The San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators will be dueling it out in the second round, just as we all predicted. Okay, maybe we did not predict this, but that doesn’t make the series any less exciting.
The San Jose Sharks are an enjoyable team to watch. There’s something intrinsically fascinating about watching Joe Thornton with the puck. Add one dash of high-octane firepower to the blue-line and a pair of top-tier goalscorers, and you’ve got a recipe for success.
That’s not to say the Nashville Predators are boring. Anyone who’s followed this team since the deadline knows just how dominant Ryan Johansen can be. Combine that with the silky hands of Filip Forsberg and the earth-shattering power of Shea Weber and this series is quickly shaping up to be one of the best of the post-season; but who’s more likely to move on?
San Jose Sharks vs Nashville Predators Second Round Preview: Three Keys
Gotta be the goalies
This match-up is going to come down to a few factors, and none of them will be bigger than the goaltending. Pekka Rinne hasn’t been an elite goaltender for a while now; his .907 SV% in the regular season sandwiching him between the likes of Jonathan Bernier and Jonas Gustavsson is a far cry from Martin Jones’ .917, and below league average. While his post-season performance has been better, registering a .914 SV% in seven games, he was abysmal in their losses, and his .727 high-danger save percentage in the post-season is only better than Antti Niemi’s and John Gibsons’.
At the other end of the ice, Jones has not been quite as good as he was in the regular season, averaging just a .912 sv% in the playoffs. Like Rinne, his high-danger save percentage is below average, but substantially higher the his Predators counter-part at .778.
At the end of the day neither one of these goalies has really proven they can consistently proven they can get it done when called upon. They’ll have to make a case for that reputation over the course of the series if they hope to take their team to the conference final.
Don’t forget about depth
The Sharks blew by the Kings on the back of some impressive performances from their best players. Brent Burns’ team leading eight points put him fourth in playoff scoring. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture each contributed six points, and although Thornton only had 3 points to his name he was instrumental in the series, quarterbacking the Sharks power-play and posting some of the best possession numbers on the team. But get past San Jose’s big guns and the possibility of the puck winding up in the back of your net drops substantially. Four Sharks were held off the score sheet, Tomas Hertl was held to just two points, and Brent Burns was the only defenceman with more than a single point. None of this makes the Sharks any less dangerous, they are still scoring at the third highest rate in the post-season, but if the Predators can find a way to shut down the the Sharks top line, they will have a much easier road to Lord Stanley.
Beware the box
Stop the Sharks top line. Simple task. All you have to do is somehow contain one of the best center in the league, one incredibly agile and sneaky goalscorer in Joe Pavelski, stop the league’s 11th best scorer from dominating the point, and oh yeah, don’t forget about Patrick Marleau. Seems simple enough. So how do you stop the Sharks best players from being their best players? You take away the man advantage.
The power-play is the Sharks bread and butter. They were third in the league in power-play percentage, they led the league in power-play goals scored, and were fifth in penalties drawn. The Preds were 16th in the league on the PK and simply put, they can’t afford to take penalties against the Sharks; it was the Kings undoing and it could be theirs as well.
The bottom line
So who should you expect to take the series? My money is on the Sharks. I don’t trust Pekka Rinne to be strong enough in net to stop them, and I don’t think the Predators second line and third lines can match the skill of those of the Sharks. My pick: Sharks in six.
Here are some other picks from LWOS:
Markus: Sharks in six
Aaron: Sharks (but they can choke at a moments notice)
Tyler: Sharks in six
Nic: Preds in six
Ben Kerr: Sharks in six
Stats from war-on-ice.com and corsica.hockey