Sharks, Red Wings square off once again
The Stanley Cup Playoffs tend to breed certain matchups. Boston-Montreal, Washington-Pittsburgh, Vancouver-Chicago just to name a few in recent years. But we can now add San Jose-Detroit to that list.
The Sharks and Red Wings are set to do battle in the Western Conference semifinals for the second straight postseason and for the third time in the past five years. In total, it is the fifth playoff series between the clubs with each team winning twice.
Make no mistake about it, these two clubs do not like each other one bit. And as most hockey fans will argue, rivalries are built and sustained with playoff matchups. The Red Wings-Sharks rivalry is no exception. In fact, the rivalry between San Jose and Detroit (despite being in separate divisions) might be the best one going in the entire Western Conference.
The Red Wings are known for being essentially the exact opposite of the Sharks when it comes to playoff success. Detroit is referred to as "Hockeytown" due to its 11 Stanley Cup championships, four of them coming since 1997. No other US team has more than five.
San Jose, meanwhile, has only been around since 1991, has yet to win a Stanley Cup and has been labeled by most hockey fans as a playoff choker.
Simply put, the Red Wings have earned a reputation every other team dreams of having, and the Sharks will once again have to go through Hockeytown in order to earn their own.
But will the Sharks be able to knock off the Red Wings for the second year in a row? Well, if this year's first round is any indication, one would be wise to take the Wings in this series.
Detroit swept the Phoenix Coyotes and looked as dominant as ever doing so. The Red Wings scored 4.50 goals per game in the series and allowed just 2.50 goals against. Conversely, the Sharks scored at a lower rate (3.33 G/G) and allowed goals at a higher one (also 3.33 GA/G).
Furthermore, Detroit's power play sparkled in Round 1, succeeding 26.7 percent of the time. San Jose's was successful just 8.7 percent of the time with the man advantage.
But even though the Red Wings had a better opening round, the Sharks were the better of the two clubs in the regular season when skating 5-on-5. The Sharks scored 21 more even-strength goals than they allowed this season while the Red Wings scored just three more.
So, while Detroit holds the better G/G mark of 3.13 to the Sharks 2.96, it is San Jose who has a better goal differential. Detroit's gap between goals for and goals against during the regular campaign was just plus-24, while San Jose's gap is nearly double at plus-42.
Both teams boasted top-five regular season power plays and below-average penalty kills. Therefore, if the calls are relatively even in this series, the special teams should be a wash.
And since the even-strength edge has to be given to San Jose, one would also be wise to take the Sharks in this series.
The Sharks won the season series between the two clubs as they took three out of four games, but San Jose looked quite poor in their opening-round series against the Kings. Most notably, star defenseman Dan Boyle had one the worst playoff rounds in his career.
Boyle and the Sharks went to overtime in Game 6 to defeat the Kings despite dominating in terms of puck possession and chances.
Meanwhile, the ageless wonder Nicklas Lidstrom (who is the odds-on favorite to win his seventh career Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman) and the Red Wings appeared to have little trouble in dispatching the Coyotes, even without the injured Henrik Zetterberg, their leading scorer during the regular season.
According to reports, Zetterberg will be ready to go for the start of this series, but even if he gets back into the swing of things quickly, the Sharks could be too much to handle, as their roster is significantly upgraded from last season.
Rookie center Logan Couture emerged as a Calder Trophy candidate this season, and midseason acquisitions of center Kyle Wellwood and defenseman Ian White have given the Sharks their deepest roster in history. Detroit, on the other hand, remains strong, but the additions of Jiri Hudler and Mike Modano don't compare to the improvements on San Jose's end.
If Detroit is to knock off the Sharks, it will almost certainly need to continue its hot ways with the man advantage and hope it gets the majority of opportunities. San Jose's power play struggled in Round 1, but against an extremely solid Los Angeles penalty kill. Look for that to change against Detroit.
San Jose did average more time in the box (11.3 minutes) than Detroit did in the regular season (9.2 minutes), but the difference is minimal when you consider they were just four spots apart in the rankings.
San Jose proved down the stretch it can be a solid defensive team with tremendous goaltending from Antti Niemi. The Sharks went 26-6-4 in their final 36 games of the regular season led by a stingy defense.
The Sharks finished 10th in the league with a 2.54 GA/G in the regular season, 13 spots ahead of the Red Wings (23rd, 2.89 GA/G). They also blocked more shots, 1,148 to Detroit's 917.
Jimmy Howard may be able to steal a game in this series between the pipes for the Red Wings, but the Sharks are the better team this year.
Not only will the Sharks' power play get back on track, but Boyle won't have a second straight sub-par series, and neither will the San Jose defense as a whole.
Prediction: Sharks in 6