Sharks look to continue success against Jimmy Howard
The Sharks have faced plenty of good goaltending over the last three postseasons.
2009, the year of San Jose's stunning first round exit, Anaheim Ducks starter Jonas Hiller was able to hold their offense to just 10 goals over a six game period. In 2010 the Sharks saw Craig Anderson, then of the Colorado Avalanche, put up a .933 save percentage in six games. Incredibly, Anderson was able to stop 223 of the 239 shots San Jose threw at him, despite his team losing four of six games.
And even though Antti Niemi is now in the crease for the Sharks, he didn't do them any favors last year. In the Western Conference Finals, Niemi allowed just seven goals on 136 shots to lead his Chicago Blackhawks to a four game sweep.
This year, Jonathan Quick took his turn being the first round thorn in San Jose's side. His numbers don't quite tell the whole story, but Quick and a stingy Los Angeles defense gave the Sharks plenty of issues.
There has been one goaltender, though, that the Sharks seem to have figured out, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.
Luckily for them, that goaltender happens to be employed by their second round opponent.
Jimmy Howard is can be a very good goaltender, as his .916 career save percentage and Calder Trophy nomination last year suggest. However the San Jose Sharks appear to have his number; their past successes against him attest to that.
Last postseason, the Sharks started hot against Howard and his Red Wings, scoring four goals in three straight wins to start the series. His performance in game two was likely his finest of those three, stopping 41 of the 45 shots he faced.
With Detroit then facing elimination, Howard definitely tightened up his play, allowing just three goals total in two games. That proved to be plenty for San Jose though, who beat Detroit 2-1 at HP Pavilion in game five to close out the series and advance to the Western Conference Finals for only the second time in their history.
San Jose continued their successes against Howard this regular season, going 2-1 against the Red Wings with Howard in net. The record only tells half the story, what's more telling is his 4.08 GAA and .887 save percentage against team teal.
How has San Jose beaten Howard? Rookie forward Logan Couture, who has three goals in eight career games against him, walked through his team's historical approach against the Detroit netminder after Thursday's practice.
"He's a good goalie, playing on a great team," said Couture. "He's good down low, I think with the goals we've beat him on they've been to his glove. He takes out the bottom of the net well, he's quick... really quick feet."
Joe Pavelski, who had four goals in five playoff games against Howard last year, also commented on the goalie's strength with the pads.
"He's really good down low," agreed Pavelski, "so you have to be ready to pounce on second and third opportunities. He's on the top of his game, so we're going to have to get traffic in front of him and pucks to him."
Pavelski is right; Howard has been very good so far this postseason. A .915 save percentage was enough to get his team through to the second round, with a sweep no less. Sharks coach Tod McLellan has noticed. His comments about Howard today echoed much of his diatribe about the series in general; if San Jose expects the same Red Wings team as last year, they're going to be in for some dissapointment.
"There again, that's a change from last year," stated McLellan when asked about Howard. "He's a year older, a year stronger, he's been through some playoff series. Jimmy has had a very good season. His team is very comfortable playing in front of him and I know he has some very good coaching over there. He'll be ready to play."
San Jose, including their own netminder Antti Niemi, will also be ready to play when the puck drops on Friday night. Although this series against the Red Wings may be miles different than last, you can bet that the Sharks would love to have the same results.