The Sharks clinched the #2 seed in the Western Conference with a commanding victory over the Phoenix Coyotes in their regular season finale in San Jose.
With four potential playoff opponents going into the last day of regular season games, the Sharks could have been matched up with the Coyotes, Blackhawks, Predators or Kings. With the Blackhawks loss to Detroit and the Stars’ inability to get the win that would have eliminated the Blackhawks from playoff contention, the Sharks will play the Kings in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
During the regular season the Sharks were 3-1-2 against the Kings. The final contest between the two teams was a blowout as the Sharks won 6-1.
While injuries to the Kings two leading scorers, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, appear to make this series an easy one for the Sharks, the Kings are a team quite similar to the Anaheim Ducks of ’09 and the Blackhawks from ’10 that ousted the Sharks.
All three of these teams have a very strong veteran defensive corps and the ability to score timely goals. Rob Scuderi, Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell and Jack Johnson (no, not the singer) play great shutdown defense. Ryan Smyth, though past his prime is a force around the net and can make big-time plays in pressure situations. Dustin Penner, a trade-deadline acquisition from the Oilers, is another big body with great hands that can cause goaltenders fits.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick is eerily reminiscent of Jonas Hiller (’09) and Anti Niemi (’10) in the sense that he is young and unproven, but has shown flashes of brilliance during the regular season when he could take over games.
The Kings will be a formidable opponent. They will aggressively forecheck to put increased pressure on our Defensemen and will collapse into a tight defensive shell in their own zone.
In order for the Sharks to win this series, they must stick to their system and play to their strengths. This means being patient with the puck, not forcing passes that aren’t there and moving the puck quickly around the offensive zone to force the Kings’ defense out of position.
Defensively a strong back-check should eliminate most of the Kings’ best scoring chances.
The Sharks will have the puck the majority of the time, they must stay patient and not get into an open-transition game that will feed the Kings offense.
The Sharks have better forwards, slightly worse defense and a more experienced goaltender.
If the Sharks play their game and don’t allow themselves to get frustrated with the difficulty of scoring against a tough defensive system, they too will play sound defensive hockey and ultimately the skill of the Sharks will out-match the Kings and lead to a victory.
My prediction: Sharks in 5