Monday, December 29, 2008

St. Louis Blue-Collars Out-Work Sharks

In three games against San Jose, Brad Winchester has three goals. He has just two goals more than 30 other Blues games this season.

On Saturday night, his goal tied the game at two, allowing his team to win in a shootout. It was only the eighth time in 35 games this year that San Jose did not leave the rink with a win, and the first time they lost in four shootouts. It also ended the Blues seven-game losing streak against the Sharks.

Things did not begin well for the Sharks, as within the first minute David Parron put a shot through Evgeni Nabokov's five-hole. When Douglas Murray stepped up to drop a forward, the puck sprang free and Parron had a breakaway. Christian Ehrhoff back-checked well enough to force the shot to come without a deke, but Nabby did not play it well enough.

After that, Nabby tightened up. But his skater-teammates just played tight.

At one point in the second period, St. Louis was out-shooting San Jose 16-4. Coach Todd McLellan began to mix up lines to shake things up, and it paid dividends twice before the period was out.

At 12:19, Jonathan Cheechoo extended his points-streak to three games since returning when he took a Joe Thornton feed from behind the net and hit the far corner. Mike Grier, who had been moved down to the fourth line for the beginning of the game, got an assist on the play, as well.

Those three hooked up again just six and a half minutes later, as Thornton's feed to Cheechoo deflected to Grier and he put home his second goal of the year. But Winchester's goal, with assists from Jan Stasny and Mike Weaver, came just six minutes into the third.

It was a battle of goaltenders, as Nabby made 25 saves and Manny Legace made 24, including some doozies. In the shootout, Nabby stopped only one of three and Legace stopped two. One guess who scored the shootout winner...

McLellan was clearly not happy with his team's play: "We weren't prepared to play and to be quite honest with you, you could almost see it coming."

Grier may have summed it up best:"We played our game in spurts and it wasn't good enough. They play a simple game and it's never going to be easy when you play a team like that."

The Blues out-worked the Sharks, who are 2-1-2 in their last five. And it doesn't get any easier.

San Jose is in Dallas Monday night, and the Stars have played well since getting rid of Sean Avery. In fact, a stretch of 4-0-1 has put this team above .500 (15-14-5).

After that, the Sharks travel to Minnesota (17-15-2) for a New Year's Eve afternoon game, come home for one game against the New York Islanders, then make a three-game swing through the Canadian Northwest. Might we be seeing the mid-point of an eleven-game stretch of .500 hockey?

It may be just want McLellan wants to keep this team humble and working hard.

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