Through the first three games of the San Jose Sharks/St. Louis Blues series, two things are for certain—the Blues defense has a stranglehold on the outcome of this series, and the Sharks will need several things to go their way to overcome that.
The Blues took a seemingly commanding 2-1 lead in the series by beating the Sharks in San Jose on Monday night.
It was the Sharks' worst-played game so far in the series and one that significantly showed who is the overall better team. San Jose was unable to get the puck past both the St. Louis defense and Brian Elliott until late in the game. This led to the Blues bullying the Sharks into a deep hole in the series. It is also one that looks impossible to climb out of.
We all knew the Blues defense was a clear and dominant strength of theirs, but seeing it continue to clamp down on the Sharks is simply overwhelming right now.
San Jose is unable to get anything started in the offensive zone, and when they do, St. Louis has gifted defensemen that understand the situation and are aware of opportunities to either put a stick in the lane or pressure the Sharks player into turning over the puck.
However, what the Blues do best happens in the neutral zone because they simply eliminate it and turn it into a clear offensive zone for their team. Granted, the Sharks have a hard time getting the puck into any team's zone, but there have been points in this series that St. Louis has gone several minutes without allowing San Jose to legitimately locate their puck in the Blues zone.
The Blues do not have the greatest power play in the world, as they were ranked 19th during the regular season, but the Sharks' penalty kill has seemed to make the Blues' power play look extremely efficient and productive in the series.
On Monday night, St. Louis struck the back of the net in its first three opportunities and finished the night three of four on the power play.
If there is any shot at San Jose getting back into this series, it must stay out of the penalty box or clamp down on the seemingly average St. Louis power play when given the opportunity.
Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott—it simply does not matter anymore in this series. Both are tremendous goalies that can take the Sharks' overkill of shots they throw at the net nearly every single night with no result.
In the big picture, the reason the Blues' goalie situation does not matter is because the Blues defense gives them the opportunity to coral the limited amount of shots that actually get to the net.
Using the Sharks series as an example, these are not intimidating shots being thrown at the net by any means. The St. Louis defense limits the opportunities and it is making Halak and Elliott look continually good in between the pipes.
Of course, the first team to score does not always win, but in this series, it plays a key role in who has the momentum going forward.
The Sharks know they must score first because playing from behind against the Blues defense is a near impossible feat—one that the Sharks have yet to figure out.
As a result, the Sharks have played extremely stiff in the first period of the last three games, and it was clear as day in Game 3 when the Blues outplayed them from start to finish.
Joe Thornton can only carry the Sharks on his back for so long before the energy starts to drain from this team. They were in desperation mode late in Monday night's game and should prepare for a similar fight from St. Louis on Thursday in Game 4.
However, for the Sharks to win this series, it will take production from Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski because there has been none so far.
Marleau has a total of zero points this series, becoming a forgotten player out on the ice throughout most of the second half of this season. Pavelski, who played terrific throughout the entire season, has become forgettable in this series, as well, as he has zero points to go with his minus-one ranking.
Marleau has a total of just five shots on goal through three games in the playoffs, and Pavelski is not much better with seven shots on goal in this series.
Thornton showed up in Game 3 with three assists, but there must be production from the best players on the team for San Jose to have any hope. That includes the likes of Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat, who have both been unnoticeable since Game 1.
Credit—yet again—the Blues defense for this shutdown of top-tier players in the NHL. Marleau, Pavelski and Thornton have not seen legitimate opportunities to find the net, let alone find the back of it.