Seventy-seven percent of teams in NHL history to win the first two games of a playoff series on the road have gone on to win the round. To say tonight's Game 2 between the Sharks and Canucks is an important one would be an understatement. A Vancouver win puts us on track for the tightly-contested dogfight we were expecting out of this series while a Sharks win, especially considering San Jose's home record, would put them in terrific position to advance. Here are three questions the Sharks will need to answer heading into the contest.
1. Who replaces Martin Havlat in the lineup, on the de facto top line and on the power play's second unit?
Presumably dismayed at his team's inability to win a Stanley Cup, Kevin Bieksa took a swing at a, um, different cup on Wednesday night:
Martin Havlat didn't return to the game and almost certainly won't be playing tonight after not participating in the Sharks' morning skate. Raffi Torres will likely continue skating with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture which, with all due respect to Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, is really the Sharks' top line at this point. With Scott Gomez also still injured, Tim Kennedy draws into the lineup for his first taste of playoff action since his time with the Sabres in 2010.
While Marleau/Couture/Torres should be passable at even-strength and the whittling down of the Sharks' forward depth is somewhat more palatable given that Alain Vigneault appears poised to load up his second line with both Derek Roy and Ryan Kesler, leaving his third and fourth lines rather mediocre, the issue these injuries cause is in depleting the Sharks' 2nd unit power play. The forwards on that unit could very well be Torres, Tommy Wingels and T.J. Galiardi, which isn't going to strike fear into the Canucks' penalty kill anytime soon. The effectiveness of the Sharks' power play in the back half of the season was partially buoyed by an improvement in that second unit, so there's reason for concern here.
2. Will Todd McLellan continue to get Couture and Vlasic on the ice against the Sedins?
A key to the Sharks' Game 1 success was Todd McLellan's ability to manipulate matchups on the road, allowing him to get Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the ice for 13 of the Sedins' 16 even-strength minutes. Henrik and Daniel didn't record a single scoring chance when either Vlasic or Couture were on the ice against them. Whether or not that sort of performance is sustainable over the long run is a different question all together but it will be interesting to monitor whether Alain Vigneault, a coach who usually focuses on forward deployment by zone rather than opposing line, attempts to change out of that matchup in Game 2.
3. Can the Sharks improve on their Game 1 performance in possession?
If there was a red flag raised in a 3-1 victory during which the Sharks outchanced the Canucks 7-5 at even-strength and 11-8 overall, including not allowing a single chance in the third period, it's that they were dominated territorially at evens. Every Sharks skater was in the red in shot attempt differential and that was the case even before Dan Boyle's goal made it a 2-1 affair; this wasn't a byproduct of San Jose collapsing into a defensive shell with the lead. They were extraordinarily successful in preventing the Canucks from turning possession into opportunities from the scoring area but there's also no question they were playing with fire. A talented offensive club like Vancouver usually won't have many games like that one in which they're able to control the pace but fail to create quality looks. San Jose will need to spend more time in the Canucks' end tonight, a feat that's definitely within reach given the mismatches that should be created by the Sharks' depth lines facing the Canucks' new-look third and fourth units.
Projected Sharks Lineup
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Raffi Torres
T.J. Galiardi - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Andrew Desjardins - Joe Pavelski - Tommy Wingels
Tim Kennedy - Adam Burish - James Sheppard
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Scott Hannan - Brad Stuart
Projected Canucks Lineup
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Derek Roy - Ryan Kesler
Mason Raymond - Maxim Lapierre - Zack Kassian
Dale Weise - Andrew Ebbett - Jannik Hansen
Dan Hamhuis - Jason Garrison
Alex Edler - Kevin Bieksa
Andrew Alberts - Frank Corrado