The San Jose Sharks defense has been playing its best hockey of the entire season in the last four playoff games. After shutting out the Nashville Predators in Game 7 to advance to the Western Conference Finals, the Sharks now find themselves for the first time in franchise history with a lead in the Conference Finals. San Jose’s forwards have been taking care of business, but the Sharks defensive unity in front of goaltender Martin Jones have been making a statement of their own. According to War-On-Ice.com, through the first three games against the St. Louis Blues, the Sharks have held the Blues to and average 11.33 fewer shot attempts per game. As the adage goes, defense wins championships.
Sharks Defense Dominating
The Sharks top four are well known and could be the most balanced group remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Brent Burns is a match-up problem for any team but has been especially troublesome for the Blues in the series. Burns leads the Sharks in playoff ice time with 25:30 and also is averaging nearly five minutes per game on the power-play. Even more impressive is that Burns leads all defenseman in scoring with 18 points while his time on ice only ranks 19th of all defensemen in the playoffs. With all of the Sharks defensemen able to take a regular turn, Burns is not being run into the ground as so many other quality defenders have when their team’s depth faced challenges in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The shutdown pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun continue to draw the tough defensive zone starts against the Blues top forwards. Vlasic, in particular, had himself a running battle with Blues star forward Vladimir Tarasenko and thus far has been able to neutralize the dangerous winger. Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon continue to be a dependable duo and the Blues players quickly come in close contact with one of them if they linger in the crease too long. Neither has been able to generate much transition to offense from the Sharks zone which remains an issue. However, the physical styles of the two bruising rearguards act as a deterrent while they are on the ice and has helped limit the Blues to only 20 high danger area scoring chances through 180 minutes of play. In addition to their physical presence, Dillon and Polak’s steady play allows head coach Peter DeBoer to deploy them regularly. Not having to cover for a questionable final pairing is providing rest for the Sharks other defenders and helps get the match-ups DeBoer wants on the ice.
Jones Continues to Impress
Martin Jones now has three shutouts in his last four starts. After a dominating performance by the Sharks to take Game 7 against a pesky Nashville Predators squad, the Blues have struggled to solve Martin Jones and the defense in front of him. More than the shoutouts, his play has been calm in the nets and playing within his game. He’s allowed only two goals in his last four starts and has been in sync with his defense. Jones’ solid statistics in the first eleven games of the playoffs have now dwindled to a phenomenal .978 save percentage and 0.51 goals against average in his last four starts. Jones has continued his development as a starting netminder throughout the playoffs and has gone from the first year starter with questions marks surrounding his postseason debut to playing with the confidence of a grizzled veteran.
So by my count, the Sharks have been the better team for 6 1/2 out of 8 periods so far in the Western Conference finals
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) May 20, 2016
The Sharks still have to win two more games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Blues have the firepower to get back into this series and advance. San Jose needs to continue its dominating defensive play and force the Blues to play from behind. Not exactly a new recipe for playoff success, but San Jose might have just the right mixture to take the Sharks even further.