The San Jose Sharks displayed excellent depth in their series-opening win Thursday, April 17. When they resume their Stanley Cup run against the Los Angeles Kings Easter Sunday, that depth will be key to whether it is successful.
Past San Jose teams have had more potent scoring. As good as this team is in its own end, the franchise has also had defenses give up fewer goals, allow fewer shots and even have a better penalty kill.
Past teams have failed. Eastern Conference hockey followers have an image of the Sharks as chokers, throwing out phrases like "early exits" and "soft" to describe a team that has as many conference finals appearances in the last 10 seasons as anyone in the NHL.
San Jose has been to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs eight times in 10 seasons, matched only by the Detroit Red Wings. Ask them whether this team is soft in the postseason.
The problem for the Sharks is once they get there. In three trips they have three wins—games, not series.
Their fourth-leading scorer in the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs had been scratched for two games. In 2010, Douglas Murray was the second-highest blue-line scorer and had more points than anyone on a checking line. In 2011, San Jose was worn down after their series against Detroit and lost in five games mostly because of losing the secondary-scoring comparison.
To get the 10 more wins it will take to make it deeper than any previous Sharks have, they will need to rely on their depth. Fair or not, it will take at least 13 to erase the stigma of premature playoff departures.
Depth and top-end talent are both necessary for San Jose to even make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Los Angeles starts Mike Richards on the fourth line. The Anaheim Ducks—a likely second-round opponent after going up 2-0 in their series with the Dallas Stars Friday— have 18 players that averaged over a point per three games in the 2013-14 NHL season.
The St. Louis Blues had 11 players finish with over 30 points, while the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks each had 13 finish with over 25. One of the three is almost certain to be waiting in the Western Conference finals.
CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz detailed Thursday's play of both the third and fourth lines in separate articles Friday. Each scored at least one goal against the Kings Thursday.
While James Sheppard's poor positioning led to one of two Los Angeles goals against his line, he had two assists and formed a dangerous combination with Tommy Wingels and Tomas Hertl. Raffi Torres got the Andrew Desjardins line on the scoreboard with an assist from line-mate Mike Brown.
Meanwhile, two former 20-goal scorers under the age of 33 were healthy scratches. Marty Havlat just turned 33 Saturday, and has scored at least 18 goals eight times and 20 assists nine times in his career. Tyler Kennedy is not yet 28, scored 21 goals in 2010-11 and has a Stanley Cup ring.
With the return of Torres and Hertl, the Sharks showed they have better options than Havlat or Kennedy. Those two only lead an ample list of players (in order of likely impact) that might produce if they are inserted into the lineup...