The St. Louis Blues return home to play their third game in four nights against the struggling San Jose Sharks, who have only won one of their last six matches. The potent Sharks' offense, spearheaded by wingers Patrick Marleau and rookie sensation Tomas Hertl (15 goals each) and centers Joe Thornton (30 assists), Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski (30 points each), has only averaged two goals per game in that stretch, dropping to third in the NHL behind the Blackhawks and Blues. The San Jose defense uncharacteristically allowed 20 goals in those last six games, dropping to a ranking of ninth in the league, just behind the Blues and Avalanche. In comparison, the Blues have won four of their last six (not including last night's game in Ottawa), only losing to the powerful Kings and Ducks. In that span, the Blues outscored opponents 21 to 16.
The Note will be seeking to extract a measure of revenge against the Sharks, who handed the Blues their first loss of the season in St. Louis back on October 15. Jaro Halak was chased from the net as the Sharks converted three of seven power play opportunities with Thornton (one goal, three assists) and Marleau (one goal, two assists) leading the way. The real story of this game, at least from the Sharks' perspective, was the Maxim Lapierre hit from behind on defenseman Dan Boyle that led to his ejection from the game and a five-game suspension. San Jose scored two power play goals 48 seconds apart on the major penalty and never looked back, coasting to a 6-2 victory. The Sharks and their fans were outraged by the hit. Couture, for one, was quoted by reporters as saying, "It's just disgusting to see that type of play in hockey, when a player that probably shouldn't even be in this league is taking out one of the best players in the world." After the Boyle injury, 79 minutes in penalties were handed out in the first period, including fighting majors (and game misconducts) to Ryan Reaves and Lapierre of the Blues and Matt Pelech and Andrew Desjardins of the Sharks. Later in the period, David Backes and Jason Demers also scuffled and were assessed minor penalties, with Backes getting an extra two minutes. And bruising Sharks winger Brent Burns could have easily been given a major penalty for his boarding of Brendan Morrow, yet escaped with a mere two-minute minor. Apparently Couture did not find that boarding "disgusting" at all.
The Sharks also won the rematch in San Jose on November 29. Burns had his first career hat trick as the Sharks built a 4-0 first period lead, out-shooting the Blues 12 to two. The Blues battled back on goals by Ian Cole, Backes and Jaden Schwartz, but Burns answered with a brilliant power play goal mid-way through the third period and Hertl added an empty-net goal to give the Sharks a 6-3 victory. Brian Elliott was chased in this game, allowing four goal on 12 shots, and was replaced by Halak at the start of the second period. Of more interest to Blues Nation, however, was the rambunctious play of Sharks' defenseman Boyle, who got away with a flagrant elbow thrown at Blues defenseman Roman Polak in the first period and was later penalized for high-sticking and boarding Vlad Sobotka in the third period. One would think that Boyle, of all hockey players, would know better than to deliberately try to injure an opponent, especially after all the whining and moaning from the Sharks after the Lapierre incident. Even last Saturday night during the Sharks' telecast from Nashville, the announcers were still chirping and crying about Lapierre's hit as they noted the next telecast was from St. Louis. Of course, the Thornton hit to an unsuspecting David Perron's head several years ago in 2010 has long been forgotten by those in San Jose who decry dirty or dangerous play from players not wearing the Sharks' logo.
It is patently clear that Coach Hitchcock is not pleased with the over-all first period play from his team in recent games. After taking a 1-0 lead in Columbus, the Blues found themselves down 1-3 by the end of the period, and were fortunate indeed to come back and win the game in overtime on Backes' dazzling unassisted goal. And it could have been settled in the Blues' favor in regulation if not for the sparkling play of former Peoria Rivermen goaltender Mike McKenna. Obviously, another flat, dispirited, discombobulated start for the Blues can only spell disaster against a very good Sharks club, even if San Jose is having similar problems lately.
Otherwise, the Blues have shown great consistency in their play so far, scoring 33 goals (on 299 shots) in first periods, 36 goals (on 308 shots) in second periods and 37 goals (on 306 shots) in third periods, not including last night's game. Only in the first period is there a problem with team defense as opponents have scored 32 goals (on 270 shots), while only scoring 19 goals (on 254 shots) in second periods and 19 goals (on 256 shots) in third periods.
The Sharks arrived in St. Louis Sunday and have had a full day off waiting for the Blues to return from Ottawa, yet that will hardly be an excuse for shoddy, uninspired play by the weary St. Louis squad, especially in the first period. Hard work and determination will be absolutely necessary if the Blues are to gain revenge for the earlier losses to the Sharks.