Looking ahead to the NHL playoffs in the latest Sharks mailbag…
Who do you think we matchup better against in the playoffs, Ducks or Kings? #SharksTalk (Erik Nelsen @Erik_Nelsen)
At this point I would tend to lean towards the Kings being a better matchup for the Sharks, but either way the first round is going to be no picnic if San Jose fails to win the Pacific Division.
Let’s look at Anaheim first. Headed into their game against New Jersey on Monday night, the Ducks lost two straight road games to Colorado and St. Louis, but prior to that they were 18-1-2.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are still in their primes, acquiring David Perron in mid-January seemed to give their offense a jolt, and they have one of the most mobile, puck-moving defenses in the league featuring Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler. They also have the NHL’s best penalty kill, and that’s always magnified in the postseason. The biggest question mark for the Ducks is their goaltending, but both John Gibson and Frederik Anderson have strong regular season numbers so far. They are probably the Pacific Division team best built for a deep run, which is why they were such a popular pick in the preseason to win it all.
Los Angeles looks determined lately to make up for missing the playoffs last season, and still has the same core players that have won two Stanley Cups. They essentially replaced Justin Williams with Milan Lucic, who has fit in well, and are hopeful they’ll get injured forward Marian Gaborik back before the playoffs, too.
Still, I didn’t like the Kings’ moves prior to the trade deadline. They really haven't upgraded their defense since Slava Voynov's departure, adding only the past-his-prime Rob Scuderi and plodding Luke Schenn as depth guys. Vincent Lecavalier has done some good things since they got him from Philly, but I’m not sure he’s a guy that can endure the rigors of a physical playoff series and a deeper team like San Jose or Anaheim should expose him fairly quickly.
That said, who knows what kind of psychological demons the Sharks still have from blowing that 3-0 first round lead in 2014? Maybe avoiding the Kings is preferable for that reason alone.
Either way, whichever two California teams end up playing one another, it will probably be the best matchup of the eight in the first round.
Is there any chance we re-sign any of the Leafs we just traded for? #SharksTalk (hrisTwoFour @nojo22)
I would predict the chances are slim the Sharks re-sign any of James Reimer, Roman Polak or Nick Spaling. San Jose doesn’t have much money coming off of the books this summer, as only those three aforementioned players and Dainius Zubrus are pending unrestricted free agents. Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto are pending restricted free agents, and Hertl in particular will be due for a nice raise on his $925,000.
The Sharks could always move money, of course, like Patrick Marleau if he wants out of town. But even if that happens, my guess is the three players acquired before the deadline are all rental players in the strictest sense of the word.
What do you think of Marleau on the third line? I like the depth it gives us, as long as Patty is ok with it. (Chris Greni @ce_greni)
It’s pretty evident to me that Pete DeBoer wants to keep Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau down the middle. The top line is set, but DeBoer has been mixing and matching those other nine forwards lately trying to find something that consistently works.
As for Marleau, he still has that ugly minus-14 rating, but he’s even since the Sharks started their second half surge on Jan. 9. Although I think he could be a little more determined in the offensive end – just one even strength goal since the calendar turned to 2016 is concerning – he’s still getting up and down the ice and playing against some of the other team’s top lines, such as the Evgeny Kuznetsov line on Saturday against Washington.
If this team is going to contend for a Stanley Cup, though, Marleau is going to have to generate more offense than he has the past few months.