Friday, October 31, 2008

Sharks Dine on Wings

The San Jose Sharks came into Thursday night's game leading the NHL with the fewest shots against per contest. They were also second to the Red Wings in shots for, leaving them with the best shot differential in the league.

But until the Sharks played Pittsburgh Tuesday, they had not played anyone who had a winning record. Now they had to play the defending Stanley Cup champions, the team that provided the blueprint for the Sharks new style of play. The team that was 7-1-2, with victories over the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes on the road and the red-hot New York Rangers.

Different class of opponent, same result. The Sharks out-shot Detroit 33-27, but 27-13 through the first two periods when they established a firm lead in the game.

Despite the Sharks' domination early, the Red Wings got on board first. On the first shift of the second period, Marian Hossa got to a loose puck and fired through Evgeni Nabokov's five hole.

The Sharks have been dominant in the second periods of game thus far this season, much as in the past two. I'm not sure I understand this, and if there is one period I would least choose to dominate, it's the second. I'd much rather jump on teams early or close late. I hope this does not come back to hurt us late in the season as it has in previous years.

The Sharks must have remembered which period they were in less than seven minutes later, when they began a barrage of three goals in 3:25 with a beautiful feed from Joe Thornton from behind the net to Patrick Marleau for the one-timer on goalie Ty Conklin's back-side.

Two minutes later, Jamie McGinn got his first NHL goal by punching in a rebound. Just over a minute after that, Ryan Clowe took a feed from behind the goalline from Milan Michalek and one-timed it past Conklin for his fourth goal of the season, all on the power play.

At 6:08 of the third, Joe Pavelski capped the Sharks scoring by poking in a one-timer from a no-look, backhand pass from along the boards from Devin Setoguchi that went between a Detroit defender's legs. Brian Rafalski capped off all scoring on the night by pinching in for a one-timer with 32 seconds left in the game.

Aside from what has been listed above, the Sharks had other assists from McGinn, Pavelski, Jody Shelley, Tomas Plihal, and another from Setoguchi. Detroit had assists from Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Kopecky, and Tomas Holmstrom.

This contest was everything you would expect from two Stanley Cup contenders: the Sharks only had four giveaways in this game and 17 blocked shots. Detroit had only seven giveaways and 14 blocked shots. Both teams had only four minor penalties, and only two which resulted in a power play, but the Sharks outhit the Wings 29-16, including a 14-4 edge in the first period.

It should be noted that not only were the Red Wings on the road, they were coming off an overtime loss in Anaheim the previous night. That was also why they had their back-up goalie in net, although one could see why Conklin had been unbeaten until Thursday--he kept the Wings in the game early with several tremendous first period saves.

It is hard not to consider the Sharks the team to beat so far this season, but it is too early to begin sizing up the trophy case--remember 16 players from this roster were involved in the franchise-best March run that gave the Sharks the second best record in hockey last season, only to finish with a losing record in the playoffs.

However, it can be nothing but encouraging to see the Sharks dominate another opponent, especially one with so much skill, experience, and resilience.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sharks Ice Pens Offence

The Sharks came into their tenth game of the season having won seven and lost two. More than that, they had outshot their opponents seven times, and were second in the league in shot differential.

However, until now, they had two games against a team that has gone .500 in their other games this season, both against Anaheim (1-1). Tuesday night, they faced the 5-2-2 Pittsburgh Penguins, last season's Eastern Conference champions.

This year's Sharks are all about puck possession, and puck possession starts with winning faceoffs. Joe Thornton won an astounding 12 of 13 faceoffs (.923), Patrick Marleau won five of six (.833), and Joe Pavelski won 11 of 18 (.611), leading the Sharks to a 30-16 edge (.652).

That will get you the puck a lot. It led to the Sharks getting 34 shots and helped them hold Pittsburgh to 11, even though the Sharks had 21 giveaways and the Penguins only had 10.

(One of those giveaways was just the worst since last year's playoff giveaway to Brad Richards--Douglas Murray passed across the middle deep in the defensive zone right to Evgeni Malkin, who missed a shot from between the circles. If that had been Alexei Semenov, who was a healthy scratch with Murray's return, I would have reminded everyone that I am better than he is, so I felt the need to at least point it out.)

I have been hesitant to make too much of the Sharks impressive start, not wanting to get sucked in like I did by the success at the end of last season before their annual playoff choke. But when you dominate a Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin team that fully, you deserve a lot of credit.

One thing that was a concern in this game, much like in the losses to Anaheim and Florida, as well as the wins over Los Angeles, is the lack of scoring. One would hope that with 34 shots against back-up goalie Dany Sabourin, the Sharks could get more than two to go in. They didn't score any with five men on the ice.

On a penalty kill about half-way through the first period, Milan Michalek and Joe Pavelski pressured D Alex Goligoski into a turnover at his own blueline. Michalek got to the puck first and raced to the net behind the defence. Sabourin stopped his backhand attempt, but Pavelski cleaned up the rebound for a 1-0 lead.

The Sharks did not score again until late in the third period, despite four power plays to that point. But while on the penalty kill, Ruslan Fedotenko was called for interference. In the resulting four-on-four, Mike Grier scored on a backhand (assisted by Christian Ehrhoff and Dan Boyle) to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead with 7:08 to play.

Fedotenko made up for it, however, with a goal just 2:25 later, assisted by Crosby and Malkin, and the Sharks had to sweat it out. Even a penalty by Pittsburgh in the last two minutes did little to give the Sharks breathing room, as once they pulled Sabourin they controlled play deep in the San Jose end.

Evgeni Nabokov did not have to make many stops, but he made several good ones. Pascal Dupuis had an early short-handed chance, Matt Cooke got off a shot from close in, and he had to make one incredible glove save on another slap shot from his right. But the Sharks defence got to all loose pucks and smothered the Penguins offence most of the night.

Thursday at 7:30pm PDT, the Sharks host the only team who entered the week with a better shot differential than theirs, the world champion Detroit Red Wings. If San Jose triumphs in that contest, they will be looked at as the early favourite in the Western Conference.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Stars-Capitals: Dallas and Washington Exchange Blows in OT Thriller


Sometimes as a fan it’s hard to look back on a heart breaking loss and see it as a complete positive. To quote my father, “You can’t win them all”, and that is a perfect way to look at the Dallas Stars 6-5 loss to the Washington Capitals in overtime on Saturday night. Both teams played a strong exciting game keeping Stars fans on the edge of their seats but in the end Alexander Semin would win it all for the Capitals.

The first period would be the highest scoring of all the periods. Dallas’ Sean Avery would score his first goal as a Star at 10:19 on a wrist shot past Jose Theodore. Assists on the goal came from B.J. Crombeen and Mike Modano. Sergei Federov would even the score at one with a power play goal at 12:38 off of a B.J. Crombeen slashing penalty at 11:14. Assists on the Federov goal came from Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Washington would take a one goal lead when Tomas Fleischmann scored at 16:58 with an assist from Michael Nylander. Dallas’ rookie superstar Fabian Brunnstrom would ripple the mesh for his own power play goal at 19:50 of the first. Sean Avery and Stéphane Robidas would record assists on the goal.

The second period would see more of the same for both teams. Washington’s Sergei Federov would score his second goal of the game at 11:23. Assisting on the goal were Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich. The Capitals would take a two goal lead when Tomas Fleischmann ripped a slap shot goal past Marty Turco at 15:16. Michael Nylander recorded an assist on the goal.

The Stars would refuse to give up though, as visible by B.J. Crombeen's tip-in goal at 15:55. Trevor Daley and Mike Modano would record assists on the goal.

Beginning the third period down by one, the Stars would start off aggressively. Loui Eriksson would tie it up for the Stars 56 seconds in with Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow recording assists. At 2:22 Tyler Sloan, a rookie for the Capitals, would score his first NHL goal. Assisting on the goal were Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Ovechkin.

As the Stars faithful held their collected breath, with Marty Turco on the bench for the extra attacker the Stars scored at 19:03 to tie the game at five thanks to Mike Modano. Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson recorded assists on Modano’s goal.

“I was just trying to work my way to the net and everything just seemed to open up there,” Modano explained about his goal. “Brenden made a great pass, it was a good play to get it down low to him, but no one was around me, so it was nice that it was a bang-bang play. I was able to get it off before they closed on me.”

Unfortunately for Dallas the back-and-forth of the previous periods would not be able to happen in sudden death. At 2:17 Alexander Semin would get some space in front of the Dallas net and rip the puck over Turco’s shoulder for the game winner.

“The goals-against is a joke. There’s a lot of guilty parties out there,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said in the game recap. “We’ve got flaws from some veteran players right now that we expect to be a lot better than they are. Our goaltending hasn’t been very good. You can’t have an .820 save percentage and survive in this league and we’ve got a young guy behind him that’s very unproven.”

“We hung in there and got a point out of it, but we’re not going to be too successful giving up five or six goals a night,” Modano said on the Dallas Stars website.

In the end, Dallas must now fix the goaltending and defense issues, but smile on the fact they walked away with one point from the game and battled hard to take it to overtime.

“It just seems a bit of up-and-down here,” Modano said after the game. “It comes down to defensive coverage, that ability to defend one-on-one, closing time and space off and backing up one another. We just need to continue to drill that in our heads and understand that’s always been our MO here, the way we’ve played for years. The sooner we understand that and adapt to it, and get it in our game, the better.”

The Stars now get a few days off. They will face the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday October 29th at the American Airlines Center at 7:30pm central.

Ken Armer is the NHL Community Coordinator for Bleacher Report as well as serving as the Community Leader for the Dallas Stars. He can be contacted on his profile or by e-mail at karmer@bleacherreport.com.

Image: Courtesy of Getty Images via Yahoo Sports.

Original Boxscore: Courtesy of NHL.com.

Quotes: Courtesy of game recap on Dallas Stars website.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sharks Drop TOugh Game in Florida

The San Jose Sharks did not lose Friday night, Tomas Vokoun won. Don't get me wrong, the Sharks made their fair share of mistakes, giving up four goals for the fourth game in a row (2-2).

However, unlike the previous three contests, goaltending was not the problem. The defence is solely to blame for that figure Friday night, exposing Evgeni Nabokov on all four of the goals scored (35 shots: .886 save percentage).

Corey Stillman was left open for a one-timer in the middle just inside the blueline to tie the game at one. Richard Zednik was left all alone to clean up a rebound and Nathan Horton was left all alone for a backside feed to Nabby's glove side to close out Florida's scoring in the first.

With under two minutes to go in the second, Stillman redirected a beautiful shot-pass from Keith Ballard, one of his three assists. This came just 37 seconds after Patty Marleau's short-handed goal tied things up.

But the goals were not the only prime chances Nabby faced. He saved his team's bacon on a Dan Boyle giveaway right in front of the net with a beautiful glove save. After a Sharks power play ended with over 13 minutes to go in the third, Florida got four scoring chances in a 90 second-plus span of extended attack resembling a power play.

That attack began when Mike Grier failed to clear the puck, and this is one weakness the Sharks have shown over and over that needs to be addressed. He finally had to ice the puck and San Jose called a timeout to recover. It was not a great game for Grier, whose brother and nephews were shown in the audience: he did have a nice assist on Patty's short-handed goal, but he also was the player who left Horton alone for his goal.

The Sharks had 34 shots and 17 scoring chances through two periods compared to 23 and 12, respectively, for Florida. Nabby turned away all 12 shots he faced in the third period, but Vokoun was more than equal to the task.

Throughout the game, he turned away 47 of 50 shots for a save percentage of .940. And that statistic does not do him justice, as there were several times those shots came on prime scoring chances.

Looking only at the third period, less than two minutes in, the Sharks looked to have evened the score on a scramble for a loose puck in front of the Florida net. Marleau raised his hands in celebration only to find out that Noah Welch had turned Jonathan Cheechoo's rebound of the captain's shot aside just before it went into the net.

Then on a power play with over seven minutes to go, Ryan Clowe had a redirect and a rebound from it on net but came up empty. Finally, with over a minute to go and Nabby pulled, the Sharks could not put home a loose puck in front of Vokoun.

On the plus side, the Sharks did well on special teams. In addition to Patty's shorthanded goal, Joe Thornton netted his first goal of the year on a power play in the game's first minute, and Ryan Clowe had a redirect of a Christian Ehrhoff shot in the second. Meanwhile, they killed off all three penalties and gave up no go shorties of their own on their five power plays.

San Jose travels to Tampa to take on the Lightning next, Saturday at 4:30pm PDT. The game will not be televised except on the Centre Ice package. Let's hope we will see Brian Boucher (a shutout in his only other action) in net so we know Todd McLellan will not repeat the stubbourn mistakes of his predecessor in overplaying his top goalie.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sharks, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich set to Take On Former Teammates

There will be a lot of storylines featured when the San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning square off Saturday night at 4:30pm PDT at the St. Pete Times Forum.

It will be the first meeting since new Lightning ownership pressured Dan Boyle to waive his no-trade clause and leave the city and organization he loved for Northern California. It will also be the first time back in Tampa since the trade for Brad Lukowich and the first time the Sharks will face their 2006 draft pick Matt Carle in another uniform.

It will also be the Sharks' first visit to Tampa since before the lockout, and a chance to look at the two teams that may have had the most significant changes from last season. No team did more to reinvent themselves than Tampa Bay, and no contender in the Western Conference reinvented themselves more than San Jose.

The direction of those changes started with changing coaching staffs and their style of play. Otherwise, their new looks bear little similarity.

The Lightning dumped two veteran defencemen who helped them to a Stanley Cup championship, including one of the premiere players at his position in the league. They signed practically every free agent forward available, including a lot of veterans.

So how has it worked for both sides? The results of those changes, it could be argued, have done little to change the teams' outlooks.

Last season, the Lightning finished with the worst record in the league, and this year they were the second-last team in the league to get its first win. The Sharks finished the 2007-08 season with the league's second best record and currently have its fourth-best winning percentage.

However, looking beyond the surface, both teams are getting what they wanted.

The Sharks kept almost their entire forward unit intact and remade their blueline, adding three key players who not only bring a more offensive skill set to the unit but finally bring the team some championship experience. In the process, they finally scrapped their under-the-cap, build from the draft approach.

The Sharks have an active blueline that has become not just the hallmark of the Western Conference, but is necessary to get through the playoffs. In the end, they have been overmatched in that unit in each of the three years they have been eliminated from the playoffs.

Last season, no team scored fewer goals from the blueline than the Sharks, and they were also at the bottom in shots on goal by that unit. Thus far this season, they have accounted for 35.7 percent of shots (87), five of the 25 goals, and 12 of 45 assists.

Rob Blake and Dan Boyle are among the four players on the team with 25+ shots. Boyle, Christian Ehrhoff, and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic are tied for third in scoring with six points in seven games.

This new look has also improved puck possession for the Sharks, who entered Wednesday's game with the highest average shot differential in the league. Boyle lacks the size to provide the defensive presence of Brian Campbell, the late season trade acquisition who the Sharks lost in free agency over the summer.

However, this is not the Sharks' new focus. As Vince Lombardi once said, "the best defense is a good offense." This is the dimension the team was supposed to have gotten with Campbell trade late last season, but they now have two pairs with players who can provide that pressure.

Losing Ty Wishart and Matt Carle may have mortgaged the Sharks future, but it significantly improves their present. Wishart was probably a year or two away from getting any playing time in San Jose, and Matt Carle was not playing consistently enough to be an every-day player.

However, both add to the core of young players surrounding the Lightning's top draft pick Steven Stamkos. The Lightning will take time to gel their new lines under a new coach who is a very recognizable face of the game even if he has not coached for a decade. With their scoring talent, they have one of the league's most exciting teams and still are generating buzz.

To examine which team did better in this trade can only be done over the long haul: who will get more championships and how great will those players' roles be? But expectations are high in San Jose and excitement is high in Tampa Bay, and the best way to see the impact that has on each organization is to watch Saturday night.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Coyotes Face Tough Schedule Ahead

Well the Coyotes are 2-3 right now. After 2 wins to start the season at home, they went on the road and dropped 3 in a row to the Blackhawks, Senators, and Canadiens. Now the young Coyotes return home for a 4 game home stand where the competition doesn't get any easier.

Coming in Thursday, Alexander Ovechkin and the high flying Capitals. This is the first trip to Phoenix for Ovechkin since his unbelievable goal he scored 3 years ago. Mikael Tellqvist will get his first start of the season tonight. The Coyotes need to get back on track and beating a difficult team such as the Capitals will certainly help get their confidence back. 

Unfortunately, the Coyotes will need to be on top of their game early and need to get some offense from their younger players. Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker are the big names but I am sure Coach Gretzky would love to see Viktor Tikhonov and Kevin Porter get on the scoresheet in the goals column. Ed Jovanovski also needs to get going offensively for Phoenix if they want to have an effective offense.

Taking advantage of mistakes made by teams is how great teams are made and Phoenix will have to definitely utilize this mindset against very good teams over the next couple of games. The powerplay has to be effective while the penalty kill needs to shut down the opposing offense. A strong forecheck will promote mistakes among the other team as it will be hard for them to break out and create offense. 

The defense needs to stick to their assignments and not just rely on their goalie to keep them in the game. Players like Kurt Sauer and David Hale, who are not really looked to provide offense need to step up and make sure their defense is top notch. Physical play helps but being in position to break up opposing scoring chances is just as, if not more important. 

The Coyotes play Washington, Calgary, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota on this home stand and a is an early season test of their home ice play which was not good last season, one of the worst in the league in fact. They need to step it up at home if they want to reach their goal of making the playoffs. 


Sharks Prove They Can Play the Shootout

In Wednesday's San Jose Mercury News, there was an article in which Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich, the two blueline transfers from the Tampa Bay Lightning, suggested there is no real difference between the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Really? Because the only two games the Sharks have played against the East so far say otherwise.

Saturday night, the Sharks survived with a 5-4 overtime victory. Four nights later, they needed a shootout to emerge victorious 7-6.

And what a shootout it was. The first period began ominously, when on the first shift of the first Sharks power play (on a penalty drawn on the first shift of the game, no less), Jeff Carter scores his second short-handed goal in as many games.

Then the Sharks answered with power play goals on their next two chances, and Joe Pavelski was key in both. The first was a Pavelski redirect of a Christian Ehrhoff shot; the second was a Ryan Clowe put-back of a Pavelski redirect of a Marc-Eduoard Vlasic shot. Thus, they had a 2-1 lead just 8:40 into the game.

But it would not last, as the Flyers' captain Mike Richards scored the game's first even-strength goal less than three and a half minutes later. The Sharks captain Patrick Marleau answered back less than four minutes with a backdoor open net in front of him thanks to a beautiful feed from Devin Setoguchi.

My favourite whipping boy, Alexei Semenov, got an assist on this goal. Since I have been so hard on him, I feel it is my responsibility to point out that he had his best game as a Shark, with no visible mistakes en route to earning a +1.

He also made three other big plays that don't appear on a scoresheet, including two in the first period. He was the only guy able to clear a puck after three or four tries, and he crashed the net and occupied a defender to allow Setoguchi to clean up his own rebound. In the second, he went down to the ice to cut off passing lanes when he was without his stick.

After Marleau's first goal, Scottie Upshall scored on a power play rebound to tie it back up before Setoguchi's goal at the end of the first gave the Sharks a 4-3 lead at intermission.

The Flyers came out with Martin Biron instead of Anterro Nittymaki in the second, but no goalie had any real success stopping the puck. Evgeni Nabokov stopped 23 of 29 (.793) for his third straight bad game; Nittymaki stopped 11 of 15 (.733) and Biron stopped 18 of 20 (.900), but practically gave Marleau his second goal by overplaying him and giving up the wrap-around just 47 seconds into the third period.

Joffrey Lupul faked Nabby to the ice before going top shelf from a tough angle early in the second. He also answered Marleau's second goal just 17 seconds later. Dan Boyle had a goal in the second, and Daniel Briere scored a power play goal in the final minute of the third with Biron pulled for the extra attacker.

In the shootout, Nabby stopped both shooters he faced, waiting out Richards even after going to the ice and stopping Briere's backhand attempt with the help of a well-timed pokecheck. Both Sharks shooters, Pavelski and former Flyer Jeremy Roenick, scored on wristers to clinch the win.

But the entire game was an Eastern Conference-style shootout. I have news for you, Dan and Brad, this is not what it's like out here in the West.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Anaheim Ducks Weekly Recap: Ducks Show Bend-Not-Break Spirit in Week One


To say the first week of the season for the Ducks was tough would be an understatement; to say it was a failure might be a little much. Instead, I prefer the word under-achieving. Sure, the Ducks have been overlooked all offseason by Dallas and San Jose in the division, but the Ducks still have firepower and grit.

Starting the season 0-4 was not the statement a team battling to be a top dog in the Pacific wanted to show for itself. The only face-saving would come in a romping on Friday night against the San Jose Sharks.

Anaheim @ San Jose (1-4 Loss)

The Ducks start the season limping out of the gate, losing to the new and improved Sharks. The Sharks jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the second period (no goals in the first), adding a third goal at 2:52 of the third period. Rob Niedermayer would put the Ducks on the board at 14:35, but the Sharks would add one more at 15:57, leaving the Ducks hurting after the road loss.

Coyotes @ Ducks (4-2 Loss)

The most looked forward to game of the year for me and I turned it off fairly quickly. During the offseason, I had the epiphany of a fantastic song the Ducks should use as pregame music in the home opener ("Indestructible" by Disturbed).

I emailed my contact within the team, Adam Brady (Ducks Director of Media) and he emailed the appropriate people and they liked the idea. Needless to say, as the puck dropped for the season opener, a packed Honda Center believed along with me that their Ducks were “Indestructible.” Apparently Phoenix didn’t get that memo and the Ducks didn’t soak in the lyrics.


(Click Here for the Ducks Indestructible video)

Ken's Note: I'm not generally one to get gushy, but seeing the Ducks use my idea, although only a small part of the finished product made the 80 some articles I have written about the Ducks more than worth it. I recommend to all current CL's and serious writers to make contacts within the organization if possible.

Feel as though you or a part, if only a small one, of the large media body that covers that team. To leave the Ducks behind for the Stars this season seeing that song represent the Ducks seemed like a touching ending to an unforgettable spring and summer writing for them. I leave behind those amazing memories for new ones with the Stars.

Ducks @ Kings (3-6 Loss)

The Ducks jump to an early two-goal lead with goals by Brian Sutherby and Todd Marchant in the first but remain scoreless in the second period when the Kings add two to the 2-1 game after the first period. The final frame sees the Ducks outscored 3-1 making the grand total of 6-3 for the Kings. Clearly, the expected Pacific Division worst Kings are capable of winning after all.

Oilers @ Ducks (3-2 Loss)

Even with Jonas Hiller in goal, the Ducks can't overcome their losing ways. The Ducks keep it close until the third when Edmonton scored to go ahead and held the lead until the final buzzer. Kent Huskins, and Rob Niedermayer scored goals for the Ducks. The Ducks battled hard but still got the “L”.

Sharks @ Ducks (0-4 Win)

The Sharks entered as possibly the hottest team in not only the division but the conference. The goaltending of J.S. Giguere looked more solid than it has in past games. Giguere looked to have returned to past form and ready to stop anything San Jose shot at him. The defense looked sharp, much like the new pairings were finally starting to click.

“It feels really good,” said Giguere in Adam Brady’s recap on the Ducks website. “It was a good night for us. We still have a lot of room for improvement, but this is a good start.”

The Ducks defense got the scoring going, with a goal coming from Francois Beauchemin at 18:13 of the first. Travis Moen scored at 3:56 of the second, with assists from both Niedermayer brothers and Chris Pronger and Sammy Pahlsson scored in the third to seal the deal for the Ducks.

"We got our first win and we’re happy with it," Giguere said in the Ducks recap. "The last game (a 3-2 loss to Edmonton) was a starting point. Now we just have to keep going forward and try to put some good games together."

The Ducks will look to keep their winning streak alive against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Stay tuned next week for the complete weeks analysis.

Image: Courtesy of Getty Images via Yahoo Sports

Quotes: Courtesy of Anaheim Ducks game recaps found on team website.

Sharks Bounce Back After Loss to Ducks

There are three tough lessons the Sharks and their fans should now have learned:

1. If Evgeni Nabokov plays the night before (and not well) and then travels, he should not be put in net again. Brian Boucher is a good goalie who had a shutout in his only performance, so what are you afraid of?
2. The power play really does stink. No one moves their feet, just like last year, and the results are maddening. The Sharks have scored four goals all season, and only two since opening night. Saturday the team failed to score on a full two-minute five-on-three and gave up as many short-handed goals (one) as they scored in seven chances.
3. The Sharks can dominate play on still be scrambling to stay in a game. They have now done that two games in a row.

However, there are also a couple positives that can be taken out of this. One everyone should already know: keep working and good things will happen.

But the Sharks also killed both penalties, raising their penalty kill percentage to 84.6. This is good for twelfth in the league, and they are now tied with Philadelphia in short-handed goals with three. Thus, the Sharks have scored and given up seven goals on special teams.

San Jose also got 19 of 45 shots and two of five goals from the defencemen. Christian Ehrhoff got the Sharks on the board less than two minutes into the second period to cut the lead to 2-1. Dan Boyle got the game-winner 1:25 into overtime.

While both teams had exceptional shooting percentages, the goaltending was not as bad as it looked statistically. Antero Nittymaki made a world-class save on a shot by Jonathan Cheechoo and kept his team in the game; he even earned the second star.

Evgeni Nabokov may have saved only 13 of 17 (.765), but he was exposed thanks to 18 Sharks turnovers.

On the first Flyers goal, Rob Blake gave up the puck and was caught out of position, allowing Philadelphia to go on the attack. Then a Kimo Timmonen shot from the point caromed off Nabokov, and Daniel Briere was alone on the side of the net for the easy rebound. Marcel Goc had left the centre and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic failed to rotate over, meaning three Sharks failed on that shift.

The next two goals were ones Nabokov should have had, however. At the end of the first period, Braydon Cobourn lifted a backhand from the top of the circle. About a third of the way through the second, a Jeff Carter short-handed wrister from the face-off dot beat Nabby to his glove side.

However, the last goal was an incredible move by Daniel Briere on a breakway given up by Alexei Semenov, who somehow managed to be +1 anyway.

After being down 3-1, the Sharks got big goals from Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Pavelski. Cheech's was on a redirection of a Vlasic shot, and Joe Pavelski split two defenders to recover his own rebound and tie the game. After Briere's second goal, Devin Setoguchi scooped up a rebound and dragged it past a sprawling Nittymaki before backhanding it into the open net.

The Sharks got assists from Joe Thornton, Boyle (2), Vlasic (2), Ehrhoff, Jeremy Roenick, Ryan Clowe, Mike Grier, and Cheechoo.

However, Vlasic was -2 and had a bad turnover. Thornton was also not having a good game through the first two periods, and was one of the chief reasons the Sharks were not executing well on the power play. He was telegraphing all his moves and not even looking to the net.

But with about three minutes remaining in the third, he provided the defensive play that sprung the two-on-one break in which Nittymaki stole Cheechoo's goal. More importantly, he made the play to set up Boyle's game winner with some nifty stick-handling.

For my money, the best players on the ice for the Sharks were, in order, Boyle (three points, +1), Cheechoo (two points), and Ehrhoff (two points and was great in position and defensive use of his stick, but did have a bad turnover). The best Flyers were Briere (two goals), Timmonen (+1, two assists and some good defensive plays), Carter (+1, two points), and Mike Knuble (+2, two assists).

My three stars: Boyle, Briere, Timmonen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stars-Blues Preview: Dallas Looks To Keep Momentum Rolling Against St. Louis


One night after the Stars recorded their first win of the season and Fabian Brunnstrom recorded his first, second, and third goals of the season Dallas travels to the gateway to west to take on the St. Louis Blues.

So far in the young season the Blues (2-1-0) find themselves doing quite well so far. Andy McDonald and Paul Kariya of the Blues find themselves second and third in the NHL in assists. Not surprising for either playing but this is a good sign for a young Blues team looking to show youth can produce and that the future is now.

Andy McDonald was the lifeblood of the Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup victory, while Paul Kariya may finally see his numbers surge having a talented center he can rely on in McDonald. The Blues so far this year have 12 goals for, and 11 against.

Tonight’s game against the Stars means a lot to both teams. For the Blues it would likely mean keeping up with the Detroit Red Wings (2-1-0) for the lead in the Central Division.

The Stars on the other hand need a win and two points in an attempt to catch up to the already surging Sharks in the Pacific Division. A win would also likely put the Stars ahead of the second place Coyotes in the Division (4 pts).

In the Stars favor is the momentum and balanced lines Coach Tippett established in last nights game. Moreover the Blues defense will have a heavy focus on the Stars second line of Avery, Richards and Brunnstrom. Although last night it was Brunnstrom with the hat trick, all men on the line are dangerous scorers and could easily find themselves the hero of the stats sheet.

Other good news for the Stars was the always-awesome Mike Modano, he seems reborn with rookie James Neal next to him. Along with Brunnstrom, Neal could likely light the lamp and give the Blues a lot of trouble in the offensive zone.

As well as the surging youngsters, the Stars will likely gain back agitator Steve Ott tonight, who may or may not dress after the Stars success last night. One thing is for sure the Stars have a lot of momentum heading into tonight.

For the Stars to win they must get traffic in front of Manny Legace, and shut down Andy McDonald and Paul Kariya. The Stars must also improve on breaking out of the defensive zone, otherwise with turnovers McDonald and the young Blues will snipe out the lights against Turco and the Stars.

Lines as of last night for Dallas Stars (likely to be the same tonight):

Forwards:

Morrow, Ribeiro, Eriksson

Avery, Richards, Brunnstrom

Crombeen, Modano, Neal

Lundqvist, Petersen, Barch

Defense:

Grossman, Robidas

Niskanen, Daley

Boucher, Fistric

Injuries as reported by the Dallas Morning News:

Dallas: C Steve Ott (undisclosed) is questionable. RW Jere Lehtinen (groin) is doubtful. D Sergei Zubov (hip) is out.

St. Louis: RW Dan Hinote (leg) and RW Lee Stempniak (knee) are questionable. D Erik Johnson (knee) and D Jeff Woywitka (foot) are out.

Tonight’s game will be live from St. Louis at 7:30pm Central. Television broadcast in Texas will be on Fox Sport Net – Southwest and in Missouri on Fox Sports Net – Midwest. The game can be heard on the radio in Texas on WBAP-AM 820.

Image: Courtesy of Getty Images via Yahoo Sports

Injury information: Courtesy of Dallas Morning News Dallas Stars blog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Stars-Predators Preview: Stars Must Take True Form To Record First Win


Intangibles:

The Stars have a great record against the Predators at home dating back to when the Stars called Reunion Arena home. Although I’m unable to recall the record, I am thinking it is something like 14-6. Either way, it is a boost for the Stars heading into tonight.

Stars fans are hungry for the team's first real win. The home town crowd will be loud and crazy for their beloved Stars.

Keys to the Game:

The Stars top line must produce. To this point, Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow have been invisible to say the least. When top offensive guys are Trevor Daley (two goals in two games) and James Neal (a rookie who scored a clutch goal), your team is having problems.

The Stars must score on the man advantage. With so much talent there is no excuse to be getting so many opportunities and not be putting the puck in the net. Likely coach Tippett will have found new lines for the power play for tonight’s game.

Sean Avery must avoid misconducts. The NHL allows two per season without the player receiving fines and issues from the league. Avery received his two in the last game against the Predators. He was brought in to add grit, but so far Avery has been like an angry child having a tantrum at Wallmart. Avery can’t score for the Stars if he is pouting in the locker room.

Other News:

The Stars Swede sensation, Fabian Brunnstrom, will likely get his first start tonight. According to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, Brunnstrom has been skating with Sean Avery and Brad Richards in practice.

"He's certainly a well-talked-about player, but that doesn't change the process for him," Stars coach Dave Tippett said in Heika’s Stars blog. "The first game he plays isn't going to match a year's hype. That's just not reality. This is a process, and we're just getting started."

Injuries:

Dallas: RW Jere Lehtinen (groin) is doubtful. D Sergei Zubov (hip) is out.

Nashville: C Jason Arnott (hand), RW Steve Sullivan (back), RW Jed Ortmeyer (knee) and C Nick Tarnasky (thumb) are out.

Game Information:

Tonight’s game against the Predators will be in Dallas at the American Airlines Center. Game time is scheduled for 7:30pm Central. Television broadcast will be on Fox Sports Southwest, and radio broadcast will be on WBAP-AM 820. Internet broadcasts can be found on the Stars website and NHL.com.

Image: Courtesy of Yahoo sports online.

Quotes and injury information: Courtesy of Mike Heika's Dallas Stars blog.

Sharks Win Again, but Big Test Coming Friday

San Jose, Game 3. Patrick Marleau

Patrick Marleau is making me more and more glad the Sharks did not trade him


In their previous 16 seasons, the San Jose Sharks have never won their first four games. The last time a coach won his first four NHL games with a team was 2001.

But the only first I am interested in is the Sharks' first Stanley Cup Finals.

On Tuesday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets came into HP Pavilion with a 1-1 record that included an overtime road victory over the Sharks' Pacific Division rival Dallas. They have undergone an overhaul in an attempt to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

They feature a couple good scoring lines that include one of the world's most dynamic goal-scorers in Rick Nash. They also boast a goalie in Pascal Leclaire who was among league leaders in shutouts.

The Jackets jumped out to an early lead with a power play goal by Kristian Huselius just nine minutes into the game, and the first period ended that way. Shots and penalties were even, but the Sharks were playing more sloppy and had more giveaways.

The Sharks giveaway deficit continued in the second (12-4), but as has been the case in their previous three games,

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sharks Go To 3-0 With Sweep of Southern California

DSC01679.JPG

Brian Boucher continued his exemplary play as a Shark with a shutout Sunday night


The San Jose Sharks completed the three-game sweep of Southern California rivals Sunday night with a 1-0 victory in their first road game of the season. Lukas Kaspar scored the only goal, the first of his NHL career (in his sixth game), on a feed from Patrick Marleau; Christian Ehrhoff had the secondary assist.

Back-up goaltender Brian Boucher stopped 21 shots and caught a break on two disallowed Kings goals. One was an easy call, a "distinctive kicking motion" as per the rules; on the other, there was a forward in the crease. These are rules the league needs to revisit.

The league is always claiming they want more goals, so who cares if it is kicked? Who would choose to kick it instead of use his stick, and allowing those goals would save time trying to determine if a kick is distinctive or not.

And apparently the officials did not think there was contact on the first disallowed goal since no penalty was called. So who cares if someone is in the crease of they don't make contact with the goalie?

In any event,

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sharks 2-0 in Division with another Dominant Victory

Joe Pavelski (8) and Devin Setoguchi

Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski were two of the Sharks three goal scorers Saturday Night


The Sharks go for the three-game sweep of Southern California in Los Angeles Sunday night, having followed up their victory over the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 Thursday with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. But both were at home.

Then again, the Sharks were a mediocre home team last season, and lost three of their four match-ups against the Kings at HP Pavillion.

There was only one thing mediocre about the Sharks tonight: their shooting accuracy. They hit the post at least three times, failed to score on ten power play shots, and scored only three goals on 41 shots (7.3%).

However, the fact is they got 41 shots (including ten on six power plays) for the second consecutive game, and all six defencemen had a shot (16 in all). This tells us the team is pushing the play as we were promised they would when coach Todd McLellan was hired.

That puck possession game also held the Kings to just 13 shots, so Evgeni Nabokov finished with a save percentage of .923. The fact that he faced only 13 shots and has given up just one goal in two straight games might tempt McLellan to start him again.

Todd, if you're reading this, don't do it! Sunday's game starts just over 20 hours after this one ended, and there is a short flight in between.

If you don't start Boucher under these circumstances, when will you? What is he there for? Did you see how Nabby's play fell off for the playoffs last year?

If not, look at the stats: he entered the last game with just an .899 save percentage. Even after that fantastic contest, he finished worse than the regular season in all statistical categories except shutouts (1 in 13 games vs. 6 in 77 during the regular season, virtually the same ratio).

San Jose gave up an early power play goal to Alexander Frolov in the seventh minute on a cross-ice feed from Michal Handzus. Despite many scoring chances late in the first period, including three coming after a ridiculous call in which Rob Blake committed the penalty but instead drew the whistle, they could not even the score.

But they got that tally in the second period on Devin Setoguchi's second goal of the season, off a rebound of a Marc-Eduoard Vlasic shot. Vlasic later provided Tomas Plihal with a feed from midway in his own zone all the way to the attacking blueline; Plihal made the most of it up with a pretty move to beat future all-star defenceman Jack Johnson before ringing it in the corner to Jason LaBarbera's stick side.

Joe Pavelski scored the insurance goal in the third period moments after the Sharks killed a penalty. Other Sharks scorers included assists by Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, Dan Boyle (who had three of the Sharks four penalties), and Joe Thornton.

Other notable performances: Patrick Marleau had an especially strong game for someone who did not score. He was 9 of 11 (.818) in the face-off circle and back-checked to stop a two-on-one rush (he played defence!), as well as creating chances on the offensive end; he and Vlasic were the only Sharks to be +2.

The Kings best skater was former Shark Tom Preissing, who made two stellar defensive plays including breaking up a four-on-one! LaBarbera also needs to be mentioned for his stellar net-minding. According to Sharks announcer Randy Hahn, LaBarbera lost 20+ pounds this off-season to get in shape, and if tonight was any indication, the Kings one glaring weakness may not be such a handicap.

On the other hand, the supposed strength of their great young forwards was called into question. Anze Kopitar, who signed a seven-year, $47.6 million contract before the game, won only 7 of 17 face-offs, had one hit, one takeaway, and one shot; he was -2. Jarret Stoll, traded for in part because of his ability to win draws, was only 1 of 7 and recorded just one hit and one shot.

Sunday, the Sharks have to be wary of the younger legs of the Kings reacting better to the lack of rest, especially since this will be only their second game, while it will be the Sharks third in four days. Expect the Kings either to get an early jump on San Jose or be stronger at the finish.

However, the Sharks have dominated the second period in both contests. They out-shot Anaheim 21-3 Thursday night, and followed with a 17-4 edge in this contest. If they can do that Sunday, they should be able to ride out an early or late surge from the young Kings.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dallas Stars Fall to Nashville Predators in The Music City


The Stars traveled to Nashville one day after a heart breaking home opener loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and almost from the start it was more of the same for Dallas. Maybe it was the travel, or the stress of yesterdays loss but the Stars again looked flat in the opening frame.

Nashville set the tone early with a goal from Shea Weber 46seconds in, assists on the goal came from Jason Arnott and Jean-Pierre Dumont. At 2:01 Trevor Daley would increase his scoring streak to two games with a goal on Nashville’s Dan Ellis. Assists on the goal came from Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott. Jason Arnott would give the Predators the 2-1 lead with a power play goal at 10:54 with assists from Dumont and Martin Erat.

The first frame saw a lot of penalty time given out, especially to the Stars. At 8:36 there was a loving exchange that escalated into a small brouhaha when the Stars B.J. Crombeen and Sean Avery took on the Predators Dan Hamhuis and Greg DeVries. Avery and Hamhuis received 10 minute game misconducts for their fisticuffs.

The second period was completely quiet scoring wise, but saw the Predators give the Stars many power play opportunities. Nashville took four penalties to Dallas’ two; one of the penalties for both teams was an offsetting two-minute hooking call on the Stars Stéphane Robidas and the Predators Jerred Smithson. How both players hook one another at the same time I will never understand, but apparently it can be done.

Shots on goal wise the second was more evenly matched with the Stars putting seven pucks on goal to the Predators nine on Marty Turco. The third began with the Predators outshooting the Stars 24-13.

The third period would be much of the same for the Stars. It was a close match until Steve Ott’s high-sticking penalty at 15:52 which led to a Jason Arnott power play goal at 16:13 thus sealing the Predators 3-1 victory, and the Stars coffin in the game. Assists on Arnott’s goal came from Dumont and Erat.

Nashville’s Dan Ellis had 19 saves, and recorded the victory. The Stars Marty Turco had 29 saves in the loss. Dallas now falls to 0-1-1 this season and will look to record its first win against the Predators on Wednesday Oct. 15th at the American Airlines Center.

In the end Nashville played a much more complete game then that of Dallas on top of getting scoring from their top line scorers, which Dallas did not get. Dallas also likely will see the amount of time spent in the sin-bin as a reason for the loss in this game. Heading home to Dallas to face the Predators where the Stars hold a fantastic record against Nashville could boost the Stars confidence. Coach Dave Tippett and the Stars will have a couple of days off to fix the issues from the first two games.

Image: Courtesy of Dallas Stars website

Dallas Stars vs. Nashville Predators Original Boxscore

Dallas Stars Stumble To Columbus Blue Jackets 5-4 in Home Opener


Most people view being close as still an overall failure, but for the Stars in Dallas, Friday night was a good kind of close. That close experience saw the Stars walk away from their home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets with a point they didn’t play like they deserved.

The Stars clearly walked away from the game knowing the monkey on their back throughout the preseason is still there, and is more than happy to continue kicking and screaming. Bottom line, the team was inconsistent and it cost them a game in which they should have performed much better.

The Jackets began the scoring adventure at 15:53 of the 1st period on a goal from Jakub Voracek with an assist from Jason Chimera. The Stars appeared semi-flat most of the period and it seemed Columbus had the leg up on Dallas. In the pregame chatter, the Stars radio personalities discussed the similarities of this season to the 1999 Stanley Cup run by Dallas.

A 1-0 deficit to begin the season doesn’t make this Stars fan all warm and cuddly. Keeping with the not so cuddly feelings of the 1st period, Sean Avery took a two minute slashing call, living up to his agitator image for the Stars. The Stars Krystopher Barch and the Jackets Jared Boll tossed the mitts at 16:19, which turned into a very entertaining fight.

The second period saw the Stars not only find their legs, but finally look like the dominant team most fans expected. Brenden Morrow drew first blood of the season for the Stars at 5:21 on the power play with assists from Mike Ribeiro and Stéphane Robidas.

The Stars new life in the second period was capitalized on by rookie James Neal, scoring on a tip-in at 8:04 with an assist from Stéphane Robidas. The second period saw a total of eight penalties, only three on the Stars. Columbus saw Michael Peca receive a game misconduct adding to the on ice drama.

In the third period the scoring opened up like flood gates. The Jackets' Kristian Huselius scored at 2:30 on a wrist shot with an assist from former Flyer R.J. Umberger. Andrew Murray gave the Jackets a 3-2 lead at 6:21 with an assist from Jiri Novotny and Fredrik Modin. Columbus increased its lead by two with a wrist shot goal from Derick Brassard with an assist from Jakub Voracek at 7:17.

The Stars refused to lie down and die. Brad Richards scored at 16:42 with assists from Stéphane Robidas and Joel Lundqvist. At 17:15, the Stars tied the game when Trevor Daley blasted a shot past Pascal Leclaire. Assists on the goal came from Mike Ribeiro and Mike Modano.

The overtime ended in the Blue Jackets favor when sniper Rick Nash netted a wrist shot past Marty Turco at 4:39. Dallas out-shot Columbus 31-27, but the Jackets seemed to want the win more in overtime leading to the eventual 5-4 win.

The Stars board the charter jet bound for Nashville to face the Predators on Saturday night. The game will be at 7pm central and be featured on FSN.

Image: Courtesy of Dallas Stars website

Complete game boxscore: Courtesy of NHL.com

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kings Set to Invade the Choke Tank


The newly arraigned captain of the Kings, Dustin Brown, and his cast of young upstarts head to San Jose in a home and home series to start the season. Drew Doughty has made the team along with a couple surprises in Wayne Simmonds and Oscar Moller.

Patrick O'Sullivan is doubtful for Saturday night in San Jose, but is expected to play in the home opener the following evening.

Matt Moulson has been practicing on the top line Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.

Oscar Moller was the most impressive rookie in training camp and will start the season on the 2nd line with Jarret Stoll and Alexander Frolov. This is an extended training camp for Moller who is still eligible to return to his junior team before he plays in 10 regular season games.

Another rookie, Wayne Simmonds, will feature on line 3 with a couple veterans in Michal Handzus and Kyle Calder. With energy guys John Zeiler and Richard Clune still on the IR, this will be a golden opportunity for Wayne Simmonds to show his stuff.

The 4th line will showcase newcomer Brad Richardson. He will be playing with Derek Armstrong and Raitis Ivanans. Patrick O'Sullivan and Brian Boyle are expected to be the healthy scratches Saturday night.

The defense pairings have shaped up to be Jack Johnson and assistant captain Matt Greene. Rookie of the year candidate Drew Doughty will be joined by recently acquired Sean O'Donnell. Denis Gauthier and Tom Preissing will round out the defense pairs.

Jason LaBarbera will start in goal with Erik Ersberg as the back-up.

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: http://battleofthepacific.blogspot.com/2008/08/pacific-division-challenge.html. (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

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sharks Make Final Roster Moves

As I had expected, the San Jose Sharks placed defenceman Kyle McLaren on waivers on Tuesday. The move put them beneath the NHL’s salary cap of $56.7 million, shaving $2.5 million from the Sharks team compensation total.

“Kyle has been a big part of our team over the last several years, but we are blessed with eight NHL defencemen on our roster and these are tough decisions that have to be made," said Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson, apparently unaware that only he thinks Alexei Semenov is an NHL defenceman. If someone does pick McLaren up, his salary is no longer the Sharks' concern.

Wednesday he cleared waivers, and the team has assigned him to Worcester of the AHL. He will still receive his full salary, but it will not count against the Sharks salary cap figure.

This situation is good for the Sharks, who obviously are not concerned with a budget this year despite claiming to have never turned a profit. It is always beneficial to have another experienced blueliner in case of injuries, at which point room can be made under the cap by putting someone on long-term injured reserve.

But Wilson made it clear Tuesday that is not his preference: “Kyle is an NHL defenceman,” he said. “He deserves to play in this league and we want to do the right thing for him and for us.” Thus, a trade is still a possibility.

In addition to the McLaren move, San Jose reassigned defenceman Mike Moore and forwards Mick Morris, Brad Staubitz, and Riley Armstrong to Worcester of the AHL.

Because Torrey Mitchell is on the injured reserve list, the Sharks have now met the league's 23-man roster limit, even if Jeff Friesen is given a contract. I would expect an announcement on a contract with him soon.

This leaves the Sharks with the following active roster:
C: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Marcel Goc, Jeremy Roenick
W: Ryan Clowe, Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, Mike Grier, Lukas Kaspar, Devin Setoguchi, Jody Shelley, Tomas Plihal, and possibly Jeff Friesen
D: Rob Blake, Dan Boyle, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, Brad Lukowich, Douglas Murray, Christian Ehrhoff, Alexei Semenov
G: Evgeni Nabokov, Brian Boucher

Much of this information was taken from the San Jose Sharks website: sjsharks.com

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Coyotes Release Opening Night Roster and Shuffle Lines

The Coyotes have put up their official roster for opening night on their website here. A very interesting roster that includes both first round picks from the 2008 draft...for now. As hockey fans know, a player like Mikkel Boedker can play up to 10 games in the NHL and still be sent back to juniors for that season. Viktor Tikhonov, who has been receiving high praise from Coach Wayne Gretzky, made the team. Rookie Kevin Porter is on the team as well as Kyle Turris who was pretty much a lock since the end of last year. 
Right off the bat, the Coyotes have 4 rookies in the forward lines. Now throw in young players like Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Enver Lisin, Dan Carcillo, and Daniel Winnik and you have 9 out of the 14 forwards on the roster 23 years old or younger. The average age of the 14 forwards is about 24 years old. Talk about a youth movement. Ranger fans think they have a young team, they should look at the Phoenix Coyotes. 
On defense, the team is going with 6 defensemen which are the six most people expected. Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, Kurt Sauer, Zbynek Michalek, David Hale, and Keith Yandle are the starting 6 for the Coyotes blue line. Of course the pairings are still unknown but really no surprises on the part of these selections. The Coyotes have a few young defensemen like Jonas Ahnelov and Chris Summers but both need more playing time in the AHL and in the NCAA respectively.
Ilya Bryzgalov will be starting his first full season as a full time starter with Mikael Tellqvist backing him up. Although that could soon change depending on how the goaltending battle down in the minors plays out between Al Montoya, Josh Tordjman, and Joel Gistedt. Tellqvist is a great team guy and a very good backup but he will have to watch his back with those three young goalies fighting for playing time. 
For any Coyotes fan, Wayne Gretzky is known for shaking up the lines. So it should come as no surprise that he has already shuffled the lines after the last preseason game but I disagree with what he has done.
Since about the third preseason game for the Coyotes, the lines have been like these:

Doan-Jokinen-Mueller
Carcillo-Turris-Boedker
Winnik-Hanzal-Tikhonov
Reinprecht, Porter, Lisin, Fedoruk, McGrattan

This mostly concerns the top 2 lines. Since draft day fans have been drooling over that first line that I have posted above and during the preseason it was really starting to come together. The 2nd line was also developing some nice chemistry. Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker already had developed chemistry from prospect and rookie camps during the summer. Adding in Dan Carcillo who will be looked to for more offense makes for a young but interesting line. 
Gretzky has now moved to this:

Doan-Turris-Carcillo
Boedker-Jokinen-Mueller

It is unknown which one of these will be the #1 line but here is the problem. The Coyotes have lacked a legitimate top line since Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk and Mike Gartner were the top 3. Why would you break up Doan, Jokinen, and Mueller who have really made some chemistry during the preseason and have developed into a potentially dangerous offensive line? The young guys like Turris and Boedker weren't put on the top line so they wouldn't have to go up against the really big bodies in the Pacific division and Western Conference. Put the old lines back together and see what happens. They have been working pretty well to this point so there is no reason to disband them and start all over. 
However, I will give these lines a shot. It may not be much of one but they have a chance to work. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dallas Stars Vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Game Preview and Final Cuts Analysis

Most previews from here on out will be a bit more professional but with the Stars much like every other team in the NHL rushing to complete their opening game line-ups and stay under the cap with final cuts this preview could get a little rough.

First off the Stars have made it seemingly clear the back-up goaltender will be Tobias Stephan. Stephan got a lot of preseason playing time and even though the team itself struggled the Stars seem confident in his abilities.

The other major issue is who of the young prospects will make the squad. James Neal seems to have impressed the Stars and myself the most. The major issue at hand is what the salary cap room will dictate. The 21 year old Neal is on a non-waiver contract meaning he can go between the AHL and NHL depending on where the team needs him.

NHL rules dictate a maximum of 23 healthy players and generally teams keep 14 of those as forwards. In the past though the Stars have carried 13 forwards and 22 players total to save on the cap.

"Both have proven that they can be NHL players. It's just how quick they can get acclimated and how quick you want to throw them in there," Stars coach Dave Tippett said in Mike Heika’s Dallas Morning News Stars blog.

As the case appears now it seems likely Neal will drop to the minors so that 23-year old Fabian Brunnstrom will play with the Stars. Brunnstrom will make $2.25million this season, the most highly paid of the main forwards fighting for a big club spot. The other players fighting for a spot besides Brunnstrom and Neal are Chris Conner and B.J. Crombeen who have both also had good camps, but seem outshined by Neal’s play and Brunnstrom’s hype.

The Stars seem to like the idea of keeping both from the Star and scratching one, or the other as needs dictate.

The Stars have Tuesday off and will likely make final cuts ahead of Wednesday’s NHL roster deadline. In Monday Coach Dave Tippett had Neal on a regular line with Toby Petersen and B.J. Crombeen while Brunnstrom was on and extra line with Krys Barch.

With the Dust settled:

Regardless of what players go and stay the Stars must focus on starting the season off strong. There will be minor hiccups in some of the minor points but the bottom line is the Stars should win. All bias aside the Stars have the better team, and after only one win in preseason the Stars must show they are capable of living up to the hype that has been thrown around all summer. I myself am included in this hype, as I along with many others touted them as the team to beat.

Questions left after the Stars terrible preseason:

The bottom line is the Stars aren’t the team fans saw in preseason. Turco didn’t start in many games (as the Stars addressed the back-up goalie issue) so that can hurt the win column.

The Stars also played a lot of prospect defenseman throughout, and gave prospects a lot of chances to see ice time. Example: One of the leading ice time defenseman was Matt Niskanen. Likely his time will diminish now to make more room for the usually top dog blue-liners. Don’t be surprised to see more of Niskanen this year on the ice though. The Stars seem poised to keep Niskanen as a future number one defenseman if/when Zubov chooses to hang up the skates.

The Stars other main focus against the Blue Jackets must be sure to stay sharp on the power play and penalty kill. This has been key to the Stars success in the past and the Stars must again find that deadly chemistry again this year.

The Stars face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday October 10, 2008 at 7:30pm in Dallas at the American Airlines Center. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net Southwest on TV and on WBAP 820AM in Dallas on the radio. Stay tuned after the game for the recap and updated news on the Stars roster. If a reader in the Dallas area, click here to purchase tickets.

Quotes: Courtesy of Dallas Morning News Dallas Stars blog by DMN Stars writer Mike Heika

Saturday, October 4, 2008

2008-2009 Predictions

About three weeks ago, I wrote an article ranking all thirty teams in the NHL. It was based on three articles I had written ranking the league's best forwards, defencemen, and goaltenders. Especially the article on bluelines created quite a stir, but there was hardly a rumble with the poll itself.

Patrick Rissmiller
Patrick Rissmiller may play against his old team in the Stanley Cup finals.
Perhaps that is because despite being the co-community leader for the San Jose Sharks, I did not rank the Sharks first. Instead, my analysis put the Detroit Red Wings in the catbird seat, and that is hardly controversial.

They lost little from the team that never needed more than six games in any series, and added Marian Hossa. They have the experience and the skill. And while other teams upgraded, most experts agree they did not catch Detroit.

But the best team does not always win the Stanley Cup. That has worked to the Red Wings detriment many times.

There are too many other factors: competition, hunger, health, and yes, luck. The latter two cannot be projected, but it is still not hard to find people like me who will try.

Here is how I project teams to be seeded for the playoffs, starting with the superior conference, the West:

1. Detroit Red Wings: not only are they the best team in the league, the rest of their division competition is weaker than any other team will experience.
2. Calgary Flames: this team will be nasty, has an elite blueline and elite goaltender, and decent forwards.
3. San Jose Sharks: three of the league's top six teams are in the Pacific, and that will prevent the Sharks from duplicating the success of the last regular season despite the huge upgrade on the blueline.
4. Chicago Blackhawks: with an elite blueline, fantastic young forwards, two good goalies, and three bad division foes, they are a cinch to make the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.
5. Dallas Stars: this team is in the top quarter of the league in every unit, and will be able to overcome their difficult schedule.
6. Minnesota Wild: the best-coached team in the league lost too much at the centre position for what they gained back on the blueline.
7. Anaheim Ducks: losing Sean O'Donnell and Matthieu Schneider while only gaining back Ken Klee for their blueline leaves them...still the best blueline in hockey, no matter how many Wings fans think otherwise. But with those forwards in this division, I see them finishing lower in the West than they ranked on my power poll.
8. Colorado Avalanche: this was a tough call for me. The Avs definitely are not as strong in the league's most important position (goalie) and many of the core players are getting old. But their schedule will be easier than that of the Phoenix Coyotes, the Nashville Predators have lost too much, and the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers have not caught up to them yet.

The first round winners will be the Wings, Ducks (beating a worn-down Mikka Kiprusoff), Sharks, and Stars, This would pit the Wings and Ducks in a rematch of the 2007 Western Conference Finals and the Sharks in a rematch of the one they lost in an epic 4OT game six.

The Sharks are deeper and finally have the championship experience to win their series; the Ducks will likely be too beaten up to give the Wings much trouble. But the Wings will not have the hunger the Sharks will have, and making the third round will erase a lot of doubts in Team Teal.

In the Eastern Conference, one might expect the young Penguins to be the favourite since they were clearly the best team in the conference last year. I do not even consider them the favourite in a division that edges out the Pacific as the toughest in hockey.

1. Montreal Canadiens: the team I ranked tenth in the league finishing first in the conference? They are closer to the three teams ahead of them than they are to the others in their division.
2. New York Rangers: but didn't they just lose their best skater? No, they lost their best player on offence, and they gained more than they lost. They still have an elite goalie and are solid at forward and defence.
3. Washington Capitals: they will find repeating as tough as getting there: Alex Ovechkin can't get much better and they did not upgrade the team around him.
4. New Jersey Devils: they followed the 2008 Avs' playbook in recapturing past glory with players from their past like Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston. This will put enough talent in front of Martin Brodeur to get them home ice in the first round.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: losing more key players than they gained, they could not afford to lose their best defencemen for the bulk of the season, even with young players developing into even better ones.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: four teams in the top six from one division is unprecedented, but they all made my top eleven and will get fat off the New York Islanders.
7. Boston Bruins: even though I have them ranked behind the Ottawa Senators, I believe they have more grit and determination and will just make it in.
8. Florida Panthers: a much-upgraded blueline and a goaltender like Tomas Vokoun should be enough to make them one of the toughest teams to score on in the East. In this division, that is enough to make the playoffs over teams like Ottawa (trouble in net and now has a diminished blueline) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (the game has changed since Barry Melrose coached, and he doesn't have Wayne Gretzky...or enough of a blueline).

First-round winners will be Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh (with Gonchar back and a fatigued Brodeur). Montreal is just barely good enough to get revenge on Philadelphia with home ice and last year's experience fueling them; New York is just barely good enough to edge Pittsburgh with the same factors.

In the early rounds, a goaltender can get hot and steal games. The later it goes, the more important a tested goalie is. Lundqvist is more tested than Carey Price, who had a couple shaky games last post-season. Home ice will not be enough to overcome that difference, and the Rangers will face the Sharks in the Finals.

San Jose has a better blueline, more experienced goaltender who will be less-heavily relied on this year and therefore less fatigued than King Henrik, and they have at least as good a blueline. In other seasons, the Eastern Conference Champion could rely on the Western team being more beat up, but New York will face a grueling divisional schedule and challenging run in the playoffs.

For the first time ever, I am picking the Sharks.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Stars Fall Short To Blackhawks in Penalty Filled Game in Dallas

(Photo: By Glenn James, Dallas Stars)

As the preseason winds to a close for he Stars there is still a minor issue to be addressed with winning games. On Thursday night the Stars dropped a 4-3 Shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, keeping the Stars with only one win so far this preseason.

While some losses are due to personnel not playing, Thursday night just boiled down to not being able to win every game.

The Blackhawks jumped out to a one goal lead off a power play goal from Aaron Johnson, which would be the only goal for the first period. There wasn’t much time for scoring as both teams felt the need to let their fists do the talking.

A total of 141 penalty minutes were assessed in the game, including five fights, three misconducts and a match penalty.

The Stars Brad Richards would score on a wrist shot to tie the game 45 seconds into the second period. The Stars would answer twice more with goals from rookies Fabian Brunnstrom at 8:04 and James Neal at 14:57. At 12:10 of the second Kris Versteeg scored a shorthanded goal to tie the game at two.

The third period would see just as much penalty action, but only one goal coming for Chicago on a tip-in at 18:24 on Marty Turco scored by Kevyn Adams.

The only action to note for the overtime is a hooking penalty at 4:29 called on Mark Fistric.

Dallas outshot Chicago all three periods including the overtime, with a final shots-on-goal count of 38-22.

In the shootout Andrew Ladd would score on the first Chicago shot. Chris Conner shot for the Stars first with Antti Niemi making the save for the Hawks. Dave Bolland would shoot next for the Hawks and miss, with James Neal of the Stars missing the net as well. Niemi would also save on Sean Avery’s opportunity in the shootout, giving the Hawks the victory.

Up next for the Stars are more cuts and a home game on Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers. The game in Dallas against the Oilers will be the Stars final preseason match-up and will likely feature the team taking the ice on Oct. 10 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Original Source and Image: Courtesy of the Dallas Stars website.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sharks Donate $650K, Jersey to Charity

Alexei Semenov and Me

The Sharks should have left Alexei Semenov in street clothes and signed this other guy, whoever he is.


According to Monday's San Jose Mercury News, the San Jose Sharks have signed two players from last year's roster.

One is Tomas Plihal, who almost assuredly takes over the all-important thirteenth forward spot while Torrey Mitchell is out. He is a solid two-way fourth line forward: a guy who isn't an asset but also isn't a liability, and can eat up six-plus minutes a game. Since the contract is reported at $500,000, they did not overpay for a player who knows the team and is an adequate role-player.

My only problem with this move is that a player of Plihal's talents will never be more than a role-player, and having him on the roster keeps a prospect from getting an opportunity to develop at the NHL level. It seems not to be a good trade-off when you consider that the fourteenth forward is not relied on for much.

Conversely, Alexei Semenov was signed for $650,000, and the Sharks might just as well have invested that cash in Bear Stearns and offered Semenov's jersey to some homeless guy.