Still a few days to go before the Sharks begin the second round means it’s a good time to check the mailbag…
Shot blocking was huge in the first round - when did that become part of the Sharks strategy, and why wasn't it before? #SharksTalk (Scott Hansen @SheboyganScott)
Every team tries to block shots, but you’re correct in suggesting that the Sharks seemed more committed to doing it against Los Angeles. In the regular season, San Jose blocked 15.75 shots per game, but that increased to 23 blocked shots per game against the Kings.
Now, some of that has to do with the Kings being a stronger possession team than most. They finished the regular season first in shot attempt percentage (56.37), and second in shots on goal (32.0). They had plenty of offensive zone time against the Sharks in the five-game series, too, but San Jose did a phenomenal job In front of Martin Jones both blocking shots and clearing pucks out of the front of the net.
Pete DeBoer touched on the Sharks’ defensive effort and shot-blocking after Friday’s clincher:
“I thought the way we defended was great,” he said. “When we came into this series, L.A. was leading the league in shot attempts at the net, I think shots on net. We knew that. … It was a real commitment on our group’s part to stop them from getting pucks to our net.”
Who do you feel is a better match up for the Sharks - Preds or Ducks? (Dulce Hastings @dulce_hastings)
Put me down for Nashville. When both teams are at the top of their games, the Ducks are the more dangerous team.
There’s also the matter of the regular season, in which the Sharks lost three of four against Anaheim and scored just four total goals. I know they haven’t met in more than two-and-a-half months, but it’s still concerning that both Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski had zero points in four games against their Pacific Division rival.
Further, if Nashville pulls out Game 7 on Wednesday night at Honda Center, they’ll have to travel right from Anaheim to San Jose for Game 1 on (likely) Friday. That will end up being a lengthy road trip, including frequent time zone changes for the past two weeks, and they could be gassed for the start of the series against a well-rested Sharks team.
Will the 4th line remain the same against Ana/Nashville, or do you think Zubrus and Haley get some minutes? #SharksTalk (Greg Valles @SuperV06)
As long as the team is winning and is healthy, the lines and lineup will almost certainly remain the same. One of DeBoer’s best moves in the Kings series was not making any changes after the Game 3 loss, which he could have easily done with the fourth line after it took six minor penalties over two games. DeBoer stuck with them, and the depth players came through in the clinching Game 5.
What's the likelihood this team can actually stay together after the season? Talking financially #SharksTalk (Alex- Rogue 3 @roncal33)
It’s very, very rare in the salary cap era for any team to remain exactly the same. I’ve written more than once that James Reimer will probably get a big payday somewhere else, and it would be tough to keep Roman Polak, too. Matt Tennyson is also a pending unrestricted free agent, and my guess would be that they let him walk. Nick Spaling and Dainius Zubrus are possibilities if the price is right, as this team lacks NHL-ready forward depth in the system.
There’s also the Patrick Marleau situation. We know he was exploring leaving earlier in the year. Could a long playoff run or Stanley Cup change his mind?
With the Kings and Hawks being eliminated, is this year the Sharks best to make the finals? (Aidan C @Sharkaiders)
I can only really speak to my time here, and this is my fifth season covering the team. It’s fair to say that this club is better prepared than any of the previous four versions to make a long run.
Still, there are some powerful teams left in the Western Conference. The Blues are much like the Sharks in that they finally got past their biggest rival in a playoff series. They have to be feeling confident after overcoming Chicago, and to me, they are the favorites. The Stars, although flawed in net, have a tremendously high-powered offense. The Ducks were among the NHL’s best teams in the second half of the season.
Whoever gets out of the West – and the Sharks could certainly do it – will have earned it.