With the Sharks not knowing their first round opponent for the Stanley Cup Playoffs until the final day of the regular season, Sunday ended up being more of a preparation day than a day for rest for the coaching staff. All plans will now go into a Kings club that San Jose saw six times this year and has plenty of info on.
“It’s just nice to know who you are going to play,” Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “It gives us an opportunity now to prepare.”
The Kings will present their own unique challenges for the Sharks and defense and goaltending are at the forefront of L.A.’s strengths.
“I think each of the teams in the playoffs presents a different challenge, whether it’s goaltending, power play, penalty kill. Now we can we can start focusing on the L.A. challenge,” McLellan said.
There is no question the familiarity between the Pacific Division clubs means there aren’t a lot of secrets to be kept.
“We know a lot about each other playing six times throughout the course of the year,” Sharks Captain Joe Thornton
said. “It’s going to be a real competitive series. We know them well. They play hard each and every night and they play stingy defensively.”
The Kings come in a bit dinged up with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams out down the stretch, but the coaching staff isn’t worried about the Sharks taking the Kings lightly.
“I don’t think we have to have that conversation at all,” McLellan said. “They are two tremendous players that make a huge difference on their team, but in my opinion, they are a very committed team. They are very solid defensively, they’ve got an elite group of players that work together and play really well defensively. They’re goaltender is tremendous. Their penalty killing is exceptional. They already have a strong identity they can play to.”
This marks the first time San Jose and Los Angeles will square off in the postseason party and also the first time the Sharks, Kings and Ducks all made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the same campaign.
“I think it’s going to be a heck of a series and it’s nice to see the three California teams in the playoffs,” McLellan said. “I think that’s really exciting not only for the National Hockey League out there, but for a lot of the minor hockey programs.”
“It will be an exciting series and a great series for California hockey in general,” Thornton said.
One benefit to playing the Kings is the travel couldn’t be any easier as Los Angeles is the closest NHL city to San Jose.
“There are very obvious benefits,” McLellan said. “They are the closest destination we reach in the regular season, so the travel and wear and tear as far as that goes is in both teams favor. Over and above that, it’s not a lot different than going anywhere else.”
“It’s nice. You don’t have to travel four hours away for your first road game,” Thornton said. “I think it’s going to be nice for both teams. You don’t have to go through the time zones and get adjusted. Getting in and out of bed at a decent hour will be nice too.”
Special teams play is always critical to a series and it will be strength on strength when the NHL’s second ranked power play (San Jose) collides with the NHL’s fourth best (Los Angeles) penalty killing club.
“Their penalty kill has been exceptional all year,” McLellan said. “They’ve got some units that do a tremendous job and their goaltender may be their best penalty killer. We do rely on our power play and we expect it to be sharp. I do believe that this series will be won five-on-five. Those two special teams may offset each other and you’ll have to perform five-on-five.”
It looks as if Ryane Clowe
will return to the lineup after missing a few games when the regular season schedule wound down.
“Clowe was in for treatment today, is going to practice with us tomorrow and we fully expect him to play in Game 1 whenever it’s announced,” McLellan pointed out.
McLellan had elected to use Patrick Marleau
a lot in the faceoff dots as the season concluded, but Thornton pointed out he will likely be back in his usual spot.
“Patty’s been pretty good in the faceoff circle to be honest with you,” Thornton said. “I think I’ll hopefully start off at center when Game 1 comes.”
The Sharks will don their black jerseys instead of the customary teal at home for the playoffs. This marks the first time in the 20 year history of the club anything but teal or white was been chosen for the postseason.
The Sharks players had the day off on Sunday and will begin putting their focus into the Kings Monday morning.
“Today is a day off for our team,” McLellan said. “We asked them to stay away from the rink unless they needed treatments.”
NORTH VERSUS SOUTH
Southern California has taken the only two NHL playoff series involving the two sections of California, one involving the Sharks and one involving the Seals.
Los Angeles defeated the Oakland Seals, 4-3, in 1969 Round 1
Anaheim defeated San Jose, 4-2, in 2009 Round 1
The NHL will release the dates for the first round Sunday evening.