As the San Jose Sharks make their way to St. Louis for tomorrow night’s game, the Blues are likely taking a different view of their foes. Since the lockout, the Sharks have been one of the most dominant teams in the NHL. Stanley Cup championships aside, the Sharks have collected about every other notable piece of hardware the league can award a team or individual and have flat out dominated. They had depth at every position and were bullies of the Western Conference. The Blues on the other hand, have been perennial bottom feeders. The worst years of the Blues franchise (aside from the late 70’s) have been in the past five years. In an up-tempo post lockout era, the Blues’ players and coaches clung to a pre-lockout style of play that left them with top five picks several years in a row. Prior to the lockout, the Blues of course were one of the top teams in the league in both the standings and payroll, but those days are long gone. It once again looks as if the tides are turning. St. Louis is on a tear; many of the highly touted youngsters are blossoming into quality NHL players or are being moved for them, veteran players are contributing, attendance is up, and they’re even ranked third in TSN’s power rankings. At the same time, the Sharks lost franchise goalie Evgeni Nabokov to (Russian) free agency, depth players have been traded for stars whom (even though producing) are not giving back the expected return, and the depth players whom were expected to produce, haven’t exactly done that. This San Jose team is no cakewalk, but they are not the team they were the past several years.
This does not mean that the Blues will or should take the Sharks litely. Any team with a top line of Heatley-Thornton-Marleau is a nightmare to deal with, even if the other three lines are AHLers. The two keys to tomorrow night’s game will be to stay out of the penalty box and take advantage of their depth players. The Shark’s powerplay is number one in the league. There’s no doubt that they can still dominate play with the man advantage. They have the firepower to do that up front as well as from the back line with long time powerplay quarterback Dan Boyle. For those of you whom don’t have center ice, you can see low res games at www.atdhe.net or www.channelsurfing.net.
Aside from staying out of the box, the Blues must pounce on the Shark’s depth players. Specifically, defensemen Niclas Wallin and Marc Eduard Vlasic whom carry a combined team low +/- of -9. Scott McLellan will likely keep these guys as far away as possible from Oshie, Berglund, Boyes, McDonald, Perron, and Backes, but St. Louis’ top six is all under age 26 and can easily double shift at a high pace. I also won’t be surprised to see Payne run some deceptive shifts; putting players out there and then subbing them right away. The advantage of having the last change will come in a lot of handy as Payne gets his match ups straight.
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Written by Patrick McLellan