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Western Conference Predictions: Round 2 Sharks vs Red Wings

April 29, 2010

The first round officially ended yesterday with Montreal‘s historic Game 7 win over the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals but Round 2 starts tonight. Not much sleep for the weary. Yesterday I reviewed my first round picks in which I correctly predicted 7 of 8 series correctly. Here I’ll try to tackle the two Western Conference Semi-Final series. Tomorrow I’ll do an in depth look at the East.

Let’s get into it.

(1) San Jose Sharks vs (5) Detroit Red Wings.

Overview: Detroit got off to an uncharacteristically slow start this season, one they couldn’t shake for most of the season. It didn’t help that they couldn’t shake the injury bug either. Johan Franzen missed 55 games, Niklas Kronwall missed 34 games, Valterri Filppula missed 27 games, and Jonathan Ericsson missed 20 games. All of these players were big minute starters and the first three were solid contributors on the score sheet. The Wings did eventually shake the injury bug and had one of the hottest second-halfs of any team in the league. The Wings went 13-3-2 in the 18 games after the Olympic break to propel themselves from the pack to the 5th seed in the West. It appears as if they are finally playing their best hockey of the season, a scary prospect.

The Sharks, much like the Capitals in the East, were penciled in to the No. 1 seed before the season even started. The Sharks added Dany Heatley to their already formidable offense and it paid off. The Sharks were one of four teams to average 3+ goals per game in the regular season and were fourth in the league in power-play percentage at 21%. They also averaged roughly 2.5 goals per game, percentage points behind the Wings for 7th in the league, giving them the rare combination of a potent offense and a stingy defense. Of course, the problem with the Sharks has recently been their performance in the playoffs. That’s something they want to put behind them and a win against the Wings in Round 2 could very much put those nightmares to rest.

The Wings dominated the season series, going 3-0-1 against the Sharks this season.

Wings beat Sharks 2-1 on Nov. 5.
Wings beat Sharks 4-1 on Jan. 9.
Wings beat Sharks 4-2 on Feb. 2.
Sharks beat Wings 3-2 SO on Feb. 11.

Forwards: This year’s version of the Wings has come to rely on their top players for point production. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Valterri Filppula, and Johan Franzen, are four of the top five scorers for the Wings in the playoffs.

Zetterberg 6-5-11 +6 (87 points in 92 playoff games)
Datsyuk 5-3-8 +2 (71 points in 105 playoff games)
Filppula 3-4-7 +4 (39 points 70 playoff games)
Franzen 1-6-7 +3 (58 points in 70 playoff games)

Picture: Playoff experience and winners. (Getty Images)

The Wings are such a successful franchise because of what they accomplish in the playoffs. They’re best players carry the load and produce more than most other stars do when it matters. They’ve been here a bunch of times before and they’ve all produced a bunch of times. They can’t be intimidated and they can’t be easily stopped. They’ll provide a tough test for the Sharks.

The Sharks on the other hand are a team of great depth at forward but their best players have struggled in the playoffs. For a team that sent it’s first power-play unit to the Canadian Olympic team the problem is a bit of an enigma. Many people think that the Sharks can’t muster up the intensity to play effectively in the playoffs. But if they ever turn it on they could be a force in the playoffs.

In the first round of this year’s playoffs the Sharks top three point-getters went:

Joe Thornton 0-3-3 -4 (56 points in 82 playoff games)
Patrick Marleau 1-2-3 -2 (65 points in 98 playoff games)
Dany Heatley 0-4-4 -1 (39 points in 39 playoff games)

Hardly enough to make it far in the tournament. But the Sharks do have some gritty scoring depth, perhaps more than the Red Wings with the likes of Joe Pavelski (5-3-8 +6), Devin Setoguchi (3-3-6 +4), and Ryane Clowe (1-7-8 +6). If these guys continue to perform in Round 2 the Sharks could skate away with the series.

Advantage: I’m going to give it to the Red Wings because of their huge advantage in production with their top-tier guys. I don’t know if the Sharks D can handle the clutch Wings forwards but this series probably won’t be won by the forwards because both teams have very potent offenses.

The Red Wings back end gets the advantage in the playoffs for depth and socring ability. (Getty Images)

Defense: The Red Wings have a defense made for the playoffs, smart, experienced, and productive. The 6 Red Wing blueliners have a combined 630 career playoff games under their belts. Nicklas Lidstrom leads the team with 242 games followed by Brian Rafalski at 149 and then Brad Stuart at 103. You can’t teach that kind of experience.

Brian Rafalski 0-5-5 +2 (91 points in 149 playoff games)
Nicklas Lidstrom 3-3-6 +1 (171 points in 242 playoff games)
Niklas Kronwall 0-5-5 +2 (32 points in 58 playoff games)

The combination of hard-hitting defensemen and timely goals from the back end can be crushing for the Sharks if they get their ink all over the score sheet.

The Sharks on the other hand have an much less experienced D-corp. Dan Boyle and Rob Blake are seasoned veterans but the experience drops off a lot after that. The Sharks gave up just 10 goals in six games in the first round, six in five games excluding Game 2’s 6-5 victory. The question is whether or not their defensive strength will continue against a further superior offensive opponent.

Dan Boyle- 2-4-6 +5 (32 points in 57 playoff games)
Rob Blake- 1-1-2 +1 (73 points in 137 playoff games)
Douglas Murray– 1-4-5 +4 (7 points in 25 career playoff games)

The Sharks blue line doesn’t put up flashy numbers like the Red Wings and it’s debatable whether or not they are tough enough to thrive in the post-season. Where they could be a factor is on the power-play, specifically Dan Boyle. Boyle is the Gonchar of the Sharks, the quarterback, and quite possibly the difference in the series.

Advantage: The Red Wings. I think that the experience factor combined with the first round productivity proves that the Wings D is much better suited for this series. The Wings top three scoring defensemen can play defense as well and their other three can bang around and are great defensive defensemen. The Sharks have Dan Boyle, the X-factor in the series, but after than they drop off a lot in both production and physicality. The Wings D on the power-play could also be a factor because they can rely on a few defensemen and not just one, like the Sharks have to.

Nabokov gets the advantage here. He's having one of his best seasons and Jimmy Howard could crack as a rookie. (Photo by Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Goaltending: Jimmy Howard is a major reason that the Red Wings are even in the playoffs. He was great when the Wings were struggling to find their feet and riddled with injuries and has remained a huge contributor to Detroit’s success. Howard started 67 games this season and played a lot better than people thought he would.

Jimmy Howard 37-15-10 2.26 GAA .924 save%. (4-3 2.59 GAA .919 save%)
Evgeni Nabokov 44-16-10 2.43 GAA .922 save%. (4-1-1 1.76 GAA .926 save%)

Nabokov on the other hand didn’t have the greatest reputation in the playoffs before this season started. He hovered around .500 in the playoffs and was almost a weakness for the Sharks in the recent past. However, Nabby proved in Round 1 that he is ready to carry this team on his back.

Advantage: Sharks. I don’t take much stock into rookie goaltenders getting and staying hot for the playoffs and carrying teams on their backs so I give the veteran the advantage here. Nabokov is a better athlete and will have to play better in this series if the Sharks want to take it.

The Pick: Red Wings in 7. I just see the Wings forwards and defensemen as too experienced, too skilled, and too clutch for the Sharks to overcome. Although the Wings are having a down year I see them the more comfortable team in the playoffs. The Sharks need to win a second round series before I believe in them. The Av’s weren’t much of a test for the Sharks and their best players certainly weren’t their best players in Round 1.

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