The San Jose Sharks will be matched up against St. Louis Blues' goalie Jaroslav Halak when their first-round series gets underway on Thursday night in St. Louis. However, for the Sharks, it does not matter who suits up in net for the Blues — there are far bigger problems they must deal with first.
The Blues named Halak their starter for Game 1 after fellow goalie Brian Elliott left practice earlier this week with upper body pain. Up until then, it was not confirmed as to who would start the series between the pipes for St. Louis. The Elliott injury made it perfectly clear, though — Halak is the starter until further notice.
Halak went 26-12-7 this season with a .926 save percentage. Elliott was just as good, going 23-10-4 with a .940 save percentage.
“They have two and they chose one,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “Now it’s time to play. They certainly have two who are capable of playing and probably two that will play. We have to be prepared for both.”
For how logically simple and correct that first quote was, the second one that Comcast SportsNet Bay Area's Kevin Kurz reported was not.
"[It’s] a little bit like the [Mark] Sanchez - [Tim] Tebow situation in New York, two very good quarterbacks that both want to play," McLellan said, referring to football's Jets. "I guess the trick there is figuring out who the team is comfortable playing in front of, and playing that guy. Sometimes, it’s a hard thing for a coach to do."
What is the biggest factor facing the Sharks in this series?
It is pretty obvious McLellan does not watch football because comparing Mark Sanchez, an overrated quarterback, and Tim Tebow, a player that has yet to master proper quarterbacking mechanics, is far from the comparisons of two St. Louis goalies with the type of seasons they just had.
However, McLellan was right to some extent. The Sharks do have to be prepared for both because if they want to win this series, they will need to force the Blues into a goalie competition between the pipes.
Step 1: Make the Blues second-guess their goalie decision on Thursday night in Game 1.
But maybe the Blues' tandem of goalies does not even factor into this series with the Sharks?
The reason San Jose was beat so convincingly throughout the season by the Blues was that they could simply not get the puck deep into St. Louis territory. For those who know Sharks hockey — the dump and chase is the team's biggest asset and a true barometer of how they are playing in a single game.
Throwing dainty shots with no hope at going in the net is the exact thing the Sharks run into when playing defensive-minded teams, and the Blues made the Sharks do that all four times they played each other this season.
Step 2: Counter the Blues' forecheck.
The Sharks should not have to worry about playing the two talented goalies on the Blues' roster. They should worry about playing the Blues' defense and facilitating the puck into St. Louis territory. It was the same problem that they ran into against St. Louis several times this season, and it remains a problem heading into Game 1 of the NHL Playoffs.
San Jose has no problem getting pucks to the net. They outshot the Blues in the season series 104-99. However, it was the type of shots that the Blues made the Sharks take that was the problem — off-balance shots with no intention of hitting the goalie or going in the back of the net. Consequently, the Sharks managed to tally three goals in four games against St. Louis.
Call that a good netminder in goal or bad luck, but the Blues have held the Sharks offense in check from start to finish this season.
So forget which goalie St. Louis chooses to play in any of the games in this series. There should be more focus on the St. Louis forecheck than actually worrying about how they are going to get the puck past Halak or Elliott. That will come with opportunity, but getting the opportunity is priority No. 1 for the Sharks in this series.
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