After eight months of season, it's finally almost time for the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals! After all the dust has settled it's the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team we here know well, and standing in their way of Lord Stanley will be the San Jose Sharks .
In order to get to know the Sharks better, we reached out to our SB Nation subject matter experts at Fear The Fin to help teach us the basics about the Western Conference champions.
#1 - I'll freely admit personally to having some "East Coast Bias" in me, so can you give me a basic introduction of the Sharks? Obviously Pens fans know casual facts (Burns is awesome and has a great beard, Thornton is the man and also has a great beard, etc) but what's a deeper intro to your favorite team to dumb East coast people that don't know a ton about them?
The Sharks top line is one of, if not the best, in the NHL and San Jose relies on that to soak up the toughest minutes. Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton have incredible chemistry on the ice and Pavelski's ability to tip pucks into the back of the net and find soft spots in the opponent's defensive zone is uncanny.
While that top line needs to do damage for the Sharks to be successful, this is one of the deepest teams San Jose has ever had (a bit like the Penguins in that regard). Joel Ward has been a huge pick up for the Sharks — he had four goals in the last two games of the Western Conference Finals — as has Joonas Donskoi, who San Jose got for basically nothing.
The tl;dr: The Sharks are a quick, deep team that focuses on puck possession and shot blocking to be successful. This is a deep San Jose team that has shown a lot of resilience during the postseason and, for once, is getting a fair share of the lucky bounces we all know you need to win in the playoffs.
Aside from the shot-blocking, his description of the Sharks sounds eerily similar to the way the Penguins like to play, which will make for an interesting clash of strength vs. strength.
#2 - If you had to vote now for the Sharks Conn Smythe winner, who would you give it to? And 3 honorable mentions, since it's never easy to boil it down.
This is tough, but probably Brent Burns. His points are obviously a focal point, but Burns has been excellent defensively during the postseason as well. Honorable mentions would be Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton.
Burns has been such a stud for SJ, and his game and style (while unique) isn't that far off from what Kris Letang brings to the table, if Kris Letang could score a total of 33 goals this season (27 reg season, 6 postseason).
#3 - In his first NHL playoff action, Martin Jones has obviously been great, but he's also only seen 479 shots in 18 games (26.6 per game). The Penguins are averaging 35.1 SOG per game. What's your analysis of his play (and team defense too) and do you have any concern if the Penguins are able to throw more rubber on the net that he's seen so far?
I guess the first order of business here is that I'm not so sure the Penguins will get that many more shots on the Sharks than any of the team's they've faced so far. That being said, I've been very happy with what Jones has done this postseason, especially at even strength. He likely won't be the reason San Jose wins this series, but I doubt he'll be the reason the Sharks lose it, either.
Perhaps I phrased the question wrong, I don't expect the Pens to get 35 shots per game, but Jake's perspective leads me to believe he doubts the power of the Pens attack. We'll see who's closer to right but I'm definitely expecting Pittsburgh to get 30+ shots on goal on most nights, as they have made a habit under Mike Sullivan.
#4 - Speaking of under-rated, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been a shutdown beast, talk about his playoff so far, and if you had to guess, who do they match him up with (Crosby line, Malkin line, or HBK line)? And that would primarily leave Martin/Burns for the other top line, correct?
My guess is that Vlasic will be hard-matched against Sidney Crosby. It's possible (likely, even?) that the Pavelski line will also be out against Crosby, leaving the Couture line to handle the Malkin line. The Sharks played Patrick Marleau on the second line in the Conference Finals, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him drop down to the third line to try to soak up some of the HBK line's pressure.
It will be very interesting to see if the Sharks alter their lineup to try and match the talent-spread that Pittsburgh has going on.
#5 - The Sharks have a lot of star power and top players pulling their weight, but aside from the obvious who has been an unexpected hero? Like a guy not in a scoring line/PP role that's done better than anticipated?
Chris Tierney has really impressed me over the past several games. He's done a great job on both ends of the ice and in particular I've liked his defensive game. He's a decent skater and helps keep things together until the top lines can get back on the ice.
The 21-year old Tierney has 7 points (5g+2a) in 18 games in this playoff run. He seems like their Matt Cullen in terms of being a productive lower-line center, only Tierney is at the very beginning of his career.
#6 - I mentioned him earlier, and we all love him so could you talk about the season (and playoff) that Paul Martin has had in his first year out in San Jose? Hopefully you guys are enjoying him and treating him as well as Pens fans did.
Paul Martin has been quietly spectacular for the Sharks this season. He and Burns are as good a pairing as Martin-Letang was for the Penguins. This postseason Martin has played well, though if I had to guess I'd say he might be a little banged up based on his play in the Conference Finals. Hopefully I'm imagining things, because the Sharks are a much better team with him on the ice.
Martin, now 35, did look a little slow to my eye in the Western Conference Final, but I couldn't tell if he had slowed or his teammates were just playing so fast. He's still got his positional ability and great stick to contend with, but it will be worth watching to see how he fares. And he'll have 5 days in between series, so that could be better.
Thanks to Fear The Fin and we hope everyone pops over there to check out their coverage of the series, including some very interesting questions they asked me about the Penguins!