PITTSBURGH — The San Jose Sharks are one of the NHL’s best skating teams.
Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette, who watched his Predators get bounced by the Sharks in Round 2, said as much.
So too did St. Louis bench boss Ken Hitchcock, whose Blues were eliminated by San Jose in the Western Conference Final.
“They’re a fast team,” Hitchcock said. “They skate fast. They skate fast, they support the puck. They might look faster than they are, but they’ve got a lot of quick players.
“They’ve got a lot of aggressive skating players. They got a lot of guys that can motor.”
Yeah, the Sharks are quick.
But according to their head coach, maybe not the quickest.
During today’s Stanley Cup media availability, Peter DeBoer called the Pittsburgh Penguins “the fastest team in the league,” adding this series wouldn’t be just about skating, but the possession game as well.
“If you control the puck,” DeBoer explained, “it’s harder to create speed.”
And with that, the 2016 Stanley Cup Final blueprint took shape.
To be fair, the speed-versus-speed angle had already been established. Almost immediately after beating Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final, Pens captain Sidney Crosby was asked about his club’s looming matchup with the Sharks.
“It’s going to be fast hockey,” Crosby said. “Two teams that want to play the exact same way, that want to get their D involved (and) their power play is really dangerous.
“It’s going to be quite the series.”
On defense, both teams feature good mobility, highlighted by a star offensive defenseman: Brent Burns for San Jose, Kris Letang for Pittsburgh.
“Both have great shots and get pucks through,” Pens d-man Justin Schultz said, per the Tribune-Review. “Both are always jumping up. And great skaters. Both are very mobile.
“Tanger is for sure a lot smoother [as a skater]. But Burnsy is still fast. And more powerful, maybe. He’s a big boy, and he’s going to be tough to handle.”
Each respective blueline plays a big role in the generation of team speed. Both the Pens and Sharks have excellent transition games featuring quick, speedy forwards, so it makes sense — the defensemen, tasked with getting those forwards the pucks, need to be mobile too.
Up front, there’s speed across the board. Pittsburgh’s Carl Hagelin won fastest skater competition at All-Star weekend four years ago. Last week, Sharks d-man Brenden Dillon said 36-year-old Patrick Marleau is “still one of the fastest skaters in the league.” Phil Kessel and Matt Nieto can fly, too.
So when previewing the Stanley Cup Final, don’t be fooled when you read predictions of a “quick series.”
That doesn’t mean it’ll be over quick.
Just means it’ll be quick.
Related: Need for speed: Sharks, Pens brace for ‘fast hockey’ in Stanley Cup Final