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Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has the better defense?

The San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins are both known for the blazing team speed. That doesn’t just go for their scoring prowess, but also their defense.

The Sharks’ team goals-against average for the playoffs is 2.28, while the Penguins is 2.39. The Sharks have given up 41 goals against to the Penguins’ 43. Both teams like to swarm opposing players, taking away their time and space, filling gaps to disrupt outlet passes.

Here’s a look at both of their team defenses.

SHARKS 

The blue line is anchored by the top pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, the team’s shutdown duo. They helped stifle Tyler Toffoli, who had one assist in five games for the Los Angeles Kings. They helped frustrate Filip Forsberg, who had one goal in seven games. And then, most impressively, they held Vladimir Tarasenko scoreless until the final stage of the St. Louis Blues’ elimination game.

“We’re playing against the top players on every team. Me and Brauner will keep doing what we did,” said Vlasic, who skates 23:34 per game. “Every series gets tougher. You go from series to series, and now you’re playing a pure goal-scorer like Tarasenko. To shut him down for six games is unbelievable. Did I expect to shut him down? No. Did I expect him to score every one of these six games? Yes.”

Paul Martin and Brent Burns are the other dynamic duo. The acquisition of Martin was a boon for Burns, as he’s been the perfect complement and safety net for the offensive dynamo. They’re both positive possession players and solid on the back end.

Veteran Roman Polak and 25-year-old Brendan Dillon are the other pairing, and they’ve been victimized in this postseason. Dillon currently has the lowest score-adjusted 5-on-5 Corsi on the Sharks at 43.98.

Up front, the Sharks have some stellar defensive players among their stars, including a Selke-worthy season from Joe Thornton. He and Joe Pavelski are the only Sharks with a faceoff winning percentage above 50 percent (based on 100 faceoffs).

Their bottom six has been strong as well, with that third line of Melker Karlsson, Chris Tierney and Joel Ward giving the Sharks that third option that’ll be vital in beating the Penguins.

PENGUINS

If the game is on, chances are Kris Letang is on the ice. He’s averaging 28:46 per game. With the injury to Trevor Daley, that means the next highest player in average ice time is Brian Dumoulin and he’s nearly eight minutes off Letang’s pace (20:56). 

That pairing is the top one for the Penguins, and their best possession drivers: Letang at 54.60 Corsi (5v5, score adjusted) and Dumoulin at 53.54. They’re a shutdown pairing that, thanks to Letang, can also add to the attack.

Ben Lovejoy has been the third best possession driver for the Penguins on defense (50.83). His partner, Olli Maatta, appears to finally be rounding back into effectiveness after some rough patches in the postseason.

Ian Cole and Justin Schultz make up the other typical pairing. Schultz’s puck-moving game has been vital with Daley out. Cole is a negative possession player, but honestly, this duo’s sum can be greatest than its parts.

Up front, the Chris Kunitz/Evgeni Malkin line has dominated opponents, especially Kunitz, who’s having a marvelous postseason. Ditto Sidney Crosby’s line, as he’s winning 51.5 percent of his draws.

Matt Cullen leads the team with 52.4 percent faceoff wins, but his line with Tom Kuhnhackl and Eric Fehr has been getting eaten live by opponents otherwise.

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

Sharks. The top two pairings are overall stronger, especially with the injury to Daley, and the team defense has the ability to suck the life out of the other team’s top scorers.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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