Experience Vs. Inexperience as San Jose Sharks Open Playoffs Against Oilers

Apr 6, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) blocks the puck against Edmonton Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle (14) during the first period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) blocks the puck against Edmonton Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle (14) during the first period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Jose Sharks are limping into their first-round matchup against the Edmonton Oilers. Plenty of storylines highlight the series, but for the Sharks, health could be a central factor in moving on.

Inconsistency can sum up the San Jose Sharks’ regular season. Despite a few new additions in the offseason and prospects making an impact, the roster only looked good on paper. The most troubling was the power play, which finished 25th in the league. Jannik Hansen was acquired to help solidify the top unit with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, but had little impact.

Win streaks were immediately followed with poor performances, and a nine-point lead in the Pacific Division vanquished. Instead of opening at the Shark Tank, a raucous and playoff-starved Edmonton fanbase is ready to greet the Sharks on Wednesday. The Sharks will need to weather the storm early or will be facing a quick deficit.

San Jose Sharks
San Jose Sharks /

San Jose Sharks

Health is an issue for two of San Jose’s primary players in Thornton and Logan Couture. Both have missed time with injuries, and their status is up in the air. Couture took a puck to the mouth against Nashville and needed dental work. Thornton went into the boards awkwardly after taking a hit against Vancouver and gingerly skated to the bench.

Though both Thornton and Couture have been skating at practice, no timetable is set for return. Thornton has insisted he will be ready and his toughness is one area not to question. Couture is still getting used to the new gear on his helmet which makes seeing the puck a bit difficult for the winger.

If both Thornton and Couture are not available for the opener, expect the depth players on San Jose to step up. But the issue is the depth players have made a minimal impact which was needed towards the end of the season. Eyes will be on Tomas Hertl who could not find his scoring touch since coming back from a knee injury. Though the young center has played well as the regular season ended, he will need to carry the streak into the playoffs.

Mikkel Boedker had an underwhelming season after signing a four-year deal in the offseason. He finished with 10 goals, but Peter DeBoer and Sharks’ management expected a lot more from a player who lit the lamp with the Arizona Coyotes. It’s time for the Danish native to prove his worth and make an impact in the playoffs.

San Jose has the experience and leadership to advance. Edmonton has rising star Connor McDavid in what will already be the most anticipated series to watch amongst the other playoff series. McDavid finished with 100 points this season and will likely earn MVP honors after the playoffs conclude. His speed allows him to head for the net and creates scoring opportunities for his teammates.

But the biggest factor for Edmonton will be the person not on the ice but behind the bench. Todd McLellan served as San Jose’s coach but left after mutually agreeing to part ways. He, along with the Oilers, will be highly motivated to end the Sharks’ playoff run early. McLellan did a great job coaching the Sharks, but as seen from previous coaches, he could not get the team to the Stanley Cup Final. DeBoer finally did and hopes for another return.

Youth may be at the forefront with the Oilers’ forwards, but the Sharks’ have the advantage with their defensive depth. Expect Marc-Edouard Vlasic to be on when McDavid takes the ice. Vlasic is San Jose’s best shut down defenseman, and his efforts will certainly swing the series in the Sharks’ favor. Paul Martin will also look to do the same as he brings experience from winning the Stanley Cup before.

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Brent Burns is San Jose’s x-factor after the defenseman led the team in points this season. Burns locked up the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman and will now lead the charge against Edmonton. His ability to score and defend gives headaches to opposing coaches, and he needs to make his presence felt early.

Most importantly, the goaltending battle between Martin Jones and Cam Talbot could ultimately tilt the series in one team’s favor. Jones solidified himself last season as the undisputed starter for the Sharks but has shown poor efforts down the stretch. Talbot tied for the league with 42 wins this season for the Oilers. He started 73 games this season and fatigue could be a factor should he face a barrage of pucks early.

Motivation is abundant for the current Sharks after coming up short last season in the Stanley Cup Final. Despite dropping nine of the last thirteen games of the season, the Sharks will try to right the ship and make another deep run in the playoffs. Last year, the power play and depth players made an impact to propel San Jose into the final. The two need to happen again.

Perhaps starting on the road is not a bad idea for the Sharks. Last season, the road began in Los Angeles with San Jose winning both games. The rest is history. Maybe starting again on the road will help the Sharks shake off the nerves and be ready when the series shifts back to San Jose.

Prediction: Sharks in six.

Next: Sharks Make Right Call With Aaron Dell

San Jose’s 82-game preseason has concluded with the real season about to start. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to get underway, and the Sharks are poised to finish the job this time around.