Return of the Kings


http://blog.viximo.com/corporate/files/2010/08/casualgames-are-dead-king.png

rex mortuus est, vivat pistrix

After a San Jose Sharks regular season chock full of criticism, action, praise, malaise, conjecture, hope, abominations and a finish of pure excellence, the NHL postseason is officially upon us, and the Sharks will begin their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup this Thursday by looking to eliminate a group of Kings.

The Sharks are a high energy behemoth, riddled with Olympians, ill-tempered Swedes and the baddest group of professional ice hockey players to grace the mean streets of Los Gatos.  We have multiple All-Stars, this year’s Calder Trophy winner (you better), a surfer come ventriloquist with a Hart Trophy on his shelf and dimes in his pocket, and a guy who needs to be awarded something for just being the best power forward in the NHL—and the Clark Gillies award goes to…Ryane Clowe.

Not sure what the Gillies Award would look like, but it would need to be less of a shiny, swanky, spaceship looking trophy, and more something like a 2 X 4 from Orchard Supply with bent nails half driven into it—sterling silver nails. That, or maybe just a large hood ornament that Clowey could mount on the hood of his El Camino.

Ok, he may not drive an El Camino.  In all honestly, Ryane Clowe probably has some gigantic 4×4 with Protect Lake Tahoe plates or an orange Porsche GT3 he picked up personally in Stuttgart.  I really don’t know, as he’s never given me a ride anywhere, but I like to think he rolls in an El Camino, at least this time of year.

In my imagination, it’s not his only rig or anything, but it is his showtime, playoff beard growing, Scorpions on the deck playing, Lord Stanley work car.  Something he purchased during his Movember mustache days back last year, and a timeless piece of American car art that shows everybody you pass, that you mean business.

And not just because they see a full load of pig iron in the bed of the said car/truck—which Clowey absolutely would have—but because it’s a message to the team that it’s going to take a little more grit this year than the Nabby S-Class or Selanne Ferrari days of old to bring home the Cup.

The Sharks regular season journey was the absolute antithesis of a wire-to-wire-pillow-case-full-of-door-knobs job versus  the competition (see: Canucks, Vancouver), and instead, San Jose tested the mettle of many a fan as they struggled to find themselves and a winning identity early on.

But, they battled through that shaky start, endured multiple lineup tweaks and a crisis of goalie identity to persevere and wound up finishing the regular season by winning their 6th Pacific Division title as well as securing the 2nd overall seed in the Western Conference.

The Los Angeles Kings on the other hand, signed Wayne Gretzky once and haven’t been relevant since MC Ren was wearing their hat in N.W.A. photo shoots.

A positive for the Sharks is that the Kings will be without their leading scorer, Anze Kopitar who suffered a season ending broken ankle late March against the Colorado Avalanche.  They Kings did manage to woo Dustin Penner from his bucolic life up in Edmonton down to Los Angeles, but Penner has been no kind of savior to them since entering the smog, registering only two goals since joining and going scoreless in his last 12 games for the Kings.

Without Kopitar (73 points before going down), the Kings will be relying heavily on a couple of 50 point guys in Justin Williams and Dustin Brown.  Though both quite capable second and third line scoring threats, these guys are not world beaters.  I’m not saying that the Kings are a pushover without Kopitar, but if the Sharks lost Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture all at once two weeks ago, even the staunchest San Jose fan would have to agree the Sharks might lack some punch.

Then, the Kings have Ryan Smyth, who apparently played his rookie year in 1994, but a guy who if you told me he was in his 26th NHL season, I wouldn’t challenge you.  Smyth pesters and is a pure antagonist, along with kicking in 23 goals this year, but exists as an ancillary offensive piece and is not used to featured running back status so to speak.

On the blue-line, the Kings have two bona fide star D-men who anchor their first two defensive pairings, in Drew Doughty and U.S. Olympian Jack Johnson.  Both men have big shots and move the puck well, but in the end probably won’t have a lot to work with with a depleted Kings offense.

Finally, in goal for the Kings will be Connecticut-native Jonathan Quick, who might be the very reason why Los Angeles is even in the postseason at all.  One of the NHL’s better up and coming goalies, Quick finished off the year with a very solid stat line of 35 W, 2.24 GAA and a .918 SV%.

In the end though, the Sharks firepower and depth at all positions should give them the upper hand in this contest.

Where the Kings have two 50 point scorers, the Sharks will bring seven players to the ice (Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Heatley, Clowe, Couture and Boyle) who have met or exceeded that threshold this year.  And though technically not eligible for this club, you should also include Devin Setoguchi in that group, who has been playing at this level or higher over the last half of the regular season.

On the blue-line, with a slight nod to Jason Demers and his 24 points this season, the Sharks’ only real offensive threat would be from perennial All-Star, Olympian, skating savant and all around raconteur, Dan Boyle.  Though lacking a little in the goal scoring area versus year’s past, Boyle is another Shark who has stepped up his game just in time, logging six points in his last six games.  Even though the Kings have two offensive D, the advantage still goes to the Sharks here as their pairings and all around talent on the blue-line is far deeper.

As a life long fan, I am hesitant to predict the series, for fear of jinx, for fear of reliving past playoff defeats and for just seasoning this series with bad, expectant mojo.

That said, the Sharks are a different team this year.  Gone are the days of mediocre Sharks teams performing over their heads as are the days of immature great Sharks teams getting in their own way.  The Sharks have matured into the role of a top-5 NHL team, know how to be great and how to beat this Kings team.  We saw a glimpse of this maturity last year, and expect to see more of it in the coming days.

Besides, they don’t have Gretzky anymore.

Prediction: Sharks in 5

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Tags: Dan Boyle Devin Setoguchi Drew Doughty Dustin Brown Dustin Penner Joe Thornton Jonathan Quick Justin Williams Logan Couture Los Angeles Kings NHL Patrick Marleau Ryan Smyth Ryane Clowe San Jose Sharks Stanley Cup