Sharks vs. Blues, Game 4: What San Jose can fix before game five
We've got a list of stuff San Jose can work on.
It took a couple of periods, but the Sharks ended up taking a fair amount of shots in Saturday's game four loss to the Blues. One good period does not make a good game, of course, but San Jose showed it hasn't completely forgotten how to play hockey after playing very well through the first three games of the series. But about those first two periods: what happened and how can we make sure it doesn't ever happen again? I've got some ideas.
First, and perhaps most importantly, the Sharks need to stop turning the puck over so damn much. San Jose lives and dies by its passing ability and on nights when things aren't quite clicking, the Sharks struggle mightily. More than one of the Blues' goals came on scoring chances that never would have happened had San Jose connected on the attempted pass.
If you thought the Sharks played pretty well in the first period despite being down 1-0, you're not alone. San Jose generated 12 scoring chances, only two fewer than the Blues created all game long. The Sharks misfired on a pair of odd-man rushes — if they score on one or both of those we're talking about a different hockey game.
To be clear, I don't think there's a problem with the Sharks hands. San Jose is very good at generating scoring chances and has converted on a reasonable numbers of those chances throughout the season and the playoffs. But on any given night the bounces can go the other team's way — that's not to say the Blues got all the luck in game four, but the Sharks probably should have seen more of their chances turn into goals.
The fourth line
One of the positives from this series thus far has been the play of the bottom unit. That didn't carry over tonight as the Blues applied tons of pressure while they had the puck in the offensive zone. With less time to make plays, the fourth line struggled to break out and get the puck down to St. Louis' end of the ice. Nick Spaling isn't good and played his worst game of the series on Saturday as he finished with a corsi differential of -6.
Matt Nieto might not be healthy enough to return, but if and when he does come back it should be to replace Spaling — not Dainius Zubrus.
Keep the third pairing away from Tarasenko
Okay, so this one's easier said than done — especially with the Sharks playing in St. Louis on Monday — but Vladimir Tarasenko victimized Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon in game four. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise, of course, but head coach Pete DeBoer needs to focus on keeping those two off the ice when the Blues roll out their top offensive weapon.
The Sharks don't need to change a whole lot to win game five, but making some adjustments in these areas will go a long way towards San Jose putting St. Louis on the brink of elimination on Monday.