Things got nasty early between the Sharks and Blues as a result of a vicious hit on the Sharks' Dan Boyle.
The San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues met on Tuesday in a battle of the unbeatens. The 5-0-0 Sharks arrived in St. Louis looking to validate their hot start to the 2013-14 season with a road win against the 4-0-0 Blues, an early-season Cup favorite.
The Sharks answered any and all questions surrounding their legitimacy with a 6-2 victory but were also left with a big question of their own.
An ugly incident less than five minutes into the game left the Sharks' Dan Boyle unconscious, face down on the ice, and the Sharks wondering about the health of their assistant captain.
The physical play continued later in the first period, and tempers once again teetered on the brink of eruption after a precarious hit by Brent Burns left the Blues' Brendan Morrow in a crumpled heap along the boards.
In a game that will be remembered for its violence, the Sharks finished the night 3-for-7 on the power play and extended their unbeaten streak to 6-0-0.
An update from Boyle, via David Pollack of the San Jose Mercury News, has since allowed the Sharks to breathe a collective sigh of relief, though his timetable for return to the team still remains in question.
With that most important question answered, let's look at four key takeaways from Tuesday night's game and one other nagging question.
The Sharks lit the lamp six times in St. Louis, including three on the power play.
For the second time in a week, the Sharks proved their resilience in the face of adversity.
While watching one of the team’s most vocal leaders lay unresponsive on the ice before being taken off the ice via stretcher, Sharks players stood at a crossroads.
On the road, against one of the West's best teams, Joe Thornton and company were admittedly distracted.
In his postgame interview, per NHL.com, Thornton elaborated on the Sharks’ collective mentality immediately following the incident involving Dan Boyle.
Your heart kind of drops. It's tough seeing a teammate go down like that. ... I've never seen that before, you're just kind of sitting on the bench hoping Dan is OK. It takes a while to kind of get back focused again.
It actually took the Sharks a little less than five minutes to turn their distraction into action.
Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski pumped home a pair of power-play goals 48 seconds apart to put the Sharks up 2-0 in an emotional, penalty-filled first period that saw 79 penalty minutes and three players ejected.
While tempers died down after the first period, the San Jose's offense did not.
Clearly driven by the unknown status of their fallen teammate, the Sharks relentlessly hounded one of the league's best defenses while clamping down with an undermanned one of their own.
Captain Thornton led the way with four points (1 G, 3 A), and fellow veteran Patrick Marleau (1 G, 2 A) capped the scoring with his third point of the night.
The Sharks defensemen had their hands full all game playing with only five men.
On Tuesday night, the young defensive unit of San Jose was spontaneously thrown into the deep end. And as if driven by its namesake, it looked right at home.
With veteran composure, the five remaining Sharks defensemen piecemealed over 54 minutes of game play against a speedy, physical Blues offense.
Justin Braun led all Sharks defensemen with more than 25 minutes of ice time as the Sharks sought to fill the void left by Boyle, San Jose’s leader in ice time for the last five seasons.
Jason Demers stepped into Boyle’s role on the first power-play unit, and Scott Hannan pitched in with his first goal in 59 games to put the Sharks up 4-0 through two periods.
In a stroke of good luck, the Sharks defense won’t be shorthanded—at least not in terms of bodies—for long. Brad Stuart finished serving his three-game suspension and will join the team Thursday night in Dallas.
Dan Boyle's departure is inevitable. The Sharks should embrace the opportunity to explore their options while Boyle is on the mend.
Last NFL season, Alex Smith, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, was knocked out of the team’s Week 10 game against the St. Louis Rams with a concussion. Colin Kaepernick came in to replace Smith, and amidst intense controversy and endless scrutiny, he won the starting QB job before Smith ever had a chance to take another snap for the team.
While there are few similarities between the roles that Smith and Boyle play—for starters, there aren't six quarterbacks rotating on and off the field in each NFL game—the situation does broach comparable hypotheticals for the Sharks, just as it did for the 'Niners a year ago.
Unless he is physically unable to return, Tuesday night’s hit will not send Dan Boyle into permanent exile. Quite the opposite, actually. Boyle’s first home game back will undoubtedly ignite a roaring ovation that will leave more than a few fans at the SAP Center searching for a tissue.
But the harsh reality still stands. It may not be this season, and it may not be next season, or even the one after that, but eventually, the Sharks will be without Boyle, permanently. So it would be irresponsible of the Sharks coaching staff not to take full advantage of this zero-risk dry run to investigate the potential option of a Boyle-less Sharks defense for the future.
He quarterbacks and is the sole defenseman on the Sharks’ first power-play unit. He’s led the team in ice time five years running. But the 16-year veteran’s contract is set to expire after this season, and there has been extensive debate over his future in San Jose.
Boyle has made his hopes very clear: He doesn’t want to go anywhere. But at 37, the end is inevitably approaching, and whether it be to another club or into retirement, Boyle will eventually be going somewhere. If the Sharks are smart, they'll use this impromptu opportunity to explore their options and embrace the inevitable.
Tyler Kennedy has been oddly absent in the Sharks' early offensive free-for-all.
All right, here it is, the nagging question. No, it's not specifically relevant to Tuesday night's game, but given the headline, when will it be relevant? Consider it an interlude.
The 2013-14 Sharks' dynamic offense has been well documented. And it’s not just the level of output that’s impressive. Thirteen different players, including three rookies, have chipped in for the team, averaging five goals per game.
But somehow missing from a majority of the box scores is the Sharks’ only offensive offseason acquisition, Tyler Kennedy.
San Jose acquired Kennedy in a draft-day trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a second-round pick. The Sharks promptly plopped him on a line with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. The output, or lack thereof, from Kennedy has been perplexing.
Couture (3 G, 6 A) and Marleau (5 G, 3 A) are naturally going to have inflated stats compared to Kennedy (0 G, 2 A), with both players playing on the San Jose’s first power-play unit. Kennedy resides on the Sharks’ second power-play unit, which isn’t nearly as potent and sees decidedly fewer opportunities.
So, no, it's not entirely fair to expect Kennedy to put up stats comparable to his linemates. But what’s that saying—even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut?
His plus-five rating is great by all early-season measures and suggests he's been included in at least a handful of post-goal celebratory huddles. But the stats don't go much further than the plus/minus column.
Thankfully, for Kennedy, due the team’s hot start, nobody even seems to notice his slow acclimation to his new environment. And with the offense operating full throttle, head coach Todd McLellan isn’t likely to try and fix something that isn’t actually broken.
Now, getting back to Tuesday's game...
Joe Thornton and the Sharks are set to face the Blues again on November 29. Don't expect a blowout.
San Jose took the first game of the three-game season series between the Sharks and Blues in seemingly convincing fashion. It was 5-0 before finishing 6-2, and the Sharks chased Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the game after the second period.
Yet it's extremely difficult to analyze the first meeting of the 2013-14 season between the Sharks and Blues and come to any definite conclusions beyond the letters and numbers on the scoresheet. And even the scoresheet, a paper representation of the game's facts, appears longing.
The Sharks aren't "6-to-2 better" than the Blues. The Sharks would be the first to admit that they are much closer than that on the ice.
But just as it did on Tuesday, emotion always plays the role of unpredictable X-factor, and all bets are off when a player goes down dramatically the way Boyle did early on. We’ll never know how Tuesday’s game would have played out under a more routine set of circumstances.
We'll never know if the Blues could have prevailed had Lapierre not set the tone early. We'll never know if the Sharks would have been able to convert their emotions into offense if Raffi Torres or Adam Burish were in the lineup.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The game is in the books, and both teams are already looking forward to their next games.
But don’t think for a second that both teams don’t have Black Friday circled on their calendars—and not because they need new flat-screen televisions.
The Blues are scheduled to make their only visit San Jose on Friday, November 29 for what will likely be a much closer contest.