The Nashville Predators conquered a monumental task by winning their first ever Game 7 against the favored Anaheim Ducks. However, excitement is short lived in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the second round starting just 48 hours after the big win. The San Jose Sharks are now waiting after dispatching a cup favorite Kings team in just five games.
There’s a large portion of the hockey community that believes San Jose had the most impressive first round performance, and that’s hard to disagree with. The Sharks are the only team in the league with three 70 point players during the regular season, so they’re not short of offensive weapons.
In addition, San Jose ranks first in the league at creating high danger scoring chances this season, and fifth in preventing them according to War-On-Ice. That’s a recipe for a very complete team and why their victory over the Kings isn’t surprising.
This series sets up much different than against Anaheim. The Ducks were big, physical, and best defensive team over the course of the year. While the Sharks are by no means bad on defense as we’ve shown above, their success comes from their ability to create offense. Nashville goes from having the speed advantage to chasing the speed of San Jose. This will not be a heavy hitting contest.
Speed and skill will be on full display by both teams. The Sharks have four lines that can score and arguably the best offensive defenseman in the league with Brent Burns. The entire top four on the blueline is a talented and accomplished group.
So are the Predators screwed? No, they just have to play at the top of their game. A weakness in the Sharks team sits on the third pair. Roman Polak is a slight liability, and Nashville has to take advantage of that when matching lines. If they continue to roll out the top heavy trio of Forsberg-Johansen-Neal, Laviolette has to get them on the ice against San Jose’s weaker third pair whenever possible.
Nashville is probably going to have a little more room to create chances than against Anaheim, but San Jose will in turn put more pressure on the Predators’ blueline. Expect a more wide open game. The best defense in this series will be having puck possession in the opposition’s d-zone. Nashville CAN NOT sit back and allow San Jose to control the game like they did at times versus the Ducks.
Martin Jones was excellent in goal for the Sharks in the first round, but he is an inexperienced goalie. Pekka Rinne will have to bring that Game 7 performance into this matchup if the Predators are going to move on.
One power play goal through seven playoff games is nowhere near good enough. There may not be a lot of opportunities against a fairly disciplined Sharks team (9th fewest penalties in the NHL during the season), but Nashville has to capitalize at a much higher rate on the man advantage.
San Jose-Nashville pairs the best team at creating scoring chances against the best at preventing them. A matchup that if nothing else will produce extremely exciting hockey. Nashville comes into the series as underdogs, but we all saw how that turned out in round one.