Ranking the Stanley Cup playoff series

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Ranking the Stanley Cup playoff series

We hate to break it to you this way, but its better if you hear from someone you . . . well, dont like very much.

The Sharks-Blues series is not considered a potential classic of the genre. In fact, the word ugly gets bandied about a lot.

As in, This series is going to be as ugly as the regular season series. Not the results, necessarily, although seven-seeds traditionally have difficult times handling twos.

But the games? They wont be a lot of fun. Theyll be short on scoring chances, skating room or traditional up-tempo give-and-take.

In short, you cant say you havent been warned. But if it helps at all, even if your ardor for the local Selachimorpha does not allow you to believe your favorite team can play ugly hockey, the rest of the series arent that much better.

In fact, lets rank them in order of fun per minute:

NASHVILLE-DETROIT
The Wings are always elegant viewing, if only because Pavel Datsyuk may very well be the most underrated great player ever. But having Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Valteri Filppula and a well-established style of play makes the Wings good entertainment. Against that, Nashville brings two extraordinary defensemen in Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, the best goalie in the game in Pekka Rinne, and the resurgent if mercenary Alexander Radulov. The series with the best chance of going seven games, too.

NEW YORK RANGERS-OTTAWA
One-eight matches dont often stand up well, but Ottawa gives the Rangers more than enough trouble and Henrik Lundqvist is believed to be nursing a nagging injury. John Tortorella never met an argument he couldnt make louder or more profane, and Ottawa hockey fans are plain nuts.

PITTSBURGH-PHILADELPHIA
Most folks would rank this higher, maybe even first, but the Penguins when fully healthy are a dramatically better team. Plus, Flyer goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is due for one of his everyones-paying-attention-to-me walkabouts. This will be an aggressively played but brief series.

VANCOUVER-LOS ANGELES
If Jonathan Quick is brilliant, the Canucks can get as tight-windpiped as any team, and in that town, a tight windpipe is a sign to make it tighter. Plus, there are many amusements to be found in watching coaches Darryl Sutter and Alain Vigneault screwing with each others heads.

BOSTON-WASHINGTON
This is only good if Alexander Ovechkin can become the happy-time Fizzies party he used to be. The Bruins finished strong, goaliepolitical naf Tim Thomas is playing close to his playoff level of a year ago, and the Bruins are defending champions. But the Caps have been mediocre to frustrating even after the coaching change to Dale Hunter, so getting your hopes up here seems counterproductive.

PHOENIX-CHICAGO
The Blackhawks get Jonathan Toews back, and their goaltending problems will make the Coyotes seem less offensively-challenged. It could be a sleeper series for entertainment. It could also stink to high heaven if the Hawks give in to Phoenix penchant for grinding the game into dust.

ST. LOUIS-SAN JOSE
Logan CoutureJoe PavelskiJoe Thornton and David BackesPatrick BerglundAlex Steen had better be lots of fun, if only to negate the Ken Hitchcock way of doing things. Thats all were saying.

FLORIDA-NEW JERSEY
Oh God.

You are of course entitled to judge the series in any order you wish. Its just that this is the correct one until more data presents itself.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

NHL Gameday: Sharks face Preds, look to rebound from 'crap' performance

NHL Gameday: Sharks face Preds, look to rebound from 'crap' performance

Programming note – Sharks-Predators coverage starts today at 4:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-25-7, 91 points, 1st Pacific Division
Predators: 37-25-11, 85 points, 4th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The freefalling Sharks will again try to put an end to their losing streak in their only visit to Nashville tonight. Friday night’s unsightly 6-1 loss in Dallas, their fifth straight in regulation, was surely their worst game of the season. Their typically strong defensive game handed the Stars all kinds of opportunities that they cashed in on.

“Uncharacteristic missed coverage," Pete DeBoer said of the Stars' third goal in which Jamie Benn was left uncovered, "but [I] think that you could say that about six of the goals – breakaways, two-on-ones. Just, crap. Not very good.”

Despite having a nine-point lead on the division on the morning of March 15, the Sharks are now tied in points with Anaheim (San Jose owns the tiebreaker, so is still officially in first place). The Ducks are idle Saturday, but Edmonton, two points back, is hosting putrid Colorado.

Nashville is 5-1-0 in its last six games, and 6-1-0 in its last seven at home.

***The Sharks have managed just five goals over their five regulation losses. Two of those scores have come on the power play, including one on a five-on-three; Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s goal against St. Louis deflected in off of a Blues player, and one of Patrick Marleau’s two markers in Minnesota on Tuesday came in large part to a miscommunication between Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Suter.

They are simply not generating anything lately.

“Some teams are doing a good job of taking some of our plays away, but it’s on us as players,” Joe Pavelski said. “You’ve got to win some battles, you've got to create some energy, some speed throughout the team. It’s hasn’t been one guy. It’s been all of us. We’re in this together. We’ll change it as a group."

***There was no morning skate on Saturday, so no word on whether Vlasic would be in the lineup after he took just one shift in the third period on Friday before departing.

The Sharks are 2-3-1 in the six games Vlasic has missed this season, including Tuesday in Minnesota when he was out with the flu. Just one of the two wins came in regulation (Jan. 7 against Detroit).

If he’s out, Dylan DeMelo will presumably draw back in on the third pair.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Tomas Hertl. It didn’t take long for Hertl to be bumped up to the Joe Thornton line after Friday’s game started to go sour. In the first period, Hertl looked like one of the few Sharks players actually performing decently, and he finished with a team-high four shots on goal. He remains without a point in his last 11 games, though.

Predators: James Neal. The Predators forward has goals in each of his two games against the Sharks this season, and is third on the Predators with 21 overall. After scoring in three straight games from March 11-16, Neal hasn’t found the scoresheet in his last three.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Marcus Sorensen – Tomas Hertl – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones (likely starter)
Aaron Dell

Predators
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala – Calle Jarnkrok – James Neal
Colin Wilson – Colton Sissons – Craig Smith
Cody McLeod – Vern Fiddler – Austin Watson

Romas Josi – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – P.K. Subban
Matt Irwin – Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne
Jusse Saros

INJURIES

Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic (possible lower body) and Melker Karlsson (lower body) are questionable.

Predators: Mike Fisher (lower body) is questionable.

QUOTEABLE

"The nice thing about this is we get to go back at it again tomorrow. There’s going to be no excuse for not playing hard tomorrow.” – Brenden Dillon, after Friday night’s loss in Dallas

 

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

Sharks blowout loss to Stars includes 'a month's worth of mistakes'

DALLAS – In just two-and-a-half weeks, the Sharks will have the opportunity to defend their Western Conference title when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway.

(Take a deep breath. They won’t fall out of playoff position.)

Still, it’s a terrible time for them to be playing their worst hockey of the season, and going through the foulest stretch of coach Pete DeBoer’s two-year tenure.

The Sharks were flat-out embarrassed by the Stars on Friday night in their fifth straight regulation defeat, 6-1 in Dallas, showing no signs of life for the duration. Not even a verbal tongue-lashing from their normally reserved head coach in full view of the cameras in the second period got their motors going.

How do you explain this one, Joe Pavelski?

“I don’t know, good question,” said the captain. “There’s a commitment that needs to be there to win in this league right now consistently. Right now, we’re searching for that.”

DeBoer, too, was puzzled.

“You have a handful of those a year where nothing goes right and nobody’s got any kind of legs or energy,” he said. “It was one of those nights. I don’t have an explanation for it. I felt we prepared the right way the last couple days. I thought we felt pretty good about ourselves. Then, the puck dropped and everything went bad.”

It was evident early that the Sharks were off, as they couldn’t figure out a way to get the puck through the neutral zone for the first several shifts and didn’t register a shot on goal until 7:17 into the first period. The first of three Adam Cracknell goals – yes, Adam Cracknell – had them trailing 1-0 after the opening frame.

Traditionally, the Sharks would have found a way to jolt themselves to life at the intermission, as it was so plainly obvious that they didn’t seem focused or driven over the first 20 minutes.

This was a game, too, in which they were healthier, getting Jannik Hansen back in the lineup, and more rested than the Stars, who were playing their second game in as many nights while San Jose was coming off a rare two-day break. Furthermore, the Sharks have seen a nine-point lead in the Pacific Division evaporate to just two points headed into Friday’s action. Motivation should have been easy against a team that shut them out on Monday, to boot.

But the mental mistakes to start the second were even worse. Brett Ritchie was left alone by Brenden Dillon for a goal just 1:58 into the middle frame, and at 5:19, Brent Burns was caught staring at the puck off of a faceoff as Jamie Benn got free in front of the net to push the Dallas lead to 3-0. DeBoer's timeout and screaming session after that third goal did nothing, as Dallas got two more goals off of the rush and another on a breakaway by Cracknell after a gift turnover by goalie Aaron Dell before the night was through.

“That’s a month worth of mistakes in one night, so hopefully we get it out of the system,” DeBoer said.

The defensive miscues should be easily correctable, according to Dillon.

“If you look at a good chunk of those goals, we kind of know whether it was d-zone coverage, or off the rush, or just communicating with one another,” he said. “Stuff that’s not like us. I think if we watched the other 70 games this year, those kind of things don’t happen.”

Of course, the defensive errors become all the more glaring when a team isn’t scoring, either. The Sharks managed just one Joe Thornton power play goal, and have just five total goals in their last five games.

That part of their game wasn’t any better against Dallas than their defense, as Kari Lehtonen had a relatively tranquil evening.

“We have a lot of guys that are going through some tough times right now and struggling to get on the scoresheet,” Logan Couture said. “We're going to need all of those guys to bring more. That's from our top guys, including myself and on down. We need to do more offensively. Score goals, and do more defensively, as well.”

They have just eight more games to figure it all out.

“It’s not ideal, by any means,” Dillon said. “I think it’s maybe a bit of a wakeup call for us. … You can’t take a night off and you have to be emotionally invested. You’ve got to take every shift as hard as you possibly can.”

* * *

DeBoer had no update on Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who didn't play in the third period. The defenseman was seen leaving the dressing room under his own power, but looked to be walking a bit gingerly.