This is the second part in a series covering how each team can win the Stanley Cup. This edition goes to the San Jose Sharks, who are currently third in the Pacific Division.
The San Jose Sharks were the best team in the Pacific division… for most of the season. Then they got cold, like really cold, and won just fourteen games since February. They played thirty-one games in that time. There were a few long losing streaks in that span.
Article continues below ...
But the Sharks entered this season fresh off their first Finals appearance. That was a monumental goal for the team, and they were a favored pick by many to go back. Can they still get back there? How?
Round 1: San Jose Sharks vs. Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic (27) and San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture (39) battle for a loose puck (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
The San Jose Sharks face their first test in the young, Connor McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers have great play from their top six, including Hart favorite McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They also have goaltender Cam Talbot, who could have been mentioned in the Vezina race throughout the year.
The difference, though, and how the Sharks will eventually beat the Oilers is possession. In both Corsi and Fenwick, the Sharks were vastly superior to the Oilers this season. And it’s because of San Jose’s ability with the puck in the offensive zone. The Sharks were fifth in Corsi For this season. That means they were getting the puck on the opposing net the fifth most in the NHL.
The Oilers drop to fifteenth. Even with McDavid, the rest of the Oilers were not good enough to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Which means that when McDavid is not on the ice, the Oilers are vulnerable.
That fact was revealed in the first game of the series, a game the Sharks took. Eight of the Oilers players were a -1 +/- in that game. McDavid, with an assist, was a 0 +/- in that game. Even he wasn’t immune from the vulnerability.
The Sharks were able to launch a comeback against a particularly weak Oilers defense, and they could do it repeatedly this series. With young Oscar Klefbom as potentially their best defenseman, the Oilers will need help on defense, and they don’t have that help on the team currently.
Which means the Oilers could be overwhelmed by a competent Sharks offense. One that hopefully shows up more than in Game 2. Sharks in 6.
Round 2: San Jose vs. (Projection) Calgary Flames
Calgary take a seven-game series against Anaheim, proving it was more than just a Bruce Boudreaucurse. The Flames intense defense and young offense prove too much for the Anaheim Ducks, who are aging rapidly and who are let down by coach Randy Carlyle.
San Jose Sharks left wing Patrick Marleau (12) controls the puck against Calgary Flames center Curtis Lazar (20) (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)
Calgary vs. San Jose as a series comes down to youth versus experience. This Sharks team was just in this situation, beating the Nashville Predators last year to advance to the Western Conference Final. For the Flames, it’s been a while. The last time the Flames won in the second round, it was 2004. Jarome Iginla was their best player.
This time, nobody has advanced from the second round. There are quite a few players on this team that went on to face the Ducks in the 2015 playoffs, and Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott advanced to the Western Conference Final with the St. Louis Blues last year. But this Flames team is young and relatively inexperienced.
Besides that, the Flames are deep, and they have six players with at least forty points this season. The Flames could prove to be an obstacle, but I believe the Sharks experience and veteran leadership will lead them to the win. San Jose Sharks in 6.
Round 3: San Jose vs. (Projection) Minnesota Wild
The San Jose Sharks come up against a Minnesota Wild team that resurged against the St. Louis Blues (after losing the first two games) and who rallied hard against a Nashville team. How can the Sharks stop Minnesota?
If it comes down to a battle of goaltenders, it’s Martin Jones‘s series to lose. Jones has looked great in the playoffs with the Sharks. Last year, he posted a .923 SV% and a 2.16 GAA and was a monumental reason why the Sharks made the Stanley Cup Final. This year, he’s helped San Jose to a win against Edmonton and kept them in the second game.
Devan Dubnyk has never done that in the playoffs. In fact, playoff Dubnyk is not as great a goaltender. Plus the fact that Dubnyk stumbled hard at the end of the regular season, Dubnyk might let the series go. Dubnyk has posted a .908 SV% 2.58 GAA in his best playoff run with the
San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon (4) checks Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise (11) (Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports)
Wild. Last year, he posted a .877 SV% 3.34 GAA in a one series exit for the Wild.
With the Sharks potent offense, that could prove a problem for the Wild. The Sharks had four twenty-plus goal scorers this season. They also had five players with at least 40 points. That could also prove problematic for a Wild team, who doesn’t have the most potent defense.
In the end, though, Dubnyk’s playoff record may just be too much for the Wild to overcome. The Sharks take the series in 5.
San Jose vs. (Projection) Washington Capitals
Washington’s path to the Stanley Cup Final is clear. Just get past Pittsburgh.
The Capitals have depth on offense and defense. Kevin Shattenkirk is a second pairing defenseman on the Capitals, for crying out loud. Alex Ovechkin, if he’s able to overcome the Penguins in the second round, is going for blood. The Capitals also have Braden Holtby in net, and he’s been dominant in the playoffs.
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) collides with San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) (Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports)
But the Sharks are also deep. San Jose has Joel Ward on the third line, as well as two great defensive defensemen in Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin. They have the best offensive defenseman in the game in Brent Burns. Plus, the Sharks have Thornton. Even though he seems a lot less intense than most players in the NHL, if he has another chance at the Stanley Cup, Thornton could still be great.
Plus, again, Jones hasn’t been bad in the playoffs either. This could be a long, drawn-out battle for both teams. Several overtimes, seven games, full blown battle. The thing that could determine it is experience, like in the Flames series.
San Jose has been to the Finals, going last year. The vast majority of the team remains in place. The Capitals, on the other hand, have not gotten past the second round. If they’re able to get past the Penguins and the Canadiens, they could be so happy to be in the Final they lose it. Like the Sharks did last year.
And that’s where the Capitals trip up. They let off the throat of the Sharks, who have now gotten over the initial excitement of the Stanley Cup Final and could be title-driven this year. San Jose Sharks in seven.