SCHEDULE: WE DON’T KNOW BECAUSE THE NHL IS A BUNCH OF STUPIDHEADS!
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Sharks fustigated the Ducks in 4, and the Knights did worse to the Kings in 4
At some point, the bubble has to burst. Thanks to the Kings deciding to play their first-round series like they were relegation fodder, the Knights got to simply waltz into the second round in their first playoff asking with barely a sweat. A steam-room for half an hour would have been more taxing. The Sharks won’t be as cowardly or stupid, but then they don’t have a horseshoe and salt and a rabbit’s foot jammed in their colon like the Knight have had all season. The Sharks come with no less playoff savvy than the Kings had, they just have a much better roster. One hopes this is where the Knights dance of the seven veils finally comes to an end, because this has been a bit silly.
Goalies: Whatever we said about Sergei Bobrovsky, the opposite just might be true of Martin Jones. He threw a .970 at the Ducks in the first round, though to be fair the Ducks didn’t post much more of a threat than a veiled suggestion at him. But this follows his .935 in the first round loss last year to the Oilers, and his .923 in the Sharks’ run to the Final in ’16. Jones just might be a playoff goalie, and he’ll get more support than Jonathan Quick got.
You used to toss all sort of jokes at Marc-Andre Fleury, and then he’d let those jokes pass by his glove or through his legs into the net. Not so now. Fleury was even better than Jones in the first round with a .977, but then again he faced even less of a threat than Jones did as the Kings barely sent one forward over the red line all series while Dustin Brown looked at things with his Dustin Brown face. We can say for sure that Fleury will get tested more here, but this is the same guy who backstopped the Penguins through the first two rounds last year. Where and if the Knights break, it’s unlikely to be in net.
Defense: While it doesn’t get the pub outside of Brent Burns, this is the Sharks’ strength. It’s not as good as it could be, as for reasons he can’t even understand or explain Peter DeBoer has eschewed Joakim Ryan for the smoldering husk of Paul Martin to play with Brent Burns which is a really bad idea. The Sharks defense actually spent a lot of time on the back foot against the Ducks, though with all of the Ducks merely looking at their watch the whole series they didn’t give up a lot of good chances. You’d still take this top four, and Vlasic and Braun have a better chance at nullifying the Knights’ top line. It’s not the quickest outside of Burns, making the not-playing of Ryan even more curious, and they might have to play it cautious to keep from the Knights getting behind them a lot. Which was the Kings’ problem.
I feel like I’m done trying to explain anything that goes on with Vegas. On paper, this defense sucks. Nate Schmidt is the only one you’d want. Maybe Shea Theodore if you’ve had one too many, which is the state I assume most NHL general managers operate in. But McNabb and Engelland suck and we know this. I couldn’t pick Colin Miller or John Merrill out of a lineup. And yet because the Kings didn’t do anything other than occasionally try and spread germs to them, they were untested in the first round. You’d think they’ll get no such breaks from the far deeper Sharks, especially as Donskoi and Hertl seemed to get going in Round 1. This has to be the weak point the Sharks can exploit.
Forwards: Hanging over this series is when and if Joe Thornton will return. The real question is whether the Sharks are better without him right now. Pavelski has been a much better center than wing, and he was a pretty good wing. The Sharks play faster without Thornton, and their goal-, attempt-, and scoring chance-rates have all risen since Thornton got hurt. If the Sharks jump out to a lead in this series they can hold Thornton back even longer, though it sounds like he’s never going to be healthy. Even without him, this is a deep team. The Sharks got contributions from all four lines in their ass-stuffing of the Ducks, which has been a calling-card of the Knights. When Thornton does come back it’ll be interesting if they don’t try and simply get what they can out of him and just have him replace Eric Fehr on the fourth line. For right now, they’ve got enough.
The Knights were a little more top-heavy than the Sharks in Round 1, though given the way the Kings tried to play a Panic Room game there weren’t a lot of chances to go around. They only needed seven goals to get through. Seven goals won’t get it done here, and while the Sharks will be more open than the Kings were the Knights are going to have to get more from the likes of Eakin, Nosek, Haula, and the bottom six to get out. Because the likelihood is that Pavelski, Kane, Hertl, Donskoi are going to match whatever the Knights’ top six does.
Prediction: This one’s going to go a while, because both goalies are playing too well to see either team get out of this in four or five. Each will get at least one goalie win. And while everything seems to be breaking the Knights’ way, I trust the Sharks’ defense and bottom six more than theirs. The Sharks also probably get an emotional boost from Thornton’s return, especially as it looks like it’ll happen, in whatever form, at home in Game 3 or 4. Sharks in 6.