History repeated itself for the San Jose Sharks in good and bad ways in a visit with the St. Louis Blues Monday, Feb. 22. More importantly, the bad news was diminished for two reasons.
The Sharks dominated the game like they dominate the pictured stars, and they were in the driver’s seat early enough that the event summary began to level later in the game as they protected a lead: 32-28 faceoffs, 2-8 giveaways, 7-6 takeaways, 11-20 hits, 50-52 attempts, 33-28 shots and 13-7 blocks—less than half the number of shots per block (2.15 vs. 4.57) and almost twice the percentage of attempts blocked (25 vs. 14 percent).
However, to really understand this rivalry game requires a look back not only before Monday’s game but before the 2015-16 NHL season. After a couple Stanley Cup playoff series wins by San Jose, the one St. Louis achieved in 2012 turned nasty in the second game with 132 combined penalty minutes.
That turned out to be merely a preview for the following October when Maxim Lapierre ran Dan Boyle head first into the boards. The blue-line veteran was motionless on the ice for some time and never really was the same player, though age certainly is a factor in that as well.
The league in its infinite inconsistency has rules that classified Lapierre as not being a repeat offender and suspended him a few games while it was weeks before Boyle could return. Perhaps the only player that is more of a serial offender is Raffi Torres, added by the Sharks to bring toughness after these incidents but traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs before Monday’s game.
This game also added fuel to the fire: Matt Tennyson went to retrieve the puck behind the net and was shouldered in the back by Ryan Reaves, driving his head into the boards before it bounced off the ice following him blacking out and falling. Boyle’s head was down more for his hit and this one was a more legitimate hockey play, but the initial results looked similar.
One difference is that Tennyson is not as good as the current version of Boyle much less the version that went down at the time. More importantly, the injury did not appear to be nearly as serious.
Tennyson was probably going to spend most of the rest of the 2015-16 NHL season scratched after the Sharks traded for Roman Polak, who ironically had 15 penalty minutes for the Blues in that 2013 Stanley Cup playoff series and was part of the move that sent Torres to the Maple Leafs. If there was a blue-line injury that required extended playing time, it is clear Dylan DeMelo would be called up.
Thus, Tennyson probably would not play 60 minutes the rest of the 2015-16 NHL season even without the injury. However, San Jose would be better off having him active but scratched than DeMelo or Mirco Mueller who have more upside to develop through regular play and no requirement they clear waivers to send them down to the AHL.
To that end, the seriousness of this injury still impacts this team during the 2015-16 NHL season and beyond. Tennyson appeared to regain consciousness when his head struck the ice as he waved his hands slowly, then was up on his feet with the help of the boards and his teammates that also aided his departure to the tunnel. That made it appear much less serious than Boyle, who was taken out on a stretcher.
However, it is hard to tell if Tennyson will be out a week, month or year since the Sharks even made reference to a concussion. What is known is the addition of Polak and anticipated return of Brenden Dillon should allow them to overcome this injury more easily than Boyle’s.
For this game, San Jose took advantage. Already ahead 1-0 for about four minutes since Joe Thornton moved the puck from Joe Pavelski to behind the net for Tomas Hertl to pick up and put a wraparound five-hole goal, St. Louis had a five-minute major to kill and both teams were going to be short a player the rest of the game.
It took 1:41 for the Sharks to get the score: Joonas Donskoi shot a rebound of a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot that trickled through Brian Elliott for Hertl to stuff home. Just 1:43 later, the Blues were called for another penalty that left them with a two-man disadvantage for 1:36.
It ended 38 seconds early when Thornton moved the puck from Brent Burns to Logan Couture in front of the crease. The initial shot was saved but San Jose’s newest alternate captain banged away until it went past Elliott, who was hurt on the play.
Fortunately, Jake Allen had just gotten back on the roster for St. Louis and held his own given how rusty one would think he would be having last played in 2015. Captain David Backes got his team back into the game with a goal from Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko in the final three minutes before intermission.
Tarasenko eventually got the Blues within one when he waited for a screen to shoot after a pass from Kevin Shattenkirk (Jori Lehtera got the secondary assist). However, the Sharks responded with a goal 20 seconds later when Melker Karlsson deflected a Vlasic shot that Allen lost sight of so Couture could get wide and stuff it home.
Any real doubt about the outcome was erased in the first eight minutes of the third period: Thornton used a little slash to position for a takeaway, swiped the puck and endured a slash of his own while backhanding it past Allen.
Tarasenko helped keep St. Louis on life support by moving the puck from Lehtera to Jay Bouwmeester for another shot Martin Jones could not see through traffic. Allen was pulled with just over three minutes to go enabling well over a minute on the attack, but Thornton cleared the puck from the defensive zone into the net with his back to it with 85 seconds to go to close it for San Jose.
Both teams are in third place in their respective divisions, five games up on the fourth place team and under two games away from first after this game. The Blues have 20 games remaining on the 2015-16 NHL season and the Sharks have 22.