By adding Larry Robinson and Jim Johnson to Todd McLellan's staff, the San Jose Sharks may have gained their one edge (the bench) over Chicago
The San Jose Sharks were absolutely capable of beating the Chicago Blackhawks in one game. As the preview I did for Examiner.com shows, they were a threat to end their Western Conference rival's streak of earning at least a point at 16 to start a season.
What they cannot do as currently constructed is beat Chicago in a seven-game series.
The reason sports leagues originally started doing series was to minimize the risk that good fortune decides a champion. Perhaps no team sport has the outcome of its games more tied to chance than hockey.
In the Olympics, a team with a good goalie can take advantage of a lucky bounce that gives them a goal and run out the clock. That can end the chances of even the best team in the world earning any medal.
In the NHL, that one loss does not decide a series even if the bounces do not even out. The team playing better will win almost every time.
That is why should the teams meet in the playoffs, there are five major reasons Chicago will prove themselves better.
Note: The introduction slide was updated 2/23/13 to account for the last game between the teams. All further slides were left with data current before the start of NHL games 2/22/13.
The San Jose Sharks are one of the best teams in the NHL in faceoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks are barely above average.
But who gets possession of the puck first does not necessarily hold it. No team has as many takeaways as Chicago. San Jose is in a virtual tie with the New York Islanders for the most giveaways per game.
In the end, San Jose has had just four more possessions all season than their opponents. Chicago has had 38 more. That projects to about 17 extra possessions over a seven-game series—enough to create that one extra goal that is sometimes the margin in series between two great teams.
The San Jose Sharks are not the fast team they once were in recent years.
At the beginning of the 2013 season, only the third line (Tommy Wingels and T.J. Galiardi) had more than one true skater on it. With the lack of production from his forwards bringing head coach Todd McLellan to jumble the lines, sometimes there is not one fast skater on the ice.
That cannot be said of the Chicago Blackhawks. Many of their lines have more than one skater, and they possess a slightly more mobile blue line as well. Their superior execution has them playing even faster right now than their skating edge.
In the preview linked in the introduction to this list, the personnel advantages of the Chicago Blackhawks are outlined. But there are a couple things worth adding.
The strength of the San Jose Sharks may be the blue line. But the comparison of the two units is still lopsided enough to necessitate removing a top-pair defenceman from Chicago to even out the talent of the six players dressed. Here is what they look like without Brent Seabrook in the equation:
Duncan Keith is similar to but a little better than Dan Boyle. Niklas Hjalmarsson is basically the same player as Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Michal Rozsival may be better than Brad Stuart and Johnny Oduya is definitely better than Justin Braun.
The Sharks would have an edge with Brent Burns over Nick Leddy and Douglas Murray over Sheldon Brookbank. But at most that puts the two dressed units equal with the best two-way player removed from one of them.
Meanwhile, the forward advantage is slight among the best three or four players and pronounced beyond that. With that kind of personnel edge, San Jose better earn home ice (a longshot) if they want to have a chance to win four of seven from Chicago.
Before the 2008-09 season, the San Jose Sharks did not lose to the Chicago Blackhawks. It had not happened since before the Pacific Division was created.
That trend continued through the first two matchups that season. Then Chicago took nine of the next 10, including all four Western Conference finals contests in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.
San Jose did take four of the next five while Chicago shed salary and did a quick rebuild. But they have now dropped four of the following five, including both contests this season to give a good indication of who has the edge in this rivalry right now.
The Chicago Blackhawks obviously have an extra edge in the playoffs thanks to having beaten the San Jose Sharks in 2010. But their edge is made all the stronger because over half their team also went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Sharks have only four players that dress every night they are healthy with a Stanley Cup. Two of them did so as members of the 2010 Chicago team.