The Pacific Division is always a tight race, but this year was a little different. Thanks to the storybook season by the Golden Knights, it was really a race for second place from early on in the season.
Anaheim ultimately took the silver medal in the Pacific, giving it home-ice advantage in the first round over San Jose, which quietly put together another solid regular season.
Let’s take a closer look at what should be a very tight series.
Anaheim Ducks (-125) vs. San Jose Sharks (+105)
Game 1: Thursday, April 12 San Jose @ Anaheim, 10:30 p.m., USA
Game 2: Saturday, April 14 San Jose @ Anaheim, 10:30 p.m., NBCSN
Game 3: Monday, April 16 Anaheim @ San Jose, 10:30 p.m., CNBC
Game 4: Wednesday, April 18 Anaheim @ San Jose, 10:30 p.m., GOLF
*Game 5: Friday, April 20 San Jose @ Anaheim, TBD
*Game 6: Sunday, April 22 Anaheim @ San Jose, TBD
*Game 7: Tuesday, April 24 San Jose @ dAnaheim, TBD
Setting the stage: Game 1 would’ve been in the Shark Tank if San Jose pulled out a home win over the Wild in its season finale. However, it lost that game and home-ice advantage in the first round in the process. Anaheim finished with one more point (101-100) than San Jose thanks to a white hot 10-1-1 finish.
The season series was just as close as the division standings. While the Sharks did take 3 of 4 regular season meetings, three were decided via shootout.
Martin Jones had a disappointing season (.915 save percentage), but he’s performed more than admirably in the postseason in the past. In his 32 career playoff starts, Jones has posted a 2.01 GAA, which is good enough for 14th all time — just ahead of Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek. Only Braden Holtby (2.00) and Matt Murray (1.95) have a better GAA among active goalies (minimum 20 postseason starts).
There are questions in net for the Ducks, as John Gibson recently suffered an upper body injury. Having said that, Ryan Miller has filled in wonderfully as the Ducks backup this year. His .928 save percentage ranked in the top 5 in the league this season (minimum 25 games).
These two California clubs last met in the postseason in 2009, when the No. 8 seed Ducks pulled off a massive upset over the No. 1 seed Sharks in the first round. — Stuckey
Injuries: The Sharks will likely be without Joe Thornton for at least the first game of the series. Meanwhile Anaheim will not have the services of minute-eating defenseman Cam Fowler for at least the first part of the series. The most worrying injury concern for the Ducks, though, is John Gibson as Stuckey mentioned above.
The Numbers Do the Talkin’: The most important thing to remember when looking at the Ducks’ numbers is that they were essentially cursed for the first part of the season. Almost every one of Aneheim’s top players missed a chunk of time during the year. It got to the point where Derek Grant and Chris Wagner were their top two centers for one of their matchups with San Jose.
A similar sentiment can be applied to the Sharks, as San Jose was one of the league’s coldest shooting teams for much of the first 50 games.
Keep in mind that the Ducks were the league’s least disciplined team in 2017-18, with a -60 penalty differential. On the opposite end of the spectrum, San Jose finished with a +31 penalty differential. Even with so many penalties called against them, the Ducks still managed to kill off 83.2% of opponent power plays, which was the fifth-best mark in the NHL. San Jose’s penalty kill unit was a click or two better at nearly 85% (second best).
Things are a bit harder to judge at 5v5, as these rosters are pretty level. Both teams have good top lines and adequate scoring depth. The Sharks will have a slight edge on the blueline, as their top pairing of Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a smidge better than Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson. Behind both of those duos, there isn’t much separation between these clubs.
You can generally get a pretty clear picture of how a series should play out by looking at the numbers, but not with this series. Anaheim doesn’t dictate play at even strength, but that’s a result of its system more than anything else. The Sharks are clearly the better “fancy stat” team, but the Ducks have a decided advantage in net. More on that next.