For all the talk about how the Toronto Maple Leafs have been mystifying the analytics crowd by coupling poor possession numbers with success in the standings over the course of this calendar year, a team that's been riding sky-high shooting and save percentages at even-strength for even longer to even greater success in an even tougher conference visits the Shark Tank for the first time this season tonight.
Granted, the Anaheim Ducks haven't been woefully outshot to the same extent as recent iterations of the Leafs but they were a middle-of-the-road possession team last season that nevertheless won the Pacific Division before crumbling against the Red Wings in round one. They're competitive for the division title once again this year, thanks primarily to the second-highest five-on-five shooting percentage in the league. The difference is that their underlying numbers have shown considerable improvement as GM Bob Murray made it a point this past offseason to finally shore up the club's once-woeful forward depth.
Anaheim hasn't had a legitimate second-line center since Andy McDonald plied his trade in the O.C. (don't call it that) but an under-the-radar move just prior to the season to land Mathieu Perreault from the Washington Capitals just may have given them one. Over the three seasons before this one, only 33 forwards in the NHL managed to score more five-on-five points per minute than the diminutive Caps pivot and Perreault has been among the league leaders in even-strength scoring rate once again this season along with posting one of the better shot differentials on the Ducks. Murray also brought Dustin Penner, who was an effective player for the Kings despite a lack of offensive results, back to Anaheim and he's been a revelation in his old spot alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with 20 points in 21 games. Add in the emergence of young forwards like Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem and the result is a club that, when healthy, can comfortably roll four lines of scorers.
Where the Ducks' weakness lies is on the blueline and with veterans Francois Beauchemin, Sheldon Souray, Bryan Allen and Luca Sbisa all currently injured, Anaheim's deficit of competent defenders is only exacerbated. The likes of Mark Fistric and Nolan Yonkman are slated to log significant minutes tonight, and that's something the Sharks should look to exploit if they plan on taking sole possession of the Pacific Division lead. Viktor Fasth is currently out with a lower-body injury and Frederik Andersen started against the Flames yesterday in Southern California, so it looks like franchise nemesis Jonas Hiller will be between the pipes tonight in San Jose. If there's a silver lining to that bit of news, it's that Hiller has been fairly awful this season with a .904 SV%, fueled by some major struggles on the penalty kill. Then again, he always seems to save his best for the Sharks.
|18-7-3, 39 points
||17-3-5, 39 points|
|2nd in Pacific
||1st in Pacific
Projected Sharks Lineup
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels
Marty Havlat - Joe Pavelski - Tyler Kennedy
James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Scott Hannan - Brad Stuart
Projected Ducks Lineup
Dustin Penner - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey - Mathieu Perreault - Teemu Selanne
Andrew Cogliano - Saku Koivu - Daniel Winnik
Tim Jackman - Nick Bonino - Kyle Palmieri
Cam Fowler - Ben Lovejoy
Hampus Lindholm - Nolan Yonkman
Mark Fistric - Sami Vatanen