The National Hockey League is down to two teams standing, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks will square off in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final beginning Monday, May 30, at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
The Eastern Conference Champion, Penguins will be making their fifth appearance in a Stanley Cup, while the Sharks will be playing for hockey’s holy grail, for the first time in the 25-year history of the franchise. In the Penguins four other trips to the Stanley Cup Final, they hold a 3-1 record.
The Penguins and Sharks are both well balanced organizations, with plenty of depth and can light the lamp a lot during a game.
The Penguins have seen a lot of positive impact from the rookies on their squad during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl and Conor Sheary have combined for nine goals and 20 points during the postseason. Only the St. Louis Blues got better production out of their first year players. The Blues rookies of Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson had 23 points.
Rust became the eighth rookie in NHL history to record multiple goals in a game seven. Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils, was the last rookie to accomplish the feat, scoring his in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs against the Florida Panthers.
Rust also become just the second rookie, since Jeremy Roenick, to have two multi-goal games, in one playoff year. Both of Rust’s multi-goal games came in series clinchers, game five of the opening round against the New York Rangers and again in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rust’s plus-10 is tied with Sharks defenseman, Paul Martin for third in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Rookie goaltender, Matt Murray has an 11-4 record for the Penguins, tying him for sixth overall in the NHL for most victories by a rookie netminder in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While the Penguins have been getting some good vibes from their young talent, the Sharks on the other hand have an older squad, with plenty of veterans. Five Sharks are over the age of 35; Martin (35), Joel Ward (35), Patrick Marleau (36), Joe Thornton (36) and Dainius Zubrus (37).
The Sharks may have an advantage in the third period, as they have outscored the opponents during the postseason 29-14 in the final 20 minutes of regulation. They had 11 more goals in the third, then the Lightning, who had the second best third period scoring.
The Sharks plus-15 goal differential, is a big reason why they hold an 8-0 record, when carrying a lead into the final 20, during the 2016 playoffs. The Penguins outscored the opposition 17-15 in the third period, and hold a 9-1 record when leading after two periods.
The Penguins have outshot their opponents 233-194 in the postseason. Kuhnhackl, a defensive specialist for the Pens, has started 233 shifts in the defensive zone, compared to 28 in the offensive end of the ice, for a zone-start percentage of 17.4, the fourth lowest in the NHL.
As the Penguins have taken more shots than their opponents, the Sharks have pretty much made the most from their opportunities. Pittsburgh ranks third in the league with 35.1 percent, while the San Jose’s 28 percent was 11th overall.
The Sharks lead the NHL with about three and a half goals per game, for a league best, 12.5 shooting percentage. With 13 goals on 61 shots, Sharks captain Joe Pavelski leads the league with a 21.3 shooting percentage.
Faceoffs, while not a major important stat, could often help evenly matched squads tilt the tables one way or another. The Sharks had the lowest faceoff winning percentage, at 46.8 percent amongst all 16 teams in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins hold a slight advantage in the faceoff department, winning about 50 percent of their draws.
As Sharks defenseman, Brent Burns has generated a lot of attention towards him as his six goals and 20 points in 18 playoff games leads all blueliners. With the attention Burns has been getting from other teams, fellow defenseman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been able to step up and be as equally valuable for the Sharks.
Vlasic is tied with Lightning forward, Nikita Kucherov with a plus-13 during the postseason. He has lined up 120 faceoffs in the defensive zone, as opposed to 70 draws in the offensive end of the ice and leads the Sharks with 19:47 average even-strength, time on ice and second on the team with 2:00 on the penalty kill. Only Martin (2:05) had more shorthanded ice time for San Jose.
Vlasic scored one goal and 10 assists, tying him for fourth in points amongst NHL defensemen, Kevin Shattenkirk of the Blues.
The Penguins who have been getting some production from their “HBK Line” of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel as well as their young guys, will need their stars, like captain Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to also continue to add to the production if they are to raise the Stanley Cup at the series end. If the Sharks want to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, for the first time in the 25-year history they will need the same from their core of players.
Both Murray and Martin Jones, have been spectacular between the pipes for their clubs, throughout the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their clubs hope that their netminders can keep up their stellar play, and give them the chance to make the play at the other end that will lead them to raise the Stanley Cup.