With twelve games on the docket the NHL is not devoid of action Tuesday. The most intriguing battle will be a clash between two white hot clubs: the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues, who are 4-0-0, are off to their best start in franchise history, and come into Tuesday’s matchup without even trailing in a game. Their goaltender Jaroslav Halak is experiencing a nice return to form and has won all four of the games thus far. He’s riding high on a .934 save percentage and 1.75 goals against average.
The Sharks are off to an undefeated start of their own at 5-0-0. Throughout those games they’ve really had their way with the opposition, outscoring them by almost 3.5 goals per game. Meanwhile, Sharks’ goaltender Anti Niemmi has been playing lights out with 1.40 goals against and a .939 save percentage.
With both teams chasing historic best starts, this may well be the best game of the season thus far.
Sharks look to ‘Hertl’ the Blues
Bolstered by a four goal explosion in a 9-2 victory against the New York Rangers, San Jose rookie Tomas Hertl currently leads the NHL with seven goals. Hertl’s success is an added bonus to an already potent offence. Unsurprisingly, he was the NHL’s First Star for the week ending October 13th.
Some NHL personalities, including Washington Capitals’’ head coach Adam Oates, thought that Hertl ‘disrespected the league’ with a ‘between the legs’ goal against the Rangers. The consensus was that Hertl should keep his head up because retribution might be on the way.
In a game against Ottawa on Saturday, Hertl skated into the shoulder of Ottawa’s Clarke Macarthur and left the game. However, Hertl should be fine to play Tuesday's’ matchup. Though the hit was not exactly on-ice vengeance, he will be a marked man for the foreseeable future.
Sharks have a case of the blues in recent history with St. Louis
In the last two regular seasons the Blues have had the Sharks’ number, beating them in six out of their last seven meetings. Additionally, St. Louis knocked San Jose out of the 2012 playoffs in five games.
So with a heavily lopsided 10-2 recent record in their favour, the Blues might be primed to stop the league leading Sharks in their tracks. Of course, this is furthered when you consider that St. Louis is playing some of the best hockey around.
Staying out of the Sin Bin
Through their four games this season, the Blues currently lead the NHL with an absurd 37.5 power play percentage. Of course, 16 opportunities isn’t exactly a reliable sample size but it’s still relevant.
Avoiding the penalty box has been a strong suit for the Sharks this year. They’ve only been short handed 14 times in their five games thus far. This trend will need to continue if the Sharks want to remain unbeaten.
Both teams in toughest test of the year
St. Louis is at home and the early line has them as a -125 favourite which seems fair. Both teams have a fairly balanced attack, so shutting one or two players down is seemingly useless with other talented scorers filling the void.
I think the most interesting question is: are we buying St Louis goaltender Jaroslav Halak? He managed an excellent 2.14 goal against last year, despite a poor .899 save percentage. What does that mean? It means that the St. Louis defence bailed Halak out and accrued the second fewest shots against last year. San Jose comes into this game with a stunning 42.4 shots for per game, which would obviously be bad for the Blues should last year’s Jaro show up.
This game is getting nationally broadcast in Canada for a reason. These are two well rested teams that play very up-tempo hockey, and both have guys that can put the puck in the net. It’s a toss up, but I like underdog Sharks especially if they can stay away from the strong St Louis power play.