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Agnew: Blues must put pucks on net in Game 4

Former NHL coach says St. Louis isn't testing Sharks goalie Martin Jones enough

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Gary Agnew to break down the action. Agnew will be checking in throughout the series.

Agnew, 55, was an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets. He also served as interim coach of the Blue Jackets for five games during the 2006-07 season, and has been coach of Syracuse of the American Hockey League and London and Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League.

SAN JOSE -- It is not yet time to panic in the Western Conference Final, at least not for the St. Louis Blues, who have been shut out in two consecutive games en route to a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-7 series against the San Jose Sharks. As Gary Agnew said on Friday, "Anything can happen, right? It's 2-1, so St. Louis just has to respond. Anything can happen. I still think it's going to be a battle, they're not just going to lie down."

St. Louis had looked good in the first period in Game 3 on Thursday, had come out well in the first part of the game. Then Tomas Hertl scored the first of his two goals, at 15:53 of the first, and things went in the right direction for the Sharks and the wrong direction for the Blues. 

"I think that it felt like they weren't penetrating enough," Agnew said. "It felt like they were on the outside. They had some chances in those high-scoring areas, but it just felt like they weren't penetrating, weren't able to penetrate and I think that part of that is there's a lot of one-on-ones going on and the puck carrier needs more support, either somebody setting a pick or coming to the puck rather than away from the puck. 

"Because when they did put the puck at the net, when they did sort of throw pucks at the net, it created some chaos and some zone time and I think that's something that they'll have to sort of exploit. Because the one-and-done type of thing where they dump it in and they chip it by and they're out of the zone, they've got to try to avoid that."

Video: STL@SJS, Gm3: Jones turns away Stastny

It's part of why the Blues have not put nearly enough pressure on Sharks goaltender Martin Jones. Though Jones has had two straight shutouts, he has not had to work for them as much as the Blues might prefer. That was the case in San Jose's 3-0 victory Thursday. 

"Not enough, for sure," Agnew said. "Not enough. He's made some big saves and he's had to do some things, but not on a large quantity basis, for sure. It's the odd play at the net or the odd scoring chance. But you need more of those because it's hard to score in the league. As good as Jones has been, he's been tested, but not enough."

And that brings us to the Blues' top scoring line, which has undergone some changes in the postseason. Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz have remained together, though in the past two games - and all series, really - they have not been the force they were in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That needs to change in Game 4 (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"It happens where you dry up a little bit, but I think they need more from Schwartz, they need more from Tarasenko," Agnew said. "They need more from maybe even the blue line, whether it's [Kevin] Shattenkirk or [Alex] Pietrangelo or somebody like that.

"To me it's going to come down to winning those one-on-one battles and penetrating and having support because you've got to create an instance where the defensive structure breaks down and the only way it breaks down is if somebody needs help and to get somebody to need help you're going to have to beat somebody or win a board battle or just outcompete a guy, so that's something that they'll probably have to look at."

Video: STL@SJS, Gm3: Hertl scores a pair in Game 3

As for the Sharks, it's hard to argue with much of what they're doing in a series in which they have mostly controlled play, and in which it almost feels as if they're up 3-0. That includes a breakout game by Hertl, who added two goals to the three he had scored in these playoffs. 
As Agnew said, "He's on the board now, so you're going to have to pay more attention to him."

Overall, though, Agnew praised the Sharks and their commitment to checking, citing a play in the second period Thursday just before San Jose got on the board again, with Joonas Donskoi's goal at 11:44, in which Joe Thornton "made a play over in the half board and the puck got turned over and he was the first guy out of the zone and took away the middle of the ice and 15 to 20 seconds later, they made it 2-0 on Donskoi's play," as Agnew described it.

"But even on Donskoi's backchecking before the second goal, they're just so committed to coming back hard and taking away the middle of the ice that you watch the game and you see five of their players on the screen with three of the St. Louis players," Agnew said. "So they're really working hard on the checking end and I think it's paying dividends."

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