Sharks Gameday: Anxious Arms
|45-27-6, 96 points||46-23-9, 101 points |
|4th in Western Conference ||3rd in Western Conference |
| || |
| || |
Battle of California
Jewels From The Crown
Of all the potential storylines Los Angeles could have envisioned coming into this season, last on the list would have to be losing Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams in a matter of three games heading into the postseason. As many have stated before, it has put quite a damper on the team's chances in April, chances that many expected to be ones filled with the potential of a Stanley Cup run.
The good news is that Justin Williams skated yesterday, albeit with a harness for a shoulder and a noncontact jersey. The bad news is that Kopitar is done for the season, with a midsummer return date set for him to resume training. It puts a lot of strain on a roster that has already struggled immensely with scoring goals this season (2.62 G/GP, 22nd in NHL).
The silver lining in all of this, and again, this has been covered ad nauseum by just about every other outlet you can imagine, is that the Kings defensive core is one of the best in the League at limiting opportunities against. Players like Willie Mitchell (Willie Mitchell!), Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi, and Jack Johnson all comprise an elite top four group, one that has allowed a mere 27.8 SA/GP (good for 3rd in the NHL). Coupled with an excellent goaltending tandem of Jonathan Bernier and Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles' role as a first round spoiler isn't quite over yet.
The Kings likely don't have the depth to make a deep run, but as we saw last season in the first round against Colorado (and throughout the Eastern Conference Finals during Montreal's march), a team can survive on stellar goaltending and make things interesting with some timely goals. Furthermore, Los Angeles' defensive unit is much more dangerous than the 2010 Avalanche and Canadiens-- the shots against won't be as plentiful, and forwards such as Dustin Penner, Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll, and Dustin Brown do provide a glimmer of hope going forward.
I had Los Angeles pegged as a team who could do some real damage in the postseason this year, and although the loss of Kopitar does shake that confidence, they're still not a team who is going to be a pushover. With San Jose yet again being knocked out of the two seed by virtue of a Red Wings win, two points are still an important goal for the Sharks tonight. And the Kings are as good a test as any San Jose will get down the stretch.
David Pollak had some updates from practice yesterday after that wild 4-2 win over Anaheim on Saturday that saw the Sharks score four unanswered goals to win the game. Of primary concern was Murray's hit on Lubomir Visnovsky, which Murray correctly called a hockey play that had an unfortunate side effect of sending the stellar Ducks defenseman to the locker room. Visnovsky returned to play yesterday however, scoring a goal in a 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars.
Ryane Clowe and Joe Thornton did not skate at practice yesterday, taking part in the perennial maintenance days that begin to increase in locker rooms across the league this time of year. It's assumed both will be in the lineup tonight.
Thornton did not take any draws against the Ducks, occupying the winger position on the faceoff. Following the draw Thornton would shift to play his natural position of center while Marleau would slide on to the wing. Coach McLellan responded to my question about this tactic after the game, indicating that he felt giving Marleau more practice in the dot would be beneficial for the penalty kill.
"We wanted Patty to work a little bit more in the faceoff circle. Jumbo's had a good season there," McLellan said. "That's part of our penalty kill, Patty has to take a lot of them [faceoffs], so he'll get more opportunities here down the stretch. I think by putting him in that situation it's going to help our penalty kill."
Marleau was strong in the circles against Anaheim, winning 60% of his draws over the course of the night. Out of the seven shorthanded faceoffs San Jose took on Saturday, Marleau went 1 for 1.
The penalty kill, which was the focus of two articles on Fear The Fin last week, has managed to turn their play around in their last three games. They were perfect against Phoenix and Dallas (going 5 for 5), and went 3 for 4 against the Ducks, giving a mere three shots on net during four power plays. As we've examined, the number of penalties called during the regular season does not differ from the number called during the postseason, and considering San Jose's struggles shorthanded since their sixtieth game of the year, an increased proficiency at killing penalties is nothing but a good sign for the team going forward.
Another Divisional game on deck for the Sharks, another chance to keep pace with Detroit and stay in control of their own destiny when it comes to the two seed. Potential first round dates are a muddy affair right now, but all four of San Jose's remaining games could conceivably come against a potential first round opponent.
You can feel the postseason coming. Hell, for all intents and purposes, it's already here.
Prediction: Sharks win 2-1. Goals by White and Demers. Willie Mitchell goes coast to coast and scores on a slick backhander for Los Angeles' lone goal of the game.