Just two years ago the San Jose Sharks made a trip to the Stanley Cup final that saw them go through some tough teams in Los Angeles, Nashville and St. Louis, but they’ve managed to sneak into this year’s playoffs under the radar. After falling to Connor McDavid’s team last time around, San Jose starts off the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs against a familiar foe in their Californian rival, the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks have been battle tested this season, grinding through more than 300 man-games lost while still managing to finish second in their division. But Anaheim was recently dealt a potentially game-changing blow when starting netminder John Gibson was knocked out of action on Apr. 1—an especially crucial loss considering Anaheim had allowed the fewest goals-against for three straight months leading up to that night.
Ryan Miller has held down the fort since, posting four straight wins with Gibson out, but the question is how he fares when the intensity ramps up in the post-season. The 37-year-old has 56 playoff games on his résumé, but zero since 2015.
San Jose, meanwhile, moves to the post-season after a tumultuous stretch that’s seen them win just once in their past six games, right after reeling off eight straight wins in March. Despite that inconsistent play, the Sharks have been one of the league’s highest-scoring teams over the past month of action—ranking fifth with 64 goals since Mar. 1—suggesting they have all they need to feast on the Ducks should Miller prove unable for the task.
5-on-5 via Corsica.Hockey
Anaheim: 48.62 CF% (22nd), 53.92 GF% (6th), .934 SP% (2nd), 8.16 SH% (10th), 101.51 PDO (5th)
San Jose: 50.8 CF% (13th), 48.75 GF% (18th), .916 SP% (27th), 7.5 SH% (20th), 99.13 PDO (24th)
Determined by percentiles created for a variety of statistics and weighed equally to give each team a grade out of 10 for offence and defence (seven for 5-on-5 and three for special teams). These numbers are then averaged to come up with a power number to measure a team’s all-around play.
|TEAM||OFFENCE (rank)||DEFENCE (rank)||POWER NUMBER (rank)|
|Anaheim||3.57 (24th)||5.59 (12th)||4.58 (20th)|
|San Jose||6.84 (7th)||3.58 (21st)||5.21 (14th)|
Anaheim: 17.8 PP% (23rd), 83.2 PK% (5th), 231 GF (18th), 209 GA (4th)
San Jose: 20.6 PP% (16th), 84.8 PK% (2nd), 247 GF (13th), 226 GA (9th)
San Jose: 3-0-1
Anaheim Ducks Outlook: Starting the season hammered by injuries, Anaheim never fell too far out of the race, which allowed them to mount a second-half charge to get in. The mountain of man-games lost early in the season pushed the Ducks into the trade market, acquiring Adam Henrique for Sami Vatanen on Nov. 30. Their depth on the blue line allowed them to make this trade for an area of need down the middle, which has now become a point of depth and a strength with Ryans Getzlaf and Kesler back on the top two units.
But just as the playoffs were on the horizon, the injury bug hit again. Cam Fowler, the leading minute man and key point producer on the back end, was injured in early April and will miss at least the first round. John Gibson, who has the best save percentage of any goalie with at least 102 games played over the past three years, also went down in April and labeled day-to-day. In Ryan Miller, at least the Ducks have a veteran and capable backup option.
It’s ideal to come into the Stanley Cup Playoffs hot and the Ducks are certainly that, with an 8-1-1 record in their last 10, including victories over playoff-bound teams in Los Angeles and Minnesota. If there is a concern it’s their power play, which has gotten worse as the season has gone on and, even in those past 10 games, has converted only 13 per cent of the time. The Ducks do have experience on their side, though, having reached two of the past three Western Conference finals.
San Jose Sharks Outlook: For years, this team was a popular pick to win a Stanley Cup, but now may actually be coming in under the radar. With Vegas hogging the spotlight in the Pacific Division, the Sharks have put together a nice 12-6-1 post-trade deadline record that included an eight-game winning streak. Feb. 26 pickup Evander Kane has been an excellent fit with nine goals in 16 games with the Sharks, and with Joe Thornton back on the ice skating, their top playoff warrior could return to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 23 before long.
Like the Penguins, the Sharks started the season scoring very few goals at even strength. Ranking dead last in this stat from October through December, the Sharks have posted the second-most even strength goals since Jan. 1, which has been a huge factor in their second half surge. The only concern for their offence is that San Jose’s once-daunting power play has cooled off as the year has gone on.
At one point this season, there was actually a case to be made for Aaron Dell to earn more starts, but Martin Jones has taken away any doubt that he is the go-to option with an excellent past couple of months. And history shows he’s been even better in the playoffs, where he has a .925 save percentage for his career.
Ducks X-Factor: At 32 years old, Ryan Getzlaf is still fully capable of taking over a series and tilting it in his team’s favour singlehandedly. He, too, was one of the Ducks to hit the injury ward early in the season, but he returned as a consistent point-per-game producer, having been shut off the score sheet more than two games in a row just twice this season.
Anaheim’s offence slowed to a crawl when Getzlaf didn’t get a point in last season’s playoffs, scoring just 16 goals in the eight games in which Getzlaf did not get on the score sheet. It really caught up to them against the Nashville Predators, where the captain was shutout in four of the six games. Anaheim’s last Stanley Cup was in 2007 when Getzlaf was a sophomore playing behind the likes of Teemu Selanne, and is still in search of a championship where he is the lead dog.
Sharks X-Factor: While the Sharks have their own collection of star weapons up front, depth is the name of the game in the playoffs. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski need to get theirs, but if San Jose is to go on a run, some of the younger guys need to step up as well.
23-and-unders Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier figure to be key parts of future Sharks teams and need to play a role now. When the Sharks made the final two years ago, Hertl and then-23-year-old Joonas Donskoi each scored six times and had 0.5 point-per-game rates in the post-season. Last year none of Hertl, Donskoi or Meier scored a goal against the Edmonton Oilers in Round 1. This will be a key test for the next wave of Sharks players, as they find a way to build off good seasons and keep the hot offence going in the playoffs.
TEAM LEADERS (G-A-PTS)
Anaheim: Rickard Rakell (34-35-69), Ryan Getzlaf (11-50-61), Corey Perry (17-32-49)
San Jose: Brent Burns (12-55-67), Joe Pavelski (22-44-66), Logan Couture (34-27-61)