The story really isn’t that the St. Louis Blues dominated, though they did. The story is that the San Jose Sharks got annihilated because their best player in this postseason is way below 100 percent.
Though the Sharks had a reputation for being kinda bad at the start of the season, they won more than they lost and tended to dominate games.
Goaltending, the 2018-19 Sharks’ biggest enemy, was the only thing holding the Sharks back from a dominant performance. The team gave up 82 goals on fewer than 750 shots in October and November even as the team put up a plus-175 shot difference in those 26 games. They “only” scored 80.
And this was before Erik Karlsson had really figured out how to play for the Sharks. Once he hit his stride, it was lights out for just about every opponent: From Dec.1 on, the Sharks lost just 18 times in regulation across 56 games, and were just as dominant in every other aspect of the game as well. They scored 209 goals in their last 56 games.
So it cannot escape notice that the Sharks really started to fall apart in this series once it became obvious that Erik Karlsson was clearly playing hurt. As recently as a week ago, he was the reason San Jose was generating offense, but as the series has gone along, the words most often associated with him have been along the lines of “laboring” and “uncomfortable.” Despite this he was still among the Sharks’ best players when he was on the ice.
He would on and look fine... right up until the whistle, when he would skate back to the bench in obvious discomfort. This really came to a head in Game 4, when he had to miss a big chunk of a close third period. Then again in Game 5, there was question as to whether he would even go. He did, but he sure didn’t look healthy. He was once again perfectly good but his role was rather limited and he wasn’t even on the bench for the third period.
No wonder, then, his team spent much of those two games out to sea. Karlsson was a combined plus-1.29 in expected goals in all situations in Games 4 and 5, over just 35:40 of ice time. The rest of the team was minus-4.54 when he was off the ice.
Here’s the per-60 breakdown: When Karlsson is on, the Sharks generate 3.6 expected goals an hour, versus 1.67 when he’s off. They also concede just 1.43 xG an hour with Karlsson out there, and 4.9 when he’s on the bench or in the dressing room.
And remember, Karlsson missed a big chunk of the second half of the season with injuries and the Sharks looked great nonetheless. So what the hell?
Not to put the whole thing on, “The Sharks didn’t have a Norris-caliber defenseman,” because even when they did they weren’t making much happen (though one must also acknowledge they hit about 500 posts in Game 5 as well). But Karlsson played just 3:03 in the second period and never returned. That was also a period in which the Blues solidified their grip on the game and, at one point, were outshooting the Sharks 15-1.
Other injuries mounted for the Sharks as Game 5 wore on — Pavelski, Donskoi, Hertl — but the Sharks looked like they were on horse tranquilizers for the back two-thirds of the game.
They have no answer for the Blues’ forecheck and the fact is that Ivan Barbashev has been on the ice for twice as many of his team’s goals as Clutch Performer Logan Couture. Maybe a healthy Karlsson gives them the mobility to evade that forecheck. Maybe he helps the other big guns score more than a single goal in 120 minutes of hockey. No one can stop the Blues’ top line.
In a do-or-die home game, the Sharks got run out of the building. They generated just five — FIVE!!! — high-danger chances. They have just 12 in the last two games. Not one was on the power play. And they conceded 27, including 19 on Sunday.
Injuries or not, Peter DeBoer has a hell of a lot to answer for with his team just completely no-showing offensively. A team with this much talent simply has no excuse.
31 Takes: Playoff Edition
Boston Bruins: Congratulations to Don Sweeney on joining the Boston media. Obviously Jaro Halak — a long-time good goaltender who’s perfect for a backup role at this stage in his career — helped get the Bruins where they were but the fact that it’s being brought up constantly this entire playoff run, in which Tuukka Rask is running .940-plus, tells you a lot about the local mindset around the goalie who should win the Conn Smythe unless he gives up 15 goals in a San Jose/St. Louis sweep. Like, the amount of ink a backup goalie who hasn’t played a second since April 4 is getting when his team is in the Cup Final honestly blows my mind.
San Jose Sharks: Calling Game 5 a “disaster” doesn’t even really sell it properly. They gave up five goals on 40 shots and, by expected goals, that was actually a little kind to them (5.13 expected goals against, fourth most of any team in this entire postseason). They gave up 41 scoring chances. Just an incredible amount. Not sure how you turn this around if Karlsson can’t go in Game 6. Brutal.
St. Louis Blues: The fact of the matter is that in these last two games, the Blues fourth’ line has been better than any trio the Sharks have put out there. It’s not just the goals, either, because their underlyings are all solid as well. And when the team that’s significantly deeper on paper can’t even move the needle against the bottom of the other team’s roster, that’s a big issue.
Gold Star Award
Jaden Schwartz had a hat trick to push the series to 3-2 and that, to me, is good.
Minus of the Weekend
Patrick Roy coaching the Senators would be some pure, distilled chef’s-kiss stuff by like mid-December but I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
Play of the Weekend
Good lord this shot by Vlad Tarasenko.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “kilowatt” wants to bring a boy home.
To Edmonton: Tyler Toffoli @ 50% retained.
To Los Angeles: 8th overall, Milan Lucic at 50% retained with the intention of buying him out
I have a word of advice: Don’t try to dig the gum out with a bone. It just makes things worse.
Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
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