The San Jose Sharks dropped their series opener to the St. Louis Blues 2-1 Sunday evening, but it was far from a bad performance.
San Jose out-shot the Blues 32-23 and as Fear the Fin points out, the Sharks were the significantly better fenwick possession team.
Primary causes for the defeat besides the bad puck luck at the offensive end (two posts late in the third period) were a softie let up by goaltender Martin Jones in the second period that stood as the game winner and a sputtering power play that went 0-3.
Offensive puck luck is bound to turn around if San Jose continues to win the possession battle, Jones isn't likely to continue letting in soft goals and the power play will start scoring eventually. There is too much firepower on both units and through the first two rounds it was clicking at over 30%.
That said, while there were lots of positives to come out of the Game 1 loss, there are a couple of areas of concern. A large part of the possession dominance came from the top line's play. The fourth line held their own, but the second and third lines struggled.
Patrick Marleau has put forth a couple of really good performances on the Couture line, but it is probably time to swap Joel Ward back into that spot with Couture and Joonas Donskoi. Marleau, Couture and Donskoi didn't generate much offensive zone time at all in Game 1.
Similarly, the third line in Game 1 featuring Ward, Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson didn't do a whole lot. As I suspected they had to face a lot of Blues superstar Vladimir Tarasenko and they weren't completely terrible given the tough matchup. Going forward though, that is a matchup Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer should try to get away from.
DeBoer doesn't have the benefit of last change on the road so it isn't easy to get away from the Tarasenko-Tierney matchup unless he mixes up his lines. One way DeBoer could change things up is by bulking up the third line. Thus far through two games together on the fourth line, Dainius Zubrus and Tommy Wingels have been extremely effective in pinning their opponents deep in the offensive zone. Promoting them up to a third line with Marleau in the middle would be an extremely tough line to handle for any of the Blues' top-3 lines. The current third line with Tierney and Karlsson is just too small.
Marleau brings the speed, size and offensive punch to the line. Zubrus brings size and puck possession, and Wingels, despite being just six-feet, 195, plays like he is six-feet-two, 215. All three of these guys have played top-six minutes throughout their careers. Marleau and Zubrus may be a bit long in the tooth and not what they once were, but this line would have the potential to hold the puck down in the offensive corners relatively easily. Wingels and Zubrus have already been doing a good job of that on the fourth line, but if you add in Marleau to the mix at six-feet-two, 220, the line all of a sudden becomes even tougher to move off the puck.