The San Jose Sharks fought off more than one opponent Tuesday, February 19. They were without a win for the first 18 days of the month and had only one in nine contests against the St. Louis Blues in 2011-12.
February was tough on San Jose last season because of the travel, but the problem then was keeping pucks out of the net. This year it was scoring, with just eight goals in seven games—not enough to win in the NHL.
That matches the problem against the Blues last season, when they scored 11 goals in nine games. This was the first meeting between the teams since St. Louis eliminated San Jose in a franchise-low five games into the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. The teams were less than a game apart in the 2013 Western Conference standings.
The Sharks looked like a team ready to work around the problem they have thus far been unable to overcome. They returned to winning draws (plus-six) and were more careful with the puck, attempting three fewer shots, getting five fewer takeaways but committing seven fewer giveaways. They also got after the Blues, out-hitting them 23-15 and blocking three more shots.
San Jose was a bit slower out of the gate than their hot opponent, and goalie Antti Niemi helped them weather the storm. There were big stops on great chances among his 11 saves in the first period, and the one he gave up on was a one-time shot from his blind side right in front of the crease.
The Sharks managed just nine shots in the first period. Even though they had even fewer in the second period, they had noticeably more jump. Almost four minutes into the period, Dan Boyle's shot ricocheted to Joe Thornton's foot. He kicked the puck to his stick and tied the score.
The game remained tight the rest of the way, with the Sharks holding the Blues to five shots in the third period. With under 13 minutes remaining in regulation, recent AHL call-up Tim Kennedy took a puck off the boards and slapped it on net. The shot fooled Jake Allen—previously unbeaten in three NHL starts—for the first San Jose lead in 348:33 of ice time, per the post-game broadcast.
That was all Niemi needed. The Sharks held off a late charge, aided by a St. Louis penalty in the final minute that counted as one of San Jose's four failed power play chances.
The Blues had the top power play in the NHL but failed in three chances. There was speculation their travel difficulties from Vancouver that caused them to arrive home around 6:00 a.m. CST Tuesday may have contributed to their loss, but St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock was not buying it: "Too many passengers," was the way he described his team's effort.
Though technically fifth in the Western Conference after their win, the Sharks have the fourth-best point percentage. They are a half-game ahead of the Blues, with whom they essentially switched places.
Examiner.com's three stars of the game:
- Niemi is the obvious choice with a .962 save percentage.
- Kennedy not only had the game-winning goal, but led the Sharks with six attempts and five shots on goal. He also blocked a shot.
- Allen kept his team in the game by turning away 23 of 25 (.920 save percentage) that included several good chances on the San Jose power play. Joe Thornton also would have been a good choice for winning 12 of 14 draws (.857) and recording the first goal, a hit and a takeaway. But having all three stars from the same team rarely makes sense in a one-goal contest.