#2 St. Louis Blues (49-22-11, 109 pts) vs. #7 San Jose Sharks (43-29-10, 96 pts)
David “Inglorious” Backes’ numbers dipped a bit from last season, but he’s one of only seven NHLers to score 20 goals and collect 200 hits. He’s also one of six in the 20/100 club. David Perron returned in December from a severe concussion to score 21 goals in 57 games. Veteran Jason Arnott scored 17 goals, 6 of which came on the powerplay. T.J. Oshie put up career highs in goals (19) and points (54). Chris Stewart didn’t reach his numbers of his breakout year last season, only scoring 15 goals but had 112 hits.
San Jose had three 30-goal scorers, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski (both 31 goals) and Patrick Marleau (30). Joe Thornton was again an assist machine, dishing out 59 assists and lead the team with 77 points. Pavelski, Thornton, and Dominic Moore each won over 55% of their faceoffs. Couture and Marleau hit double digits in powerplay goals, boosting San Jose’s powerplay to second in the league at 21.1%. TJ Galiardi, Ryane Clowe and Tommy Wingels all had over 100 hits.
Advantage: San Jose
Alex Pietrangelo leads the Blues defense, as the team’s 2008 first round pick posted career highs in goals (11), points (51), hits (90) and blocked shots (133). Kevin Shattenkirk has also been an offensive threat from the back, scoring 11 goals and 43 points, 18 of which came on the power play. Barret Jackman has been a rock defensively, leading the team in blocked shots (153) and had 106 hits while posting a +20. Roman Polak lead Blues defensemen in hits (173) and had 141 blocked shots. Their defense is a big part of the league’s 7th ranked penalty kill (85.8%) and the least amount of shots allowed per game (26.7) in the league.
Once again, veteran Dan Boyle leads the Sharks defense. Boyle logged over 25 minutes per game, hitting the 45 point barrier for the seventh time in nine seasons. Brent Burns, acquired from Minnesota in the offseason, lead the blueline with 11 goals, and had 16 power play points. Doug Murray provides the physical presence, logging 126 hits. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was a shot blocking machine, leading the club with 171. San Jose only allows 28.6 shots per game, eight in the league, but their penalty killing is second worst at 76.9%.
Advantage: St. Louis
The Blues haven’t announced which starter will play, but both Brian Elliott (23-10-4, 1.56, .940) and Jaroslav Halak (26-12-7, 1.97, .926) have been stellar. They combined for 15 shutouts this season. Detractors may credit coach Ken Hitchcock’s system, but the goaltending has been there all year. Elliott recently had a 241 minute shutout streak, so he may get the nod from Hitch.
San Jose’s #1 is Antti Niemi, who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010. He had 34 wins, and posted a 2.42 goals against with a .915 save percentage to go along with six shutouts this season. He’s won 6 of his last 8, but was pulled for backup Thomas Greiss (9-7-1, 2.30, .915) in a crucial win over Los Angeles.
Advantage: St. Louis
Ken Hitchcock has put in a system that works for the Blues. They emphasize team defense, and the scoring is balanced. San Jose is going to have to use their offense as an advantage if they want to upset the Blues. We might see a bunch of 2-1 games in this series.
Prediction: St. Louis in five