The San Jose Sharks have plenty to worry about following Sunday afternoon’s utter implosion. Following a Game 4 in which San Jose largely dominated the last 40 minutes, the Sharks absolutely came apart at the seams in the last two-thirds of a pivotal Game 5.
They were outperformed by almost every metric and had a +18 hit differential, which isn’t the positive statistic it may seem like on paper; in the NHL, if you’re out-hitting your opponent by a sizable margin, it speaks to the fact that you don’t have possession of the puck. Of course, that was reinforced by the Sharks losing the face-off and corsi battles (57 percent to 43 percent and 54.32 percent to 45.68 percent, respectively), although the difference between the first period and following two is staggering (we’ll get there).
In the process, they lost Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl to injury, while Erik Karlsson, who tweaked his existing groin injury in Game 4, clearly wasn’t 100 percent, and, in two periods, logged a mere 8:49 of ice time. Karlsson wasn’t on the bench for the third period and may not play in Game 6.
“We made that decision based on the reports we get from the player and the medical, and the report was he could play and get through the game. It’s easier to sit here and say now (that) sure, you have regrets,” said DeBoer, when asked about playing Karlsson, “Hindsight is 20/20.”
During the course of the game, Karlsson was in visible discomfort on the bench, and on the ice, the effect of his injury was apparent; with much of his game being built on his prolific skating, his effectiveness was drastically limited.
This was perfectly illustrated on the Blues’ first goal of the game (courtesy of Oskar Sundqvist), a direct result of a turnover by Karlsson.
While I’m not solely faulting Karlsson for this goal, when healthy, he skates this puck out of the defensive zone nine times out of ten, and this turnover and subsequent goal don’t happen. With his skating ability, not only does he avoid the forecheck, it’s often a catalyst offensively; it’s one of the things that make Erik Karlsson such a potent offensive force from the back-end. However, in his limited state, he knows he won’t escape the forecheck, and instead sends a hurried pass in the direction of Brenden Dillon.
That being said, at this point, things didn’t look so grim. The Sharks had played with a less-than 100 percent Erik Karlsson much of the regular season, and although they were trailing, they lead in possession, scoring chances and expected goals. Evander Kane was inches away from snapping his goal-scoring slump, striking iron in the first ten seconds of the game. San Jose had every reason to feel as though they could and would solve Jordan Binnington and come out with a series lead.
Very few anticipated the absolute cliff the Sharks would fall off of in the second period.
As seen above, the Sharks led in possession until the Blues scored their second goal. Afterwards, their numbers plummet. The playoffs, unfortunately, often become a war of attrition, and the Sharks may just be feeling the effects of multiple long, hard-hitting series, coupled with the frustration of having controlled play the last three periods (periods two and three in Game 4, and the first period of Game 5). Goaltender Martin Jones made multiple solid saves through the first period, but this ... was not one of them.
Sure, it took an inconvenient bounce, but that is not NHL-caliber rebound control.
It’s hard to fault the Sharks for feeling a little deflated after that. Coupled with the frustration of striking posts (Marc-Edouard Vlasic hit another in the second period) and running into a hot goaltender, the Sharks seemed to simply fall apart from here, playing what could have been their worst period of the season. For perspective, the Sharks CF% in the second period was 29.73, compared to the Blues’ 70.27.
Their collapse was only expedited by the stellar play of St. Louis’ first line.
This was on display, when minutes later, Vladimir Tarasenko scored the Blues first-ever postseason penalty shot goal after Brent Burns tripped him on a breakaway, making him the only player on either team this series to tally a point in every game thus far.
He went on to add two assists.
Despite this, he wasn’t the Blues’ hottest forward of the game, as Jaden Schwartz scored twice more to complete the hat trick, his second of the postseason.
Every even-strength goal scored was done so on the glove side of Martin Jones, who now leads the postseason in goals allowed on his glove side.
That isn’t to pin the loss on Jones, who was absolutely hung out to dry by his defense. In fact, while the graphic above does show all four even-strength goals coming from one side, it also shows that the majority of the Blues’ shots came from the highest danger area: directly in front of the net. The defense has to be better in close, particularly to the left of Jones, if the Sharks are to move on.
San Jose has a lot of adjustments to make before Game 6 — a game that could see their 2019 Stanley Cup dreams die. It’ll be in St. Louis, in front of a raucous crowd, desperate for their first Final berth in over 40 years, and they’ll potentially be without any combination of superstar Erik Karlsson, second-leading goal scorer Tomas Hertl and team captain Joe Pavelski.
Break out all of your superstitious nonsense for Game 6; we may only have one more chance to do so.