After a few upsets in the Western Conference during round one, including the Anaheim Ducks defeat at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings last night, the San Jose Sharks are now scheduled to take on SoCal rival and defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles. The Chicago Blackhawks were the only top-four team to survive the first round with the five, six and seven seeds defeating their higher ranked opponents. The fifth-seeded Kings were one of those teams.
During the regular season the Sharks were 2-2 against the Kings with one of those wins coming in the shootout. Because of that, the Kings record was 2-1-1. Both teams were pretty evenly matched during the regular season, but the playoffs is a whole new season. Now we break down the series by position.
San Jose has some of the best depth in the league, especially when it comes to the center position. With Joe Pavelski (four goals, four assists) centering the third line and leading the team with eight points in four games, you’d be hard pressed to find a team that can match up with San Jose without leaving themselves vulnerable somewhere else.
Logan Couture was the other Sharks with eight points (three goals, five assists) in that first round while his linemate Patrick Marleau quietly scored a goal in each of the four games. Then there’s Joe Thornton, who centered the other line and racked up six points (all assists) during the series.
On the Kings’ side it was Mike Richards who led the team with five points (all assists) in what was a low-scoring and physically demanding first round against the St. Louis Blues. Meanwhile, Jeff Carter did what he always does; score goals. He led the team with three goals during their first round series and will be looking to do the same against San Jose.
While the Kings may not be as offensively gifted as the Sharks, they are definitely a tougher, grittier team, one that showed some great resolve in their series even after going down 2-0 at home to the Blues. With that being said, they are still an offense that can score in bunches if the Sharks are not careful.
San Jose’s defensive corps has not been as high-scoring as it has been in recent years, but it’s dangerous nonetheless, especially with veteran Dan Boyle. Boyle had four points (one goal and three assists) for the Sharks in their first round series and is the key to San Jose’s power play, one which made the Canucks pay time after time for their undisciplined play.
While the Kings certainly do not possess the offensive firepower the blue-line that the Canucks had, they have a few guys who are dangerous nonetheless. Enter Slava Voynov and Drew Doughty, who were sixth and seventh on the team in points this season. Voynov showcased his offensive skills by scoring two goals against the Blues while Doughty had three points in the series as well.
Antti Niemi’s Vezina candidacy speaks for itself, as Niemi was stellar for San Jose in its four-game sweep of the Vancouver Canucks. Every time the Sharks needed a save, he came up big.
But, as good as Niemi was in his series, Jonathan Quick was even better for the Kings. He posted a 1.58 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage, and he only allowed 12 goals in seven games. He looked like the goalie we saw last year during the Kings’ Stanley Cup run. If he continues to play like he did in round one it could prove very difficult to beat Los Angeles.
Perhaps the biggest thing for the Sharks coming into this series will be rest, since they will have to play another physically demanding series against the Kings. It could also prove important as far as injuries are concerned with Jason Demers possibly coming back from an injury he sustained almost a month ago now.
As far as Martin Havlat and Adam Burish go, however, things are not looking too good. Burish has already been ruled out of the second round although he may be able to return to the playoffs if the Sharks go any deeper. Meanwhile, Havlat’s status for the second round is considered doubtful although he has begun skating again.
As I said earlier, the Sharks will face a physically dominating team in the Kings, one that was led in hits by their captain Dustin Brown. He managed to rack up 31 hits in the series against the Blues, bringing his average to just over five hits per game.
During the regular season the Kings were one of the most physical teams in the league this year, and while the Canucks were pretty physical, the Kings are on a whole different level when it comes to taking the body.
Another spot the Kings may have an edge is in the experience department after their Stanley Cup win last season. While the Sharks have been to the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons they have not won a Cup yet, and knowing what it takes to win one could give Los Angeles a slight edge.