When both teams are as good on the power play as the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks, each penalty call draws a little extra attention during the playoffs.
With so much focus on the Sharks’ NHL-best power play going 0-for-3 in a 2-1 loss to the Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, the inevitable questions found their way to both coaches.
Addressing the humorous beard-pulling contest in Game 1 between San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Blues captain David Backes, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer shifted gears away from facial hair and more toward the officiating.
“We’re relying on the officials to do their job,” said DeBoer who also pointed to the Blues’ penchant for penalties Sunday before Game 1. “St. Louis is one of the most penalized teams in the league, regular season and playoffs. They need to call the game accordingly.
“Need to make them pay a price for being the most penalized team on the power play, which we didn’t last night.”
The Blues ranked ninth in the NHL during the regular season with 861 penalty minutes and they are second during the playoffs with 163 penalty minutes. The Blues have been shorthanded 42 times in their 15 playoff contests, the fifth highest total in the league.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked about DeBoer mentioning the Blues’ high penalty total the past two days.
“What are you saying, is he whining for calls or what’s he doing?” Hitchcock said. “Well, we were told not to whine for calls, so we’re not going to whine for calls. If Pete wants to do it, that’s his. But we’re not doing it. I’m not sure why he’s doing it, you’ve got to ask him that question.
“We’re just not doing it. So, we’ll play the game, we’ll play it the right way, we’ll play it honest, but we’ll play it hard, let the refs decide. They’ve got to do their job too.”
What are you saying, is he whining for calls or what’s he doing. Well, we were told not to whine for calls, so we’re not going to whine for calls. If Pete wants to do it, that’s his. But we’re not doing it.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock
Hitchcock did seem to be a bit perturbed with the whole subject.
“I’m not going to tell the referees how to do their job, nor am I going to tell (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman or (NHL Executive Vice President Colin) Campbell how to do their job,” Hitchcock said. “They’ve got a tough enough job as it is. I can barely do my job. So I’m going to do my job, and if other guys want to whine and get other people to have to work for them, that’s up to them.”
Game 2 is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Scottrade Center before the series shifts to San Jose for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Saturday.
The Blues used an aggressive penalty kill in Game 1 that did not allow the Sharks to get set up in the zone. They stayed in the passing and shooting lanes and tried to force the issue in the neutral zone whenever possible.
“I think our power-play’s pretty free flowing,” Sharks star Joe Thornton said. “Really just can’t key on one guy. We got five guys that can hurt you. I think for us it’s just the way you move around, it’s really hard to defend.”
For one night, at least, the Blues found some success.
“St. Louis’ penalty killing did nothing we haven’t seen before this season,” DeBoer said. “When our power play doesn’t score, it’s either the goaltending is great or our execution is off. I think it was a little bit of both last night.
“But we’ve always managed to fix that. I have confidence we’re going to get that fixed for next game.”
Raising the bar
Hitchcock repeatedly talked about the Blues needing to raise their competitive level for Game 2 — and this was after his team won the series opener. Blues goaltender Brian Elliott and his 31 saves were a big part of the winning equation, as were the penalty kill and goals by Backes and Jori Lehtera.
Hitchcock’s point was the Blues had faced teams with high-end skill and skating ability the first two rounds in the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars, but San Jose is a different animal.
The Sharks’ combination of size, speed and skill could be a mirror image of the Blues themselves.
“We haven’t played a team like this,” Hitchcock said. “This is completely different. The other two series were similar. This series and this team we’re playing against is completely different.
“This is no different than playing Los Angeles. They’re a heavy hard team. Strong on the puck. It took us two periods to even get close to the emotional level on the compete side to get going. We’ll be a lot better in Game 2 getting ready for this. “
Winning Game 2 at Scottrade Center on Tuesday could be huge. The Sharks are 5-1 at home in the playoffs while outscoring their opponents 22-8 on home ice.
“I think (Sunday) was probably one of the worst we played this playoffs,” Blues forward Patrik Berglund said. “We had a really hard time to exit the zone in our own end to get on offense. Obviously something we’ve got to clean up and create more chances and get down in their own end and try to wear them out that way. We for sure are spending too much time in our own end. Moose [Elliott] obviously, again came up big for us.”
San Jose outshot the Blues 16-5 during a dominant period, but was turned away repeatedly by Elliott. The Blues got the go-ahead goal by Lehtera following a turnover by San Jose defenseman Brent Burns.
“The tragedy of the second period was, we spent the whole period in their end and lost the period 1-0,” DeBoer said. “That was basically the game.”