While the Central Division has long been one of the toughest in the NHL, right now the Pacific is where points are hardest to get. Sure, Chicago and St Louis are at the top of the West, but right behind them are the three California teams: LA, Anaheim, and tops among them, tonight's opponent, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks have only two fewer points than the Blues, 37, from a record of 16-3-5. They've won 3 in a row, including ones over the Kings and the Lightning. Their goal differential (+28) is second only to St Louis. These are no slouches.
Now, one of the Blues' strong points has been their focus. Despite opportunities to get lost in hype or trap games, our boys have generally been able to stick to the gameplan and take care of business. The goal is the Cup; everything else pales in comparison to that. Tonight's match-up is going to be a great test of that focus. I don't need to remind you that this is the first rematch against the Sharks since the Maxim Lapierre hit on Dan Boyle that 1) got Max suspended for 5 games 2) worse yet, cost Boyle 7 games due to injury, and 3) fucked over the entire game for both teams, leading to the Blues first regulation loss. So the question remains: will this game be about future goals, or will it be about settling old scores from the last game? Nobody's asking me the "keys to the game", but I have to believe that the team that buries the past first will have the better of the game. I almost hope that San Jose tries to chase Max around the ice all night; that'll mean that the Blues will have the upper hand everywhere else. Boys, just keep your emotions in check.
The Sharks are a good team, though, and you certainly can expect a tough game all over the ice. The team points leader is Jumbo Joe Thornton with 3G and 22A for 25 points. Thankfully, he hasn't been seen lately at the chicken farm. There are three Sharks players with 23 points: Logan Couture (8G / 15A), Joe Pavelski (9G / 14A) and Patrick Marleau (11G / 12A). Next on the list is the goals leader, rookie wonder Tomas Hertl (aka Teenage Mutant Ninja Hertl), with 12 goals and 7 assists for 19 points. Of course, 4 of those goals were scored in the 3rd game of the season, the Rangers game that effectively ended Martin Biron's career. He's cooled off considerably since then.
Those are the mundane stats (though still very important). Looking at some of the #FancyStats, though, the fella you really need to keep an eye on is Brent Burns. He's a defenseman converted to forward, and is one of the league leaders in Corsi and Fenwick stats. He's missed time to injury, so his numbers are skewed a little relative to his teammates, but it seems to me that he's a main cog in their machine. He may not be the "finisher" that puts points on the scoreboard, but he's the "starter" that puts those plays in motion. How's that for insight?
The Sharks have already decided that Antti Niemi will be getting the start in net. In 21 starts, he has a 13-3-5 record, with a 2.15 GAA and .920 Save Percentage.
Blues vs Sharks coverage
Final Verse: The Blues are in Pacific time, but thanks to the holiday the game has an early start: 3 PM St Louis time. The Gameday Thread should drop shortly ahead of the puck. The TV broadcast will be on FoxSports MidWest, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. Until that time, gather here, munch on some leftovers, and dodge the shopping crowds. Also, we close out Movember with a montage of last year's updates from Jay and Dan:
The Hilarious Evolution of Movember with Jay and Dan. (via Brandon Barber)