Friday, April 13, 2012

Western Conference Mental Game Breakdown: #2 Blues vs. #7 Sharks

#2 Blues vs. #7 Sharks

Advantages St. Louis: Energy of crowd and youth, Disciplined style, Goaltending

Who could be more excited about the upcoming playoffs than St. Louis? The Blues had an amazing season after Ken Hitchcock took over the reigns as head coach. The Blues bought into Hitchcock’s disciplined, defensive style and have a lot of confidence from a better than expected regular season. The Blues will get tons of support from a loud home crowd and will want to have good starts to their home games to keep that energy in the building.

The inexperience of the Blues can be seen as a mental barrier (see next), but at the same time this team has had success with these young players and they are excited to play. The Blues keep it simple and rely on their excellent goaltending tandem of Elliott and Halak. It is an easier game to play under pressure than trying to outscore the opponent. St. Louis also performed well against San Jose this season and will take that confidence into Game 1.

Barriers St. Louis: Pressure of expectations, inexperience

Despite a great regular season the Blues stumbled a little down the stretch losing the President’s Cup lead and the West’s #1 seed. No matter, this team will be focused on more important things like beating the Sharks. Expectations have increased dramatically since the start of the season and could become a burden for a team that plays low scoring, one goal games. Unlike the beginning of the season, just making the playoffs is not good enough. St. Louis is now expected to make a run at the Cup. This could become a burden. Getting behind early in games will be a recipe for an upset, and the Blues with their inexperience need to guard getting caught up in the emotion of the playoffs. 

Advantages Sharks: Experience, Good performances down the stretch, Skilled scoring threats

The Sharks are a pretty darn good #7 seed and are ready to tangle with the upstart Blues. San Jose has tons of playoff experience and knows what it takes to get ready for big games and close out tough series. San Jose will not be intimidated by St. Louis’ youthful energy and loud home crowd. Further, San Jose is coming off a good stretch in the last 10 games to make the playoffs. With two excellent wins over LA in the last two games, the team seems to be warming to the task of making another run at the Cup.
While the Sharks might lack depth in scoring, they do have skilled offensive players that can cause match up problems for any team. Joe Pavelski has proven to be a pressure player, and Joe Thornton had maybe his best playoff performances last season on the way to the West Finals. The Sharks have a deep defensive corps led by Dan Boyle’s veteran playoff experience. The Sharks have the fire power to upset the Blues, but must get ahead in games and not allow the Blues disciplined style to take over.

Barriers Sharks: Running out of time?, Scoring depth

While I think the Sharks have mental advantages that make them a threat to win this series, the regular season was probably below average by their standards. Can San Jose flip the switch now that it is playoff time and bring that confident style of hockey that has taken them deep in to the playoffs frequently in the last decade? Of concern is a potential feeling that this team might be running out of time and that lost opportunities in the past to get to the Finals are just that – lost forever. San Jose must focus on the game at hand and whether the first round takes four or seven games be prepared to battle all the way. Their experienced leadership should help see them through this barrier. Finally, can the Sharks get secondary scoring help? Thornton, Marleau, Couture, Clowe, and Pavelski should not have to carry the scoring load for San Jose, or this season could end sooner rather than later.

Take Homes: St. Louis’ inexperience will be matched up against San Jose’s experience which should make for an interesting dynamic. Who will handle the pressures of third periods and overtimes? This series could be real close.

No comments:

Post a Comment