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Wednesday, April 23

Stars/Sharks series preview

Alright, let's break this thing down.

Unlike the Stars-Ducks series, I think that this game will be decided primarily in five on five play and in overtime. Both teams have excellent defense and penalty killing, which should negate a lot of the man-advantage edges that would usually come into play.

In fact, the Stars lead the league in penalty kill percentage until the very last day of the regular season, when the Sharks overtook them in a game in which the two team played one another and the Stars skated a win. Both teams were near the top of the league in shots allowed and goals against during the regular season.

For the regular season the Stars ranked 9th in scoring at 2.89 goals per game, and the Sharks clocked in at 19th at 2.63 goals per game. For reference, the highest scoring team in the league was the Senators at 3.15 goals per game (0.26 gpg more than the Stars) and the lowest scoring team in the league was the Islanders at 2.3 goals per game (0.33 worse than the Sharks). With that said, Jumbo Joe Thornton is always going to be a factor, and Chechoo missed big chunks of the season, which skews the Sharks numbers downward from what they should be with him in the lineup.

That still adds up to a Stars team that scores enough more than the Sharks to be significant in the series. Of course this is complicated by the fact that both teams made major trade deadline deals that help the offense - the Sharks added Campbell and the Stars added Richards. Campbell makes all of the Shark forwards better because he can get the puck to them in better parts of the ice and he quarterbacks the powerplay. Richards makes all of the Stars forwards better because he adds a third scoring line that forces opposition coaches to have to choose between shutting down the Ribero line, his line or the Modano line.

In the end I'd give Richards an edge over Campbell as far as overall team impact, but not a significant one, which means that the regular season stats should still be reasonable relevant.

In the postseason the Stars have been much steadier than the Sharks. The young D-corp, forward scoring, and goaltending have all been there for the Stars, and will need to continue to produce in order to continue on. The Sharks on the other hand, blew a 3-0 lead to Calgary after Mikka was pulled in one game, and generally let the series go to a game 7 vs a seven seed. Nabokov has not been nearly as solid during the postseason as he was during the regular season, and because he played so many games he may be tiring mentally.

So I suppose in the end it comes down to goaltending.

Both goalies have had streaks of brilliance and have let in the occasional soft goal. On pure puck-stopping ability I'd say the two goalies are comparable enough to marginalize that aspect when predicting the series. That said, the Stars carry a significant Turco advantage when you factor in his puck-moving abilities. Turco's ability to disrupt a forecheck and to neutralize a powerplay by catching and moving pucks is significant in any series, and provides a very real edge in net. The Sharks will have to skate the puck into the zone in order to attack - a strategy that the Stars D-corp is adept at breaking up. The Stars on the other hand, will have the option of skating or dumping the puck in and forechecking, which opens up strategic options that Tippett will be able to exploit.

I expect this to be a long series with at least 2 overtime games. I wouldn't be surprised to see either team skate away the victor, so I'll hope for a good bounce and say Stars in 7.

Go Stars!

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