It would be hard to believe that anyone would have expected a second round matchup between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks.
The two franchises are in different spots organizationally. The Sharks have aging players in Joe Thornton (36), Patrick Marleau (36), Paul Martin (35), and even Joe Pavelski is no spring chicken at 31 years old. San Jose’s window of opportunity for the Stanley Cup may be closing. While Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Pavelski will keep the team relevant, they still have Thornton especially to lean on.
The Predators core is filled with more youth. Up front Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg still have a lot of career in front of them. The same goes for Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm on the blue line. Even their key veterans like Shea Weber, James Neal, and Pekka Rinne still should have at least five good years in front of them. There is less pressure on Nashville to get it done this year.
These two fan bases have been drooling for a Stanley Cup over the past decade. Countless seasons with good playoff teams have meant nothing while the Blackhawks and Kings have ruled the conference. With both of those teams now out, the door is open in the West.
What has to happen for the Predators to win
Pekka Rinne needs to play like he did in the first round, and not in the regular season. Rinne had a sub-par regular season with a .908 save-percentage. That type of goaltending will not get the Predators any deeper into the playoffs.
Nashville needs to be the dominant possession team they were all season. They were the second best Fenwick team all season and the fourth best Corsi team. San Jose is a great team in those categories only when Joe Thornton is on the ice. When he is off the ice, Nashville needs to own the game.
If Predators head coach Peter Laviolette was smart, he would try to keep the Neal-Johansen-Calle Jarnkrok line away from the Thornton line. He still needs to keep the top defensive pairing of Shea Weber and Roman Josi out against them, but Nashville’s top line is not as good in the defensive end as some top lines. They should be put in an easier situation where they can control the puck more.
Nashville needs to match Burns’ goal scoring with goals from their own blue line. The Predators had, by far, the most goals from defenseman this season with 55. In the playoffs, Weber leads the team in points with five, and they will need him to keep that up. If the Predators can get a goal a game from their bullion in this series, they should win it.
Ultimately, this series may come down to the Predators stopping the Joes of San Jose. A huge reason the Predators are still playing is they, for all intents and purposes, stopped Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in the Anaheim series. They will need to do similar in this series to Pavelski and Thornton.
What has to happen for the Sharks to win
Perhaps the most important factor for the Sharks is Thornton needs to be the best player in the series. He was the most valuable player to his team this season, and could be a candidate for the Hart Trophy in the NHL. When Thornton was on the ice this season, the Sharks attempted 55.7-percent of total shot attempts. When he was off, they attempted just 49-percent. It was the difference between a playoff team, and a bottom ten team in the league. The Sharks were outscored this season by 20 goals with Thornton off the ice. The Sharks will go as far as Jumbo Joe takes them, and they hope that means going all the way.
However, the one thing Thornton does not do all that often is score goals. The fact of the matter is he has not had to. Five different Sharks players reached the 20-goal plateau, including Pavelski (38), Burns (27), Marleau (25), Tomas Hertl (21), and Joel Ward (21). That group does not include Logan Couture, but he could have gotten 20 goals if he had not missed 30 games this season due to injury. If the Sharks top-six, and Brent Burns, keep up the scoring pace they have been on, it will be near impossible to stop them.
This is not a series Martin Jones has to stand on his head for, but he has to play at the level he has been on for San Jose. What is still funny is that he is not the best goalie on the team. James Reimer is a better goalie, and has played better, but the Sharks refuse to give him a game. If Peter DeBoer did smarten up and give Remier a shot, it would give the Sharks another advantage.
Prediction: Predators win the series in 7
1.) The Predators blue line is just so good. They do not just defend great, but they are physical and they score tons of goals. After shutting down Getzlaf and Perry in the Anaheim series, they could do the same with Thornton and Pavelski.
2.) Pekka Rinne can stand on his head for the Predators. I see that as a difference between he and Martin Jones. Jones is an above average goalie, but he is not a guy that can steal a series. Rinne can do that. His highs are high, and his lows are low, but he is playing near his highs right now.
3.) Filip Forsberg is just a beast. He is a player that could frustrate some of San Jose’s best players, even if he is not scoring. After having just three points in the first round, Forsberg is due for a break out performance in round two.