Just two wins away from advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals, the San Jose Sharks look to defend home ice and take a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Kings.
All year, the San Jose Sharks flew under the radar, taking a backseat in the spotlight to Anaheim and Los Angeles. Now, with a 2-0 series advantage against the Los Angeles Kings, team teal is finally starting to be taken seriously by the rest of the league.
Thanks to two great efforts in victories at the Staples Center, San Jose has a golden opportunity Monday night to go up three games to none and be in total control of the series.
If Logan Couture hadn’t missed 30 regular season games to a fractured fibula, one could make the case the Sharks would have been division champs. Now, as an almost completely healthy team, the Sharks are seeing great all-around production, and their advantage in depth has really shown against the Kings who have dealt with the ongoing injuries of blue-liners Alec Martinez and Matt Greene.
Former King, Martin Jones, has won the goaltending battle so far against Jonathan Quick, and is coming off a magnificent performance in Game Two where he stopped 26 of 27 shots that came his way. Jones and Quick are set to be between the pipes for their respective squads for Game Three.
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Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton have continued scoring at a hefty pace from the regular season, combining for eight points in the first two games. Pavelski in particular, whose three playoff goals is tied for second-most in the playoffs behind Reilly Smith of the Panthers.
Additionally, there is no doubt the return of Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been a big boost for San Jose. The two-way defender has substantially upped his scoring in 2015-16 and although he has yet to tally a point in the series, his plus-two rating, 22:50 average time on ice, and six total shots blocked have made a huge difference.
Players to Watch
Sharks: Melker Karlsson. The second-year Swede has been relatively quiet this series, registering a single shot without a point scored in his 27 minutes of total ice time in the series. Karlsson was a solid player for the Sharks throughout the season typically on the third line, yet besides Matt Nieto, he’s the only top-nine forward to not have tallied a point for team teal. His 40.0% Corsi number in the playoffs, albeit a small sample size, doesn’t look too good either. Look for Karlsson to make a bigger impact on both ends of the ice in these next two home games.
Kings: Jonathan Quick. It seems like an obvious choice, but Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Quick have been the backbone of this team for nearly a decade now, and L.A. has always been able to lean on Quick’s elite goaltending to be successful. But with Quick’s struggles in the opening set of games allowing six goals on just 46 shots, that hasn’t been the story of the playoffs. The American net-minder found no success in the regular season either against the Sharks, allowing a whopping 13 goals in three starts for a putrid 4.40 GAA and .845 save percentage.
Keys to the Game
1. Match the Kings’ Intensity
As a veteran-laden team with two Stanley Cups, expect the Kings to come out and play their best game so far of the series, determined to even it up heading back to Staples Center for a potential Game Five. We saw it in Detroit on Sunday, as Jon Cooper talked about the Wings wanting it more and playing with more desperation being down 0-2. The Sharks can’t be content right now, they must play like they’re down 2-0. With the core of this team having gone through a playoff collapse before, I expect this won’t be a huge problem.
2. Score a Power Play Goal
Team teal earned victories by a single goal in Games One and Two, while scoring one goal on the man-advantage in each game. That makes it a total of seven power-play goals in the Sharks’ five victories over the Kings this year, including at least one in each game. The Sharks have continued their success on the power-play from the regular season, where they ranked third-best in the league, and have exposed the mediocre Kings penalty-kill unit so far. Good things happen when the Sharks notch a goal on the power-play.
3. Don’t Get Caught Up In Hits
The Kings out-hit San Jose by a decent margin in both games in L.A., as that’s their style of play – let them do that. Los Angeles led the league in hits with an average just under 31 per game in the regular season, while the Sharks placed 23rd in the league. Team teal has done a great job continuing to play their own brand of clean, calculated hockey rather than playing into their opponent’s strengths in trying to make it a hit-fest, and that’s led to two wins.