Regular season result: Edmonton (3-1-1)
Home-ice advantage: Edmonton
Storyline: Oilers head coach Todd McLellan faces his former club
I’m getting the sense people are sleeping on the Sharks. After losing to Pittsburgh last year in the Stanley Cup Final, it seems as though the Sharks are flying – or swimming – under the radar. Anaheim won the division, and resurgent Edmonton has home-ice advantage on this season behind Art Ross winner Connor McDavid and his 100-point season effort. The Oilers ended an 11-year playoff drought, and Rogers Place is going to be one of the best atmospheres in the playoffs. I’m going to examine who I believe has the edge in several facets of the game that will lead into my series prediction.
Forward edge: San Jose
The Oilers have McDavid, and Draisaitl has also been dynamic this year. I get it. However, I love the blend that San Jose has. They have some forwards that are tough to play against and that can score, such as clutch-man Joel Ward, and some top-end scorers with a blend of experience and skill. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are nearing the end of their careers, but they can still be very productive. Logan Couture was the Sharks’ best postseason forward, and Joel Pavelski is a goal scorer’s goal scorer. A Peter DeBoer system has a deep group of forwards that will play a responsible 200-foot game. I think McDavid will have his cerebral moments in this series, but I think San Jose has a mix of skill, toughness, experience, and responsibility that will out-match the young Oilers. Let’s not forget that the Sharks will be facing a weaker and more inexperienced defense than Edmonton.
Defense edge: San Jose
In the offseason, Edmonton traded former number-one overall pick Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. While Larsson is a solid defenseman in his own right, imminent Norris winner Brent Burns, top-pairing veteran Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and noted veteran Paul Martin give San Jose a serious edge on the back-end for this series.
Goaltending: San Jose
I give the edge to San Jose by the slimmest of margins. Cam Talbot finished the year with a GAA of 2.39, while Martin Jones finished the year out West with a 2.40 GAA. Both are solid goaltenders that will give the opposition headaches at times. I gave the slight edge to San Jose because of the run Jones went on in 2016 en route to a Cup appearance. Talbot has his opportunity to shine, but for now, the Sharks have the edge in this category.
Special teams edge: Edmonton
Edmonton sports a top-five power play in the league, while on the other side of the coin, the Sharks are in the bottom-five in the league. San Jose and Edmonton ranked 25th and 26th, respectively, on the penalty kill. On the penalty kill, the best PKer needs to be your goalie. With a near-even goaltending matchup, Edmonton’s power play is poised to be more likely to break through.
Prediction: San Jose in 6
I commend the Oilers on the season they have. McDavid has willed this franchise back to relevance – and the postseason. However, the Sharks are a skilled, experienced, and well-coached team with all the characteristics of a team that can make a deep run in the playoffs, which they did in 2016. I think San Jose’s experience on the back-end will limit the opportunities Edmonton’s young forwards will have to put the puck in the net. The Sharks have some forwards that can pick apart the Oilers’ defense, and their edge in defense and solid goaltending will likely limit scoring chances for Edmonton. I’ll take San Jose in six games and expect to see the Oilers back in the same place next year. This series will be a learning curve for them on what it takes to win in the spring.