Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2011 NHL Playoffs: San Jose Sharks vs. L.A. Kings Series Preview & Predictions

Imagine you walk into the HP Pavilion on Thursday night. A sea of teal and black cover the arena except for the rectangle of freshly zambonied ice that is the center of attention for the next three hours.

The lights go black and Metallica's Seek and Destroy fills the stadium as Antti Niemi leads the team from out of the shark's mouth just as he has done numerous times this season.

The lights return and the National Anthem begins.

"Oh, say can you see..."

Chants of "Beat LA!" suddenly ring from the upper level of the right side of the arena.

It is playoff time in San Jose.


It has become a ritual in the NHL playoffs. A goalie gets hot and takes a team all the way.

We saw it with Antti Niemi last season for the Blackhawks, and you can even throw Michael Leighton of the Flyers in there as well for taking them to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.

So who is it this year?

It may be right in front of us.

The San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings matchup has two very good goalies capable of doing just that, and one of them already did it.

Both Jonathan Quick and Antti Niemi have the talent and type of game to take over a playoff series.

Niemi already has that reputation, as he took the Blackhawks all the way last season.

There is no telling how either of these goalies will play during this series, but they are very capable of standing on their heads and putting their team on their shoulders all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

As far as I'm concerned, the goaltending in this series is dead even.


L.A. Kings

There is one glaring weakness for this team that has taken a dive since catching the injury bug just a few weeks ago.


With the loss of offensive leader, Anze Kopitar, for the series, who does this team turn to now?

Sure, they still has forces like Dustin Brown, Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll, but Kopitar was the was undisputed offensive leader on this team with his 73 points, which was 16 points more than the second best on the team.

The Kings did get some good news yesterday when they learned that Justin Williams is expected to be back for the first round, but how much of an impact will he have? Reports are he returns at about 80% on Thursday.

Unfortunately for the Kings, the man who lead them this far will not be with them going forward. That is a cause for concern and a glaring weakness of the Kings.

San Jose Sharks

The weaknesses are obvious for the Sharks because they have been pretty consistent throughout the season.

The Sharks have two weakness: penalty kill and their blueline.

Since the injury of Scott Nichol, the Sharks' penalty kill has fallen from 10th in the NHL to 24th. Nichol is the heart and soul of this team when it comes to being down a player, which is why Nichol's return from injury on Thursday is much needed for the Sharks.

Still, how healthy will Nichol be?

He is known for his aggressive and annoying style of play. It's what makes him so good. But is he capable of that coming off of injury? We will soon find out.

The other weakness is the blueline.

They have tried so hard to replace the retired Rob Blake from last season, but yet this is still a glaring weakness of this team.

They acquired Ian White from Carolina to try and solve the problem, and although he has helped, White has not been seen much in the statistical category. But not many Sharks defenceman have, except for Dan Boyle, who will need to step his game up further than he ever has if this defense is to have success in these playoffs.


L.A. Kings

The Kings' strength is their defense. Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell make up the core of one of the best bluelines in the NHL. They will definitely have the upper hand going up against the Sharks' struggling blueline.

More importantly, the Kings' defense has experience. Scuderi has won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh and Mitchell has been to the playoffs several times, most recently with the Canucks.

The Kings should be overwhelming favorites in the defense department.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks' strength is their weapons. There are so many possible break-out players on this team that it makes up (at least on paper) for the disparity in defense these two teams have.

We all know about the Big 3 of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley. But what about Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi or Joe Pavelski?

Expect even Torrey Mitchell to have a break-out playoff this year.

The Kings will have their hands full with all of these players who are just rearing to break-out in the playoffs.


L.A. Kings

Kings' goaltender Jonathan Quick, at just 25-years-old, has the potential to take over games. Although he has a minor reputation for floundering in big games, Quick is talented.

The Sharks have been foiled by a hot goalies befor in the playoffs.

In 2009, Jonas Hiller of the Ducks stood on his head, and Antti Niemi did the same in 2010 with the Blackhawks to knock the Sharks out of the playoffs.

The Sharks have a reputation for this and there is no doubting that Quick has the capability to do it to them again.

San Jose Sharks

The X-Factor for the Sharks is history.

History says the Sharks choke in the playoffs year after year. Their big players become miniscule when the lights are on them.

If the Sharks can carry their great play at the end of the regular season into the playoffs, they should have no problem with the hurting Kings.

Can they prove history wrong?

But if Thornton, Marleau and Heatley don't come to play, the Kings have the ability, firepower and netminder to sneak past the Sharks in the first round.


A combination of the Kings missing Kopitar, their star offensive player, and the Sharks numerous weapons and new-found grit will prove to be too much.

Sharks in 6

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