SAN JOSE — Special teams are the buzzwords heading into Game 4 of the Sharks-St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup playoff series at HP Pavilion tonight.
The Sharks are looking to rebound from a disaster on the penalty kill and pull even with the Blues, who lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.
“We’ve got the players to kill penalties. It’s just executing — whether it’s blocking a shot, clearing the puck, just being better as a whole,” forward Logan Couture said.
After a contentious Game 2, the Sharks handed the Blues a gift in Game 3, giving up three power-play goals to a team that wins with defensive frugality. But coach Todd McLellan said the problem isn’t irreparable.
“We were excellent [on the penalty kill] actually — top three in the league for a long period,” he said, adding: “There’s ways to address it.”
The Sharks were inconsistent on the penalty kill during the regular season, finishing 29th in the NHL. They had a brilliant stretch in March, but then gave up six power-play goals to the Los Angeles Kings in the last two games of the season.
McLellan said the Sharks could turn things around by simply taking less penalties and winning more face-offs on special teams. The Sharks were 4-for-11 in what he called, critical face-offs — defensive-zone draws on the penalty kill and offensive-zone faceoffs on the power play.
Losing those key faceoffs on the penalty kill allows the Blues to set up shop, pull the Sharks’ defense out of position and wear them down along the wall.
“When you’re killing and you’re tired, you tend to make mistakes,” McLellan said.
The Sharks also need to get the power play rolling in Game 4. So far, they’re only 2-for-11 and the Blues aren’t a team that gives up many odd-man rushes or second-chance opportunities while playing five-on-five. A breakout performance could also help the top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski find the back of the net. The trio hasn’t scored a goal in the series.
“We’re getting chances, we just got to stick with it,” Marleau said.
Despite the frustrations, the Sharks are confident in how they’ve matched up with the Blues in even-strength situations. The momentum of a playoff series can swing wildly from one night to the next and the veteran Sharks aren’t panicking.
“It’s game-by-game,” forward Ryane Clowe said. “If we win the next game, they’ll probably be asking St. Louis questions about what they need to fix — that’s how it goes.”
Sharks vs. Blues
(Blues lead series 2-1)
Game 1: Sharks 3, Blues 2 (2 OT)
Game 2: Blues 3, Sharks 0
Game 3: Blues 4, Sharks 3
Game 4: Today at Sharks, 7:30 p.m.
Game 5: Saturday at St. Louis, 4:30 p.m.
Game 6: Monday at Sharks, TBD*
Game 7: April 26 at St. Louis, TBD*
(All games televised on Comcast SportsNet California, radio broadcast on 98.5 FM, 102.1 FM)