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Why the Sharks Can Beat the Kings in Round 1
SJ has something to prove
4/11/16 - By Zach Bodenstein -

After the infamous "reverse-sweep" in 2014, the San Jose Sharks are a force to be reckoned with this season. To the average hockey fan, the Sharks don't stand a chance, and that is a fair assumption considering the Kings' recent playoff success. However, this is a different Sharks team, and a different Kings team, as well.

The Sharks have four balanced lines up front, including 25 goal-scorer Patrick Marleau as San Jose's third line center. In the past, depth has been parallel to success in the playoffs, and this is the first time that San Jose has had a truly deep roster going into the playoffs, as we shouldn't consider the team that had Scott Hannan, Matt Irwin, and Mike Brown, among others, a deep team.

The Sharks have the best center depth in the NHL, with point-per-game Joe Thornton, superstar Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, and the hockey-sensed Chris Tierney centering the fourth line. The Sharks were seventh in faceoff percentage in the NHL, while the Kings were eleventh.

This team's only weakness is the penalty kill. The Sharks finished with the 20th ranked penalty kill, but the play of Martin Jones, putting up elite stats, and the insurance of James Reimer could provide dividends for San Jose. The Sharks contain an astonishing amount of two-way talent up front, as well as defenders that can block shots, play physical, and score. The Kings had the 8th ranked powerplay and the 15th ranked penalty kill, while the Sharks had the 3rd ranked powerplay as well.

This Sharks team may be the most offensively-strong Sharks team that we have ever seen. They finished with two players in the top five in NHL scoring, and had the runner-up for defensive scoring, as well. Amidst all of the star power, it should be noted that since Tomas Hertl's return to the top line after being on the fourth line, he has had a career year, and the chemistry is evident between the trio, especially on the cycle, has been key for San Jose's success. Hertl finished with 31 points in his final 46 games, a 55 point pace. Aside from the points, the maturity and health that was not there two years ago, is for Hertl.

The Sharks led the entire NHL in high-danger scoring chances while giving up one of the fewest, and were second in the Western conference in goal-scoring behind the Dallas Stars.

Unlike past years, the Sharks now have scoring threats on all four lines. Joel Ward has been fantastic this season, as well as Joonas Donskoi, as both add to the Sharks' much improved and needed possession game. Their bottom-six contains speed, hockey-sense, skill, and scoring abilities with Matt Nieto, Patrick Marleau, Tommy Wingels, Nick Spaling, Chris Tierney, and Melker Karlsson.

The blue line is the best defensive core that the Sharks have had in recent years, adding much needed depth and physicality in Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak since the last series between these two rivals. Not to mention Marc-Edouard Vlasic, arguably the NHL's best shutdown defenseman, missed the final few games of the 2014 collapse after a cheap shot by Jarret Stoll of which resulted in no penalty. But even without Vlasic this year, the defense has been very solid.

Brent Burns' defensive game is unquestionably better than two years ago, as he is almost certainly a candidate for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defender. Paul Martin has been nothing short of a stud alongside Brent Burns, as he has one of the best plus/minus ratings in the league since January 21st, also not on the 2014 team. Justin Braun's game has been better as well. All of these defenders can handle big minutes, but the key will be Peter DeBoer having to match his top two pairings up against Anze Kopitar, especially when having first change on the road.

After going 3-1-1 against the Kings in the regular season, including 2-0 with a combined score of 10-4 at Staples Center, and a convincing 5-2 win at home without Nieto and Vlasic recently, the Sharks look like a serious threat to win this series. Both are great possession teams, but the Kings won eleven three-on-three overtime games, the most in the NHL. Obviously, overtime in the playoffs is played five-on-five, which shows a massive deception in the Kings' record this season.

The Sharks have it all up front, on the back end, and in net. This is a Sharks team that we have not seen in the past. They were the NHL's top road team as well, giving them a big advantage over other teams to begin the series on the road. They will finally have their full lineup for the first time for game one, as the team has been banged up mightily since the trade deadline, when Polak, Spaling, and Reimer were acquired.

The Kings have had a big hit when it comes to depth since 2014, losing a ton of notable names. Their defense is a massive question mark past their top two defensemen of Jake Muzzin and Drew Doughty, as Brayden McNabb, Rob Scuderi, Alec Martinez, whom is their third best defenseman and is currently injured, and Luke Schenn should have a tough time shutting down one of the best offenses in the league, especially when it comes to creating scoring chances. The Kings gave up 18 goals in 5 games against the Sharks this season, an extremely subpar 3.6 goals against per game.

Up front, the Sharks' top two pairings can and have easily shut down the Kings this season. The chemistry between San Jose's top four defensemen has been phenomenal.

If the regular season contests between these two teams are indicative of this series, we are in for a treat, as it should be the best playoff series in the first round. This is the most serious the Sharks have looked to be a contender in terms of the holes that they have plugged from the past teams that have eventually failed to win the Cup. Don't be so quick to count the Sharks out of this one.

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