take it as far as you can, and you want to be the last team standing, I guess.”
Pavelski agreed with the veteran defenseman.
“We’ve had to work to get to this position. If you can be that last team, it gives your group confidence, I think,” he said. “You want to be the best from the start, and be the best at the end. There are certain habits and things that have to be formed along the way to be able to do that.”
The Sharks experienced their first real battle on Saturday, coming from behind to beat the Ottawa Senators, 3-2. Prior to that, San Jose had won each of its first four games by at least three goals. Four of the five wins have come at home, and the Sharks will now begin a stretch of six of its next seven games away from the SAP Center.
Conventional hockey wisdom says road trips are often a good time to bring a team together, but head coach Todd McLellan thinks that notion may be overstated.
“Every time we go on a long road trip everybody talks about bonding, everybody in the league,” McLellan said. “You can bond at home in the locker room, too. For me, the best bonding is winning, no matter where you do it, on the road or at home.”
The coach also downplayed the significance of two undefeated teams preparing to clash.
“I think [Canucks head coach John Tortorella] said it early in the season, it’s too early for benchmark games, or anything like that,” McLellan said. “Ten or 15 games in you start to sort things out and figure out where everybody is going to be, and teams start to settle in at that point.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do with our group, and I’m sure St. Louis is saying the same thing. Any team in the league, the primary focus at this time is their own backyard, and not worrying about what other teams are doing. At least it is here.”
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McLellan hinted that backup goalie Alex Stalock could see his first start of the season very shortly.
Antti Niemi has played every minute of the five games, and he'll almost certainly face the Blues on Tuesday. Stalock could get in on Thursday in Dallas or Saturday at home against Calgary.
"I’m not sure which day, but I’d like to get him a start," McLellan said.