Thursday, April 8, 2010

Preds playoff preview, part 4: San Jose Sharks

Oh, how I wished that this blog would never be written.

A few days ago, with the Preds rolling, the Blackhawks stumbling, and a fifth-seed clinch just out of arm's reach, I couldn't help but look at the world with unabashed optimism.  Spring had sprung, the air was warm, the grass was green, and little cartoon birds fluttered around my head, whistling melodic tunes as we barreled toward a favorable first round matchup with the inexperienced Phoenix Coyotes. 

Fast forward to today, a scant time later.  The weather has darkened, clouds have rolled in, and there's a biting chill in the air.  ACME-branded anvils have crashed down upon the heads of those cartoon birds, silencing them forever.  And worst of all?  The Blackhawks have surged past the Sharks, the Red Wings have drawn even with the Predators, and a Western Conference Quarterfinal tilt between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks looks devastatingly possible, if not downright probable.  That classic old David\Goliath tale that lacks the happy, slain-giant ending of its Biblical counterpart.  No, the San Jose Goliath just laughs as we sling pebbles at his giant teal, black and orange visage.

But that was then, right? Right? Three years have passed since the Sharks dispatched the Predators in 5 games, despite the home-ice advantage bestowed upon the Preds for finishing in fourth place.  Many faces have changed for both teams, though more notably the Predators.  That playoff series was the advent to the Leipold\Balsillie fiasco, and represented the one time in our history that we truly "went for it," after acquiring Peter Forsberg shortly before the trade deadline.  The end result was short of expectations, and the Preds and their faithful went home disappointed, blissfully unaware of the manner in which their foundations would be upheaved just a few weeks later.  The Sharks have also undergone some turnover, losing such notables as Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek, though they did replace them with Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle, and a fully-broken-out Joe Pavelski.  The point remains that it was two largely different teams that did battle in those consecutive playoff series, and that brings me to the silver lining I will attempt to unfold for you.


It's difficult to even articulate such a thought, honestly.  However, let's approach this positively.  As stated, these are two different teams, with a lot of ground traversed by both since that last postseason meeting.  The Sharks have imposed their typical blitzkrieg march through the regular season, but have been repeatedly eluded by playoff success. The Predators made an unlikely run to the playoffs in 07-08, before falling short against the Red Wings in six games.  Last season, they missed the playoffs for the first time since the 02-03 season.  My primary reasoning for why we'd want to play the Sharks is based mostly in the intangible--call it a hunch.  I feel that this year's Predators are better equipped for playoff success, and we owe the San Jose Sharks a large deal of credit for that preparation.  David Poile made no secret of his disappointment after the last exit to the Sharks, and seems to have moved away from the philosophy that gave us success in the years immediately after the lockout--a small, speedy, attack-on-the-rush team--in favor of a model that stacks up better against the Sharks.  He's placed emphasis on drafting big forwards, and the coaching staff has implemented a system based in quick outlet passes, an aggressive forecheck, and strong puck possession.  Will these adjustments be enough?  Do we have the secondary scoring to overcome the Sharks' defense, and will our own defense be able to contain the numerous weapons the Sharks have in their arsenal?  These are the questions that must be answered, and will ultimately decide the Predators' fate in such a series.

On a secondary note, the Predators seemed to hold their own pretty well against the Sharks this season, at least more so than in the past.  Consider the "meltdown" game was one that the Predators probably would have won, had the goaltending held up, and also the previous game, which Dany Heatley put in the game winner with less than a minute to go.  The regular season is a different animal, of course...but at least it's some cause for optimism. 


I'll keep this blessedly brief.  The Sharks are going to approach this postseason with several demons to exorcise, both on a team and personal level.  They have been unceremoniously upset for the past several playoffs, after asserting their dominance on the NHL through the regular season.  The team's ownership is reportedly displeased that for all the resources they make available, management and personnel simply haven't gotten it done.  There have been numerous whispers that another disappointing season could sound the death knell for many in the organization.  Names that have become synonymous with the Sharks could be jettisoned out.  Joe Thornton in particular has been under the microscope for his playoff disappearances.  The Sharks, from the top-down, realize that there is a good deal of pressure to succeed.  They will not take that lightly, and their potential opponents have good reason to be concerned about their level of motivation.

I mentioned that noted Pred-Killer Milan Michalek has moved on to Ottawa.  Lucky for us, he's been replaced by Dany Heatley, who became quite comfortable with scoring backbreaking goals against the Predators in his first season with the Sharks.  I need only utter the name, "Joe Pavelski" to bring a torrent of unpleasant, five-point memories back for Predators fans.


The Tennessean reports that Joel Ward is the Preds' Masterson Award nominee.  Congrats to Wardo!

@BlakeGeoffrion and his Wisconsin Badgers take on the RIT Tigers in the first half of the NCAA Frozen Four, today at 4 pm CST. 

St Louis Blues forward Keith Tkachuk is calling it quits after 19 seasons in the league.  With his numbers and longevity, he'll likely end up in the Hall of Fame.  That doesn't mean I have to like or respect him. Jerk. :)

Closing thought...the many allegiances of Taylor Swift.  Anything for publicity, I guess!

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