The San Jose Sharks played lackluster and uninspired hockey in the final game of the season against the Los Angeles Kings. Maybe the Sharks didn’t want to play the red-hot St. Louis Blues in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
Despite the rather anticlimactic end to the lockout-shortened NHL season for the Sharks, the team is playing its best hockey at the best time. Antti Niemi continues to be the best player on the ice nearly every single night, and San Jose’s newfound youth and speed have them becoming a real force to worry about in the playoffs.
The Sharks simply match up better on paper with the Canucks, rather than the Kings or Blues. The Kings are defending Stanley Cup champions with a goalie who has the ability to take over pivotal games in Jonathan Quick.
The Blues defense, led by red-hot goalie Brian Elliot, continues to be their biggest weapon, and being winners in 12 of their final 15 games of the season makes them one of the hottest teams entering the playoffs.
In a way, San Jose got the better end of a disappointing end to the season. They will not have home-ice advantage, but the Sharks will match up extremely well with a higher-seeded team that took the loss in all three meetings this season.
Niemi is a viable candidate for the Vezina Trophy this season, and there is little doubt that the Sharks’ success is because of his consistent play in net.
The Canucks are having trouble scoring at the moment, which only opens the door for Niemi to control the game and give the San Jose offense an opportunity to get in a rhythm—something the team is in dire need of, at the moment.
The Sharks have been able to count on one thing during the regular season: Antti Niemi. He must continue his reliability if the Sharks have any chance of moving past the first round.
Canucks netminder Corey Schneider’s status for the first round of the playoffs is uncertain at the moment, but Vancouver could really use him in net.
The Canucks have not scored over three goals in a game in over two weeks, and Schneider’s replacement, Roberto Luongo, has given up 10 goals in two games in his absence. It included a loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the final game of the season in which Luongo surrendered seven goals without being pulled.
The Sharks’ quick and relentless offensive attack should give them the upper hand against the struggling Vancouver goaltending.
The Sharks are not world-beaters on the offensive end, by any means, but there has been an obvious change on that end of the ice recently.
Brent Burns’ move to forward has made all the difference for the offense, as have the departures of Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus—two players who seemingly held San Jose back from entering a state of mind on the ice where quickness and speed lead to offensive opportunities.
There is momentum hidden in the Sharks offense. Although the team’s scoring ability was stunted in the final week of the season, the changes made on offense will open the door for opportunities during the playoffs.
This time last season, the Sharks’ penalty kill was at its worst. It was an unreliable part of their game that was not able to find success at any point in 2011-12.
One year later, the Sharks’ penalty kill is one of the best in the NHL with an 85 percent success rate.
If that success can continue against the Canucks’ 22nd-ranked power play, then San Jose will have killed a major part of Vancouver’s offensive attack.
Year after year, it has become an epidemic in teal. The star players counted on during the regular season disappear once the playoffs begin. The same “keys for the Sharks to win the series” could have been written last season and many seasons before.
The playoffs have caused players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to fade into mediocrity. The Sharks cannot afford that, and the players themselves cannot afford that.
Both players have just one more season under contract with the Sharks, and unless the two can find the playoff success the past five seasons have been looking for, it could be time to move on in San Jose.
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