Joe Thornton, Joe Pavekski and Brent Burns carried the Sharks past the Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Friday night, Logan Couture, Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi took the Sharks to victory against the Nashville Predators. If the Sharks wanted to set a tone in game one of the second-round series, they did it.
San Jose relied on the top line all season long, and Tomas Hertl and company played a great game, but the power and tenacity of the second line dominated all night long. We saw it in the scoring and the possession stats match up with the eye test in what can only be described as a thoroughly satisfying performance by team teal.
The above chart, from the excellent hockeyviz.com, shows even strength shots both for and against for every player. Couture's line stands out for not only playing a fine offensive game but also limiting shots on Martin Jones. At even strength, the second line got 50 percent of their zone starts in the offensive zone, so their success doesn't stem from sheltering by Pete DeBoer.
Ward led all skaters in corsi differential with a +14 and Couture and Donskoi each chipped in a +13 to round out the top three. They absolutely feasted on the Mike Ribeiro line, as shown in this chart, and made Roman Josi and Shea Weber look absolutely pedestrian.
While the second line played a solid game all night long, this is all about a great individual effort from Ward. He gets a great pass from Donskoi, who got a solid pass from Brent Burns, and then does the rest. Ward has scored some impressive goals this season, but this might be his best. He makes a slick move with his hands here and holds onto the puck just long enough to beat Pekka Rinne.
Couture played 18 minutes on Friday night, tied for the second-highest amongst San Jose forwards with Thornton, and looked every bit as dominant as he did during the regular season. It's probably unfair to refer to Couture as a depth forward, in truth. His return to the Sharks helped lift San Jose back into a playoff spot and took them from a bubble team to a serious contender.
He scored a beauty of a power play goal to (sort of) ice the game and then actually iced it by actually scoring an empty net goal! Not just a great game, Couture exorcised some demons by scoring a goal on an empty net, something he struggled to do a few years back.
Donskoi, Ward and Couture combined to play an absolutely phenomenal game. The Sharks will need contributions from the top line to win this series, but if the second and third lines show up to play from here on out San Jose is in good position to get back to the conference finals.