Sharks Gameday: Xerxes I

I want this picture in a heart-shaped frame on my desk.


 

The Sharks won. That's what matters.

This was a heart-attack-inducing game, that's for sure. I knew the Kings would be a tough opponent, so I wasn't surprised by how close it was, but the manner in which the game played out was definitely not what I expected.

San Jose dominated the first period, but Jonathan Quick kept the Kings in it. Then after White's injury the Sharks seemed to fall back on their heels a bit, and the Kings had the bulk of the pressure for the 2nd and the first half of the third. For the last ten minutes of the 3rd and all of overtime the two teams traded ridiculous chances. Both goalies made crazy saves and the defense for both teams looked pretty bad.

UPDATE: The previous paragraph supported by graph evidence, with Corsi and Frenwick numbers analyzed in a Fanshot over at Behind the Net.

Both players returning from injuries had huge games, as Justin Williams had a goal and an assist and Ryane Clowe had three assists. Both those guys are warriors.

The officiating was crappy all around. The non-call on Jaret Stoll boarding Ian White, Ryane Clowe's weak-ass roughing, and, on the flip-side, Jason Demers' crazy leaping charge against Ryan Smyth are the three most glaring examples for me. Some games are called really tight and others are loose and open, but the WORST is when it's like it was in this game: unpredictable. Some things that weren't really penalties were called, and some things that should have been penalties weren't called.

The fourth line for the Sharks was noticeably awesome. They had at least four strong shifts where they put pressure on the Kings for extended periods and generated some scoring chances. I think it's very likely Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers, or Scott Nichol will get a goal in this series.

Stoll received a one game suspension, so he'll be out for the Kings. He played most of game one against the Sharks' top lines and is the Kings' big face-off guy, so by all indications his absence is a big one. I don't actually think it will make that much of a difference in how the game plays out, since the Kings' already had their whole strategy built around creating opportunities with a limited amount of offensive talent. Maybe since Stoll won't be out there we'll see some more offensive pressure from the big names for the Sharks? It could happen. Regardless, the Sharks shouldn't change their game-plan based on one lineup alteration for the Kings. If San Jose plays the entire game like they did in the first period, when they held the Kings to only a handful of shots and dominated the play, the Sharks will get the victory no matter who plays for Los Angeles.

Ian White will be out for the Sharks, replaced by either Justin Braun or Kent Huskins. (I'm writing this in advance and Todd McLellan hasn't told us yet who will be playing). My vote is for Braun, since he has the offensive upside that will be missing with White out of the lineup.

Dark Horse/Bright Horse

Last time I picked Ben Eager as my dark horse and Antti Niemi as my bright horse. Both players had strong games, so great job, me!

Dark Horse: Douglas Murray was a monstrous beast in game one, as expected. He kind of screwed up behind the net on the Kings' second goal, so I'll be looking for him to get a lucky bounce in his favor tonight. He may score a goal when the puck bounces off his giant torso or something.

Bright Horse: Joe Thornton. The Kings are doing their best to use giant curly-haired weirdo Michal Handzus to handle Joe Thornton. In game one it mostly worked out for Los Angeles, although there were some noticeable shifts, especially late in the third, when Thornton dominated play down low in the Kings' zone. More than any season before, this year Joe Thornton can make a contribution even without scoring a point. He ties up and tires out the other team's best defensive players, rocks at takeaways, and can be paired with anyone with a halfway-decent shot to make a line a scoring threat (JONATHAN CHEECHOO COUGH COUGH) and screw up the other team's match-ups.

All that is great and everything, but in the end what Thornton does best is pile up assists. Some crafty line-switching or power-play time should get him a couple tonight.

Prediction: Sharks win 4-3, with goals from Murray, Mayers, Marleau, and Mitchell.

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