2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs – After sweeping Anaheim Ducks, can San Jose Sharks beat Vegas Golden Knights, challenge for the Cup?


On paper, the San Jose Sharks didn’t seem like clear-cut favorites over the Anaheim Geese within the opening spherical of the playoffs.

San Jose ranked 17th in even-strength purpose differential through the common season, whereas Anaheim was sixth. The Geese posted the second-best even-strength save proportion within the NHL; the Sharks had the fourth worst. Lastly wholesome, the Geese introduced of their full squad of stars led by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, whereas the Sharks confronted an uphill climb with out No. 1 heart and future Corridor of Famer Joe Thornton, out since January with a knee harm.

None of that mattered.

The Sharks blew the doorways off the Geese, sweeping the primary spherical and outscoring their opposition 16-Four within the 4 video games.

The place was the disconnect? Did we underrate the Sharks? Are they enjoying higher hockey now than their regular-season numbers would recommend? Will San Jose’s dominance carry over to its matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights? And the way severely ought to we take the Sharks as Stanley Cup contenders?

Evander and the forwards

On the commerce deadline, there was no Evander Kane sweepstakes. Whereas the previous Winnipeg Jet was having a powerful marketing campaign for the Buffalo Sabres, with 20 objectives and 20 assists, San Jose nonetheless managed to accumulate the facility ahead for a 2019 conditional draft choice, a 2020 conditional draft choice and depth ahead Danny O’Regan.

A chilly streak earlier than the deadline mixed with previous off-ice incidents in Buffalo and a number of other reported points with teammates and workers in Winnipeg added as much as decrease worth than regular for a gifted offensive participant with dimension and toughness.

As soon as skating for San Jose, Kane made an instantaneous influence, scoring eight even-strength objectives and including 5 assists in 17 video games. His 5-on-5 scoring price of two.96 factors per 60 minutes was practically double that of his first 61 video games in Buffalo. From the day San Jose acquired Kane till the top of the season, the Sharks scored the fifth-most even-strength objectives within the NHL.

In opposition to the Geese, it turned clear that Kane wasn’t simply hitting a scorching streak. He’s merely slot in San Jose. In all conditions, he produced three objectives and one help within the 4 wins and put 21 photographs on purpose.

Exterior of his particular person influence, Kane’s presence permits head coach Pete DeBoer to unfold out the expertise on the wing greater than he might earlier than the commerce. With Kane alongside Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi, 21-year-old ahead Timo Meier is pushed down right into a third-line function.

The Sharks’ 2015 first-round decide scored 21 objectives in his first full season, including depth somewhat than taking up a heavy load, and he might assist San Jose match up a lot better with Anaheim’s third line, centered by Adam Henrique. In 21 minutes sharing the ice, Meier’s line with heart Chris Tierney and winger Kevin Labanc held the Geese scoreless and created 10 scoring probabilities to Anaheim’s six.

If Thornton returns, DeBoer will possible slide Logan Couture all the way down to the third line, giving the Sharks a a lot stronger look than after they entered the postseason.

Whether or not the Sharks have sufficient firepower up entrance to get previous the Golden Knights and past stays questionable. Thornton hasn’t performed because the finish of January. It is exhausting to say how efficient he may be in opposition to the speedy Vegas membership.

Kane’s dimension and pace are made for the postseason, however the energy winger has additionally been driving a scorching streak since becoming a member of the staff that might run chilly finally. Kane had an 11.three p.c taking pictures proportion within the common season and 14.three p.c within the first spherical. Since 2013-14, Kane has scored on simply eight.7 p.c of his photographs.

The complete Sharks roster might slip again offensively because the playoffs go on. In opposition to the Geese, San Jose produced the second-highest even-strength taking pictures proportion (11.5 p.c) of any staff and scored on 22.2 p.c of their high-danger probabilities. Through the common season, the Sharks shot 7.6 p.c at even power, and scored on scored on 12.6 p.c of high-danger makes an attempt, in keeping with Pure Stat Trick.

Apart from Pavelski and Couture, the Sharks’ roster is stacked with inconsistent offensive gamers. Inside his previous three seasons alone, winger Mikkel Boedker has fluctuated between 26 and 51 factors for a full season. San Jose’s second-line winger additionally had a minus-Four.6 p.c relative Corsi for proportion this season.

Donskoi, a stable two-way ahead, put solely two photographs on web within the 4 video games versus the Geese. He scored 14 objectives within the common season after managing solely six two seasons in the past.

So regardless of a dominant Spherical 1, the Sharks will possible want the presence of their legendary heart — even when he is not at 100 p.c — with the intention to problem deeper groups with extra constant scoring wingers.

The D stepped up

When San Jose’s protection corps is at its finest, it matches up with any of the league’s finest blue traces. The most important query heading into Spherical 1 was whether or not Paul Martin, 37, nonetheless had sufficient within the tank to play large minutes of his good, easy model of hockey. Martin is the right companion for Brent Burns, whose worth is linked to his skill to leap up into the play and create offense. In opposition to the Geese, Martin and Burns seemed like the highest pair that drove the Sharks to the Cup Remaining two years in the past. In 52 minutes collectively, they created 29 scoring probabilities for (per Pure Stat Trick) and allowed 25 in opposition to. When adjusting for the truth that the Geese had been enjoying from behind the entire collection, these numbers look much more spectacular.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s distinctive defensive talent permits DeBoer to separate up his defenders. Vlasic was on the ice for 37 defensive zone faceoffs. Apart from linemate Justin Braun, no different Shark defenseman had greater than 16. Naturally, Vlasic was on the ice for extra photographs in opposition to than for, however Anaheim scored only one even-strength purpose in 73 minutes that the veteran blueliner was on the ice. Vlasic was on the ice for 38 of his 73 minutes in opposition to Ryan Getzlaf, together with 14 defensive zone begins, and the Sharks outscored the Geese Four-1 in that span.

Having a reliable third pair within the playoffs is not completely wanted to win — because the Chicago Blackhawks proved in 2015 — nevertheless it actually would not damage. Brenden Dillon was on the ice for a Four-Zero purpose margin in opposition to the Geese. He and companion Dylan DeMelo confronted Adam Henrique‘s line for 19 minutes within the collection, taking strain off the highest two pairs.

The success of San Jose’s protection within the opening spherical speaks to the Sharks’ general theme. Burns had a stable common season however was on the ice for 65 even-strength objectives in opposition to and solely 54 for his membership. Martin was despatched all the way down to the AHL early within the season, and the Vlasic-Braun pair each had adverse relative Corsi scores. However when every participant was wanted most, he stepped up. Whether or not that may maintain up over three extra collection is but to be seen.

The new goalie

You’ll be hard-pressed to discover a higher instance of the unpredictability of goaltending than the opening-round efficiency from Sharks netminder Martin Jones.

Through the common season, Jones sputtered at occasions, ending the season with a .915 save proportion. In his previous two seasons, he has been simply 1.Four objectives saved above common (GSAA), in keeping with Hockey Reference. However when the lights are their brightest, the 28-year-old goalie has been at his finest.

In 2015-16, Jones made a reputation for himself by guiding the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Remaining. Of his playoff 24 begins, he gave San Jose 14 high quality begins (two objectives or fewer or a save proportion above league common) and completed the postseason with a .923 save proportion. This spring, he opened the playoffs by stopping 128 of 132 photographs in opposition to the Geese.

Total, Jones has a .931 profession playoff save proportion in 36 video games and 12 straight postseason high quality begins.

It is practically unimaginable to foretell whether or not a goalie will proceed to experience a scorching streak or fall off the facet of a cliff, however the Sharks’ netminder possible will see some more durable occasions until his staff does a greater job of stopping scoring probabilities.

Whereas the Geese scored just one purpose in high-danger areas, they took 37 high-danger shot makes an attempt, the third most of any staff within the playoffs.

Jones might have carried on his custom of terrific playoff efficiency into this run, nevertheless it’s impossible he’ll maintain excellence if his staff offers Vegas that many alternatives.

Going through Vegas and past

In the event you focus solely on regular-season statistics, the Golden Knights ought to be the favorites heading into this matchup. However in the event you take a look at the Sharks’ current play and Vegas’ scoring troubles in Spherical 1, a Sharks collection victory seems extra believable.

Since March 1 (together with playoffs), San Jose has scored 54 even-strength objectives in 22 video games in contrast with Vegas’s 37 in 23 video games. The Golden Knights netted solely six even-strength objectives of their sweep of the Los Angeles Kings. In opposition to Anaheim, the Sharks’ energy play was additionally rolling, with six objectives in 20 alternatives (30.Zero p.c).

This collection possible can be determined by whether or not Vegas’ scorers discover their regular-season type. Of their first 82 video games as a franchise, the Golden Knights scored 206 even-strength objectives, good for third within the NHL. The excellent news for Gerard Gallant’s group is that they created the second-most high-danger shot makes an attempt within the first 4 playoff video games, however the Knights bumped into goalie Jonathan Fast at his finest.

Vegas has a deep group of scoring forwards with 5 gamers over 20 objectives and a number of other rising star defensemen like Shea Theodore — who was on the ice for 27 high-danger photographs for and solely 5 in opposition to — and former Capital Nate Schmidt. And goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made his personal case for the primary spherical’s finest goalie, with a .977 save proportion.

Total, the Golden Knights appear to be the extra full staff. Then once more, so did the Geese. If the Sharks maintain Vegas’ dynamic group of scorers down, then it will likely be time to imagine they’ve an opportunity in opposition to one of many two finest groups within the West, Nashville or Winnipeg (their possible opponent in the event that they make the Western Convention finals). However for now, they’re nonetheless not an awesome wager to succeed in the Stanley Cup Remaining.

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