At the beginning of the shortened NHL season, we analyzed why the San Jose Sharks were a more competitive squad than the LA Kings.
Given the team’s season-opening seven game win streak and their travel schedule, the Sharks proved — way back in late January — they are a more playoff-ready team than their SoCal rival.
After a week of twiddling our thumbs following a sweep of the Vancouver Canucks, Team Teal is down-state preparing to battle the defending champs at Staples Center in Round 2 — the Western Conference Semifinals — of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It’s hard to believe there could possibly be a more exciting series ahead of us than we just saw against the Canucks, with all its in-game physicality and off-the-ice smack talk.
But this is only the second time these California foes have faced off in the playoffs, adding a little extra drama to an already feverish rivalry. Not to mention that a week without a game to play — and not knowing their second round opponent until Sunday night — probably has the Sharks even more anxious to get out on the ice and do some damage.
And, hopefully, that week of rest have allowed Sharks’ fans to rest their vocal chords for those “Beat LA!” chants, and regain the hearing they lost from the noise at the Tank during Round 1.
Here are a few things to look for in the upcoming series:
Don’t Expect Any Blow Outs: Not that a blow out isn’t possible. But the Sharks and Kings tend to play close games. In fact, six of their last ten matchups have been decided by one goal, four of those being overtime decisions.
Expect nail-biters throughout this series. And, expect that those close games will have a lot to do with the two guys between the pipes.
On The Front Lines: One thing both of these teams have in common is depth in their offense. The Kings showed that against St. Louis when its second line dominated the scoreboard.
But between Logan Couture’s continued dominance on the ice, Joe Pavelski’s work on the power play and Raffi Torres’ late game contributions — just to name a few — LA’s defense will have work to do. Not to mention still having to find a way to slow down the beastly forward that is Brent Burns.
And don’t forget Patrick Marleau’s contributions in Round 1, particularly the series-winning goal in OT. Even former teammate and often-critic Jeremy Roenick had to say nice things about his performance.
Special Teams: While every nuance of San Jose’s play from Goalie Antti Niemi up to the forward lines against Vancouver was dominant, their special teams stole the show.
The penalty-happy Canucks gave the Sharks plenty of opportunities, which they capitalized on by scoring nearly half of their goals, seven of the 24 chances.
The Kings, on the other hand, didn’t have the same number of opportunities on the man advantage. They did, however, have a solid penalty kill against St. Louis, only allowing two goals in 17 chances.
So not only could these games be close in score, they could possibly yield fewer power play opportunities — and goals —for the Sharks as well.
The Goalie Matchup: LA’s Jonathan Quick didn’t notch a sweep like Niemi did against the Canucks, dropping Games 1 and 2 to the St. Louis Blues. But last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner is no slouch, bouncing back with four straight wins to advance the Kings to the semis.
It should be another great matchup against Niemi, whose .937 save percentage in the first round — stacked on top of a stellar regular season — showed why he is so deserving of a Vezina Trophy nomination.
NHL.com is calling Niemi “arguably the best post season goaltender in the NHL.” Though it is doubtful that anyone north of the I-5 grapevine will be arguing that.