San Jose Sharks: Sizing Up Every Potential First Round Opponent

Chris LeydenCorrespondent IIMarch 24, 2011

San Jose Sharks: Sizing Up Every Potential First Round Opponent

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    With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, NHL playoff matchups are far from set, but many San Jose Sharks fans are already looking at potential first-round matchups.

    The Sharks are currently in third place in the Western Conference, but only seven points separate them from being in and out of the playoffs.

    With that in mind the Sharks could play a large variety of teams in the first round, from the No. 1 seed to the No. 7 seed.

    The following slideshow features a brief breakdown on every potential opponent and how the Sharks have fared against that team so far this season.

    Feel free to comment below with what teams you would want to see in the opposite bench of the Sharks in the first round and what teams you want to avoid.

    All stats include games played up to and through March 22nd.

Detroit Red Wings

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    The bottom would have to fall out for the Sharks to take on the Detroit Red Wings because right now the teams are third and second in the standings, respectively.

    The Red Wings are always a contender down the stretch, and this year is, of course, no different even with the lack of strong goaltending.

    The Wings bring a lot of offensive firepower with them, and have the second highest goals per game average in the league.

    The players the Sharks would most have to watch out for are Henrik Zetterberg, who leads the team with 52 assists, and Johan Franzen, who leads the team with 27 goals. Brian Rafalski will also put up points from the defensive position and has 40 points on the season.

    Even with all this offense the Sharks may actually want a matchup with the Wings in the first round as they are 3-1 against them.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes are getting into the groove at just the right time and are a team that anyone would fear come playoffs time.

    The Coyotes have gained 15 of a possible 20 points in their last 10 games and are ignoring their off-the-ice issues and putting together a great product on the ice.

    The Coyotes don't have a goal scorer with over 20 goals, with Shane Doan leading them with 18. They are mainly led by their rock in the net, Ilya Bryzgalov, who is one of the best goaltenders in the conference.

    The Sharks have been strong against the Coyotes so far this season, winning all three of their meetings.

    These two teams meet three times in the final few weeks of the season, including a home-and-home to end the season. It is likely that whoever wins these final few meetings will win the Pacific Division.

Los Angeles Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings are led by a goalie who, when hot, is unbeatable in Jonathan Quick.

    The Kings give up the sixth least goals in the league, and goals have been coming at a premium when these two teams meet.

    The top player for the Kings, who leads them is goals, assists, points and plus/minus, is Anze Kopitar.

    The Kings made a move at the trade deadline for Dustin Penner, who already has six points in 10 games with the team.

    When these two teams have met there have been some good battles between them, with the Sharks coming out with a 2-1-1 advantage.

    The Kings could still potentially pass the Sharks for first in the Pacific division, down only four points and with two meetings between the teams to come.

Nashville Predators

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    If the playoffs were to start today, the Sharks would take on the Nashville Predators, which may or may not be a good thing.

    The Predators took the first two meetings between these teams, but the Sharks have won the last two in overtime.

    Nashville has also been on fire of late, winning their last four and seven of their last 10.

    The Predators give up the fewest goals per game in the league, and are led by Pekka Rinne, who has a goals against average of just a sliver above two.

    It also helps that Rinne has one of the best defensemen in Shea Weber in front of him to help out. Weber is actually third on the team in both goals and assists, an impressive feat for someone who plays the blue line.

    Nashville may not be a hockey town right now, but with the full head of steam this team is charging into the playoffs with the fans there could be converted.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    If the Chicago Blackhawks can get healthy by the time the playoffs start, they may have a chance of defending their title.

    Right now leading goal scorer Patrick Sharp is out with an injury, but he is expected to be back before the regular season is over.

    Jonathan Towes is having an MVP-like season for the Blackhawks, with 72 points. These two star forwards have helped to give the Blackhawks the third best offense in the league.

    The Blackhawks actually have the second best goal differential in the Western Conference, which could be a sign that they are better than their record shows.

    The Sharks are 3-1 against the Blackhawks, but did lose their most recent meeting.

Anaheim Ducks

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    The Ducks are another Pacific Division team that has a chance of making the playoffs, despite their negative goal differential.

    Anaheim is lead by Corey Perry and journeyman Teemu Selanne, both of whom have over 65 points on the season.

    Anaheim has been on a surge of late to push themselves in the playoffs, winning eight of their last 10 games.

    The Sharks are 2-1-1 against the Ducks, with the teams meeting two more times before the season is over. San Jose could help the Ducks into the playoffs by losing these two meetings and then see the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs.

Dallas Stars

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    The Dallas Stars currently sit one point out of the playoffs, but have plenty of time to work themselves in as an eighth, seventh or even sixth seed.

    The Stars also reside in the Pacific Division, and if they were to make the playoffs there is a chance all five teams from the division could make it. Compare this to the Northwest Division where there is a very good chance the Vancouver Canucks will be the only team to make the playoffs.

    The Stars are pretty much the definition of a mediocre NHL team, with the 16th most goals per game and 14th best goals given up per game. Dallas is lead by Brad Richards, who was rumored to be but never was traded at the deadline.

    The Stars have only won five of their last 10 and are going to have to right the ship if they want to make the playoffs.

    The Sharks have played the Stars close, going 2-1-2 against them with four of those five meetings decided by one goal. The teams meet one more time before the season is over.

Calgary Flames

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    Despite having one of the best players and one of the best goalies in the league in Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, the Calgary Flames may find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time.

    Like the Stars, the Flames have struggled of late, winning only four of their last 10, and have fallen out of a playoff spot.

    The Flames do have a pretty weak schedule to finish off the season, including two meetings with Edmonton and a meeting with Colorado.

    The Sharks have gone 2-1 against the Flames on the season so far and would probably not mind seeing them in the first round of the playoffs.