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...
Marty Havlat had one assist to go with his sixth hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche April 11. It was also a game that meant nothing to the San Jose Sharks (though it did to the opposition) and was the only scoring game in his last six of the 2013-14 NHL season.
However, there is no denying Havlat's skill. He had eight goals (including two game-winning scores) and four assists in his last 16 regular season games. Until his 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs in which he had about 10 total minutes of ice time, he had more than a point per two games in six of seven playoffs.
If the Sharks lose a scoring-line winger, Havlat is the most likely person to step up.
Tyler Kennedy was supposed to be the extra scoring-line winger for the San Jose Sharks. It was thought he would be a major upgrade over T.J. Galiardi, who finished the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs on the top line with Joe Thornton.
Things have not worked out, as Kennedy has just four goals in 67 games. While he battled some injuries, he was mostly scratched by choice. Bad defense and no scoring are not the recipe for getting ice time.
However, he will get playing time on the fourth line. He may even see action on the second power play unit. He is also a solid option if a scoring-line forward goes down. That gives him plenty of potential to play his way back into the lineup.
Matt Irwin has been a regular on the blue line over the last two seasons, starting over 75 percent of the games in each and all 11 Stanley Cup playoff games in 2013. The consistency of Scott Hannan and elevated play of Jason Demers have relegated him to spot duty so far in April.
Irwin has defensive liabilities, especially when he needs to turn. However, he is the obvious only choice in the likely event of an injury and reasonably certain to get in at some point even if there were not one. He showed a quick shot from the point with a penchant for beating traffic that could come in handy. If he recaptures that (17 points in 62 games during the 2013-14 NHL season), he could find himself in a regular role.
Adam Burish is not much of a goal scorer. He may not even be healthy yet, after a nasty broken hand ended his 2013-14 NHL season in March. However, he knows how to play spring hockey.
Burish won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. He won a national championship with the Wisconsin Badgers in 2006.
He is also one heck of a penalty-killing forward. He can take faceoffs or play wing, with speed, physicality and grit. If he can get healthy and fight his way through some talented teammates to grab a little ice time, he is capable of helping the San Jose Sharks become champions.
Bracken Kearns is 32 years old and has played in just 31 career NHL games. However, he played seven games during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs for the San Jose Sharks.
During the regular season, the team seems to choose to try to develop a younger player because the margin between him and Kearns is slim. In the playoffs, any margin is too much to sacrifice.
If the Sharks deal with injuries at forward (or Raffi Torres gets suspended...), look for the reliable Kearns to compete with the struggling Tyler Kennedy and inconsistent, injury-prone Marty Havlat for playing time. His energetic, scrappy play could be just what the team needs after being battered around the Western Conference.