Winning Play: “It starts with the center.”
It’s easy to forget when you eviscerate a team 6-3, but the San Jose Sharks actually had their hands full against the St. Louis Blues to start Game 1.
Craig Berube agreed: “I thought our first few shifts were good. Got in on the forecheck, got a couple opportunities.”
This was the opening shift:
San Jose wanted to exit the zone up the wall: Tomas Hertl (48), from the corner, filtered it up to Joe Pavelski (8). However, Joel Edmundson (6) rebuffed Pavelski. Oskar Sundqvist (70) followed up with a behind-the-back, between-the-legs pass to Alexander Steen (20). Martin Jones was tested early and passed.
What’s striking about this clip, and the first three minutes of the contest, is how often the Blues denied Sharks exits along the wall.
It appeared that Brenden Dillon (4) wanted to go up the wall, but changed his mind because of a forechecking Ryan O’Reilly (90). Then Vince Dunn (29) stopped Joe Thornton (19) in his tracks.
That’s Kevin Labanc (62) at center ice, trying to chip it forward along the wall. Dunn, once again, stepped up.
Labanc hit Thornton with the bounce pass, but Tyler Bozak (21) is on top of Jumbo.
Melker Karlsson (68) is snuffed out by Steen along the wall.
Logan Couture (39) tried to bounce it off the wall, but Brayden Schenn (10) anticipated.
After Brent Burns (88) hurtled by Vladimir Tarasenko (91), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) tried to go through Schenn up the wall, but nothing doing.
Was this commitment to taking away the wall from San Jose by design? Or just everyday hockey?
A scout noted to me that the Sharks are well known for using the wall to break it out to their wingers, more so than other teams. It would be natural for a strong forechecking Blues side to try to take away a bread-and-butter breakout play.
In theory, limiting the wall would encourage San Jose to go high (off the glass, loft passes) or up the middle more. The former is more unpredictable; the latter is more dangerous for the Sharks.
On the other hand, it’s a double-edged sword for the Blues: An overcommitment to defending the wall also gives the offense a little more space to make plays up the middle. San Jose is certainly a squad that knows what to do with a little more space.
It’s a guessing game to watch throughout this series.
Dillon pointed out, “We feel the confidence to make plays instead of just throwing it up the wall.”
Couture for Selke?
Peter DeBoer was asked after Game 1 what made the Timo Meier—Logan Couture—Gustav Nyquist line so good defensively.
DeBoer went up the middle: “It starts with the center. Logan Couture, if he’s not the top two-way center in the league, he’s in that conversation. Plays a 200-foot game. Always on the right side of the puck, always making the right reads. When your centerman is like that, he drives the guys around him to play as honest a game as that.”
Couture’s commitment to two-way play was on ample display on Meier’s goals last night:
Right place, right (Timo) time! pic.twitter.com/8OnrHX7WHe— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) May 12, 2019
Coming up the ice, Colton Parayko (55) was thinking offense. Couture (39) had other ideas. The Swiss highlight train did the rest.
The second Meier goal doesn’t happen without a typical but all-important San Jose read: An aggressive Burns pinched on Jaden Schwartz (17), forcing a hurried pass. Couture switched with Burns, in essence becoming the other defenseman. Keep in mind this is exactly how DeBoer wants Burns to play, but it requires ardent commitment from his forwards to support.
It’s a delicate balance that brings out the best of the likes of Burns and Erik Karlsson when clicking.
Anyway, Burns and Couture’s tag team turned an easy St. Louis exit into a 50-50 battle at center ice. Couture kept the puck alive, and for his trouble, got bowled over by Schenn.
The Blues actually came up with it, but Dunn missed a routine D-to-D pass to Alex Pietrangelo (27). Nyquist (14) claimed the loose puck, and the rest is hockey history.
Meier, on his 2nd goal: "I knew the goalie was moving & the dman was coming at me. Tried to play with the luck there. I knew the D was going to turn his skate. Mostly hoping to hit the goalie, but it hit the guy's skate."— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) May 12, 2019
Shades of Gretzky off Ellett! https://t.co/2aGXeajT3X
But back to Logan: After such a stirring endorsement of Couture, DeBoer was asked why Couture has never received serious Selke Trophy consideration. Couture has never finished higher than 12th in the voting.
“I don’t know. It’s because of where he plays a little bit,” DeBoer mused. “I think Logan is the forward version of Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Invaluable, does everything right.
“The beauty of those guys is they’re OK with that, they just want to win. That’s what they do for us.”