Despite leading in shots all game, the Sharks could not score in critical moments, falling, 5-2, to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blues Saturday night at the SAP Center.
For the Sharks (16-19-2), who out-shot St. Louis (23-8-6) 36-28, this is a second consecutive loss when leading in shots on goal. Team captain Logan Couture said:
“I don’t care about shots on goal, I care about us losing. We’ve been doing a lot of that. The feeling sucks. It’s not fun.”
What was this season’s first rematch of last year’s heated Western Conference Finals, where the Blues beat the Sharks 4-2 on the way to winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship, began quietly.
At the first intermission, the Sharks appeared to be the aggressors, finishing a calm, scoreless first period with a clear 12-5 advantage in shots on goal. And though it did not yield a first-period goal, the aggression gave San Jose a power play with 53 seconds remaining.
Just 42 seconds into the second period, Brent Burns blasted a one-timer past Blues goalie Jake Allen to open the scoring with a power play goal assisted on by Erik Karlsson. This was the Shark’s second power play goal in 16 games — they have gone a meager 2-for-40 over that stretch. Burns said:
“Getting one’s good for getting to relax a little, get that feel a little bit better. It’s obviously a little more difficult to make plays when you’re stressing about making the right play, it usually hinders you. We need another one.”
The Blues response came less than 90 seconds later.
Jordan Kyrou drove between the Sharks defense and scored off a backhand shot to tie the game at 1-1.
Two minutes later, a delay of game penalty to Evander Kane made matters worse for the Sharks, as the St. Louis power play scored to gain the lead. A minute into the man advantage, Brayden Schenn fed Jaden Schwartz for a backdoor tap-in goal for the 2-1 lead with 14:30 remaining in the second period.
From below the San Jose goal line, Brenden Dillon sent a stretch pass to fourth line winger Stefan Noesen, who beat Allen with a quick short side slap shot. Noesen, scoring in his first game after being claimed off waivers by the Sharks on Dec. 19, tied the game at 2-2 with 4:24 left in the second period. Burns also assisted for his second point of the night. Noesen said:
“It was a good stretch pass by Dillon and it was kind of a shot I usually go to, I don’t really shoot at any other place. It was nice.”
The Sharks ended the second period leading 28-15 in shots on goal. Head coach Bob Boughner said:
“After the first two periods I came out and I said, ‘We don’t really have to change much. We really don’t have to change much, keep doing what we’re doing.’ … And that one big mistake hurt us and it’s a different team after that.”
But when the Sharks got caught low in the offensive zone, the Blues showed why they are in first place in the Western Conference. Quickly breaking out for a 2-on-1 rush, Alex Pietrangelo sniped a wrist shot past Jones for the 3-2 St. Louis lead with 8:53 remaining in the third period. Boughner said:
“I thought that for the most part we played a pretty good hockey game. That composure that you need for 60 minutes to beat, especially a team like the St. Louis Blues, I thought we lacked a little bit of that in the third period. We didn’t give them much but we gave them a big chance, a big breakdown.”
While Burns’ power play goal opened the scoring in the second period, the Sharks power play could not put together a goal in critical moments. The Sharks received power plays in the first 40 seconds and the final three minutes of the third period, but only put up one shot on goal through the two opportunities.
Playing in his first game in nine days, Sharks goaltender Martin Jones made 23 saves while St. Louis’ Jake Allen stopped 34 of 36 shots on goal. Couture said:
“I thought in the offensive zone, we didn’t have enough polish around their net. We weren’t winning enough battles to score enough goals … There were a lot of rebounds in the slot. We just didn’t get there to get the second opportunities.”
“The game gets tougher when it’s tight in the third period and we just made some mistakes that we shouldn’t be making late in the game and it cost us. When you do that you need a save, and we’re not getting that either so it’s just a little bit of everything.”
Empty net goals by Ryan O’Reilly and Pietrangelo sealed the 5-2 Blues win.
The Sharks play in another playoff rematch, last season’s first round opponent the Vegas Golden Knights Sunday at 7 p.m.