Sharks

Sharks

A look at how the Sharks and Penguins match up ahead of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, beginning on Monday in Pittsburgh...

Forwards

San Jose: No one has been better in the postseason than Joe Pavelski, who leads the league with 13 goals and four game-winners, and trails only Logan Couture in scoring with 22 points. Along with Couture (24 points) and Joe Thornton (18 points), the Sharks have gotten contributions from other places, too, including six goals from Joel Ward, and five each from Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney. DeBoer took a risk by keeping Patrick Marleau on the second line for the entirety of the Blues series, but San Jose’s bottom six forwards showed they could match up just fine against what was thought to be a deeper St. Louis group.

Pittsburgh: Phil Kessel leads the Penguins with nine goals and 18 points, while star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – and former Shark Nick Bonino – have 15 points apiece. Just like the Sharks, though, Pittsburgh has gotten contributions from up and down its lineup by remaking its offense in the second half of the year. Forwards Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin, Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl have all been key playoff contributors despite not being on the Penguins when they last met the Sharks on Dec. 1. The Kessel-Bonino-Hagelin line has been particularly outstanding.

Advantage: Pittsburgh. Yes, the Sharks answered the bell when it came to matching depth against St. Louis, but the Penguins are more skilled than the Blues. Although Tierney continues to improve as the third line center, Pittsburgh could take advantage of that matchup with one of its top three lines, all of which have been dangerous in the playoffs.

 

[KURZ: Sharks turn their attention to Penguins for Stanley Cup Final]

Defensemen

San Jose: Brent Burns continues to lead all NHL defensemen with 20 points, placing him third overall in playoff scoring, but it’s the defensive play of the Sharks against the opposing team’s best players that has really keyed their run. Marc-Edouard Vlasic leads all NHL defensemen with a plus-13 rating, while Burns’ partner, Paul Martin, is second with a plus-10. The third pair of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak has played well enough, too, as both are averaging more than 15 minutes a night, helping keep everyone fresh from start to finish.

Pittsburgh: Kris Letang is the head of the snake on the Pens’ blue line, averaging nearly 29 minutes a night while contributing 10 points (2g, 8a) in 17 games. After Letang, though, there are some concerns for Pittsburgh with Trevor Daley out with a broken ankle. Olli Maatta returned in place of Daley midway through the Lightning series and played well after struggling early in the postseason, but can he and others like Edmonton cast-off Justin Schultz handle the Sharks’ attack?

Advantage: San Jose. The Sharks’ advantage here could be a significant one, after the Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko was the latest star to get shut down by San Jose’s blue line corps. While they will have their hands full with the Penguins’ offense, the best they have seen so far in the postseason, the Sharks offense should get plenty of chances against Pittsburgh's D throughout the series.

Goaltending

San Jose: In his first career playoff run as a starter, the 26-year-old Martin Jones is 12-6 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. He’s shown an ability to quickly bounce back from losses, too, keying the Sharks' 5-1 record in such situations, and has started all 18 playoff games while getting pulled just once.

Pittsburgh: Rookie Matt Murray, 22, has played in 15 of the Penguins’ 18 games with a 2.21 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. He took over in Game 3 of the first round and has been in net ever since, except for Game 5 against the Lightning when Marc-Andre Fleury started and struggled.

Advantage: Even. Who would have thought that Jones would be the more experienced goalie headed into the Stanley Cup Final? Still, the numbers here for both goalies are far too similar to say one team has an advantage over the other. One area Jones could improve is on the road, where he has a .902 save percentage as opposed to .936 at home.

Special teams

San Jose: The Sharks bring a 27.0 percent success rate on the power play into the series, after having the third-ranked unit in the regular season (22.6 percent). Couture leads the league with 11 power play points, while Pavelski has five power play goals. The penalty kill is at 80.4 percent in the playoffs.

 

Pittsburgh: The Penguins have also utilized a strong power play, checking in at 23.4 percent. They are led by Crosby’s nine power play points, and five goals from Kessel. Their penalty kill is slightly better than San Jose’s at 83.6 percent.

Advantage: Even. Again, it’s too close to say one team’s special teams game has been better. In the regular season the Sharks had the better power play, while Pittsburgh’s penalty kill was stronger than San Jose’s.

Health and energy

San Jose: Injured Sharks forward Matt Nieto said on Friday he “absolutely” expects to be able to play in the Stanley Cup Final, although it’s unclear whether Pete DeBoer would insert him in Game 1. The Sharks’ full week off between rounds one and two seemed to help them in the St. Louis series.

[KURZ: Sharks' Nieto expects to be an option for Cup Final]

Pittsburgh: Daley was averaging 22 minutes and eight seconds of ice time in the playoffs before he broke his ankle, showing just how important he was to the Penguins’ blue line as arguably their best puck-moving defender. The Penguins also went the full seven games the previous round against Tampa Bay.

Advantage: San Jose. The Sharks will have had the extra day of rest headed into Game 1, but they also had to fly across the country, so that may not exactly be an advantage. Still, Nieto’s pending availability gives them essentially a full compliment of players, while Daley’s absence could really end up hurting the Penguins’ blue line.

Prediction

The Sharks will win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in six games.