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Pearn: Kings having trouble with Sharks' speed

Thursday, 04.24.2014 / 4:47 PM
Corey Masisak  - NHL.com Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Perry Pearn to break down the action. Pearn will be checking in throughout the series.

Pearn has spent the past 18 seasons as an assistant coach in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and a second tenure with the Jets in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

LOS ANGELES -- The San Jose Sharks have a surprising 3-0 lead in their Western Conference First Round series, and one of the biggest themes to this point has been how the Los Angeles Kings have struggled to slow down the speedy Sharks.

San Jose has 17 goals in three games and has looked like a significantly swifter club, generating offensive chances in bunches and shortly after taking the puck away from the Kings.

"The one thing I see in this series is the Sharks' transition game has been outstanding," Pearn said. "I think it's fed a little bit by the fact that L.A. has given up the puck in opportune positions on the ice, but I think the transition game has made San Jose look that much faster than L.A. To me, it has been the difference in every game. It's created chances and created momentum with San Jose."

The Kings led the NHL in goals against during the regular season, yielding 2.05 per game to best the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues. The Kings were second in the League in shots against at 26.2 per game, and were the best possession team at even strength.

San Jose led the League in shots on goal this season, and that trend has continued in this series. The Sharks are averaging 37.7 shots in their three victories. They have 53.7 percent of the non-blocked shot attempts (Fenwick) and 57 percent of the shots on goal at even strength.

"From the Kings standpoint, it is when and where they are turning pucks over," Pearn said. "In games that I was pre-scouting or coaching against them, I haven't seen them give up the puck at the opposition blue line or in that area between the tops of the circles and the blue line in the offensive zone as much as I've seen in these three games. I think what that's done is it is letting San Jose off to the races. It is also a credit to San Jose because they are really using their speed. They look quick. They are playing quick. They're moving the puck. It can be long passes, but it can also be two or three quick passes that really get the Kings back on their heels."

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson made it a priority last season to try to remake his team into a younger, faster club while remaining a Stanley Cup contender. He traded away veteran players Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray before the deadline last season, and young prospects Matt Nieto, Tomas Hertl and Tommy Wingles have stepped into prominent roles in 2013-14.

"I think this year is the best that I've seen [the Sharks] since I've been in the NHL," Pearn said. "In fairness, I didn't see a lot of their games last year because of the lockout and we played in the East. What I did see of them last year, I didn't see the depth and the speed they have now. They've got speed on all four lines.

"They look prepared to play a tougher game, but without giving up the team speed. The fourth line has been a factor because of their quickness and the pressure they've been creating in L.A.'s end. That also has led to the Kings maybe being a little panicky at times with getting the puck through the neutral zone."

The San Jose forwards have earned plenty of acclaim in this series, and rightfully so. All 12 who have dressed have at least two points, and the Sharks' bottom two lines are vastly outperforming their counterparts from the Kings.

A big part of that success has been the play of San Jose's defensemen. Dan Boyle has been the headliner for years, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic has become an elite NHL defenseman. Supporting players Justin Braun and Jason Demers have made this group deep and adept at igniting the Sharks' fast-break offense.

"You never have a good transition game without a group of defensemen that has some mobility and that can move the puck," Pearn said. "Even a [Scott] Hannan in this group looks pretty good because the puck is moving quickly and it doesn't expose the defensemen as much as it would if the puck wasn't getting up the ice quickly. You can have a good set of forwards, but if the defensemen can't get them the puck I think that ends up being your Achilles heel. A real good example of that is in Edmonton. The Oilers have some pretty good young forwards, but their defense isn't at the same level as the forwards and consequently the forwards don't get the puck. In this case, San Jose is doing a really good job of moving it smartly and quickly up the ice."

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