After dropping the first game back from the All-Star break, the San Jose Sharks came back strong against the St. Louis Blues. With the 3-1 victory over the Blues, the Sharks road record improved to 17-7-2 -- the best in all of the Western Conference. Martin Jones was sharp in net, kept the Sharks in the game from start to finish and recorded 29 saves on the night. San Jose might have had some help from the Blues recent troubles in the scoring department, but it wasn't just luck that led them to their 27th win of the season.
Shots, shots, shots
The Sharks and Blues got off to a quick start. Although there was no score after the first, a majority of the shots in the game came in the 1st period. After 20-minutes of play, San Jose had managed to put up 16 SOG, while 13 of the Blues' shots found their way to Martin Jones. By the end the third, the Sharks had outshot the Blues 32 to 27, with the goal differential reflecting the number of Sharks chances.
Number of shots can be a deceiving stat. While the the Blues for the most part managed to keep up with the Sharks on the number of chances, St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock touched upon the Blues' recent scoring woes by stating after the game that he was unsatisfied with the quality of his teams chances. The Sharks, on the other hand, quickly found their rhythm after the 1st period and continued to generate quality chances after Joonas Donskoi broke the 0-0 stalemate early in the second.
There was a whole lot of strategic line shuffling on both sides of the ice last night. Whether or not it was intentional, coach Peter DeBoer had Donskoi on the ice with Pavelski in the second, leading up to Donskoi's eighth goal of the season and the captain's 25th assist. Joe Thornton's goal came minutes after, giving the Sharks a 2-0 advantage before Tarasenko and the Blues came back with a goal of their own.
The Sharks third and fourth lines also played a good game in St. Louis. They played a reliable game when they were needed to, for instance, take a face off against the Blues' top line. Their hustle and ability to generate chances kept the Sharks in the game, especially before Nieto's insurance goal in the 3rd period.
No slowing down
With a one goal lead going into the third, the Sharks didn't have much room for mistakes. San Jose's ability to keep the foot on the gas late in the game and continue to push against the Blues was a key to winning last night's game. Nieto's backhand insurance goal was not an easy one. It came after a number of forced turnovers by the Sharks defense and Nieto's determined push to an open pocket in front of Brian Elliot.
This late game aggressive attitude can only benefit the Sharks in the remainder of the season. San Jose remains seven points behind the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division and three points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks. The 'no slowing down' attitude might be just what the Sharks need to establish a comfortable rhythm for the remainder of the regular season.
Look for the younger players on the Sharks to embrace this philosophy as well, or at least try to. Hopefully, Joonas Donskoi, who has been a fantastic player in his first season with the Sharks and in the NHL, can keep up his style of play. San Jose could really benefit from some sharper, cleaner, more aggressive play from players like Tomas Hertl.