SAN JOSE- It’s no surprise that the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are moving on to the second round while the Pacific division winning Anaheim Ducks hit the golf courses early. San Jose and Los Angeles are simply better teams that would have both finished ahead of their division rival Ducks if the season had gone a full 82 games.
The Sharks and Kings have better goaltending, better depth, and their stars don’t get side tracked by taking stupid penalties (I’m looking at you Corey Perry).
But enough about the Ducks. For now we turn our focus to the Sharks and the Kings who will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second time in history.
Two years ago San Jose knocked out an Anze Kopitar-less Kings in six games in the Western Conference quarter-final. This time around the two match up with both sides relatively healthy (no major injuries of note) in the Western Conference semi-finals.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings (fifth seed) are coming off a tremendously physical six game series with the St. Louis Blues. Los Angeles won the final four games to advance.
San Jose (sixth seed) on the other hand had little trouble dispatching an incredibly undisciplined and mediocre Vancouver squad, sweeping the Canucks in four straight.
The Sharks and Kings met four times during the regular season. You could argue that LA won the season series getting five points with a 2-1-1 record, as San Jose picked up just four points at 2-2. But you can throw those records out the window.
Sometimes regular season records between teams can be useful in predicting a playoff matchup, but not in this case. These two division rivals know each other too well, and each have had recent success against the other. Their regular season records versus one another mean absolutely nothing.
That said, it’s still worth looking at how the two match-up.
LA: Jonathan Quick
SJ: Antti Niemi
Both guys have Stanley Cup rings and both are playing at the top of their games. I’ll call this a wash.
LA: Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Rob Scuderi, Slava Voynov, Robyn Regehr, Alec Martinez, Keaton Ellerby
SJ: Dan Boyle, Matt Irwin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Jason Demers
Again, these two teams are incredibly close. They are very, very similar. When you compare their blue-lines side by side it’s incredibly difficult to pick one over the other. Doughty is clearly the best complete defenseman on either team but I’ll give the defensive defensemen edge to Vlasic and Stuart versus Scuderi and Regehr. This is another wash.
Top six forwards:
LA: Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll
SJ: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Raffi Torres
Kopitar may be younger but he and Thornton are both big bodies who can distribute the puck and control games down low. Perhaps the Kings have a slight advantage with the younger Kopitar. Wingers Williams, Brown, and Carter versus wingers Marleau, Burns, and Torres, perhaps another slight advantage to the Kings here. That said, I’ll take the dynamic stardom of Couture over Richards and Pavelski over Stoll. Going to call this one another wash. Do you sense a trend?
Bottom six forwards:
LA: Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Dustin Penner, Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser, Tyler Toffoli
SJ: T.J. Galiardi, Tommy Wingels, Scott Gomez, Andrew Desjardins, James Sheppard, Tim Kennedy
The Kings bring more beef from their bottom six forwards but San Jose brings more play making ability. Galiardi has found a fit on Thornton’s left wing, and Gomez gives the Sharks fourth line some offensive punch. A very different set of forwards to be sure, but hard to argue one is better than the other. WASH!
(For those wondering, I’ve purposefully left out Kings defenseman Matt Greene and Sharks winger Marty Havlat out of my comparisons. Both have been effective players in the past—in big roles, I might add—but both are currently injured.)
This series is one of those that is too close to call when you break it all down. Each side is strong on the penalty kill and on the power-play. Both teams finished in the top 10 in each category.
However, San Jose will be the fresher of the two teams, and Logan Couture will be the best player on the ice. The 24-year-old center is the best player going for either team right now and methinks that will continue.
For those reasons alone, I’ll lean San Jose’s way and take the Sharks in six games.
For more on the Sharks follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch