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Strong Down The Middle

by San Jose Sharks Staff / San Jose Sharks
The Sharks and Red Wings are two of the Western Conference’s top teams over this past decade. In recent years, a good portion of that success can be attributed to depth down the middle and that will be a factor in the series that begins Friday night.

San Jose is led by Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Scott Nichol down the middle. Detroit has talent of their own, highlighted by Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Their offensive numbers drives the hockey talk. Datsyuk scored 59 points in just 56 games and Zetterberg was a point-a-game man in 80 contests. Thornton, Couture and Pavelski each hit the 20-goal plateau with Couture leading the way with 32 tallies and Thornton with 70 points.

A lot of those offensive numbers are driven by time in the offensive zone and for the two puck possession clubs, time is often earned by winning an inordinate amount of draws. San Jose topped the National Hockey League by taking 55.5 percent of their faceoffs, but Detroit wasn’t far behind, ranking fifth at 52.2 percent.

“The more you have the puck, the more successful you’re going to be,” Couture said. “Both teams are puck possession teams and that’s the first thing that the coaching staff here brought over to San Jose from Detroit. Puck possession and faceoffs are a huge part of it. We have been such a successful faceoff team last year and this year during the regular season. They have some good centermen in Datsyuk and Zetterberg and guys like that who want the puck. It’s going to be a battle in the faceoff circle.”

Couture’s right. Nichol paces San Jose with an amazing 59.4 percent success rate, followed by Thornton (54.4), Pavelski (54.3) and Couture (53.4). Kris Draper (56.6) and Datsyuk (54.6) topped Detroit, but Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Zetterberg were all better than 52 percent.

“They’re all really skilled with the puck and they win faceoffs,” Pavelski said. “Everyone has a pretty solid game all around so it makes for three strong lines and their fourth line can hold their own.
They’re one of the better faceoff teams in the League and they’ve been over the last four or five years. They take a lot of pride in that and so do we. It’s a battle and you want to be on the positive side and you never know when that one faceoff will lead to something.”

“I’ve had lots of experience over there and I know the type of centermen they have in Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Helm has played a hell of a season and had a real good (first) playoff series,” Coach Todd McLellan said. “They’ve got Filppula (51.5) who they can put in there so they have some talent. They have some strong people up the middle as far as skating and faceoffs go so they’re very talented and deep.”

San Jose has a definite plus working for them in the faceoff circle as there are three natural centermen playing along the middlemen and if someone is thrown out, another player with faceoff skills can step in.

“We’re just deep,” Thornton said. “Patty is a centerman, Torrey Mitchell is a centerman (along with Kyle Wellwood). “We’ve got six of our top nine forwards that are centermen, so anybody can take faceoffs. Obviously we feel like we have depth at center, but really our top-nine forwards are very, very strong.”

“You you can be a little more aggressive at times and team up,” Pavelski said of having multiple centers on the ice. “They’re confident in the faceoff circle and it’s a good thing to have as a center going in there.”

Will there be any adjustments for tomorrow night?

“Usually, I’m always set up against Datsyuk and Zetterberg, so really it’s just competing as hard as you can against them and try to wear them down,” Thornton said. “ I’m a bigger forward than they are and hopefully over the course of seven games you can wear them down.”

The Sharks awareness in the faceoff dots could be a determining factor in the playoff battle when the series concludes.

“Every time we play these guys, faceoffs come up,” Pavelski said. “They can do a lot of things and I’m sure they are talking about it at times. We just have to compete in the circle.”

That extra time with the puck, even if it just one possession a game per line, will eventually pay dividends.

“Look at the stats from the first round,” Couture said. “It seemed like every forward produced and had some points and that’s what successful teams need. Our third line was huge, our second line was huge at times and our first line scored some big goals. To be successful in the playoffs, you need three lines to score.”

No red light goes on or standing ovations take place for a faceoff win, but in this series, faceoffs could decide when the lamp is lit.

Game 1 of the Detroit series will be at 7 p.m. and will be on CSN California, 98.5/102.1 K-FOX FM and
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