Western Conference Final features two of the best teams in the NHL battling head-to-head. In a reliving of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks face off again. The Blues boast a very passionate roster that has rebounded from early-season woes. On the other hand, the San Jose Sharks offence has been among the absolute best in the league, both in the regular season and the post-season.
The two teams facing off is going to make for an exciting series. Game 1 lived up to fans’ hopes, with the Sharks showing an amazing amount of dominance. They easily won the game 6-3, despite a third-period surge from the Blues.
San Jose Sharks Offence Dominates Game 1
Sharks Speedy Stars
The Sharks were absolutely relentless through Saturday’s Game 1. They flaunted a much different gameplan than against the Colorado Avalanche, favoring their elite speed and puck work to take advantage of almost every single Blues turnover. Players like Timo Meier, who had three points, and Logan Couture, who tallied three of his own, made life very difficult for any Blues defender.
This new, speedy game plan was evident from the opening puck-drop. Sharks leading-scorer, Couture, scored only three minutes into the game. After St. Louis winger David Perron fell and lost the puck, Meier and Couture corraled it fast and caught the Blues on their back-foot. The two went down on a two-on-one and easily got the puck past Blues goalie Jordan Binnington. This play set the precedent for the rest of the game and the series. The Sharks stars were going to be fast and the Blues didn’t have any room for error. San Jose was able to pounce on any loose puck and created scoring chances constantly throughout the game. The Blues can thank rookie-goalie Binnington for keeping the game as close as it was. The Sharks deserved quite a few more goals but Binnington was able to give his team a chance.
Penalties Kill the Blues
The Blues showed off an elite level of discipline during their series against the Dallas Stars. Despite it being a very physical seven games, the Blues only took a combined 44 penalty minutes. This number was skewed by a chippy start to the series where they netted 28 penalty minutes through the first three games. They made up for these high numbers later in the series, though. Between Game 6 against Dallas and the opening minutes of Game 1 against the Sharks, the Blues had a combined 130 minutes-straight without a penalty.
Of course, not all good things can last. This streak went down in flames when the Blues recorded two blatant penalties less than a minute apart from each other. This gave one of the best power-plays in the league a two-man advantage. The Sharks took advantage of these power-plays, netting one power-play goal and creating many, many more chances.
In total, the Blues recorded 12 minutes in penalties, excluding Robert Bortuzzo‘s late-game 10-minute-major. This could’ve been much worse with stricter officiating, though, as the Blues looked simply undisciplined throughout the majority of the game. If they want any chance of rebounding from a terrible Game 1, St. Louis needs to be much more careful about taking penalties.
Goaltending Again a Highlight
In just about every series so far, goaltending has been a very important factor. Game 1 wasn’t any different, with both Binnington and Sharks goalie Martin Jones putting in noteworthy performances. Jones was the one to steal the show, though. He padded aside 28 shots, in yet another very strong performance.
The Blues didn’t make Jones’ life easy on Saturday, particularly towards the end of the game. They tallied 31 shots total, with just about all of them being quality chances. Jones was able to turn all but three aside, though, as he quickly became the Blues top concern.
Dazzling goaltending isn’t anything new for the Blues. In round two, they faced Vezina-finalist Ben Bishop who played unbelievably through all seven games. Jones looked just as solid in Game 1 but had a much more complimentary roster in front of him. The Blues will need to change quite a bit before Game 2 and finding a way to get pucks by a red-hot Jones will need to be their top priority.
What This Means
The San Jose Sharks had a very impressive start to the Western Conference Final. There was undoubtedly an ego about the Blues, who had dominated their previous to games, as they came into a series against a struggling Sharks lineup. This ego has been completely washed away now. The Sharks proved on Saturday that they are a force to be reckoned with and the better of the two teams. St. Louis has a lot to change if they want any chance of keeping up with a dominant San Jose Sharks offence.