NHL playoffs: Sharks vs. Blues Game 2 factors to watch
The St. Louis Blues weren't at their best on Sunday night. If not for an early whistle, a couple of posts and a brilliant effort by goaltender Brian Elliott, they don't come out of Game 1 with a 2–1 win over the San Jose Sharks.
That's why coach Ken Hitchcock says his team has to be better for Game 2 on Tuesday night (8:00 PM ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).
"We're going to have to get to be 100% if we expect to win the next game," he said on Monday. "They're 100% in. We're going to have to dig deeper for us to win the next game."
The players agreed with Hitchcock's assessment.
"We'll probably see a little bit more intensity [in Game 2]," said forward Jaden Schwartz. "And that will ramp up as the series goes on."
Here's a look at some of the other factors that could impact tonight's contest:
• It didn't take long for the head games to kick in. Displeased with some of the after-the-whistle shenanigans in Game 1 (and probably with his team's 0-3 effort on the power play), Sharks coach Pete DeBoer made a not-so-subtle plea for more penalty calls in Game 2.
“We're relying on the officials to do their job," he said. "St. Louis is one of the most penalized teams in the league, regular season and playoffs. They need to call the game accordingly. [We] need to make them pay a price for being the most penalized team in the power play, which we didn't [Sunday] night."
Predictably, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock laughed off DeBoer's tactic.
“What are you saying, is he whining for calls?” he asked. “Well, we were told not to whine for calls, so we're not going to whine for calls. If Pete wants to do it, that's his [choice]. But we're not doing it. I'm not sure why he's doing it, you've got to ask him that question. We're just not doing it. So, we'll play the game, we'll play it the right way, we'll play it honest, but we'll play it hard, let the refs decide. They've got to do their job. too.
"I'm not going to tell the referees how to do their job, nor am I going to tell Gary Bettman or [Colin] Campbell how to do their job. They've got a tough enough job as it is. I can barely do my job. So I'm going to do my job, and if other guys want to whine and get other people to work for them, that's up to them.”
There were just five minors called on Sunday, a pretty fair assessment of a game that lacked the animosity many anticipated. We'll see if that changes now that the two teams have had a chance to size one another up—and that the officials have heard DeBoer's challenge.
• Despite all the hand-wringing by Sharks fans after San Jose was blanked on those three chances, it's not time to panic about the power play just yet. True, the normally reliable first unit struggled with its entries and had trouble setting up in the St. Louis zone—give some credit to the Blues for their aggressive tactics on the kill. But this a group that's been dominant to this point in the playoffs, in part because of its ability to make adjustments to what the opposition is bringing. Look for Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau to touch the puck more often in an effort to buy some time and space for Brent Burns at the point and Joe Thornton on the right wall.
• The most fascinating individual battle of Game 1 pitted San Jose's Joe Pavelski against St. Louis's Elliott. The two won a national championship together in 2006 with the University of Wisconsin, but the former Badgers are now their respective teams' best hope to advance.
Pavelski was the most dangerous player on the ice in the opener, putting a game-high seven shots on net. Elliott, in a First Star performance, had the answer each time. His best save of the night was a right toe stop that denied Pavelski on a gimme putt from 10 feet out.
Elliott tried to downplay the rivalry on Monday.
“He's obviously a good player, the guy that leads their team,” Elliott said. “It's really nothing more than just trying to stop every puck. It's not who is shooting it that really matters. It's just trying to get in the way. You don't really think about who's shooting it.”
Pavelski has averaged nearly five shots per game over his past five starts, scoring three times in the process. At that rate It's a safe bet the two of them will butt heads again on Tuesday night.
• David Backes was a one-man wrecking crew in Game 1. The Blues captain finished the night with 11 hits which is the most ever in a single game in the history of the franchise.
Sounds impressive ... until you realize it's really a sign of how badly his line was outplayed.
Nothing wrong with making things hard on the Sharks. Finishing checks at this time of year has a way of paying dividends down the road. But Backes only set that record because the Joe Thornton line had the puck on a string whenever the two were matched against each other and he spent the night chasing Sharks all over the ice.
Hitchcock has last change by virtue of home ice, so he'll get the match-ups he wants. He could go back to the Backes line, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Paul Stastny's line get more time against the Sharks' top trio.
• Vladimir Tarasenko was missing from this morning's skate. There's no official word from the Blues to explain the absence, but it's believed he was attending to a personal matter. Dmitri Jaskin took his place on the top line alongside Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz and likely will draw in if Tarasenko is unavailable to go.
UPDATE: The team has confirmed that Tarasenko missed practice to attend the birth of his first child. The proud papa be available for tonight's game. Congrats to Vladimir and his wife, Yana.