Sharks-Blues: San Jose Faces Stiff Challenge on the Road in St. Louis

John PhenAnalyst IIINovember 3, 2010

Backstrom stonewalled the Sharks for a 1-0 shutout
Backstrom stonewalled the Sharks for a 1-0 shutoutEzra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Jose Sharks travel to St. Louis to take on a red-hot streaking opponent in the Blues Thursday after having a streak of their own ended in Minnesota.

The Sharks entered last night's contest having scored 20 goals in four games with the top line of Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton playing incredible offensive hockey.

All that would come to a crashing halt as Niklas Backstrom continued his strong play this season, shutting the door on all 36 Shark shots. Backstrom was extremely strong in rebound control and was dazzling versus the Sharks' top-ranked power play unit.

"In an 82-game season, you're going to have five to seven games that you just throw away because you were that bad," coach Todd McLellan said "And then you have some that you play pretty well and you just don't win."

The Sharks are still having problems taking lazy penalties, and the story was no different versus the Wild, including a double minor high sticking call against John McCarthy. A look at the game's lone goal from Andrew Brunette in a 5-on-3 situation would provide as much offense as the Wild needed.

The top line had provided a huge spark upon the team's return from Stockholm after a shaky start. McLellan would tinker with the lines further against the Wild, promoting speedy Torrey Mitchell and dropping Devin Setoguchi to the third line.

The change did not net the results McLellan was looking for, as Mitchell and Setoguchi would return to their original lines midway through the third.

Setoguchi needs to turn his play around, and while the second line has played hard and aggressively, results have largely been absent from the trio of Ryane Clowe, Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski. Setoguchi will have to rebound in a positive way, as he has one goal and an assist through 10 games and a horrid minus-five.

In the end the Sharks played effectively on the road but just could not solve Backstrom. It doesn't get any easier as the Sharks travel to St. Louis to take on the red-hot St Louis Blues.

The Blues have hit the ground running, sporting an excellent 6-1-2 record over the first nine games.

Their prized acquisition Jaroslav Halak, who was traded by the Montreal Canadiens this summer, has paid off in spades thus far. Halak has posted a record of 6-1-1 to accompany an impressive 1.71 GAA average and a .932 save percentage. Halak ranks fourth or better in all goaltender statistics, and he just may be the offseason acquisition of the season this year.

Having watched Halak at length last year during the Habs' incredible playoff run, make no mistake that Halak is just a stud. His incredible run in the playoffs was Roy-esque, and superlatives simply don't do the man justice for his performance. Read more about the Montreal Canadiens and Halak in the playoffs here.

As good as Halak is, he's not doing it alone, as the Blues have supported their goaltender as well as any team not named the Bruins. The Blues are ranked 17th in goals against, averaging 2.78 goals per game. Keep in mind, however, that Halak is operating at an NHL-leading 1.78 goals allowed per game.

Halak and the Blues will aim for a fifth straight victory after dispatching the Atlanta Thrashers in shootout fashion at the Scottrade Center. T.J. Oshie and Brad Boyes scored in the shootout for St. Louis, as the Blues rallied to beat the Thrashers after being down 3-1 in the third.

Halak saw his incredible shutout streak come to an end at 160:08, but he stopped 25of 28 shots for the eventual victory. Halak came a period and change short of the team record held by Manny Legace, which was set in the 2007-2008 campaign.

"I just come to help the guys win the game. It doesn't matter if you win 6-5 or 3-0. Obviously, it's more special when you get a shutout, but a win is a win," said Halak in postgame interviews.

The Blues are playing terrific defensive hockey, and the Sharks will have a tall task of solving this team. The Blues are getting contributions up and down their lineup, despite Boyes, David Backes, Oshie and Alex Steen combining for just six goals in nine games.

"Right now we're getting some production from some different guys," Blues coach Davis Payne said.

Even with the lack of top line scoring, this team is getting scoring from their depth at the right time, something the Sharks have not shown much of this season. Of the 22 goals the Blues forwards have scored this season, nearly half belong to the third and fourth lines.

Todd McLellan would love that type of production, and I think he just may get it in St. Louis.

Go Sharks.


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