Alright, let's get this out of the way. No matter what writers elsewhere may be selling this game as ("The Sharks continued pursuit of the Pacific Division crown" or "A potential first round preview"), know that this game is pretty much for sure a first round preview. The latest numbers have the Ducks at a 95% chance of winning the Pacific, and unless their goalies stop saving darn-near everything sent their way, or Corey Perry stops scoring on one out of every five shots he takes (much like Joe Pavelski), they're not giving that top spot up. So, instead of fantasizing about a first round matchup with the Ducks--one which the Sharks would likely dominate--we must focus on our actual likely first round opponent: the LA Kings (though here's to hoping we get to Anaheim in the second round, ey?).
Let me tell you all a story. So, there's this team that's really good. Their depth on both the forward lines and the blue line is exceptional, their goaltending can be pretty great at times, they just have a tendency to not score many goals. So, at the trade deadline, they pick up a guy who can help score a lot of goals, and they go on to finish the regular season very strong, and they win the Stanley Cup. That's the story of the 2012 Cup-winning LA Kings, as they went out to acquire downtrodden-scorer Jeff Carter from his unhappy life in Columbus, and went on to annihilate anyone in their path on the way to winning Lord Stanley's hardware. Unfortunately enough, that also seems to be how this year's LA Kings are going, what with their acquisition of Marian Gaborik, again, from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and their recent tear through all who fcae them.
As we all know, San Jose did not acquire any great players at the deadline (their one move being trading AHLer James Livingston to tonight's opponent), though some have compared James "Commander" Sheppard's rejuvenated play as third line center to a deadline acquisition. So, let's compare LA and SJ's big additions from the deadline. Both the Kings and Sharks have played fourteen games since the trade deadline. Over that time, Marian Gaborik has ten points, whereas Jimmy Shep has nine. When you look at it that way, it seems like the additions are relatively close, but digging deeper shows how disparate they really are.
A good way of predicting a team's future success, when dealing with small-ish sample sizes, is to look at their even strength shot attempt numbers. Taking a look at the Kings shot attempt numbers since the deadline, we see that they've controlled 58.3% of all even strength shot attempts in score close situations ("score close" meaning "the game is tied or within one goal in the first or second periods or tied in the third period"), while facing opponents who, on average, let opposing teams attempt 52% of all even strength shot attempts while in score close situations. Thats' a 6.3% difference in what the average team does against who the Kings have faced in their last fourteen games, and what the Kings themselves have actually done. Basically, they're possessing the puck at a substantially higher rate than would be expected, given their opposition.
And while the Sharks numbers are pretty good in this same sort of analysis (in fourteen games since the deadline, the Sharks have averaged 54.3% of even strength, score close shot attempts, going against teams who allow, on average, 52.2% of even strength, score close shot attempts, leaving a 2.1% differential), they simply don't match up to LA's. Much like we saw with Burns being reinserted into the lineup after his gum-injury earlier in the season, not only has Gaborik's addition to the Kings' lineup improved their top line, it's also put other members of their roster into more suitable roles, such as Dustin "I'm paid way too much for what I provide to a team, and that's ruining my opposition's young stars' knees" Brown being slid onto LA's third line, where he and Jarret Stoll are making a third line that is excelling at possessing the puck. Simply enough, the Sharks main hope in a series against LA was the fact that the Sharks' offensive depth promised to be way better than LA's, when looking at things at the beginning of the year. With the Gaborik addition though, the Sharks are going to have to:
1) Hope that Torres comes back healthy
2) Get Tyler Kennedy to turn his playoff-time-clutch-ometer up to 10
3) Slide Pavelski back down to third line center
if they want any hope of matching the newfound offensive depth the LA Kings suddenly have.
The numbers obviously don't paint too optimistic of a picture for the Sharks in this impending series, but let's all hope tonight's game changes that.
PREDICTION: Sharks win 10-0. After receiving a hard hit from Marty Havlat, of all people, Dustin Brown dazedly plays the rest of the game, kneeing the rest of LA's roster, effectively removing all of their players from the game. Hertl magically joins the game at this point, and goes on to score 10 goals, as Dustin Brown foolishly attempts to knee one of the side boards.
(on the real though, how is this game not going to be a one goal game?)
|45-26-6, 96 points
||48-20-9, 105 points|
|3rd in Pacific
||2nd in Pacific
Projected Sharks Lineup
Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels
Matt Nieto - James Sheppard - Tyler Kennedy
Marty Havlat - Andrew Desjardins - Mike Brown
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers
Brad Stuart - Justin Braun
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Projected Kings Lineup
Marian Gaborik - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Tanner Pearson - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli
Jordan Nolan - Jarret Stoll - Dustin Brown
Kyle Clifford - Mike Richards - Trevor Lewis
Jake Muzzin - Drew Doughty
Robyn Regehr - Slava Voynov
Willie Mitchell - Alec Martinez