After Saturday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings the playoff matchups were set in the Western Conference. The Sharks ended up clinching the sixth spot in the conference, pitting them against the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs for the second time ever. The first time these two met it did go all too well for San Jose, but this time may be different.
The first game of the series comes on Wednesday at 7:30pm in Vancouver. Here is the whole schedule below, courtesy of SI.com
Game 1: at VAN, Wed., May 1, 10:30 p.m.
Game 2: at VAN, Fri., May 3, 10 p.m.
Game 3: at SJ, Sun., May 5, 10 p.m.
Game 4: at SJ, Tue., May 7, 10 p.m.
Game 5: at VAN, Thu., May 9, 10 p.m.
Game 6: at SJ, Sat., May 11, TBD
Game 7: at VAN, Mon., May 13, TBD
The Sharks were the better team during the regular season, going 3-0-0 against the Canucks. Joe Thornton and Jannik Hansen led all skaters in the series with four points each. Thornton had two goals and two assists while Hansen, a defenseman, scored one goal and three assists. San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi won all three games for San Jose while Cory Schneider lost all three games for the Canucks. While we can no doubt learn some things from the regular season series, we all know that the playoffs are a totally different beast, so the fact that the Sharks swept the Canucks in the regular season his little meaning.
Regular Season Leaders
Overall, both teams have very talented offenses, and their stats showed it. For the Canucks it was the Sedin twins leading the way as always. Henrik Sedin led the team with 11 goals and 34 assists for 45 total points. His 34 assists ranked him tied for fifth-best in the league. His brother Daniel Sedin had 12 goals and 28 assists for 40 total points.
For San Jose is was captain Joe Thornton who led the team with 40 total points throughout the season. He had seven goals and 33 assists, with those assists also good enough to crack the top ten in the league.
Young centerman Logan Couture was the team’s leading goal scorer and second highest point-getter with 21 goals and 16 assists for 37 points. Overall, San Jose had only three players break the double-digit goals barrier while the Canucks had six guys do it.
Matchup By Position
Forwards: Vancouver is one of the strongest teams up the middle as far as centermen go with the Sharks right up there with them. The offensive firepower both teams possess could make for a couple of shootouts if the goalies are not on top of their games however neither team has really lived up to their potential offensively. Still, the Sharks offense has picked up since the movement of Brent Burns to the forward position allowing for more depth among San Jose’s four lines.
No Edge, Push
Defensemen: Both defensive corps have plenty of offensive firepower when you look at Hansen and Dan Hamhuis for the Canucks and Matt Irwin and Dan Boyle for the Sharks. Both teams have very aggressive defenses in the offensive end but are still some of the better units in the league.
The Canucks’ defense was top 10 in the league allowing 2.4 goals per game, even with the circus going on in net behind them. Jason Garrison has a gaudy +18 plus-minus rating while teammates Hansen and Hamhuis, the top defensive pair on the team, have combined for a +21.
On San Jose’s end we have seen the defense look incredible during some games, then pretty awful in others. They can struggle at times to move the puck out of the defensive zone and with a potent Canucks offense you do not want to be trapped in your own zone. However, they are one of the best teams in the league at blocking shots which can be very underrated sometimes, especially in terms of helping out your goalie.
Edge to the Canucks
Goaltenders: Antti Niemi has been lights out all season and because of it is a Vezina candidate. He is tied for first with 24 wins and is top ten in goals against, save percentage, shots faced, minutes and shutouts. You name it, he’s done it, and without his the Sharks may not even be in the playoffs.
On the other side of the ice the Canucks first choice, Cory Schneider, is a bit banged up and his status for Wednesday is still up in the air. Schneider does have a league high 5 shutouts this season and a .927 save percentage (which is better than Niemi) but in 12 less starts. If he is unable to go then Roberto Luongo, who has had quite the resurgence in net this season, will get the call.
Edge to the Sharks
Special Teams: San Jose’s penalty kill has been vastly improved over last year’s disaster, and the team has benefited greatly. They finished in sixth place, although that should have been higher if not for the poor penalty killing that occurred at the end of the season. Their power play is good at seventh in the league scoring just over 20% of the time and seems to score timely goals, especially late in games, making it quite the weapon.
Vancouver’s power play has struggled all season, and with all the firepower they possess, that is a bit of a concern. Their penalty kill was very good though finishing eighth in the league so their special teams are not by any means a liability. Besides, during a series a power play unit can get hot, and the Canucks have the offense to make it happen.
Slight Edge to the Sharks
Miscellaneous: I wanted to bring three things to attention, face-off, turnovers and physicality.
The Sharks are one of the best faceoff teams in the league finishing second best in the NHL this season. The Canucks, on the other hand, have not been great this year (25th in the league), especially after their top face-off man Manny Malhotra got injured early on into the season.
Face-off dominance may seem trivial, but for the way the Sharks play offense they need the puck. Also, the more San Jose possess the puck the less the Canucks have it.
One of San Jose’s most glaring weaknesses all season has been turnovers. In fact, the Sharks were third worst this season at giving the puck away, although they were at least able to make up for it be being great at taking the puck away as well. The Canucks on the other hand are much better at taking care of the puck and are also very adept at taking the puck away sitting in the top ten in that category. Too many giveaways to the Canucks could spell disaster.
Neither team is very dominating physically but both have been known to bring it. Both rank in the bottom third in terms of hitting but with no love lost between the two teams expect them to pick up the hitting in this first round.
Slight Edge to the Sharks
After the breakdown it has confirmed my initial thought that the Sharks were the better team. Not by much, mind you, but enough for me to pick them to win the series. To me, the longer the series goes the more it favors San Jose, and I do not really seeing the Canucks winning this thing in four or five games. They do not possess a huge advantage in any category for that to happen. If I had to choose, I pick the Sharks in six although I would not be surprised to see the series go all the way to seven games.
Sharks in 6