Last time out, the Ducks played a pretty damn good game against the Sharks but got a rough early whistle and were subsequently overpowered by the beastliness (surprised spell check recognizes that as a word) of Brent Burns and Joe Thornton. Since then both teams have had chances to take the division race by the horns and claim it as their own, but have put up some lackluster results that make this one rather important.
Since that game in San Jose, the Ducks have gone 6-2-1 against all non-playoff teams, while the Sharks have put up a 3-3-2 record in a more difficult set of games. But the bottom line is if the Ducks win this game in any way they clinch the Division and the final two games against Los Angeles and Colorado are absolutely meaningless. If not, things will get complicated.
Keys to the Game: I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Sharks have true depth of scoring throughout their lineup, and the Ducks do not. Nick Bonino, Mathieu Perreault and Andrew Cogliano (the Ducks' number three through five point producers) are nice additional scoring when they are on their games, but nothing compared to Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Brent Burns.
Going back to the previous game between these two teams, take a look at the shot attempt chart:
That first period looks pretty nice and it was, with the exception of an idiotic penalty taken by Luca Sbisa that lead to the first San Jose goal. However, that was with both teams playing an ultra conservative feeling out type of period. As the game wore on it became INEVITABLE, as Agent Smith would say, that Burns was going to score. Eventually he had a goal and an assist on the game winning and tying goals, respectively.
The point is, the Sharks come at you in waves. They hold the puck, they shoot a lot and they have the quality all throughout their lineup to make those shots count, and that combination can be as terrifying as their namesake suggests. The Ducks have not done a good job recently of driving the play against lower level teams that they theoretically should have, until the score effects kicked in. As such, they are very unlikely to win the possession tonight and will have to settle for blocking shots, keeping them out to the perimeter and clearing rebounds in front of Jonas Hiller (I assume).
It would also help if Hiller could remember how to stay in his net and square to the puck so that he doesn't give up seven goals on 44 shots (.841 SV% OUCH!) as he has in his last two appearances.
What Can We Learn From this Game: Have the Ducks been playing down to their opponents or do they suddenly just suck? The performance Monday night in Vancouver would seem to suggest that they have been in a weird mental state, caught somewhere in between playing out the string and contending for a division title. They consciously put up a defensive shell around NHL debutante John Gibson showing that they still have it in them when they decide to buckle down and play D. The last time they did anything of the sort was against these very same San Jose Sharks back on March 20 at The Tank.
Fearless Prediction: Brent Burns will go "Full Chimpanzee" and eat bugs out of Joe Thornton's pre-playoff beard. It will be gross, but nobody will be surprised.
Stay tuned here for updates throughout the day (lineup news, etc.) and start commenting. We'll have a quick stats pack shortly before puck drop for the in-game comments to flow.