The Kings went from being the 4th team to clinch a seed in the West this season to a 7th seed heading into the post-season. Their fall from grace coincided pretty closely to the losses of top two scorers Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. The Kings will have to make up for those losses with a full team effort against a really talented Sharks team.
To be honest, the Sharks are the second to last team I wanted the Kings to face in the first round. The first being the Ducks. It’s mostly about the rivalry for me, but the Ducks were surging big time and any team they face will have a tough match up. The Sharks are playoff regulars and they have a pretty stacked lineup. In addition, the Sharks seem to up their game against tougher opponents.
Let’s look at individual components of the game and determine who has the advantage:
Offense: The Kings boast six 20-goal scorers this season. Unfortunately two of them are on the shelf with serious injuries. If the Kings want to compete on offense they will need Brown, Smyth, Stoll, and Penner to up their games. Penner in particular has had a hard time adjusting to things in L.A. If he can find his game again and be “the guy” the way he was in Edmonton, he’ll be a big help. Also look for offense to come from Doughty and Johnson. They tied each other for the team lead in points last year in the playoffs and a repeat performance is just what the Kings need.
As for the Sharks, they’re loaded. They’ve got seven 20-goal scorers, two of which hit 30+ and they’re all healthy. This team has so many weapons that it will be hard for the Kings to watch all of them. Joe Thornton is always a huge playmaking threat, Marleau is a sniper, Couture is in the Calder conversation and had a 32 goal season, Pavelski had a breakout playoffs last year, and don’t forget Dany Heatley is a Shark.
Takes the Cake: Sharks. Just too many weapons for the Kings to compete with.
Defense: The Kings trademark all season has been team defense. The defense-corps of Doughty, Mitchell, Johnson, Scuderi, Greene and Martinez is rock solid. In my opinion it may be the best defensive lineup in the league. It’s a good mixture too, with Doughty, Johnson, and Martinez bringing the offensive side of the game, and Mitchell, Scuderi, and Greene handling the defensive aspect.
The Sharks are no defensive slouches either. Their defensemen boast glowing plus/minus ratings and also have a strong mix of offense and defense. Dan Boyle is obviously a defensive team leader, but look for guys like Ian White and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to play big roles as well. Don’t forget big-bodied Douglas Murray either.
Cream of the crop: The Kings. The team’s bread and butter is defense and the Kings are great at limiting chances.
Goaltending: Jonathan Quick put up another sterling season and was the first King to ever manage consecutive 30-win seasons. Sometimes it seems like Quick can stop the unstoppable. In addition, Quick was not over-played the way he was last season, meaning he should be fresh heading into the playoffs. Jonathan Bernier had a rough start to the season but rebounded and finished strong. The Kings should have confidence going to him should Quick falter, unlike last season with Ersberg.
Antti Niemi had a rough start to the season and ended up trading starts with other new Shark Antero Niittymaki. Between the two of them they lead the league in “A”s, “T”s, and “N”s in their name. But seriously, Niemi regained his Stanley Cup winning form late in the season and locked up the starter job. His numbers are solid and you can’t deny his big game ability.
Slightest of edges: The Sharks. If this were a fantasy draft and I had to choose between Niemi and Quick, I’d choose Quick. However, Niemi has a Stanley Cup ring on his finger and that sucker still has it’s new car smell, and you can’t argue with that.
Special Teams: The Kings power play has struggled all season, even with Williams and Kopitar in the lineup (21st in the league on the man-advantage). It’s an interesting twist heading into the playoffs where last season the Kings could only score on the power play. I don’t expect the Kings to suddenly pick up the pace on the PP, but expect Doughty and Johnson to try their damnedest. On the penalty-kill, the Kings are top notch. 4th in the league on the disadvantage and carried huge streaks of no-goals-allowed through the season. The penalty-kill will need to continue to come up big.
The Sharks are the polar opposite of the Kings when it comes to special teams. Lethal on the power play (3rd in the league), and pretty darn poor on the penalty-kill (24th in the league).
Coming out on top: Stalemate. I can’t award this one to either team since they both excel where the other team lacks. However, if one team can breakout in the area they lack, expect it to severely affect the series.
Coaching: Terry Murray has been to the Finals before, so he knows that it takes to get there. He led the Florida Panthers to their last trip the playoffs, a decade ago, which in itself deserves a trophy.
Todd McLellan has a Stanley Cup ring as an Assistant Coach in Detroit. Since taking over as Sharks Head Coach the team has gotten over the 2nd round hump they’d been plagued by for so long.
The Winner: Wash. There’s no denying that each coach has been around the block and isn’t simply running practices. Each coach has truly created a team and neither can be discounted.
X-Factors: The Kings need to score goals. Justin Williams is apparently practicing again and could return in the first round. In other good news, Quisp over at Jewels From The Crown reports Brayden Schenn’s Saskatoon Blades could get bumped from the playoffs soon. It’s good news because once his team is eliminated from the playoffs, he becomes eligible for a recall. Schenn showed his big game ability in the WJC tournament last year and could come up big for the Kings.
The Sharks can and will score goals. Probably a lot of them. Honestly, all the Sharks need to do is keep up their season pace and they should win this series.
Big man on campus: The Sharks. San Jose is like a Frankenstein monster constructed of game-breaking players.
Potential Goats: Dustin Penner will be under a larger microscope for the playoffs. He may have been able to escape ignominy in hockey-lite L.A., but during the playoffs, everyone is watching. Who’s this guy the Kings went out that’s supposed to be a 30-goal scorer? It’s you, Dustin, and if you don’t deliver, you won’t have many fans heading into next season.
As for the Sharks, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” comes to mind. Look no further than Jumbo Joe. He’s notorious for flaming out in the playoffs and all eyes will be on him. He had a less than great regular season, so he’s primed for scrutiny in the playoffs. While the Sharks have a lot of guys they expect big things from, Thornton will carry the weight of this team’s expectations.
Final Thoughts: The Kings work is seriously cut out for them. I’d like to say this team can survive without Kopitar in the lineup, but I have serious doubts. The Kings need to dictate the pace of the game and win board battles if they plan on making this series a fight.
No match up in the first round is easy in the West, considering just 2 points separates 4th from 8th. If Dallas and Calgary played in the East they both would have made the playoffs. That’s how tough this conference is.
More than anything, the Kings need to muscle the mental aspect of the game. They have the ability to win every game individually, while winning an entire series without their star may seem insurmountable. If they can get into the Sharks’ heads and make them wonder if they are still “cursed” in the playoffs, it could work in their favor.
Prediction: My mantra is “I hate making predictions”, but I’ll give myself a pass on this one and call it “an educated evaluation.”
I see the Sharks taking this series in 6 games. It’s not for lack of faith in my own team, but being honest with myself, if I were to step back and be an objective hockey fan and not a Kings fan, the Sharks are favorites in this match up.
Prove me wrong, boys. Go Kings!
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney