You have seen the same previews 1000s of times. Why this team can win. Why that team can win. Strengths. Weaknesses. Matchups. Predictions. It is a formula so predictable that Mike Singletary tried to install it as the 49ers offense.
Here at Obstructed View Sports, we (hey, I can use that pronoun without it being a lie now!) are nothing if not fresh, so we are going to try to keep the previews interesting. We won’t stay away from those things above, since that’s obviously vital information, but don’t expect the typical bold title with the same rundown for each series.
Rob Morgus gets to the most important series of the bunch in the first of two OV Sports Sharks – Kings previews by doing exactly what I just promised you we wouldn’t do. But doing it well so read it anyways.
Here at OV sports we pride take pride in our impartiality. Wait, hey you sneaky little “im” how did you get in there. What I meant to say was: “here at OV sports we take pride in our partiality.” Ahh, that’s much better. If you are looking for the best preview of the up coming Sharks-Kings series, you’re in the right place. If you’re looking for impartial analysis, you might be a bit surprised, and maybe even offended.
These are the two teams who I have watched live the most of any this year, and one thing has stuck with me. Kings fans fucking suck. No, that wasn’t it. That’s right, without leading scorer Anze Kopitar and second leading scorer Justin Williams (who will play but requires shoulder surgery at seasons end [so in 9 days]) the LA Kings are entirely unimpressive. That being said, they have Jonathan Quick, he’s liable to steal a game or two, and Dustin Brown, who loves killing Sharks so much that he hunts Great Whites with his bare hands in the off season, so in 9 days (Disclaimer: this is not legal, or safe. Don’t get any ideas). Honestly though, with a Kopitar-less Kings, this series has the potential to be pretty bland. Everyone seems to be writing about how the Sharks faced a lot of adversity this year and prevailed, and that this has made them a more playoff ready team. There is merit to this theory, but the truth is, this is a different Sharks team, one better built for the playoffs. The major theme of this series, and should the Sharks advance, the rest of their playoffs, will be depth. But let’s break this series down first.
Up front there is no question that the Sharks have the edge. Both the top line and the depth lines are far superior for the Sharks who had an NHL best 7 players with 20+ goals. This poses a major problem for opposing defenses. Most teams have chosen to attempt to contain Joe Thornton, and his statistics are down. But this has opened the door for break out years from the likes of Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski. Normally, I would rag on Jumbo for his decrease in production, but as usual statistics only tell half the story. Thornton has donned the C all year, and from watching both games and post game inside the locker room, there is no doubt in my mind that he is the right man for the job. In early January, during a 6 game losing streak Jumbo took onus. He was constantly saying he needed to pick it up and lead the team. When the Sharks shook the losing skid, Joe led them. They haven’t looked back. The thing about Thornton is that I honestly believe he makes the players around him want to win. There is nothing more you can ask for from a captain, and while everyone points to Lindstrom and Toews as the best captains in the league, I’ve got to say, there are none better the Jumbo. Furthermore, if this isn’t leadership then I don’t know what is. That picture aside Jumbo has given me the feeling this season that he is basically playing “dad” for some of the younger guys. The biggest change for the Sharks is the way that the leaders have helped the Sharks in ways that don’t show up in their stat lines.
The Kings have a good captain of their own, and honestly he seems to be the only consistent threat they have left up front. It’s hard not to love the way Dustin Brown plays the game. He falls in the same mold as Messier, Doan, and Iginla: a tough power forward with surprising hands and a wicket shot. He’s also, as I alluded above, scored a lot of big goals against the Sharks. He’s scary, but he also has no one to play with. The man they call Zeus (Michal Handzus) has not had a good year and he’s the only other big name they have left up front. I would not be at all surprised if the Kings d-men out score their forwards this series.
When it comes to top end talent, there are no teams with better top two than the Kings, but yet again, when it comes to depth, the Sharks have an edge. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are two of the best young defensemen in the game and Doughty is one of the best d-men, regardless of age, in the game. Beyond that, they have Alec Martinez (awful in his own zone and extremely unproven), Willie Mitchell (Huskins/Wallin like), Rob Scuderi (Huskins/Wallin like), and Matt Greene (lets be honest, not very good at hockey). So to sum that up, they have one guy who isn’t good, one who isn’t good in his own zone and two comparable to Husky and Wallin, which means they’re solid in their own zone but are also prone to mistakes. That’s just not very intimidating. On the other side you have a corps led by Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray. Murray, whom most people assume is just a big goon (can’t blame them, look at the dude), has blossomed into one of the premier shut down defensemen in the league with a little bit of cranky on the side. Players around the league need to learn to not try to finish checks on this guy, because it never ends well. He is truly a physical specimen, as Drew Ramenda puts it, “Doug is a humongous human being.” You can bet he’ll be on the ice whenever Brown is. For me, this is the matchup to watch, and Murray and Boyle will be more than up to the task of shutting down the anemic (by first line standards) Brown line. Beyond that, the Sharks have a number of options on the back line. It seems that Marc Edouard Vlasic, Ian White and Niclas Wallin are the only definite goes. No one works harder than these three, and all three play extremely responsibly in their own zone. Vlasic has been on an uncharacteristic offensive tear of late, but don’t expect this to continue, as he will concentrate fully on playing defense in the playoffs.
Which team has the better goalie? Depends. If Antti Niemi plays like he has in 2011, then this is a toss up with maybe a slight edge to Nemo over the wunderkind Jonathan Quick due to his playoff experience. If Niemi reverts to his form of the first half then the Sharks are in trouble. Don’t expect this to happen though. It is common knowledge around the Sharks room that Nemo thrives on playing every game, which was illustrated beautifully by his 25-4-4 mark over 34 straight starts down the stretch. It was very interesting to watch the Sharks goalie situation in the first half of the season. While sharing the load with Antero Niitymaki, Niemi looked like he was having focus issues. His angles were off and his attention to details wavered. When Nemo took the reins in late January none of this was present. Expect that same Niemi in the playoffs. Despite Quick’s impressive numbers (and he is just as impressive live) I give the edge, in the playoffs, to Niemi.
Not even close, so I’m not going to spend too much time on it. Terry Murray is your run of the mill coach with a pretty standard system. Todd McClellan has set records in his three years as a head coach. The creativity and commitment to team defense that he has instilled (from his time with Datsyuk and the Red Wings) in the Sharks has made them a more playoff ready team than they ever were under Ron Wilson. Edge goes to the Sharks on this one by miles.
Uh, the Sharks have super hot girls shovel the ice. You just can’t find them anywhere on the internet. I promise, you’re just going to have to take my word for it. Just don’t go to the Tank to check my facts. I swear, they’re true. Oh, shit, that’s right, the Sharks have fat, old men shovel the ice during TV time outs. Don’t get me wrong, they do a great job, but they really can’t skate, and that’s what you really look for from an ice crew, right?. The Kings Ice Girls on the other hand, well let’s just say they know how to lace them up. Oh yeah, they’re also far and away the hottest ice crew in the NHL, bar none (that’s right Dallas, time to up your game). I mean it’s not even close. You like blondes? They’ve got them (here’s one more). You want a brunette? No problem. (for more see this: link… thank me later). Fortunately, this series (unlike the NSH-ANA one) will not be decided by the ice crews, because if it was, well you get the picture.
Of the first round series this may be the most lopsided. The Kings offense will sputter and the Sharks will find ways to break through Quick. Despite the hotness of the LA Kings Ice Girls, the Sharks will have no problem in this one. Sharks in 4.