This will be the second straight year that San Jose faces off against the Red Wings in the second round; the Sharks beat Detroit in five games to advance to only their second Western Conference Finals in team history. This year, however, Detroit is coming off a sweep of the same Coyotes team which took them to seven games last year.
This season, the Sharks boast an impressive 3-1 record against the rival Wings this season. Wins only say so much though. Below, we've highlighted some interesting playoff and regular season stats, both head to head and league wide. They're not all pretty for San Jose, but hey, it's the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Goaltending: Antti Niemi has dominated Detroit this season, while Detroit starter Jimmy Howard has struggled against San Jose. In three games against Detroit, Niemi posted a 2.01 GAA and a .935 save percentage while going 3-0-0. Howard, on the other hand, went 1-2 with a 4.03 GAA and an .887 save percentage.
Defense: The Sharks, backed by a solid season by Antti Niemi, allowed 2.54 goals per game. The Red Wings, who are traditionally a team which keeps goals against to a minimum, were scored against to the tune of 2.89 goals per game. That's 23rd in the league, and puts them among company such as the Senators and the Maple Leafs.
Offense: Although the Wings hold the goals per game advantage over the Wings, Detroit is more top heavy in the goal scoring department, at least when it comes to twenty goal scorers. Detroit had just four twenty goal scorers this season, as opposed to seven for San Jose. However, Detroit had thirteen goal scorers with ten goals. The Sharks had just the seven twenty goal scorers and two players with nine goals on the season. You can make an argument that Detroit's number of ten-goal scorers makes them deeper. Fact of the matter is this: Both teams can score.
Special Teams: As expected, both San Jose and Detroit boasted impressive power play units this year. San Jose was second overall on the season with a 23.5% conversion rate, while the Wings were fifth overall at 22.3%. Against Detroit, San Jose went 3-13 on the power play. Detroit went 5-15 against San Jose.
On the penalty kill, Detroit holds the advantage. Detroit killed penalties at a 82.3% clip, while San Jose prevented goals in just 79.6% of their shorthanded situations. The numbers represent 17th and 24th overall, respectively. Both teams have gotten worse on the penalty kill in the playoffs; Detroit sits at just 66.7% while San Jose stands at 79.2%.
Face-offs: It's hard to beat San Jose when it comes to the face-off circle. San Jose was the best face-off team in the first round as they won 55.5% of draws, up from their second rated 53.7% in the regular season. Detroit wasn't far behind though, third overall in the regular season at 51.9% and fourth in the playoffs at 52.2%.
In summation, there are places that San Jose has been better, and places where Detroit holds the advantage. The Red Wings had a much easier time than the Sharks beating their first round opponent, and it shows up in the numbers. However, San Jose was a better team during the regular season in most aspects, and can take that with them into their series.
The teams match up well in most regards, but what jumps out to me is Detroit's weaknesses in goal and in team defense. Yes, Nicklas Lidstrom is still patrolling the blue line, and he's doing so with the likes of Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall. However, San Jose has shown that they can beat them, and more specifically netminder Jimmy Howard. Like San Jose, Detroit will need full commitment from their forwards in the defensive end to be successful.
Still, as we've seen so many times throughout history, the playoffs are a different animal. This will be a good one.