Ah, the final installment. The men who will be attacking us. Let's have a look after the jump...
Well, we've talked a lot about this group, and many would argue the whole series comes down to how much they produce. I should mention that Marleau has bounced between this line and the 3rd, with Torrey Mitchell occasionally skating with the other two. But when last seen the Magic Troika was assembled, and that's what we expect to see. When it's on song, this line has it all; size, speed, skill, finish, everything. Whereas the Sedins are big but don't play to it, they aren't all that quick. Sadly, Marleau is just about the fastest skater the Hawks have seen, and Heater isn't exactly sloth-footed either. If Thornton cares, he's impossible to move off the puck with that land mass of a behind he has, and then he picks you apart from behind the net. Keith especially can't get caught trying to fight around Joe or we'll be here awhile. That said, we saw in January what happens when Jonathan Toews sinks his teeth into Thornton. Not only does he nullify him in the defensive zone, but along with Brouwer and Kane they had numerous shifts where they kept these guys pinned in their zone. That will be vital this series. If Marleau, Thornton, and Heatley are 150 feet from your net, that's a good thing . While none of them are bad defensive players (though Heatley borders sometimes) they aren't dynamic backcheckers. One imagines that Q will try and fight fire with fire here, but in San Jose he won't always have that option. Whoever draws this assignment has to suffocate Thornton, because if he goes back to passenger-phase that ruins Heatley's game, as he generally doesn't create his own shot. Marleau can, but has depended on Thornton for the most part as well this postseason. Again, the Hawks have to make this line play defense almost as much as it does offense. No matter how good you think you're checking them, enough time spent attacking and they will punish you. And for the love of God don't give them too many looks with the man-advantage.
The trio that's getting all the pub, and after the first round, they well should. However, here's an interesting nugget, the last three games against Scum these guys managed only three points combined. When the Wings started keying on this line, they struggled. Sadly, this opened up space for the Thornton line, and that's what Thornton has needed forever, someone else to take the pressure. You're basically picking your poison unless you have the depth to counteract both of them. The Wings should have on paper, the Hawks think they do too. Either way, this line is made up of killers. The Big Pavelski is one of my favorite players in the league to watch, he's an absolute murderer. He plays in every situation, and there's nothing he can't do. Clowe is a house, and I fear for everything if he gets too many looks at Kris Versteeg or Patrick Kane across from him. Hawks d-men will know him well. Gooch is a very smooth player, not as physical as Clowe but knows how to get to the scoring areas. Again, coming at these guys will be paramount. Pavelski is a marvelous two way player, and was their checking center early in his career. But Clowe and Setoguchi are not Selke winners. I'm sure Q will want Sharp and The Slovaks against these guys, but we just don't know how much he'll get that in San Jose. The combination of these six will not be nullified all series. It's just a matter of limiting them.
Ah, this is where things separate. The Sharks 3rd line is compromised of grinders, and not the hybrid the Hawks will boast. There was a time when both Torrey Mitchell and Manny Malhotra were considered very hot prospects. Mitchell is still only 25 but injuries robbed him of almost two seasons and he'll need time. Malhotra was revealed merely to be an excellent checking center who's an absolute badger in the faceoff circle. He'll take a lot of big draws for Todd McClellan, and he's been a thorn in our side for years when he was in Columbus. The +17 is a career high for him as well, and he also boasts the highest Behind The Net Rating. He is going to be the shutdown guy, and look for him to be coming over the boards when Toews hits the ice in Games 1 and 2. Ryan Kesler was able to keep Toews at bay on even-strength for the most part, and Malhotra is no easier a chore. Toews cannot afford to be shut out. Couture had a nice rookie season, made all that much shinier by Jimmy Howard giving him the gift of the tying goal in Game 3 when he shot from the goal line. Decent size, boundless energy, but still raw. It's not that this line isn't effective, and may be more so if Marleau sneaks down here again. But they are more one-dimensional than the Hawks 3rd line, and as long as they aren't nullifying whoever they face, the Hawks have the advantage here.
From there, the Sharks only use Scott Nichol and Jamie McGinn and dress 7 d-men. Nichol will kill penalties some times and take some draws, but they try and stay to their top 9 as much as they can. Another advantage for the Hawks, because the pace these games are going to be played at and the Hawks rolling four lines, their players should be fresher in the 3rd and any possible OT's (and I think there'll be a couple before all is said and done).