April 10, 2011RATTO ARCHIVESHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEO
Once again, its time forKiss Of Death Theatre, with your host, me. Todays episode How The SharksGot Two Breaks, And Only One Of Them Bad.In a remarkable confluenceof constricted windpipes, the Chicago Blackhawks nearly played themselves rightout of the playoffs Sunday, providing the Sharks with what should be anadvantageous first-round matchup in Los Angeles and a slightly heightenedlikelihood of avoiding the Vancouver Canucks at some point during the postseason.As the final brick in a triangle of must-wins-that-were-losses, Dallaslost, 5-3, to a patently inferior Minnesota team to blow its chance to pip theBlackhawks for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs, which meansthat the Sharks (a) have one more team in the field that could beat them in atight series, but (b) have one more team in the field that could take outVancouver.
Ahh well. Bettman giveth, and Bettman taketh away. That,though, was the chess part of the playoff equation for San Jose. Chicagovs. Vancouvermeans one tough out goes down right away, but it also means that the survivormight still haunt the Sharks down the road if the road goes that far for theSan Joses. The checkers part the linear this-is-whats-in-front-of-us-nowpart remains Los Angeles, the seventh-place finisher with a depleted lineupbut a counter-punchers chance to make some real mischief if the Sharks arentdevoted to their game.
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And lets be frank, this is Sharks series towin based on the perfectly reasonable truth that L.A. is short two of its best players. Saywhat you want about upsets always being possible, but their likelihooddiminishes when the underdog doesnt have its full complement. TheKings problem in a nutshell is that Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, theteams two best scorers, are injured Kopitar, the Kings version of PatrickMarleau, with torn ligaments in his right ankle that ended his season, andWilliams, more of a Joe Pavelski type, a dislocated right shoulder that maycost him the early part of the series. Head coach Terry Murray stilltermed him questionable, but a strength test may help speed his clearance, ifnot for the opener, then maybe by Game 3 in Los Angeles. Injury, you seem, isthe one thing that separates the teams in the congealed mass that is theWestern Conference. The Sharks have managed to survive their injuries, and willbe back at full strength (save defenseman Kent Huskins) after winger RyaneClowe (wonky hip) was cleared to go.
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But the Kings are a thin groupoffensively without Kopitar and Williams, below average both in even-strengthand power play goal-scoring. They are also not a dominant face-off team, withonly second-line center Jarret Stoll a top-quality draw-taker. Whatthey have, though, is youth, and strength on defense. Goaltender Jonathan Quickis considered an up-and-coming star, though he has been less of a puzzle forthe Sharks of late, and defensemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are among thegames best. In that way, they are something akin to Nashville, whichhas Ryan Suter and Shea Weber in front of Pekka Rinne as the core of adefense-first team that can make it hard for indiscriminate snipers to enjoythe freedom of time and space they often need. They are puck-carriers, though,rather than stay-at-homes, and the Kings rank 27th in blocked shots, whichmeans that quick puck movement ought to get the Sharks enough good looks atQuick and the target behind him. San Jose has also tightened its own game through thesecond half, and while it may find the goal-scoring difficult, it has a betterchance of shutting down the Kings entirely without Kopitar to fret upon.
REWIND: Sharks clinch Pacific with 6-1 killing of Kings
Foretellingthe future of the playoffs ahead of time is a way to mock the gods and bemocked tenfold in return, of course, but it is hard to see this as a seriesthat causes either Quick or San Joses Antti Niemi to worry unduly. And whilethere is always a high upset quotient, this doesnt figure on its face to beone of those. It is, in short, a series the Sharks ought to win, andought to win without being extended. The goaltending is equivalent, the Kingshave a better defense but the Sharks have a much better attack, especially ifWilliams cannot return or is rushed back and ineffective. The Sharkshave never done well in postseason series with their California brethren (seeAnaheim 2009; see small sample size; see radically different teams), but thisis a series they should be able to deal with in five games, so that they can berested for the second round.