Sharks' power-play outage costly in series-tying Game 2 loss to Blues

Marcus White
NBC Sports BayArea

Sharks' power-play outage costly in series-tying Game 2 loss to Blues originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com

SAN JOSE -- Both of the Sharks' unsuccessful power plays began the same way Monday.

In a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 2 of the Western Conference final, San Jose could not maintain possession on the opening face-off of either power play they earned. The Blues won the first one clean in the first period, and then beat the Sharks to a loose puck after Tomas Hertl won the draw to start their third-period power play. In both instances, San Jose's power play had to regroup before it could get started.

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"If you're losing it and they're icing it, that's like 20-30 seconds already gone from the clock," Sharks winger Kevin Labanc told reporters at SAP Center after the game. "So, it's nice to start with the puck."

The Sharks didn't start with the puck on either power play, and didn't create many opportunities when they got it back. San Jose finished the night with three shot attempts on its two power plays, according to Natural Stat Trick. St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington stopped all three, but only one was a scoring chance and none was considered a high-danger look.

In the first and third periods, the Sharks went to the man advantage trailing by a goal. At the conclusion of each, the deficit remained intact, and San Jose couldn't snap out of its power-play funk.

In nine games since exploding for a record-setting four power-play goals in a historic Game 7 in their first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights, the Sharks have scored just three power-play goals. Joe Pavelski's tally in the Game 1 win over the Blues on Saturday came on a 5-on-3, and San Jose has not scored a 5-on-4 goal since a Game 5 win over the Colorado Avalanche in its Stanley Cup playoff second-round series.

In all, the Sharks are 3-for-26 (11.5 percent) on the power play since the start of the second round.

"It was kind of just one-and-done [tonight]," Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. "We probably had to break out a few too many times and retrieve pucks. Some of our entries weren't good enough. Those little things that allow you to sustain an attack in-zone -- we weren't good enough in those areas."

The Sharks had trouble entering the offensive zone on both power-play opportunities. Labanc successfully carried the puck into the zone a couple of times, and there were a few instances where defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson were able to hit a forward in stride with a pass to enter the zone.

But the Blues penalty killers were aggressive at their own blue line, forcing an initial change in possession each time the Sharks tried to beat them with a dump-in. St. Louis interim coach Craig Berube said his team remained aggressive within its own end on the penalty kill, too.

"Pressure, more than anything," Berube said. "We did a good job at the line on [their] break-outs. Win some draws, get it down and make a stand."

In the 63 games after Berube took over for Mike Yeo just before Thanksgiving, the Blues had the NHL's 12th-best penalty kill (81.6 percent). St. Louis was just outside of the top 10 in limiting attempts (12th-lowest rate) and shots (13th-lowest), and closer to the middle of the pack in limiting high-danger chances (16th-lowest) and expected goals (17th-lowest) under Berube.

The Blues' underlying numbers are largely the same this postseason, but St. Louis had killed off just three-quarters of its penalties through the first two rounds. Only the Carolina Hurricanes (73.2 percent) killed penalties at a lower clip among the NHL's conference finalists through the first two rounds.

Now, the Blues have killed off 5-of-6 short-handed opportunities in this series, and still haven't allowed a 5-on-4 goal. The Sharks' power-play outage did not cost them in the second round, a series in which they out-scored the Avalanche 16-14 in 5-on-5 situations. They showed they can advance without their power play clicking, but turning the man advantage into an actual advantage would help separate San Jose in another series in which the margins -- so far -- are razor-thin.

[RELATED: Sharks are in familiar spot after dropping another Game 2]

If a turnaround is in store, the Sharks think it starts with shooting more.

"We didn't shoot it enough," Logan Couture said. "We knew the ice wasn't very good. We've gotta shoot the puck. I made some plays where I went back and I passed it ... and it turned into nothing. My job's to shoot the puck on the power play, and I have to do a better job of that."

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