The San Jose Sharks reclaimed the best record in the NHL with a win over the St. Louis Blues Friday, November 29. A quick look at the game statistics shows why Brent Burns tops the pictured stars in this win and how their 11-0-1 record with him in the lineup (6-3-4 without) shows how important he is for the team’s season.
It took him just 35 seconds for his impact to be made in the game in yet another early score for the Sharks.
The Blues have rarely trailed at any point in the 2013-14 NHL season, but they have been behind for the bulk of time in half their regulation losses—the two that came at the hands of San Jose. Those head-to-head meetings would be a tiebreak between two teams that lead the league with a .780 point percentage.
The only team ahead of both in the standings is the Chicago Blackhawks, with a 42-39 lead in points but two more games played. That results in a slightly lower .778 point percentage—minimal enough to project both on a pace for what would round up to 128 points. With the Colorado Avalanche also earning a .750 point percentage so far, the Western Conference allows no time for relaxing.
With a win of their own Friday, the rival Anaheim Ducks kept pace in the Pacific Division with 39 points (though in 29 games). Those two teams will clash for the first time in the 2013-14 NHL season Saturday evening in the SAP Center.
This one had potential to be even better. St. Louis and San Jose may never have been in the same division, but they have a Western Conference rivalry going.
First and foremost, Patrick Marleau has been a part of four Stanley Cup playoff series between the teams. Along with teammates Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan, the Sharks took the first-round series in seven games during 2000, lost in six the following year and then beat the Blues in five in the first round of 2004 en route to the Western Conference finals.
Most of the players from both teams remain from the 2012 Stanley Cup first-round five-game St. Louis win. There also was the 2010 hit by Joe Thornton that ended David Perron’s season and San Jose putting a waiver claim on Kyle Wellwood from the team he had agreed to a contract with.
The Blues had dominated this series through that entire time, losing only once (2-1) last season after returning home the morning of the game because they were delayed in leaving Vancouver. However, the predatory hit by Maxim Lapierre clearly affected his team in a negative way in the first meeting if not the second.
The Sharks looked like a team intent on building a big enough lead to allow themselves a chance to retaliate.
Frantically working to keep the puck in the attacking zone already on the first shift, Logan Couture finally took possession near the boards in Brian Elliot’s glove-side circle. He quickly passed to Patrick Marleau headed toward the net on the other side of the circle. Burns was wide open in the slot and fed perfectly for yet another San Jose one-timer goal.
New Shark Mike Brown drew an interference penalty 91 seconds later that put the power play out there. After 14 consecutive chances without a goal, Logan Couture fed the puck to the crease for Joe Pavelski. Rather than try to hammer a shot through former Wisconsin Badger teammate Brian Elliott, he sent a no-look feed to the far circle where Joe Thornton one-timed it home before the mid-point of the penalty.
The next score may have technically been a catch-and-shoot, but was nearly a third one-time goal. Tomas Hertl carried the puck in on the rush and kicked it to Thornton, who found Burns attacking on the near end of the right-wing circle for the 3-0 lead with under 10 minutes played.
Two minutes later, Justin Braun recovered a puck behind the St. Louis net and chipped it around to Couture, whose clear was not held at the point and picked up in the neutral zone by Tommy Wingels. He advanced the bouncing puck on a semi-break and fired from the right-wing circle through Elliott’s glove for the fourth goal on 10 shots.
He turned away the remaining two shots in the first—the same number as the Blues had for the entire period. Even though only that last goal was on Elliott, going to Jaroslav Halak was one of two ways they shook things up coming out of intermission.
Another was to use the bad blood to incite a fight, as captain David Backes tried to do after committing a cross-checking penalty high to Brad Stuart. Even then the Sharks would not bite, and the only extra penalty was unsportsmanlike conduct that took the best player on the Blues off the ice for a total of 12 minutes.
Despite that advantage, both teams had 12 shots on goal in the second period and only St. Louis scored. Ian Cole got his first of the 2013-14 NHL season when his shot from the point ricocheted off the skates of a defender. It came four-on-four right after San Jose’s scoring chances were turned away by Halak, with Jaden Schwartz and Roman Polak assisting on the odd-man rush.
A penalty on Stuart early in the third period gave the Blues their sixth power play of the game, and it became a game when they cashed in. Derek Roy tipped the puck in the defensive zone to Alex Steen and attacked the middle while the puck was carried up the left wing boards. Backes then took a feed coming to the slot from the right wing, and put the puck past Antti Niemi.
Things got really hairy just before the mid-point of the period when Dan Boyle’s high-sticking penalty led to another St. Louis power play. It looked like San Jose had escaped trouble 1:43 later when Kevin Shattenkirk took his second penalty of the night to end the man-advantage. However, Vladimir Sobotka won the ensuing defensive-zone faceoff, eventually got the puck back from Polak and fed Schwartz on the attack to cut the lead to 4-3 on the second four-on-four goal of the game.
Everyone knows what happens when things get tough, but who better to handle it when things get hairy than the recently-shaven Burns? On the power play that followed Pavelski was able to come up with the puck near the boards and get it to the red-hot shooter, who fired it past Halak for his first career hat trick. Dan Boyle got the secondary assist on that one, and Tomas Hertl’s empty-netter with 46 seconds left rounded out the scoring with assists to Burns and Thornton.
While there was a lull in the third period, the reality is this was a solid win over a Stanley Cup contender. The Sharks lost the possession battle 26-33 in faceoffs, 6-4 in takeaways but 18-13 in giveaways. Despite 10 more possessions, the Blues had fewer shots on goal (24-32) because they blocked fewer (27-19), actually attempting two more (73-71) and still managing four more hits (25-21).