| 1st round comparisons
Sizing up the Sharks - Predators series
4/10/07 - By Mike Lee
The San Jose Sharks and
Nashville Predators square off for the second consecutive year in the first
round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, starting Wednesday in Nashville. You can
forget last year, if you're looking for comparisons. Tomas Vokoun is healthy
and the Predators add Peter Forsberg, J.P. Dumont and Jason Arnott to the mix.
San Jose counters with the best goaltending tandem in the NHL and additions
Bill Guerin and Craig Rivet.
We take a look at the match-ups going into Wednesday night's opener.
Size: Advantage San Jose
There's no doubt who the bigger team is here, and San Jose intends on using
that size to ear down the Predators. Joe Thornton started to pick up the
physical play as the regular season wound down in preparation for the NHL
season. The Sharks have plenty of big bodies to throw around.
Speed: Advantage Nashville
Nashville holds a slight edge in the speed game, but the Sharks have plenty of
guys that can skate. Paul Kariya, Steve Sullivan, Marin Erat and Alexander
Radulov all have wheels. Throw in Arnott and Forsberg and you have a pretty
quick set of forwards. The Sharks will need to counter Nashville's advantage
with speed on the defensive side the lineup. Christian Ehrhoff, Marc-Edouard
Vlasic and Matt Carle have the ability to keep pace with Nashville's rabbits.
Balance: Advantage Nashville
The Predators had 7 players record more than 50 points this season. San Jose
only had 4. The Sharks need more production for their 3rd and 4th lines on
offense, especially if the Predators focus their defensive attention on
Thornton, Cheechoo, Marleau and Michalek.
Special Teams: Advantage San Jose
The Sharks will need to exploit Nashville's mediocre power play. The Predators
17.4% power play ranked them 18th in the league. The Sharks faltered late in
the season, slipping from the top spot to 2nd in the league with their 22.4%
efficiency on the man advantage. San Jose will get to put their power play up
against the 3rd ranked penalty kill in the regular season. San Jose's 14th
ranked penalty kill gave up several power play goals in the last three games to
drop them lower in the rankings.
Unlike last season's series, the Predators have two healthy goaltenders,
including Vokoun, who missed the entire playoffs last year after he was
diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg. Chris Mason returns with a year of
playoff experience under his belt and a healthy 24-22-4 regular season record.
Mason's 2.38 GAA and .925 save percentage were actually better than Vokoun's
this past season. The Sharks will ride Evgeni Nabokov's hot hand into the
first round, and lean on Vesa Toskala if Nabokov gets in trouble. Toskala has
been nursing a sore groin the past three weeks, but should be ready if called
upon. Rust would be the only concern for Toskala, who hasn't faced an opponent
in several weeks.
Experience: Advantage San Jose
The Sharks hold a slight advantage in the playoff experience, even though
they're one of the youngest teams in the league. Peter Forsberg and Jason
Arnott both have their names etched on Lord Stanley's Cup, but the Sharks
upgraded in the veteran leadership department with the addition of Guerin,
Rivet at the trade deadline, and Mike Grier and Curtis Brown in the off season.
The Sharks also bring four rookies to the dance (left wing Ryane Clowe; center
Joe Pavelski, and defensemen Matt Carle & Marc-Edouard Vlasic), which could
serve as the catalyst for an interesting series. All four youngsters are
technically rookies, even though Clowe and Carle skated in the 2006 playoffs
for San Jose. In 2006, San Jose had 8 rookies skate at least one shift in the
playoffs (Steve Bernier, Milan Michalek, Patrick Rissmiller, Marcek Goc, Carle,
Josh Gorges, Clowe and Grant Stevenson)
The Predators have home ice advantage in the series, but the Sharks had the
best road record in the NHL during the regular season. Nashville won the
season series between the two teams (2-1-1), but the Sharks have been on a ear,
going 13-2-3 over the last 18 games of the season, which included two overtime
losses to the Vancouver Canucks. The Sharks have the mental advantage of last
season's playoff victory, but the return of Vokoun could be the variable that
gets Nashville over the hump.
Potential Sleepers - Nashville
Steve Sullivan loves playing against the Sharks. If he plays against them in
the playoffs like he has in the regular season, the Predators could romp.
Potential Sleepers - Mark Bell
The Sharks acquired Bell in a move last Summer to bolster their grit. Bell led
the Sharks in penalty minutes during the regular season and can focus attention
away from guys like Thornton and Marleau if he steps up his physical play in
Predictions: Nashville wins if
This series matches the 4 and 5 seeds from the West, and you couldn't find two
teams that are more evenly matched. Nashville can take this series if they
jump out to a quick lead at home and take the first two games. Playoff games
tend to be called tighter then regular season games, which favors the
Predators, who have a great penalty kill, and so-so power play. Low scoring
games favor the Predators.
Predictions: San Jose wins if
If San Jose wins one of the first two games in Nashville, they will gain the
same advantage that carried them last year. The Sharks need to get to Vokoun
early and often if they want to win this series. Paul Kariya was a non-factor
in last year's playoffs because the Sharks neutralized him after Game 1.
They'll need to do the same thing this time around, only they'll also have to
deal with Forsberg and Arnott. Both of those players know what it takes to win
a Stanley Cup, so the Sharks need to control the flow and keep those two off
the scoring sheet.
>> TheFeeder 2007 Playoff Center
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