If this series were to be played in November instead of April, the Kings would be the heavy favorites instead of the Sharks, owners of the NHL’s hottest second half record. A serious injury to Anze Kopitar has put a serious dent in the once promising hopes of the Kings, while the Sharks have hit their stride and are at a full sprint heading into the playoffs on a 9-2-1 run. San Jose also seemed to exorcise some of the demons of postseasons past with a trip to the Conference Finals, and will be looking to take the next step this season. Unfortunately for the Kings, they will most likely be little more than a speed bump during San Jose’s 2011 playoff drive.
Offense: With the exception of rookie sensation Logan Couture, who made a name for himself with an impressive postseason last year, the names at the top of the Sharks’ statsheet are all the same. Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle are all well-known offensive threats. Ryane Clowe has developed into a premier power forward, netting 24 goals and 62 points this season. In LA, only Dustin Brown was able to break the 25-goal plateau, and with Kopitar sidelined and Justin Williams expected to be forced into a premature recovery from his injury, the Kings will have to get some monster efforts from guys like Ryan Smyth and veteran center Jarrett Stoll.
Advantage: San Jose
Defense: If there’s an area where the Kings may hold an advantage over the Sharks, it’s on the blueline. The Kings were one of only seven teams to allow less than 200 goals during the regular season, and with Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson headlining, there’s plenty of talent at that end of the bench for the Kings. The addition of Ian White gives the Sharks another puck-mover to go along with Jason Demers and Dan Boyle, and they will continue to expect plenty of production from their back end.
Goaltending: While both teams have talented young keepers between the pipes, their resumes are markedly different. Antti Niemi already has a Stanley Cup ring after his rookie season with the Blackhawks, which he earned by sweeping the Sharks he now plays for in the Conference Finals last year. Jonathan Quick had a bit of a shaky playoff debut last year against the Canucks, but he’ll have to be at his very best if he hopes to make it out of the quarterfinals this season. Quick had a slightly better GAA than Niemi, but Niemi’s save percentage was a touch higher, while both goalies played just over 60 games.
Advantage: San Jose (only because of Niemi’s proven track record in the playoffs)
Special Teams: The Sharks have one of the best powerplays in the league. The Kings managed just 47 powerplay goals, and almost a quarter of those were scored by Kopitar and Williams. They’ll have to convert at a much better rate than the 16% they did in the regular season, and it might be a little bit easier against a Sharks team that gave up goals on more than 20% of their penalties. The Kings also allowed a league-low 40 powerplay goals against, but they’ll have to continue to be at their best to handle the Sharks’ lethal powerplay. Really a matchup of strengths when the Sharks on the powerplay, and a battle of weaknesses when the Sharks have to kill one off.
I’ve never been able to root for the Kings since they stole that series from Gilmour and the Leafs in ’93. Not that it matters anyway, I don’t think they stand much of a chance in this series against a San Jose team that is probably has the best chance of any Western Conference team to beat the Canucks, at least on paper.
Editor’s Pick: San Jose in 4 (had to pick a sweep in here somewhere, didn’t I??)