Sharks Gameday: Pick your Poison
@7:30 PM PST
|36-25-5, 77 points||42-14-9, 93 points |
|7th in Western Conference ||1st in Western Conference |
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As Plank explored yesterday, this 8 day stretch is going to be difficult. Three of the Sharks next six games are against playoff teams, and four are against teams which are currently fighting for their playoff lives.
The first of these games comes against a team that has given the Sharks relative headaches all year. Not migraines, but definitely a few Tylenol worth. The Nashville Predators have played some hotly contested games against San Jose so far this season, staring with a 4-3 squeaker in San Jose where the Sharks came out on top. Interestingly enough, the next two games against the Predators were decided by a 4-3 score as well; Nashville won at home on November 10th, followed by a San Jose Sharks win in Nashville on February 6th. So, although the Sharks have a 2-1-0 record against the Predators this season, they've only outscored them 11-10.
Why have the Predators given the Sharks so much trouble? Well, they fit the bill of the type of team that gives Sharks problems. They have a solid defensive unit, an industrious group of forwards, and a forecheck that disrupts the Sharks ability to move the puck up on the rush. Other teams like the Predators? Think Columbus, Phoenix, and St. Louis. While these are teams the Sharks should beat consistently, their style of play usually results in a closer game than expected.
Still, the Predators remain my preferred first round opponent.
According to Sports Club Stats, the Predators have a 30% and 21% chance of finishing in the seventh or eighth seed, respectively. The Sharks (now a 100% lock to make the playoffs, woot!), have a 62% chance of finishing first overall and a 35% chance of finishing second. That results in a 15.5% chance of facing the Predators as the top seed, or a 10.5% chance of facing them if Chicago overtakes San Jose in points. So, we're looking at one in four odds of facing Nashville in the first round. (Odds calculated under the assumption that the events are independent of each other)
Don't get me wrong, Nashville is a solid squad with some stars on defense. Shea Weber is one of the best blue liners in the league (although he might not play tonight), and he and Ryan Suter make up one of the most lethal pairings in the NHL. Dan Hamhuis, a guy who was pursued heavily at the trade deadline, headlines the remaining corps that now includes deadline acquisition Denis Grebeshkov (who also won't be playing, as he's out until mid-March). When healthy, they're scary on the back end.
However, scoring remains somewhat of an issue for the Predators, who by most accounts have a weak offensive crop of forwards. Martin Erat leads the team in points with 41, Patrick Hornqvist has a team high 23 goals, while Ryan Suter and Steve Sullivan share the assist lead with 27. Stalwart Jason Arnot has chipped in 39 points, and NHL surprise Marcel Goc (who I wanted to resign, by the way) has matched his career high of 22 points. Tip toeing the line between confident and total douche, I'm going to quote myself:
All in all, I'm not ready to give up on Goc. I think he's a good player. He might never put up the offensive numbers that a top six forward would, but that's not what I'm looking for. I want a solid, two way player who chips in some offense here and there. 11 points isn't nearly enough, but I think we can expect good things from Gocthis year. With consistent line mates, a 30 point season isn't out of the question. It's time for him to live up to the hype.
Although Goc and others have exceeded expectations, the numbers behind the Predators' don't look great. Even with Pekka Rinne (22-13-8, 2.79 GAA, .901 SV%), Dan Ellis (14-12-3 2.59 GAA, .913 SV%) and the defensive unit playing well for a Nashville team many thought would miss the playoffs, the Predators are 20th in goals allowed per game. In fact, they're giving up more goals per game (2.80) than they score (2.71). With the roster they've assembled, you'd think those stats would be the other way around.
The Sharks on the other hand, with all the percieved defensive issues, allow the fewest goals per game of any team: 2.37. As far as offense goes, San Jose sits in fourth (3.17).
Although I fully expect a close game tonight, the Predators just don't match up well against the Sharks in the playoffs. Both Rinne and Ellis are capable of stealing a game, but I doubt either could best a San Jose Sharks offense that sits among the league's elite. The lack of scoring won't do Nashville any favors either, especially if Nabokov plays like the NHL version, and not the Olympic version.
All in all, though, I just wrote the above on a 1/4 chance that it comes to fruition. Here's hoping it does.
Prediction: Sharks win 4-3. It was too easy. Goals by McGinn, Marleau and Pavelski (x2). Goc nets a hat trick and I cry myself to sleep.