Friday, October 10, 2008

Sharks Dominate Ducks on Opening Night

Setoguchi in shootout

It's only one game, but let's just say it looks like all my fellow Battle of the Pacific writers were smart not to take me up on my Pacific Division Challenge: (To his credit, Big Dave, writer for the one team in this division not competing for a playoff spot, did offer a counter-challenge regarding who wins the season series, which I have accepted.)

From the opening faceoff, the opening night tilt between these division rivals had the feel of a playoff match-up.

That's a good sign for the Sharks, because they won, something they have not always done in the post-season, by a final score of 4-1. They were 5:25 away from a shutout.

There was early physicality, with Jeremey Roenick putting a big hit on Anaheim defenceman Steve Montador, closely followed by a bigger hit by star centre Joe Thornton on Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer. There was speed, an asset the Sharks have in abundance over almost any team in the league. There was scrappy defence, with a plethora of blocked shots by both teams.

But more than that, there was new coach Todd McLellan's new style. Team Teal kept the pressure on, forcing the Ducks into seven penalties (the Sharks had just two) that led to two goals. The power play was much more active than last year, when players were camped out in predictable places waiting for the perfect shot.

The Sharks had 41 shots on goal, and about half of them were from the blueline. The blueline is the primary difference between McLellan's style and former coach Ron Wilson's. Last year, the Sharks had two-thirds as many shots on goal as McLellan's Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings; only four teams scored fewer goals from their blueline.

To that end, Rob Blake (seven shots, two assists, 23:40 ice time), written off by many as being too old, showed that his drop-off in production had more to do with his supporting cast than his age. Fellow newcomer Dan Boyle put up an assist and led the team in ice time with 25:18. Even Christian Ehrhoff, whose last name may have been thought to be German for "wildly inaccurate shot," managed a power play goal 3:02 into the third period.

The top goal scorer for the Sharks in this game is the man who has been the Sharks best at it since Joe Thornton arrived: Jonathan Cheechoo. He scored the Sharks' first two goals, meaning he also is credited with the game winner.

The first came 2:32 into the second period, off of a rebound of a Dan Boyle shot as the Sharks were controlling the puck in the Anaheim zone. The second was a power play goal 6:44 into the second period, just five seconds after a 5-on-3 expired.

The second period was when the Sharks took control of this game, out-shooting the Ducks 21-3 after having yielded a 10-8 edge in the first. They did allow 18 shots in the third period, but unlike games last year, it was not from letting up in intensity; rather, it looked as if Anaheim turned up theirs.

Any hope of an Anaheim comeback was squelched by Devin Setoguchi, who scored a nifty backhander with his back to Jean Sebastien Giguere with 4:03 remaining. He had an incredible game on the first line, garnering a couple wonderful scoring chances including a breakaway and a fine feed behind-the-back feed to Patrick Marleau.

Milan Michalek joined Blake in the two assist club, and Joe Thornton and Steoguchi joined Boyle as the other Sharks with assists.

In other Sharks news, the team released Jeff Friesen. Marcel Goc and Alexei Semenov were scratched for this game. Goc has been struggling with a bad back...Semenov just struggles with a bad game.

My line projections were close for forwards except Setoguchi and Clowe, but perfect for defence; they were as follows for this game (LW-C-RW-D-D):

  1. Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi-Vlasic-Blake
  2. Michalek-Pavelski-Cheechoo-Lukowich-Boyle
  3. Clowe-Roenick-Grier-Ehrhoff-Murray
  4. Shelley-Plihal-Kaspar

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