The Long and Winding Road
If you remember all the way back to February, FTF took a look at the bubble boys of the Western Conference. It's purpose was to see who the Sharks would draw in the first round.
Funny how things change.
St. Louis wasn't even on the list, and only a Chris Mason shutout on the final game of the season against the Colorado Avalanche prevented the Note from heading to San Jose. Pronger was predicted to be headed out East at the deadline. Now? He's one of a multitude of things that will be giving San Jose headaches during the upcoming series.
After the jump we'll take a look at how the season series played out and see if we can find some key matchups for what's shaping up to be one whale of a series.
Two days to go ladies and gentlemen.
Hold onto your butts.
| ||Dec.|| GF || GA ||PPG||PPop.||PPGA|| TS || SF || SA ||EVGD|
|Game One||W (H)||4||1||2||7||0||2||41||29||+1|
|Game Two||L (A)||0||4||0||7||1||7||38||20||-3|
|Game Three||W (H)||2||0||0||3||0||5||27||31||+2|
|Game Four||W (A)||1||0||1||4||0||4||30||34||+1|
|Game Five||L (H)||2||5||1||3||1||1||30||28||-3|
|Game Six||W (A)||3||2||2||7||1||2||26||21||0|
| TOTAL ||4-2-0||12||12||6||31||3||21||192||163||-2|
- No team has won a game by being outscored at even strength. On the same token, no team has won without at least drawing even on special teams. Call it a wash?
- Shots (and most likely scoring opportunities) were in the Sharks favor during 2008, while it has been much closer in that department during the last four tilts. Bears resemblance to the Sharks overall play this season.
There has been only one game where the Sharks have had less power play opportunities than the Ducks. Seems like a trend. It's been mentioned here and there throughout the comments, but for the sake of mass consumption we will reiterate- a tightly officialed series will be beneficial to the Sharks, while a typical "let the players play" series will benefit the Ducks. The profoundness of that statement is shocking, no?/
In reality only games five and six will be able tell us anything about the series; Anaheim's roster went through a fairly major overhaul at the trade deadline.
Getzlaf's bald noggin is scary, but it's his line that really frightens me. In terms of shutting them down, I liked the promise of Moen-Goc-Grier in that it did two things. For starters, it put defensively oriented players together who play heavy PK minutes. With the last change in San Jose, McLellan would have ample opportunity to match this line up against them more the majority of shifts. On a second note, it gave us a good man from the dot to win faceoffs and keep the puck out of our zone.
However, David Pollak is now reporting that Cheechoo will be replacing Mike Grier on that line. Cheech's skating ability makes me a little wary to include him in a shutdown line- the speed of Ryan and Perry on the wings could cause some issues in our defensive zone. From what I can garner from this print edition piece, it seems we may see top line against top line (Getzlaf v. Thornton). I'm comfortable with that, while at the same time a bit disappointed- having Moen, Goc, and Grier eat minutes against Getzlaf has the potential to give our top tandem better looks in the offensive zone, especially when you factor in the last change that will be alloted in San Jose.
Regardless of the match up, Getzlaf's line is the horsepower in Anaheim's offensive engine- shut them down, and the Ducks fairly porous secondary scoring will be hard-pressed to keep them in games. Pavelski, Michalek, and Clowe will be instrumental in taking the load off Big Joe's shoulders, as he'll probably be drawing top dog Captain Elbows. The second line just might be the ones who send us to the second round.
When it comes to the blueline, let's roll out the ol' sports cliches- defense wins championships. Both teams are fairly well stacked in that regard, and I go from giving the nod to Anaheim back to giving the nod to San Jose on a minute-by-minute basis. Pronger and Niedermayer are going to eat big minutes for the Ducks, while Boyle and Vlasic will do the same for San Jose. It's really the depth where things get interesting.
For the Sharks, Christian Ehrhoff is going to be the key here. There's no real need to explain why- he's been inconsistent this season, and yet possesses the tools to be a huge difference maker, maybe even a series changer. With Francoise Beauchemin returning and Ryan Whitney looking to regain last season's playoff form, it's going to be essential that Ehrhoff ends up putting his best foot forward. He might be the X Factor, at least on the Sharks blueline- it's hard to imagine Blake or Boyle making too many mistakes, Vlasic will be rock solid as he has been all year, Murray's skating won't be too much of an issue against the lines he will most likely draw etc. If Ehrhoff elevates his game the Sharks will be looking very good indeed.
As for the sixth defensemen, I've been a bit underwhelmed by Brad Lukowich since he came back from surgery. He's made some bad reads behind the net and in the neutral zone, something that wasn't happening in the early part of the year. Semenov is a big body that could be useful against Anaheim, and he has improved immensely this season. All that being said I'm wary to see him dressed. If you're going to give him starts (which is pretty unlikely, at least until the series gets underway and McLellan can reassess his pairing performance), you'd have to think it's at home and not in Anaheim. Kent Huskins is a nice idea, but I think he may be in the same boat as Torrey Mitchell- do you play a guy who hasn't suited up for a single game with the team all year? Especially in the playoffs? It's a risky maneuver, and one you might take when you have a decent cushion in a series- say game five at home up 3-1. Anything before that would be surprising and maybe a little haphazard.
Goaltending? It's pretty simple in my opinion- Hiller is going to play well and keep the Ducks in games, Nabokov is going to play well and keep the Sharks in games while stealing a couple along the way. They're both good goaltenders, but Nabby can be great. I like how it looks in this department, even though Jiggy waiting on the bench could be a wildcard. We'll see.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room- San Jose hasn't scored an even strength goal in 222 minutes. That's three non-OT playoff games and a healthy chunk of a fourth. Yikes.
It's disheartening, and it hasn't been the Sharks strong point all season. We've touched on it's importance here, as well as in other assorted posts throughout the year. Click that link if you need an explanation.
Even Strength Stats
|GF (5v5)||GF(4v4)||GF(3v3)||TotalGF||GA(5v5)||GA(4v4)||GA(3v3)||TotalGA||Goal Dif.|
A three goal differential advantage over the course of 82 games is really nothing to fret about, but when San Jose has shown chinks in the offensive armor it's been during the course of even strength play. Relying on the power play to get you through a series, let alone a deep playoff run, is not a very comforting idea at all.
That being said, Anaheim does take a lot of penalties (4th in NHL), and their PK hasn't helped them out at all this year, currently resting at 23rd in the NHL. It killed them against Dallas last season in the first round and could be their achilles heel for the second straight. If 5 v 5 continues to sputter for San Jose, that just may be the ticket to the second round.
All in all, the Sharks scoring depth matches up very nicely when compared to Anaheim. San Jose's in a position where Big Joe and Patty could be relatively quiet on the scoresheet and still win the series; outplaying Anaheim's top line is not necessary, but breaking even with them will be.
To put it in perspective- six twenty goal scorers on San Jose, four on Anaheim. Ten skaters with double digits on San Jose, seven on Anaheim. Go point for point with Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan, and there's going to be a favorable window to the second round. Selanne has looked like he's found a new gear the last ten games, but I'm not too sure he has a consistent pivot man that can set him up with enough scoring chances to outplay Michalek, Clowe, and Pavelski.
It's going to be a rough ride, but I like our chances.