Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid could be the focal point of the Western Conference First Round series against the San Jose Sharks, which may boil down to a battle between youth and experience.
According to the underlying numbers, San Jose's superior team defense will be put to the test in shutting down McDavid, who is the engine that drives Edmonton's scoring to a greater extent than anyone in the League. Can he help the Oilers advance in their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2006, or will the Sharks veterans teach him his first postseason lesson?
The power play is one of the areas where McDavid has made his presence felt most noticeably.
The Oilers power play percentage improved from 18.1 percent in 2015-16 to 22.9 percent this season, which ranked fifth in the NHL.
As for the Sharks, their power-play percentage dropped from 22.5 percent in 2015-16, which ranked third, to 16.7 percent this season, which was 25th in the NHL and last among playoff teams.
Given this gap, playing disciplined hockey will be important for San Jose, but not new; the Sharks took 223 minor penalties in the regular season, which was the second-fewest to the Carolina Hurricanes, who took 206.
The top defensive pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun may play the primary role in shutting down McDavid and the Oilers power play, but strong defensive play has been a team commitment for the Sharks all season.
The Sharks allowed 2,269 shots, which was the third-fewest, and 200 goals, which was fifth-fewest. In terms of blocked shots, they finished third in the NHL with 1,359.
The early bird
Edmonton's key focus will be in trying to prevent San Jose from getting an early lead. The Sharks were 26-3-1 when leading after the first period for a League-best points percentage of 0.867.
The Sharks will be playing just as desperately to avoid allowing the Oilers to carry a lead into the third period. When the Sharks were trailing after two periods, they went 1-22-1 for a .042 points percentage that ranked 29th. When the Oilers began the third period with a lead, they were 29-2-1 for a points percentage of .906, which was fifth in the NHL.
Youth versus experience
Among players 30 and older, Edmonton's highest-scoring players were defenseman Andrej Sekera with 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 80 games, and forward Mark Letestu with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 78 games.
In contrast, six of San Jose's top seven scorers are in their 30s, with the lone exception being Logan Couture, who had 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists) in 73 games.
In all, the Sharks received 355 points (120 goals, 235 assists) from players in their 30s, which is nearly four times more than the Oilers, who received 95 points (38 goals, 57 assists) from such players.
On defense, the Sharks' top four of Vlasic, Braun, Brent Burns, and Paul Martin are all in their 30s and have an average age of 32, five years older than the Oilers' top four of Sekera, Oscar Klefbom, Kris Russell, and Johan Larsson.
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