NHL Playoffs 2014: Round 1 Preview – San Jose Sharks vs LA Kings

Ice Nation UK continues coverage of the 2014 NHL playoffs with a preview of this California grudge-match between Pacific Division rivals San Jose and Los Angeles.

SERIES BEGINS: Thursday 17th April 2014

PUCK DROP: 10:30pm ET (3:30am GMT)

BY THE NUMBERS

SAN JOSE LOS ANGELES
SEASON RECORD 51-22-9 46-28-8
POINTS 111 100
GOALS FOR/AGAINST

(DIFFERENTIAL)

249 / 200

(+49)

206 / 174

(+32)

LAST 10 GAMES 5-4-1 5-3-2
TOP POINT SCORER

 

79 PTS

(J. PAVELSKI)

70 PTS

(A. KOPITAR)

TOP GOAL SCORER

 

41 G

(J. PAVELSKI)

29 G

(A. KOPITAR)

MOST TOI/G

 

21:16

(D. BOYLE)

25:42

(D. DOUGHTY)

TOTAL 5v5 SV%

 

92.2%

(17th in NHL)

93.5%

(2nd in NHL)

 

SAN JOSE SHARKS SEASON LOWDOWN: 

T

 he San Jose Sharks once again forgot the memo that their Stanley Cup contending window has supposedly shut, putting together an excellent season.  They may only be 2nd in their own division, and joint fourth in the Western Conference, but their 111 points would have seen them place behind only Boston in the East.  That they were playing in the extremely tough Pacific Division, which also boasts contenders Anaheim and Los Angeles, there really can’t be many complaints about how the season went for them.

Storming out of the gates to begin the season, the Sharks failed to garner a point in just one October game, and in only two games in November.  December and January saw things get a bit tougher, including two three-game losing streaks, but they put those months behind them and closed the season well.

Of course relying on elite veteran forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, not to mention defender-turned-forward Brent Burns, the team also got excellent production from younger skaters Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, the former leading the team in goals and points.  Marc-Edouard Vlasic continued to prove why he’s one of the most underrated young defensemen in the game, playing an excellent two-way game.

Antti Niemi had a slightly below average season, but is still a decent enough goalie and the Sharks are strong enough to compensate for not having an elite ‘tender in net.  Alex Stalock, playing his first full NHL season, put up outstanding numbers and should be able to step in in a moment’s notice if Niemi falters.

SAN JOSE SHARKS PLAYER TO WATCH: 

It has to be Joe Thornton.  Since joining the Sharks in 2005, he has 79 points in 90 games, his “worst” playoff (production-wise) coming in 2007/08 when he “only” scored 10 points in 13 games.  Put simply, the guy produces, and his experience at the highest level can only serve to drive this team forward.  There are precious few other centers in the game that you would want leading your team.

LOS ANGELES KINGS SEASON LOWDOWN: 

The Kings had their usual strong outing, not dominating the league exactly but playing their über defensive system to a tea.  They finished with the fewest goals-for of any playoff-bound team, but also allowed by far the fewest goals.  That commitment to defense will serve them well in the tighter systems play that usually occurs in the playoffs, and has indeed worked for them in recent years, winning them the Cup in 2012 and getting them to the Conference Finals last year.

The team generally played strong hockey for the entire season, save for a difficult stretch in January and February where they won just one of nine games.  They quickly put that behind them with an eight-game winning streak, however.

Trade deadline acquisition Marian Gaborik has been an excellent addition to the squad, providing a surprisingly decent amount of scoring (16 points in 19 games) and providing the team with an even more potent top-line to go with excellent two-way players Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.  The depth on this team is also outstanding; as a team they may not score a lot, but a majority of players are fully capable of putting the puck in the net given the opportunity, and their goaltending has been sublime.

LOS ANGELES KINGS PLAYER TO WATCH: 

I will always, always go with the superstar defender.  Teams with a minute-munching blueliner who can do it all simply have a huge advantage when he is on the ice.  Doughty is easily in the same league as players like Weber, Keith, Chara and Suter.  He may not be as physically imposing as some of those names, but the man can do it all.  Having him patrolling the ice gives the Kings as good a chance to win games as any team.

PREDICTION: 

This is in no way shape or form an easy choice.  Both teams boast some of the NHL’s truly elite players, possess great depth, and have extensive playoff experience.  A part of me desperately wants to see the Sharks succeed; they’ve been so good for so long and their stars aren’t getting any younger.  However, I can’t see them getting past the Kings, at least not easily.  LA’s combination of exceptional two-way forwards, an elite defender and an outstanding goalie should win the day.

Kings in seven.

STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF ICE NATION UK’S NHL PLAYOFF PREVIEWS.

Follow Chris on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk throughout the playoffs!

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