The biggest story of the West has been the parity in this year’s playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks, well known elite playoff teams, have all been bounced in the first round, while known chokers in the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues are the two remaining teams in the playoffs. So the question remains: which team will choke now?
No, that shouldn’t be the storyline for this series. The Blues and Sharks are two very excellent, deep teams that have finally conquered their demons to get this far. The winner is going to be tested, as whoever comes out will not leave unscathed. It’s a war of attrition, so may the deepest team win.
The Blues and Sharks played three times this season, twice in St. Louis, and once in San Jose. Unlike a majority of season series evaluations, there is always one or two games that you have to value differently, depending on when they were played. Obviously, games later in the season have more value than the first few games of the season. However, this isn’t the case in this series, as all of the Blues-Sharks games this season were played no earlier than February 4.
On that date, the Sharks pulled away with a 3-1 road win. The Sharks earned it, outshooting the Blues 32-27, with a two assist performance from Joe Pavelski, and a 26 save performance from Martin Jones. Joonas Donskoi, Joe Thornton, and Matt Nieto scored the goals for San Jose, while Jay Bouwmeester got the Blues lone goal.
The teams met again on February 22 back in St. Louis, with the Sharks once again prevailing in a 6-3 victory. Judging by the score, lots of Sharks got some points on the board in this game, including a four point night from Joe Thornton, a two goal, three point performance from Logan Couture, as well as two goals from Tomas Hertl and two assists from Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Vladimir Tarasenko wasn’t bad either, with a goal and two assists in a losing effort. Once again, the winning team was the better team, with the Sharks outshooting St. Louis 33-28.
Exactly a month later, the teams met one final time, this time in San Jose. Unfortunately for the Sharks, this was game two of St. Louis’ four game shutout streak, as the Blues took a 1-0 victory in the Shark tank. Robby Fabbri scored the lone goal for St. Louis, while Brian Elliott stopped all 37 shots he faced, including 12 on the power play. Jones wasn’t bad either, stopping 23 of 24 shots in the loss. Despite outshooting St. Louis for the third time by a 37-24 advantage, they couldn’t muster anything past the Blues net minder.
What can we take from this series? The Blues haven’t got much past Martin Jones, as they scored just five goals in the three games. Brian Elliott may decide the series if this trend continues. Another takeaway is that the road team went 3-0, meaning that home ice advantage may not have as big of an impact as you’d think in this series.
BY THE NUMBERS
These teams are essentially carbon copies of each other.
This season, the teams CF% ranked 7th (St. Louis) and 8th (San Jose) this season, which is also their positions for GF%. San Jose was a slightly better goal scoring team, as their 2.2 5v5 GF60 was tied for the 12th best in the league, while St. Louis’ 2.1 is tied for 16th. In terms of generating shot attempts, they are the exact same, with 55.5 5v5 CF60, tied for 11th in the league.
Defensively, St. Louis has the slight advantage. Their 1.9 5v5 GA60 is tied for 2nd in the league, while San Jose’s 2 are tied for 7th. In terms of shot suppression, St. Louis has the 8th best 5v5 CA60 with 51.2, while San Jose is 10th with 51.9. However, St. Louis has the superior goaltending, as their 5th best 93.1% 5v5 save% is massively better than San Jose’s 92.3%, which is 20th in the league.
Where these teams seem to differ is the special teams. San Jose had the 3rd best power play in the league, clicking at a 22.5% that was bested only by the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues weren’t far behind though, as their 21.5% power play was 6th in the league. On the PK, St. Louis is clearly superior, as their 3rd place 85.1% rate stands very tall over San Jose’s 21st place 80.5%.
What can we take from this? Much like the season series, these teams are mirror images, with the slight edge going to St. Louis for their goaltending. If the Sharks can get the Blues to play an undisciplined game, they can take that advantage away with their strong power play.
As mentioned in the last couple of sections, the goaltending conversation in this series starts and ends with Brian Elliott. He boasts the highest 5v5 Adjusted Save% of any goalie for either team at 93.9%, and has stats that could’ve made him a Vezina candidate if not for only playing in 42 games. Not to discredit Martin Jones either, has his 92.5% are also solid numbers, but if you’re stacking up against Elliott, you better hope your team outshoots the Blues. However, a quick shift to the playoffs will show that right now, both goalies are very similar, as Elliott has a 94.1% 5v5 Adjusted Save%, while Jones is at 93.39%, although Jones looked shaky a couple times in the series versus Nashville.
Although, if goaltending depth is tested (and look no further than the East to prove that it might be), that might be where San Jose has the advantage. James Reimer boasts a 93.66% Adjusted Save% this season with the Sharks, while Allen is only at 92.61%. Also, Reimer is a bit more “battle tested”, as he proved in 2013 with the Leafs that he can carry a bad team, even in a 3-1 hole against an elite team, while all Jake Allen has to show for is a bad performance against the Minnesota Wild last year, and seven shots against the Dallas Stars in game six.
What can we take from this? Elliott was much better during the regular season, but since the playoffs have started, Jones has caught up to him, so the matchup looks a lot better than what was earlier stated. Also, the Sharks have a much better option in net with James Reimer, although he hasn’t seen much action for a month or two, while Allen has played a bit in these playoffs (a bit is stretching it though).
This is a tough choice, considering how evenly matched both of these teams are. However, I like San Jose’s odds. They are slightly deeper up front, and even on the back end I like their depth more than St. Louis. I think that will overcome whatever problems they have in net. Although, it certainly won’t be a cake walk, so I’ll say that it will be San Jose winning in seven.