San Jose Sharks Look To Take Game 1 Against Penguins

May 29, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer (foreground) diagrams on a white board as his team looks on at practice during media day a day prior to game one of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 29, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Jose Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer (foreground) diagrams on a white board as his team looks on at practice during media day a day prior to game one of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The wait is finally over as the Sharks will look to jump out to an early series lead over the Penguins when the puck drops in Game 1 later tonight.

This is it, San Jose Sharks fans. This is the real deal. The Sharks are playing in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history, and they have the potential to make even more history with every win.

However, taking it one game at a time, tonight they focus on Game 1 in Pittsburgh against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center.

At this point, regular season stats don’t even matter, so let’s go with the basics of what we know and what we’ve seen of both teams in the postseason up to this point.

The Penguins are obviously an elite team, captained by one of the league’s superstars in Sidney Crosby (6-9–15) . This is a team that loves to play fast and generate chances. They’re a very opportunistic team, and have a lot of talent offensively including Phil Kessel who has 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists).

In terms of the goalie, for years the Penguins have relied on Marc-Andre Fleury to man the net. However, this postseason saw a new face show up due to Fleury’s injury. Rookie Matt Murray has been absolutely outstanding so far, and could potentially be proving his worth as a candidate to take over Fleury’s position in net.

The Sharks have obviously never been in this position in their 25-year history, but they’ll look to make the most of it. Their top line of Joe PavelskiJoe Thornton, and Tomas Hertl has been leading the way all playoffs. Logan Couture‘s having himself a phenomenal postseason. The depth in Joel WardJoonas Donskoi, and Chris Tierney have done their part, and that list of players goes on and on.

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The goalie match-up, I’d say, is pretty even. I mentioned Murray was having a stellar rookie postseason, but so is Martin Jones. Sure, there were questions as to whether or not Jones was going to be a solid starter for the Sharks, but by now, Jones has answered every doubt in the book.

He’s capable of making the big saves when needed, and what’s really impressed me the most about him is his calm, even-keeled demeanor. So, both Jones and Murray have proven to be up to the task, thus making the Sharks and Penguins just about equal in that department.

Now, let’s briefly recap how each team got here. Let me first say to those on Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media who have said that the Sharks have had an easy path: there is no easy path to get to the Stanley Cup Final. Teams get here for a reason, and they’ve worked their butts off just to reach this point. No team is “easy” in the NHL.

The Sharks exorcised the first of their playoff demons by pulling an upset against the Kings in 5 games, when most picked LA to win it in 7. Then they were tasked with beating a red-hot Nashville Predators team that beat a Stanley Cup favorite in the Anaheim Ducks in 7 games. The Sharks eliminated the Predators in dominating fashion in Game 7. The St. Louis Blues were no easy task either, as they’d defeated the defending Champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, in 7 games as well as a Dallas Stars team that was lacking on defense and goaltending — ousted in 7 games. The Sharks wound up exorcising the last of their playoff demons by making the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history, winning the series against the Blues in 6 games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were rolling into the postseason a confident group. They’d easily dispatched the New York Rangers in 5 games, and upset a deep Washington Capitals team that won the President’s Trophy as the league’s top team in 6 games. They faced a Tampa Bay Lightning that returned to the Eastern Conference Final and beat them in 7 games.

That being said, here are my keys to the game.

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Strong Starts

In San Jose’s last series against the Blues, the team that scored first won the game. I have a strong feeling the same will apply to this series as well. Both team have an outstanding record when scoring the first goal of the game.

San Jose is 10-3-0 with a .769 winning percentage, and Pittsburgh is 9-2-0 with a .818 winning percentage. When trailing first, both teams are below the .500 mark. Thus, the first goal is going to be crucial. For the Sharks, that means you have to get your legs going right off the bat. Your mind has to be game ready right from puck drop, and you’re thinking about establishing momentum early. Dump the puck in. Win those puck races and board battles, and generate offensive chances, and get that all-important first goal.

Play Your Game

I cannot emphasize this enough. The big reason the Sharks have gotten this far is because they’ve played their game. They established an identity with Peter DeBoer and they’ve stuck to it. Don’t stray away from it. Be sound defensively and let that feed into your offense, and the rest will take care of itself.

Put the Power in Power Play

San Jose has the better of the two power plays, with 27.0 percent conversion rate on the man-advantage which is second to the Blackhawks. The Penguins, on the other hand, have a power play that’s ranked 6th in the League, with a 23.4 percent conversion rate.

At some point, if the Sharks play their game, they’re going to end up frustrating the Penguins and drawing some penalties. If the Sharks cash in on their man-advantages, this series is going to be blown wide open.

They’ll look to have lots of puck movement to get Pittsburgh’s penalty kill moving, capitalize on a chance when they over commit to one side and score at the front of the net. However, the Penguins’ penalty kill will want to be pretty aggressive, like St. Louis’ was. So the Sharks have to watch out as to not turn the puck over to feed any short-handed opportunities.


The goaltending in this series will be something to watch, and I think it’s ultimately a factor that will decide the series. Who’s going to be the one to make the big save to keep their team’s season alive? The one edge I will give to Jones over Murray is the fact that he was a back-up to the Kings in 2014 when they won the Stanley Cup, so he does have a bit of experience just from watching his former counter part, Jonathan Quick, in net. Other than that, this will be a very interesting match-up.

Next: San Jose Sharks: Two Players Waited 18 Years For Tonight


Sharks: Matt Nieto (upper body) is questionable.

Penguins: Trevor Daley (broken ankle) is out.

Starting Line-Ups

San Jose SharksPittsburgh Penguins
Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Melker Karlsson – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Dainius Zubrus – Nick Spaling – Tommy WingelsMarc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Roman Polak

Martin Jones (starter)
James Reimer

 Conor Sheary – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin – Nick Bonino – Phil Kessel
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – Bryan Rust
Tom Kuhnhackl – Matt Cullen – Eric FehrBrian Dumoulin – Kris Letang
Olli Maatta – Ben Lovejoy
Ian Cole – Justin Schultz

Matt Murray (starter)
Marc-Andre Fleury

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