Now that the Sharks have booked their spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it's time to play the matchup game. There are, mathematically speaking, five teams with a greater than .01 percent chance of meeting up with San Jose in the first round. As of this writing, they are: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Nashville, Minnesota and Chicago.
It's going to be, in all likelihood, L.A. or Anaheim. At this moment, the Ducks have a slight edge on the Kings in the Pacific division race, making the Kings the most likely first-round opponent for San Jose. The two southern Californian teams meet once more before the season is over, a game that may very well decide who wins the division.
There is a scenario where the Sharks manage to storm to the top of the division and capture the title, but in keeping with realism, if the choice is the Kings or the Ducks who should Sharks fans want to face? It's a lot like choosing between a knee-destroying rock and a mumps-filled boulder in that both are terrifying and difficult to defeat. Let's start with the numbers.
In terms of possession, there's no contest here. The Kings have the best even strength, score-adjusted fenwick-for percentage in the league (56.2) while the Ducks are third (53.8). San Jose comes in at fourth (53.3) while Nashville is second (54). The Sharks won three out of five games against Los Angeles this year while going 1-3 against the Ducks, which is more something to note than it is something to bet on.
The Kings hold the edge in goaltending, too, as the team is eighth in the NHL in even strength save percentage this year. Anaheim languishes near the bottom, while the Sharks only recently began to climb towards respectability in this category. Anaheim controls the special teams. At the time of this writing the Ducks (by rate, which I realize is flawed) hold the best power-play percentage and the best penalty-kill percentage in the NHL.
From a matchup perspective, I like the Sharks' chances against the Ducks better than the Kings for a couple of reasons. The first being that the Kings are just a better hockey team and it shows in the playoffs. While Anaheim holds a special teams edge, the referee's propensity to swallow their whistles come playoff time lessens its importance to me — not to mention the Sharks are no slouches on the power play (the penalty kill not so much).
Then there's the physicality. The Kings seem do a good job taking a very rough game to the Sharks, the kind of game that has seen Marc Edouard-Vlasic knocked out of series, while the Ducks aggravator-shit doesn't (usually) work too well against San Jose. Neither of these matchups are great for the Sharks, or for anyone else for that matter. Three of the best five teams in the NHL are coming from the Pacific this year, and at least one of them is going to have to lose in the first round. That sucks.
Unless it's the Ducks. In which case it's freaking awesome.