If you're reading this, then congratulations on surviving the laughter that the Vancouver/Chicago game seven must have driven you to. Watching Chicago climb, crawl, and fight back into a series with the Canucks only to be squashed in a tough seventh game overtime just tickles my schadenfreude bone. However, just like three other teams out West, we've got something more important to look forward to: the 2nd round.
Thanks to half the Stanley Cup Champs from last year being unable to finish the epic comeback, the re-seeding of the 2nd round means Nashville will travel to Vancouver for their next challenge while the San Jose Sharks will welcome the Red Wings to town. The Winners of the tough Pacific Division finished in the 2nd seed this season with 105 points and dealt a hard-fought six-game defeat to the young and Kopitar-less Los Angeles Kings, once coming back from a four-goal deficit and winning three of their games in overtime. Backstopped by Stanley Cup-winning Antti Niemi and built for goal-scoring the Sharks struggled early in the season before seemingly finding their identity and charging back from 12th in the conference to the 2-seed.
Head-to-head, the Sharks won the season series with a 3-1-0 record against Detroit, outscoring them 15-11. San Jose's goaltending stopped .909 of the shots Detroit threw their way throughout their four games (although if you throw out Nittmyaki's performance in the first game and use only their starter, Niemi's, he stopped .935). 5 of Detroit's 11 goals came on the man advantage, which gave them a 33% success rate. Unfortunately, the Wings' penalty kill was only able to stop about 77% of San Jose's 13 chances.
However, that's regular season we're talking about. The playoffs are a different beast entirely and you can bet your ass that Detroit is looking forward to a chance to right some wrongs leftover from last year.
Since the postseason started, Detroit has allowed 2.50 goals per game, while San Jose's usually staunch defense let the one-line Kings put 3.33 up on them without Anze Kopitar. Detroit's penalty kill was an area of significant concern after round one, but San Jose fared little better with the man advantage, turning just 8.7% of chances into goals. Antti Niemi's save percentage through the first six games was not exactly confidence inspiring at .863, as he gave up nearly twice as many goals as Jimmy Howard and got pulled in game 5. The Sharks were able to put up a lot of points of their own, but the defense will have to play better against Detroit's depth.
Follow me after the jump for the key players for each team and Detroit's keys to victory.
Detroit's Key Players
Datsyuk put up six points in the Wings' first-round sweep of the Coyotes (2G, 4A) and a +6 rating. He spent the first two games of the playoffs dangling everything in sight and forcing the Coyotes to gameplan specifically to stop him. While that plan did see some success, it also opened the door for the rest of the team to go open-season on desert dogs.
Hank expects to start this series after missing the last two games of the regular season and the first round with a knee injury. The jokes about how he wasn't missed in round 1 were exactly that: jokes. The next captain of the Wings, Zetterberg is another player like Datsyuk who simply makes everybody around him better. Having Zetterberg back gives coach Babcock that many more options on how to adjust to another team's game plan.
It's a tough call to consider whether Jimmy Howard will be considered the better goalie in this series. His counterpart has a Stanley Cup ring and boasted better regular season stats against a team that played defensively tighter than Detroit; I would assume that most will give Niemi the benefit of the doubt here. Howard's "sophomore slump" season had him finish with the 2nd-most wins in the league for a goaltender, but his GAA and save percentage were pedestrian. He had a very good first round, making key saves when needed and helping his team control the pace of the four games he's played so far.
San Jose's Key Players
Joe Thornton will likely always be known as a playoff disappearing act for how his earlier career went, but it's easy to forget that both of his first-round goals were game-winners and his game 6 OT tally clinched the series for the Sharks. He's had his heart questioned more times than Fred Sanford and has shown that he'll take to frustration easily when things don't go his way. Still, he's a dangerous player that can create offense seemingly from nothing.
Unlike Big Joe, this version is growing a reputation for being clutch. Pavelski draws penalties, finds open areas of the ice, and creates holes in coverage for his teammates to exploit. Defensively responsibly and speedy, Pavelski is a thorn in the side to any team wanting to advance past his Sharks. He should give San Jose some scoring depth that they didn't see in round one.
When Rob Blake retired in the offseason, the Sharks were left with a big something missing on their blue line that their good corps of defenders couldn't quite fill. To address the need, Sharks GM Doug Wilson picked him up in February for a 2nd round pick. White put up 10 points in 23 games for San Jose during the regular season, but so far he's put up 5 points in 6 games during the playoffs, even though an illegal hit from Jarret Stoll in game one made him miss the Sharks' 4-0 loss to the Kings in game 2. Hey may not be the ultimate missing piece from San Jose's defense, but he's a solid D-man who can play in all three zones.
Detroit's Keys to Victory
Play a Full 60 Minutes: The Wings were only forced to do this in one game against the Coyotes, but the Sharks have shown that you can't sit on a lead against them. Starting on time is going to be important so the Wings won't have to play catch-up, but they're just as capable of scoring three goals in the last five minutes as they are of doing so in the first five. Detroit is going to have to keep their collective foot on the gas pedal throughout this entire series.
Discipline: First-round struggles aside, the Sharks' power play is a very dangerous beast and I would just as soon not give it any chances to wake up. Last year's series saw the Wings (and the refs) give the Sharks a lot of power play opportunities. They'll need to do better this time around. If all else fails, just have your coach and GM complain to the league, that seems to work well.
Stay Patient: You may not believe me, but Detroit has a better corps of forwards AND slightly better defensemen. San Jose is a dangerous team, but if Detroit plays their game, they should be able to pull this one off. Chasing people around, hurrying defensemen into the offensive zone, and trying to start a "rush" instead of focusing on "transition" will be killers for Detroit. Trying to stretch their defense by having forwards leaving their own zone too early can come back to bite.
Play Defense Like we Know you Can: Clear rebounds, pressure puck-handlers against the boards, backcheck like mad, and hit that which stands still. Detroit did a lot of things right in the first round to prevent the Coyotes from scoring even-strength goals and will need to continue to do so. Keeping guys to the outside is always going to be important, but always forcing the opposition to make quick decisions is the cornerstone upon which good defense is built.
San Jose puts a charge into the series and plays like they still have something to prove, but the Red Wings do too. This series gives us plenty of worry-fodder for the next round, but Detroit takes it in 6.
Fear the Fin is your SB Nation site for the San Jose Sharks. Be nice.