Kings/Sharks: Game One
Kings Roster Notes: (IN) Jonathan Quick (2.24 GAA, .918 SV%), Kevin Westgarth, Justin Williams. (OUT) Peter Harrold, Davis Drewiske, Oscar Moller; Anze Kopitar (ankle), Scott Parse (hip).
Sharks Roster Notes: (IN) Antti Niemi (2.38 GAA, .920 SV%), Ryane Clowe, Scott Nichol. (OUT) Justin Braun, Andrew Desjardins, John McCarthy; Kent Huskins (upper body).
Here are the presumed lineups:
Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Devin Setoguchi
Ryane Clowe-Logan Couture-Dany Heatley
Torrey Mitchell-Joe Pavelski-Kyle Wellwood
Ben Eager-Scott Nichol-Jamal Mayers
Douglas Murray-Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Jason Demers
Niclas Wallin-Ian White
A few notes before the series kicks off:
1. Jonathan Quick has an opportunity to answer some criticism from last postseason. He's fresher this time around, and the Kings need stellar goaltending now more than ever.
2. SJ's scoring depth is well-known -- they have two 70-point scorers (Marleau and Thornton), three 60-point scorers, and two 50-point scorers, just to start -- but they are also particularly strong on faceoffs. Thornton, Couture, Pavelski, and Nichol win more than 53% on average. Marleau and Thorton usually draw the toughest competition, leaving more opportunities for the 2nd and 3rd lines to control the play: Wellwood, Pavelski, Mitchell, and Couture lead the Sharks in relative Corsi (plus/minus for shots at even strength when a player is on vs. off the ice).
Against that much ability to dictate the play, every line will need to be prepared.
3. Eager, Mayers, and Clowe all have more than 100 PIMs, and will probably try to mix things up. Staying out of the penalty box will be important for the Kings, but they also shouldn't be pushed around: they throw more hits than the Sharks do (26/game, 6th in the league).
4. Todd McLellan is familiar with a division rival's ways and will likely adapt his tactics. Terry Murray will not alter his tactics but does juggle lines. While predictable, TM's system relies on responsible defensive play, suppressing shots, and minimizing mistakes. Given the disparity in scoring depth, this is the only way they can succeed.
5. Can Justin "RoboCop" Williams make a big contribution on the Geezer line? Can Drew and JJ just get a wrister through instead of trying to shoot the moon? Can Ponikarovsky overcome being stuck on the 4th line (again)? Can Simmer come through with a timely snipe? Can we see another crazy Stoll goal face (please)? Can Smyth take the piano off his back? Can Alec Martinez jump up and capitalize? Can the heroic stay-at-home-defenseman club chip in? Will Penner and Handzus and Brown click? Can any power play unit move its feet? I don't know the answer to these questions. TM's system relies on patience to wear the opposition down. The Kings' heroes may be unlikely.
6. Finally, let's hear it for the rookies. If nothing else, this series will contribute to their development.
There's no way around it: the Kings are the underdogs. Let's embrace it. They have less pressure, the hockey gods probably owe us a few, and it's the best time of the year.
Go, Kings, Go.