Programming note: Coverage of Game 1 between the Sharks and Canucks begins Wednesday at 7:00 PT on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live, followed by playoff hockey at 7:30, and Sharks Postgame Live after the final horn.
VANCOUVER - Answering some mailbag questions as the Sharks prepare for their first round series with the Canucks…
Do the Sharks have what it takes to get past the Canucks?
KK: This is a winnable series for San Jose, unlike last season’s first round, when the loss to St. Louis was entirely too predictable. The three biggest differences from then to now are the goaltender, who had an amazingly consistent year, the much-improved penalty kill, and the ability to roll four lines, three of which can produce five-on-five.
If all three of those aspects of their game remain against Vancouver, they should be able to advance. I do expect a long, six or seven game series, though. The Canucks ended the regular season playing well, and the three-day break to get healthy could benefit them more than the Sharks, who really only have one player on the shelf in Jason Demers.
As Tommy Wingels said on Monday, the Sharks believe they’ve found their identity in recent weeks. They know what they have to do to win. It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.
Biggest obstacle the Sharks need to overcome in order to be successful against Vancouver?
KK: It’s going to sound simple, but they’ve got to win a road game, and probably one of these first two. The Sharks were two different teams this season, as evidenced by the records (17-2-5 at HP Pavilion, 8-14-2 everywhere else).
Here are a few more stats. In five-on-five play, the Sharks outscored their opponents 45-33 at home and were outscored 47-33 on the road. The power play was 25.6 percent at home, but just 14.9 percent on the road. They managed just eight power play goals total in their last 22 road games.
Finding a way to seize control of home ice advantage is vital.
Any chance Brent Burns slides back to defense if an injury occurs to a top four d-man, or is he too important up front?
KK: Only in an emergency. Burns is too important a piece up front right now, and unless the Sharks encounter major injury problems on the blue line, Burns will stay as a forward. His production since making that move has been one of the keys to the Sharks’ balanced offensive attack that was missing for so many months.
In 23 games as a forward, Burns finished with 19 points (9g, 10a) and a +6 rating. The Sharks scored just 2.16 goals per game before the switch, and 2.70 after.
The Sharks are already short one defenseman in Demers, who isn’t even skating yet. They have Matt Tennyson and Scott Hannan here, and one of those two will play against Vancouver in Game 1. If someone else suffers an injury, I’d expect them both to play before Burns went back to the blue line.
Who will need to step up the most this year for the team to be successful in the playoffs?
KK: Two guys I’ll be watching closely will be Marty Havlat and Patrick Marleau, both of whom didn’t do a whole lot offensively in the second half of the season but obviously have the talent to make an impact.
Marleau finished second on the Sharks with 17 goals, but only one of those came in the final 16 games (he also had six assists over that span). Before he missed the last game of the season, Havlat had five points in his last four games (3g, 2a), but just two points in his previous 11.
Todd McLellan has put Marleau and Havlat on Logan Couture’s line, which forces them to skate to keep up with San Jose’s best player, whose effort is never in question. It’s also a line that is often up against the best players on the opposition.
If one or both of them can get going, especially if they are matched up against Ryan Kesler’s line in Vancouver, that would be a huge boost to the Sharks’ chances.
Who will the Sharks' Black Aces be this year?
KK: Alex Stalock, Matt Pelech and Bracken Kearns are here in Vancouver, so consider them the three options to play in case of emergency.
Who is most likely to take over Ryane Clowe's enforcer role against the Canucks, if they try anything dirty?
KK: Doug Wilson has talked numerous times about “team toughness,” and the Sharks do have a bit of grit and sandpaper in their lineup, even if they don’t feature any true heavyweight fighters. Adam Burish, Raffi Torres, Tommy Wingels and Andrew Desjardins are all willing to get physical or drop the gloves if need be, and that’s a good and often necessary element to have in the playoffs.
Any chance Sheppard slots in with Gomez and Desjardins, instead of Burish?
KK: There’s a chance, but the Sharks’ fourth line was an effective group down the stretch so there’s no sense changing things up now. If San Jose gets behind in the series and shuffles up its lines – always a possibility – James Sheppard could get into a game or two. But for now, he’ll rightfully be a healthy scratch.
Apart from using him as a necessary backup, what, if any, playing time do you see Tennyson getting?
KK: I think Scott Hannan will be in the lineup for Game 1, but I think he’s on a very short leash. There are some concerns with his mobility, and as many have pointed out, Hannan and Brad Stuart are not exactly the quickest defense pair in transition. McLellan suggested on Monday in his media availability that experience isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be, which suggests that he won’t be afraid to put the rookie Tennyson in the lineup, even though he’s played all of four NHL games.