NHL Playoffs 2012: 7 Reasons the San Jose Sharks Will Upend St. Louis Blues
The Sharks are known for entering the playoffs as a top seed but bowing under the pressure of expectations.
This time around, the Sharks scrapped for a playoff spot and go into the postseason with a different mentality. But one team in this series still has those expectations.
Though the Blues were a surprise team this season, they wound up battling for the Presidents' Trophy until their final game. Now they will battle for their playoff lives against the Sharks, and this time, they will be the high seed to exit early.
Anchored by captain center Joe Thornton, the Sharks will skate away from the Blues with a series victory in seven games.
The Obvious: Momentum
For the past month, the Sharks have churned at playoff speed, and the Blues have stalled.
While San Jose was fighting for a playoff spot, St. Louis fell out of first place in the Western Conference.
The Sharks went 10-4-1 in the final 15 games, claiming the seventh seed.
The Blues went 7-4-4 in that time, allowing Vancouver to slip past and capture the Presidents' Trophy.
It's true that the season is 82 games and not 15, but the final stretch is where teams build momentum.
Now the Sharks will play predator rather than prey.
Patrick Marleau Won't Disappear
Unlike last year, forward Patrick Marleau will carry San Jose through these playoffs.
When Marleau scores, the Sharks are 18-4-3.
The former captain picked up the intensity at the end of the year, lighting the lamp in each game against the Los Angeles Kings.
This team was reconfigured last offseason with GM Doug Wilson's eye on the Stanley Cup. Marleau knows best how badly the Sharks need to make a run at the Cup this year, being the longest-tenured Shark.
He's going to make up for it this year, beginning with St. Louis.
2nd Line Dominance
The Sharks' second line will dominate the Blues with the combination of Ryane Clowe's tenacity, wunderkind Logan Couture's slapshot and the glue that is Martin Havlat.
The Sharks suffered mightily in the the 39 games Havlat missed this season, flatlining at 16-16-7. Since he returned, San Jose is 9-4.
The winger's ability to coordinate and find his linemates is uncanny, and it'll only get better in the postseason. As a Blackhawk in 2009, he tallied at least one point in 10 of 15 playoff games.
Those two combined for more points this season than the entire Blues second line.
Albeit, St. Louis wasn't an offensive team. But this line would have to make a mark for the Blues to win when Clowe, Couture and Havlat shoot the lights out.
'Shots, Shots, Shots Shots Shots Shots, YEAH'
The strength of the Blues is defense, and the way for the Sharks to overcome that is pure volume of shots.
St. Louis allowed the fewest goals per game (1.89) on the fewest shots against per game (26.7).
San Jose, on the other hand, was second in the league in shots per game (33.8).
The logic is easy: More shots means more scoring chances.
Goals have been a highlight of preview coverage because the Sharks tallied just three goals in four games against the Blues.
But that is deceiving. San Jose had more opportunities to score than St. Louis despite not capitalizing. The Sharks had 4.8 percent more even-strength scoring chances than the Blues. That mark is higher for San Jose than against the Canucks, Red Wings, Blackhawks or Kings.
The Sharks will bring the firepower on St. Louis' goalie tandem.
Power to Play the Penalty
The bang-em-up style of the Blues defense tends to mean St. Louis winds up in the penalty box—just where the power-play-efficient Sharks want them.
The Blues had the fourth-highest penalty minutes per game this season, at 13.
The Sharks secured the second-highest scoring percentage on power plays, at 21.1.
Extrapolating the 13 minutes out into four minors and a major, that's a goal per game for the Sharks.
Meanwhile, the Sharks spend five less minutes per game on average in the pin, and the Blues are mediocre at capitalizing on penalties (19th in the league).
One reason why the Sharks went 0-4 against the Blues during the regular season is that the Blues kept their box time down to eight minutes per game in those matchups.
With the intensity of the playoffs hovering over the ice, St. Louis won't be able to do stay out of the box, which means the Sharks should have a one-goal head start per game on the Blues.
Postseason Spark from 3rd and 4th Lines
The Blues' first order of business is to slow down the Sharks' first two lines, which they are capable of doing (though they may not do so).
What may be equally as tough is handling the next two lines from San Jose.
GM Doug Wilson made two deadline trades to supplement the third and fourth shifts off the bench. The Sharks acquired Dominic Moore, TJ Galiardi and Daniel Winnik, shipping away just one player (albeit Jamie McGinn) in the two deals.
Moore and Galiardi join Mitchell on the third line, creating perhaps the fastest San Jose shifts.
The Blues' strength is defense on zone entries, and this quick line should be able to break that down more than in the four games this season the two teams matched up.
This line will score a necessary goal in crunch time of one game this series.
Pavelski Comes Up Big (As Usual)
Joe Pavelski may be Little Joe (to captain Joe Thornton), but the Sharks forward is also Big Pavelski—and he'll live up to that name against the Blues.
With San Jose needing to steal one from the Blues in St. Louis, Pavelski knows he has to get it done in this series.
As one of the Sharks' three 30-plus goal scorers, he'll be a big part of San Jose moving on to the Western Conference semis.
St. Louis is going to have enough trouble balancing their defensive units between the first and second lines of San Jose that Pavelski will be able to make a splash in the series.
After all, the bigger the stage, the bigger the Pavelski.