Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wings/Sharks Preview

Thanks to the NHL's horrendous TV deal, coupled with the fact that I go to school and attempt to have a life, I have yet to see the San Jose Sharks in action this year. This, however, is what the internet is for. After scouring both Wings and Sharks sites and gathering what information I can, here is my impression on the keys to the series:
  • How will the Red Wings match up with San Jose's scoring lines? The Sharks have one of the NHL's best first lines, featuring reigning MVP Joe Thornton (22G-92A-114P), 37-goal scorer Jonathan Cheechoo (who also netted 56 last year) and big Milan Michalek (6'2", 225 lbs.). The Sharks' second line features their franchise all-time leading scorer, Patrick Marleau, alongside Bill Guerin and Joe Pavelski. Detroit will probably counter San Jose's first line with the Draper-Maltby-Clearly line, looking to counter their skill with speed and checking ability. Detroit will probably also use Niklas Lidstrom to shadow Thornton, who sets the table for San Jose's offense with his great passing ability. Detroit will then probably use Datsyuk-Zetterburg-Holmstom (if/when Homer comes back from his eye injury; he is day-to-day right now, and definitely out for game 1) against the Sharks' second line. Datsyuk is known for his offense, but his defensive awareness is very underrated, as illustrated by his goal in game 2 when he pickpocketed Kristian Huselius along the boards before beating Kiprusoff.
  • Who wins the goaltender battle? This is kind of a 'duh' key, since goaltending is pretty much the key to any playoff series. However, this one really could go either way. Dominik Hasek and Evgeni Nabokov posted almost identical save percentages during the season (.913 and .914, respectively), and Hasek posted a slightly better GAA (2.05 to 2.29) thanks to the smaller volume of shots he faced. Hasek has never lost a playoff series as a Red Wing, and pretty much stood on his head to preserve the tie at the end of game 6 against the Flames. If that Dominik Hasek, and not the flopping Dom we saw in game 3, shows up this series, I really like the Wings' chances of advancing.
  • How does Detroit handle the Sharks' size? This key has been brought up a lot, but much like the Flames series, I don't expect San Jose's size advantage to hurt Detroit as much as people expect. Pretty much every Red Wing was throwing his weight around against Calgary, with Franzen and Clearly especially notable for their aggressive forechecking. The Sharks certainly are big, with 11 players weighing over 215 lbs., and the Wings will have to be careful not to let San Jose's size force them into taking unneccessary penalties. San Jose's power play was ice cold against Nashville in the first round (2 for 30, a dismal 6.7%) but was second in the NHL with a 22.4% success rate during the regular season. I don't expect the Sharks' power play to have a repeat performance from the first series, so Detroit needs to stay out of the box as much as possible.
  • Will Todd Bertuzzi play like...Todd Bertuzzi? Big Bert, after sitting out the first two games of the Calgary series, improved with every game he played. He got more aggressive and spent more time in front of the net, which will be key for Detroit in the absense of Holmstrom, especially on the power play. Also, the line of Bertuzzi-Lang-Calder needs to step up their scoring so Detroit can keep up with San Jose's four capable scoring lines (10 Shark forwards have double-digit goals on the year). Detroit needs production out of all four forward lines this series, and the second line hasn't pulled their weight so far in the playoffs.
It should be an exciting series, and San Jose is certainly a tougher opponent than Calgary. Fortunately, they aren't the home-ice juggernaut Calgary was, going 25-12-4 in the Shark Tank. I like Detroit's chances of stealing one in San Jose, and if Hasek stays healthy and focused, I think the Wings can take this one in 6.

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