Ryan Kesler and Joe Pavelski Image by: Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images
San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks: How They Win & How They Lose, 5 Things To Watch, THN Series Prediction and Playoff Depth Charts.
The thinking might be that a post-season meeting between two divisional rivals that have played for supremacy within the same state would lead to some heated affairs, but there’s really not all that much hatred there between the Ducks and Sharks. In the history of the two franchises, only once have they met in the post-season — in 2009, with Anaheim winning in six games — and the meetings between the two squads this season were about as heated as a cross-conference outing between two middling clubs. The most rough-and-tumble game saw 16 total penalty minutes. That was in mid-February, with 10 of those minutes coming when San Jose’s Barclay Goodrow and Anaheim’s J.T. Brown tussled. All it takes is one playoff series to really spark some hatred, though, and the Ducks and Sharks could be engaged in a blood feud by the time this one’s said and done.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
How They Win: The Sharks have a pair of extra-special teams. Their penalty killing was the second-best in the NHL, running at close to an 85 percent efficiency. And no team in the league scoring a higher percentage of its goals on the power play. Add it up and San Jose’s special-team rates stood at 105.4, tied with Los Angeles for the fourth-best total in the league behind Boston (107.2), Toronto (106.4) and Pittsburgh (106.2). In past seasons, the Sharks were reliant on two lines to do the vast majority of the scoring, but youngster Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Chris Tierney have emerged to diversify the attack. Tierney in particular has been a revelation, essentially replacing Patrick Marleau’s offense at a little more than one-tenth the price tag. Since Jan. 1, Tierney has nine goals and 27 points. And don’t forget the big bearded man on the blueline. Nobody takes more shots than Brent Burns. His big stick thins out opposing defenses.
How They Lose: There’s no denying the Sharks still rely very heavily on players well into their 30s. That experience can be helpful in pressure situations, but it can also wear a team down over time. San Jose is one of the league’s least productive teams in the third period and loses twice as many games as it wins in overtime. The Sharks don’t throw many bodychecks as a team — they’re third-last in the league in hits — but since coach Peter DeBoer took over three seasons ago, no team has blocked more shots than the Sharks. A more focused passing attack by the opposition can wreak havoc with San Jose’s shot-blocking approach.
How They Win: They say boring, defensive hockey wins in the playoffs. Well, as to be expected with Randy Carlyle behind the bench, the Ducks play a conservative game that doesn’t see a lot of goals on the board. Games involving Anaheim produced an average of just 5.50 goals, third-lowest in the league. The Ducks don’t score many goals (18th-ranked offense) and they don’t allow many goals (third-best defense). Anaheim has a mobile defense corps that is efficient in its own end as well as transitioning the puck in the other direction. And the Ducks have a good core of proven veterans with track records of playing well in crunch time — Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Antoine Vermette, although their best years are behind them. New-ish faces Ondrej Kase and Adam Henrique are second and third in team goal-scoring, so it’s no longer just a one-line attack.
How They Lose: Among teams in the playoffs, the Ducks rank near the bottom in 5-on-5 offense. Anaheim has a tough time scoring two goals per game at five-a-side — averaging just 1.91 — so it struggles against teams that play a smart, disciplined game and stay out of the penalty box. The Ducks still play a physical style and were fifth in the league in minor penalties, so don’t retaliate. Efficient power plays can make a difference in close playoff games, but Anaheim has solid penalty killing. Work the front of the Anaheim net in man-advantage situations and the Ducks are vulnerable. Goalie John Gibson has a propensity to be boom or bust. Test him early and you might get a few past him.
Five Things To Watch:
1. Evander Kane is finally going to make his playoff debut. It took the 26-year-old nearly 600 games to finally get a taste of post-season action, and he’s going to be fired up when he hits the ice for Game 1. Everything about Kane’s game screams playoff player, so if he brings the same fire and physicality that we’re used to seeing and throws in a dash of speed and skill, he could take over a game by himself with his newfound post-season energy.
2. Which Corey Perry is going to show up? In the regular season, Perry has scored 0.30 goals and 0.69 points per game across the past three campaigns. In the playoffs, however, Perry has upped his game, netting 0.35 goals and 0.86 points per game. He’s a perpetual pest and will feed off of the frustration of his opponents, particularly if he can get under their skin early.
3. The matchup in the crease could be what decides the series. San Jose’s Martin Jones has been mediocre at times, but he has shown a tendency to play well when the pressure is on. He has a career .925 save percentage in 32 playoff games. Gibson, on the other hand, has been spectacular this season, but his career playoff numbers aren’t the greatest. He has a .918 SP in 22 games, but has posted a SP lower than .915 in half of his outings.
4. The series could become a special teams battle. Both San Jose and Anaheim were middle of the pack teams when it came to 5-on-5 production — the Sharks ranked 15th with 159 goals, the Ducks tied for 17th with 157 goals — but the combined power play and penalty killing efficiencies both ranked in the top half of the league. San Jose had the edge in both respects, though, so that could tilt the series.
5. The Sharks 'possession-heavy game could put the Ducks on their heels. In the four meetings between the teams during the regular season — of which San Jose won three and lost the other in a shootout — the Sharks owned the 5-on-5 possession game to the tune of a 52.3 shot attempts for percentage. San Jose also earned nearly 53 percent of the 5-on-5 scoring chances. If that holds through the first round matchup, Anaheim could be playing most of the series out of their own zone.
THN Series Prediction: Sharks in seven.
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