Ed. note: We've done a lot of research ourselves in regards to the San Jose Sharks but what better way than to ask a Sharks uber fan/writer who follows them relentlessly? I could have asked Mr. Plank 50 questions but quickly came up with 5 (with extra questions within the questions) to squeeze some info out of him. He did not disappoint.
1) Joe Thornton has been labeled all sorts of bad things in regards to his playoff performances. Are these labels justified? Would you agree that he has improved (beyond the 2 game-winning goals he has scored in these playoffs)?
Fear The Fin: If the labels were justified then (and they weren't), then they sure as hell aren't now. Thornton's rigid attention to his defensive game this season has produced a player who not only can beat you on the scoresheet but can make sure an opposing top line doesn't beat him. When Thornton takes his first shift tonight watch his puck support in the defensive end-- he'll be digging in the corners, backchecking like a bat out of hell, and making sure to slow down the quick Canucks forwards as soon as they enter the neutral zone. Coupled with his offensive performance this postseason (11 points and countless opportunities set up for his linemates) and you have a guy who has easily become the best two-player on the team.
2) I don't care what Kyle Wellwood says about the Canucks, I am still a fan. How has his reception been in San Jose and how would you rate his performance as the 3rd line center?
FTF: Kyle Wellwood has been a blessing to San Jose's downtown restaurants since being acquired mid-year. But most importantly, he's been a fixture on the third line with Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell. Although Pavelski is really the guy that makes that line hum, Wellwood is the one who
creates a lot of opportunities with the puck and rips open seams in the opposing team's defense (just like the seams he rips open in his jeans, hiyo!). For as small as they are that line does an excellent job cycling. Not at the level of the Sedins of course (washing machines don't even cycle that well), but something you guys will probably come to respect.
3) What is the defensive duo that will most likely take on the Sedin line? How effective has this tandem that you mention been in these playoffs?
FTF: To be honest, I'm not sure who gets paired up against the Sedins. Boyle and Murray have lead the team in QualComp all year and play a bunch of minutes at evens, but Demers and Vlasic are the most mobile pairing that could get tasked with that tough assignment. Both tandems have been effective in the playoffs, with Vlasic-Demers earning rave reviews from us after the Kings series and Boyle-Murray being all around great against Detroit. Boyle-Murray has more physicality to stop the cycle, but Vlasic-Demers can cut down passing options quicker. It's really a pick and choose, but at the end of the day, I'd expect Boyle-Murray to see the most matchups against the Sedins by virtue of their higher ice time. If things go sour for San Jose early on however, expect the roles to be flipped.
4) How impressed are you with Niemi over Nabokov? How is Niemi better? Do you dare tell us his weaknesses? To me, he seems awkward at times, yet he makes all the saves along the ice, has super reflexes on second chances but is quite vulnerable on high shots. Fair assessment?
FTF: Very fair assessment. Niemi is better than Nabokov at his best, but more inconsistent at his worst-- he'll either be absolutely lights out or "turn the lights out this is painful to watch", a pendulum that we've already seen swing against Los Angeles (turn the lights out) and Detroit (lights out). One thing you didn't mention is his rebound control-- it's a skill he has improved on immensely since coming over from Chicago but one that still troubles him from time to time. If you're going to beat Niemi on the initial shot you go high blocker side, but if you're going to beat him on the follow up, send a low slapshot towards his far pad and set up shop in the slot.
5) What are you sensing from Sharks fans in regards to the outcome of this series? What is your prediction?
FTF: What are you sensing from Canucks fans in regards to this outcome of the series? Our two fanbases are so similar it's mind-blowing. We both have to deal with fatigued "choker" labels from the MSM, both find a sad sort of comfort in defeat, both have excellent hockey clubs we root for, both have expectations the team competes for a Stanley Cup every single year, both live in beautiful and temperate climates, and both are still waiting for that ever elusive banner to be raised in our respective arenas.
In short, we're a nervous fucking mess and I'm sure you guys are too. Cheers!
Oh, and I have Sharks in seven. Coin flip city.
Ed. Note: A big thanks to Mr. Plank. You can catch his work at Fear The Fin, a site many of us I'm sure will be frequenting this round (don't be trolling!). You can also follow him on Twitter @fearthefin.
Just to touch on something that Jason said in question #5, and this is my personal opinion: the Chicago series made me a damned wreck, as the Canucks did what the Sharks just did against the Red Wings: blow a 3-0 series lead only to win Game 7. Since the Chicago series I have found myself to be more laid back. I get a feeling that is about to change though.