[Ed. Note: Jake has been kind enough to help us track Sharks zone entries this season and agreed to chip in with a game preview. Follow him on Twitter, why don't you?]
1) They both probably aren't big fans of game 7s.
3) Um... They were both coached by Ron Wilson at some point?
Alright, scratch what I said before. These teams aren't very similar. In fact, the list of their dissimilarities is much longer than the list of their similarities.
First off, the Sharks and Leafs vary greatly when it comes to shot based metrics. A quick glance at the NHL's team stats page shows something pretty showing. Shots per game? Sharks are first, with just above 35 shots per game. Tonight's opponent? They rank second to last on that list, with just above 26 shots per game. How bad is that? That's only 1 shot per game better than the Buffalo Sabres. Yeah, it's pretty bad. The defensive side of the shot totals are just as disparate. The Sharks are tied for seventh (with our Canuck friends from the North) in the league when it comes to shots against per game, with 27.7 shots allowed per game. Looking down the list... down... down... further still... you'll find the Leafs last on that list with 35.9 shots allowed per game, almost a whole shot more per game than Buffalo allows. If both teams play as they have the rest of the season, expect the shot totals in this one to be very lopsided.
If you're not feeling thankful to be a Sharks fan rather than a Leafs fan (or even a moderate Leafs fan like me) after looking at those numbers, then look at the center depth of the two teams. The Sharks employ four guys that could be first line centers on most teams (with one playing on their third line, for pete's sake). The Leafs... well, Tyler Bozak (warning: lotsa stats talk in that article, but a very good read) is their first line center.
No matter what way you slice and dice it, this is a completely different Maple Leafs team (from a roster perspective) than the one the Sharks faced almost two years ago. However, given the differences that go in the Sharks' favor in this matchup, this should be just about as easy a game as the Sharks have faced this season. And everyone knows how well it turned out the last time the Sharks faced a team they should've crushed.
Expect the Marleau-Couture-Wingels line to be matched up against Toronto's first line. Though the two Americans on that line should be a handful, their center (the aforementioned Tyler Bozak) does a pretty good job of weighing them down, so this matchup should go the Sharks' way. Hertl-The Hopefully-Newly-Visored Joe Thornton-Brent Burns line should get whatever Toronto throws together on their second line, which has featured some mix of Mason Raymond, Nazem Kadri, the vastly-underrated Nikolai Kulemin, and the vastly-overrated David Clarkson their last few games. Long story short, whoever is on this line will likely get crushed by Jumbo's line, barring some sort of Maple Leaf miracle. Havlat-Pavelski-Kennedy will likely go against Toronto's third line, which should also inevitably get crushed by Pavs' line.
The fourth line is where things get interesting. Toronto's fourth line is a truculent mass of gritz and hitz, that really doesn't do much but fight. This line may convince McLellan to go the two fighter approach that he went with against St. Louis, which would mean that Matt Pelech and Mike Brown better get ready to play another 5 combined minutes tomorrow night, like they did against St. Louis. If this does happen, both teams' fourth lines will be relatively bad, but they'll probably be matched up against each other, in which case the Sharks' will likely come out on top, given that Andrew Desjardins is way better than Jerred Smithson (the Maple Leafs' likely fourth line center who wasn't deemed good enough to be retained by Edmonton this offseason).
Prediction: Sharks win 1-0 in the shootout. Assuming James Reimer starts in net, he shuts out the Sharks in regulation and overtime as they pour 50+ shots on net, because he's the freakin' Reim Minister of Defense. He finally gives up a goal in the 18th round of the shootout though, as a Matt Pelech shootout attempt goes wide, bounces off the ref, off both posts, off the crossbar, and in, magically.
(Alternate prediction if Jonathan Bernier starts in net: Sharks win 5-0, with the American superstar Joe Pavelski scoring all of the goals, showing Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk what they can look forward to playing with in Sochi.)
|18-3-5, 41 points
||14-10-3, 31 points|
|5th in Atlantic
||1st in Pacific
Projected Sharks Lineup
Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels
Marty Havlat - Joe Pavelski - Tyler Kennedy
John McCarthy - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Brad Stuart - Dan Boyle
Scott Hannan - Jason Demers
Projected Maple Leafs Lineup
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Nazem Kadri- David Clarkson
Trevor Smith - Jay McClement - Nikolai Kulemin
Carter Ashton - Jerred Smithson - Colton Orr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Mark Fraser
Morgan Rielly - Paul Ranger