The San Jose Sharks have been abused by the St. Louis power play through the first three games of their opening-round series.
The Blues have scored on five of their 13 man advantage opportunities — a 60 percent clip — and went 3-for-4 at HP Pavilion in Monday’s 4-3 victory.
Generally speaking, allowing three PP goals in a payoff game (in front of your home crowd, no less) forces a head coach to make big changes.
That’s exactly what Todd McLellan has done, putting captain Joe Thornton on the PK unit for Game 4.
“It’s time,” Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News after Wednesday’s practice. “I’m good with it.”
With his long arms and long stick, the 6-foot-4 Thornton is the ideal soldier for the Sharks’ style of penalty kill, which relies on positioning in a four-man box and the interception (or discouragement) of cross-ice passes.
However, in Monday night’s Sharks loss in Game 3, he didn’t play a second of short-handed time during the Blues’ four power plays, three of which led to goals. McLellan tends to keep Thornton’s ice-time light during penalty-kill situations to save his legs for 5-on-5 play and power plays. During the regular season, Thornton averaged 1:03 minutes of penalty-kill time per game, lowest among the team’s top six forwards other than Ryane Clowe.
The concept is logical. But not when a team is down two games to one in a playoff series, with the biggest reason staring back at McLellan from the stat sheet. In 5-on-5 play so far, the Sharks and Blues are tied on the scoreboard, 4-4. Special teams are making the difference. The Blues have five power play goals to the Sharks’ two.
So here comes Jumbo Joe.
(Note: In this series, Jumbo has played exactly 28 seconds shorthanded.)
Thornton isn’t the only reinforcement coming to the penalty kill in Game 4. It’s expected that Michal Handzus will make his series debut and play a big role on the PK, where he averaged 1:21 per game this season.
Judging by his comments, “Zeus” has studied up on the St. Louis power play.
“They shoot the puck and have pretty strong guys,” he told CSN Bay Area. “They find a lane from the top, and we’ve got to play more as a four-man unit and block shots up top or down low.
“It is what it is, you have to outwork their five-man unit.”