With the San Jose Sharks and the Dallas Stars going head-to-head for the first time this season on Thursday, Ken Armer (the Stars featured columnist) and myself decided to preview the season series. But first, a trip down memory lane.
Can the rivalry from the 1990's return in full force?
Throughout the mid-to-late 90’s, there was no other team that Sharks fans hated more than the Dallas Stars. Whether it was their hatred towards goaltender Ed Belfour, defenseman Derian Hatcher or superstars Brett Hull and Mike Modano, the San Jose faithful could not stand the team from the lone star state.
When the Sharks were eliminated from the playoffs at the hands of the Stars in two of three seasons from 1997-2000, the animosity of the fan-base towards Dallas reached its highest point.
It also didn’t help that the Stars won Lord Stanley’s Cup in the one season between ‘97-00 in which the Sharks weren’t able to match-up against their rivals during the post-season. Some fans are still bitter about the Stars’ success during those years, so much so that they continue to mention that the hated Brett Hull’s skate is still in the crease!
However, it is now ten years later, the “in the crease” rule is no longer and three of the four most hated Stars are no longer with the organization. No more Ed Belfour, no more Derian Hatcher and no more Brett “Fudging” Hull.
Nowadays, the Stars have a new group of tough, hard-nosed players that Sharks players and fans hate to see on the opposing bench. First and foremost of that group is Stars’ captain Brenden Morrow.
Despite his nearly season long injury last season, and the fact Sharks fans gained a new hatred for Anaheim Ducks star Ryan Getzlaf, Morrow is still the number one forward that Sharks fans absolutely loath. After his series winning OT goal two seasons ago in the playoffs, you still hear San Jose faithful mouthing the words “Brenden [expletive] Morrow”.
Along with Morrow, agitators such as Steve Ott, Kyle Barch and goaltender Marty Turco (aka: Ed Belfour part two), give the Stars a group of players that no team wants to play against, nonetheless a team that has to play them six times every season.
Now prior to the 2007-08 Western Conference semi-final between the two teams, the rivalry had cooled off as they had not met in the post-season since 2000. However, the Sharks are just as talented as they were two seasons ago, and the Stars return essentially the same lineup as two years ago with a healthy Morrow.
Considering that both teams are prime and ready for deep playoff runs and that the Anaheim Ducks lost two of their top three defensemen from last season in Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin, the Stars and Sharks look prime to finish 1-2 atop the division.
And when that happens, chaos is going to start flying in the head-to-head match-ups between these two clubs.
Who has the advantage going into the season-series? Ken Armer and myself will break down the rosters and compare the players:
Goaltenders: Marty Turco Vs Evgeni Nabokov
With the way the Sharks have been of late I think the advantage goes to Nabby, but the entire thing hinges on the play of the defense.
When it comes to stopping the puck, both goalies have an uncanny ability to perform at an elite level, especially even when the team in front of them is having an off night. But it is Turco’s incredible talent to handle the puck outside of his crease and start breakouts that is years better than Nabokov. Even though Nabby is currently at the top of his game, he is more likely to make that one mistake that causes his team the loss in a highly contested match-up. Slight advantage: Stars
Top-Flight Wingers: Brenden Morrow vs. Dany Heatley
Morrow, he's always been a bit of a Shark killer, and I think the play of Morrow and the Dallas fore-check will cause hell for Heatley.
This is an interesting comparison to make considering Morrow is coming of an injury and Heatley is joining a new team. Heatley is by far the more productive offensive threat as he has produced four seasons with higher point totals then Morrow’s career marks. However, the compete factor of Morrow is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. I’ll give a slight edge to Heatley in this argument because of his endless amount of offensive skill but both should mean about the exact same to their respective clubs this season.
Top-Tier Centers: Thornton, Pavelski vs Richards, Ribeiro
Looking forward to seeing the play of Richards and Pavelski in particular, id say for now this is an even match-up.
One might assume that Thornton and Pavelski outscored Richards and Ribeiro by a large margin last season. However, the Sharks duo posted just 145 points to the Stars duo’s 126. When you add in the post-season success of a player like Richards, these match-ups of centers will be extremely interesting to watch. Neither team has a clear advantage.
Young-stud Wingers: Devin Setoguchi & Ryane Clowe Vs Loui Eriksson and James Neal
Advantage Neal and Eriksson, both have been hot of late.
When Devin Setoguchi received all the love for his breakout second season, many fans around the NHL weren’t aware that a young Stars forward scored five more goals than Setoguchi. Loui Eriksson posted 36 goals to Setoguchi’s 31. Furthermore, James Neal was quite impressive as a rookie last season, scoring 24 goals and totaling 37 points for the Stars. With Clowe struggling and Setoguchi coming off injury, advantage Stars.
Scoring Depth: Mike Modano & Jere Lehtinen Vs Patrick Marleau & Torrey Mitchell
After nursing injuries for so long in Dallas, I go advantage SJ
Both teams are dealing with injuries when it comes to these players, but with Marleau on pace for a career year, the Sharks clearly have an advantage.
Offense from the defense: Dan Boyle, Rob Blake & Marc-Edouard Vlasic Vs Stephane Robidas, Matt Niskanan & Trevor Daley
The SJ defense is more capable of offense, Boyle alone is one scary dude on the man advantage. Advantage: SJ
This one isn’t close, the Sharks have much more firepower from the blue-line. Last season Boyle, Blake and Vlasic combined for 138 points. The top three current Stars defensemen posted 86 points last season. Advantage: Sharks
Defense from the defense: Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Douglass Murray and Kent Huskins Vs. Stephane Robidas, Nicklas Grossman, & Karlis Skrastins.
Dallas, Skrastins is a shot-blocking machine and Robidas is a true warrior. I think advantage Dallas
Although defense is more difficult to assess if you can’t follow a team play game in and game out, I have to give the edge to the Stars. So far this season the Sharks have experienced major struggles on their back-end and with two new defenseman with starting roles. Consequently, San Jose is extremely thin depth wise and and unfortunately they really miss Brad Lukowich who was shipped to Vancouver in an off-season trade. Advantage: Stars
Pests and Enforcers: Steve Ott, Krystopher Barch & Brian Sutherby Vs Jody Shelley, Brad Staubitz and Scott Nichol.
Advantage Dallas, I think Ott and Sutherby especially are big game guys and will be more influential in Thursdays game. Advantage: Dallas
Shelley is extremely overrated as en enforcer and his heir apparent in San Jose, youngster Brad Staubitz is still learning how to play at the NHL level. Scott Nichol gives the Sharks a boost, but the Stars can bring the tenacity with the best of them. Steve Ott just knows how to get under the skin of skill players like Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe in particular. Plus with Barch and Sutherby helping him out, the Stars have a trio of guys that can annoy the opposition and get them off their game. Advantage: Stars
I think the offense from defense will be the most fun to watch. The only thing I can comment on regarding the series is a bold prediction—whomever wins the series will win the division.
Although I may give the Stars a slight advantage in evaluating the rosters, the Sharks are hungry to put their critics to rest and they match-up well against the Stars in certain areas. The numerous offensive weapons the Sharks possess should lead to success against the Stars defense if they can avoid being drawn into penalty trouble by the tenacious group of Dallas forwards.
However, Dallas’ offensive weapons should also give the Sharks defense fits because San Jose’s back end is much weaker than that of two seasons ago. Combine these match-ups with the fact that each team’s goalie could steal their team a victory, this year’s season series should be extremely exciting to watch.
Since I agree with Ken that whomever wins the season series will win the division, I truly expect the rivalry from the late 90's to return this season.