When the Sharks slotted both Mike Brown and Matt Pelech into their lineup for this afternoon's tilt with the St. Louis Blues team that knocked Dan Boyle out of the lineup for seven games the last time these clubs met, it seemed like revenge was on their mind. Brown and Pelech ended up taking the ice for just three minutes apiece but the Sharks managed to avenge Boyle's injury anyway, in the most effective way possible, by putting up six goals against the Blues for the second time this season, three of which came off the stick of Brent Burns. Four first period Sharks tallies were enough to weather a St. Louis comeback as San Jose held on for a 6-3 win that moves them into a tie with the Blues for the best points percentage in the NHL.
The Sharks have outscored the opposition 36-13 in first periods so far this season but the opening twenty minutes of this one might have been their best yet. Just thirty-five seconds into the game, Patrick Marleau forced a Barret Jackman turnover before finding a wide-open Burns in the slot for a one-timer that beat goaltender Brian Elliott. Less than three minutes later, a Sharks power play that still leads the league in shot rate but had been having a rough go of it converting those chances into goals as of late produced a Joe Thornton marker off a beautiful backhand pass from Joe Pavelski. But far and away the prettiest goal of the night was Burns' second, the result of a flawlessly executed breakout by the Vlasic/Braun pairing and Tomas Hertl to gain the offensive zone and allow Thornton to find an onrushing Burns to make it 3-0 less than halfway into the first. Tommy Wingels would make it 4-0 on a partial 2-on-1 after Jay Bouwmeester bobbled the puck at the Sharks blueline.
Predictably, St. Louis put on a push once they were facing a four-goal deficit and they were aided by a slew of power play opportunities and some great play in net from Jaroslav Halak, who spelled Elliott between periods. Four-on-four goals from Ian Cole and Jaden Schwartz along with a power play tally from David Backes eventually cut the Sharks lead to one before Pavelski passed the puck to Burns for a clean zone entry with the man-advantage before darting to the net and screening Halak on a laser beam of a shot that gave Burns his first career hat trick.
San Jose is now 4-0 on this homestand, 7-1 in their last eight games and 11-0-1 this season when their defenseman-turned-Wookie-turned-forty-goal-power-forward is in the lineup. Burns changes the entire dynamic of the Sharks' attack not only by making the Thornton line impossible to strip the puck from at even-strength but by slotting the remainder of the team's forwards into their appropriate roles. He might not score a hat trick every game, and it's a shame he didn't get to four given his proposed celebration, but it's hard to understate how much an already-good Sharks team improves when Burns is wreaking havoc on the ice.
- A lot of the talk heading into this matchup understandably surrounded Maxim Lapierre, given his cheap shot on Boyle in St. Louis last month, but he was a complete non-factor in this game with zero shots, zero hits, an 0-for-7 showing in the faceoff circle and the worst Corsi percentage on the Blues. One way to make sure the crowd doesn't boo you whenever you touch the puck is to never have it.
- He didn't record a point but I thought Marty Havlat had one of his best games of the season so far in this one. He was razor-sharp making passes out of his own end and created chances galore for Pavelski and Tyler Kennedy in the offensive zone. The coaching staff even rewarded him with a minute and a half of shorthanded ice time in a penalty-filled game, in which Havlat generated a scoring chance.
- Burns now has 17 goals in 35 games as a forward, roughly a 40-goal pace over an 82-game season.
- Logan Couture had his second three-assist game in a little over a week. Also his new mustache should be a nice complement to Team Canada's alternate jersey in Sochi.
- David Backes is a great player, and I can't speak to his intelligence off the ice, but boy is he ever a complete fucking moron on it. How do you let Mike Brown, of all people, goad you into a minor penalty and a ten-minute misconduct when you're the captain and first-line center of one of the best teams in hockey?
- It wouldn't be a Neutral recap if I didn't use a bullet point to complain about the Hannan/Stuart pairing's continued existence. When Hannan and Stuart were on the ice together at even-strength, the Blues generated 14 shot attempts to just 3 by the Sharks. When they weren't, the Sharks out-attempted St. Louis 33-18. Hannan and Stuart saw far and away the least amount of ice time against the Backes line, instead matched up most frequently against Vladimir Sobotka. They spent more ice time behind the Thornton line than any other San Jose unit. As great as the Sharks are playing right now, how much better do you think they'd be if their third pairing (and fourth line in this one) wasn't a black hole?
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Brent Burns
2nd Star: Joe Thornton
3rd Star: Justin Braun