Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sharks Sweep Weekend Divisional Set

The Sharks own this division, and everyone else knows it. Only the Anaheim Ducks really have a chance to catch San Jose, and they are six games back with a split in the two games of the season series.

Even with 58 games to go, that hill is a tough one to climb. If the Sharks play .600 hockey the rest of the way (they are currently playing .854 hockey), they will earn 70 points and finish with 111. That means the Ducks would have to get 82 points (and at least seven more wins than San Jose) to catch them, a .707 clip--over 100 percentage points higher than they currently are playing.

In other words, if the Sharks do over one-quarter worse than they currently are, the Ducks still have to do more than ten percent better than they currently are. What do you really think the chances of that are?

And it's worse for the other division teams. Los Angeles is in second place but has lost both of the season match-ups; they are eight games out. The Coyotes have split in the two match-ups so far, but are now nine games back. Dallas has lost both and are 10.5 back.

The latter two teams are the Sharks' latest victims. On Friday evening, the Stars were no match for the Sharks, being thoroughly gutted 6-2.

The Sharks out-shot Dallas 30-27 and still blocked twice as many shots (12-6). Despite losing the face-off battle 32-31, the Sharks had possession of the puck more, thanks in large part to the Stars having 15 giveaways to the Sharks' nine. Yet despite being on the attack more, they were only out-hit by Dallas 17-16.

The Sharks got the most of their early opportunities, while Dallas did not. In the first seven minutes of the game, the Stars had two prime chances. On the first, Brad Lukowich was able to tie up the stick of Landon Wilson. On the second, Mike Modano had a shot at the open net at the backside and could not get good wood on it.

But with just over eight minutes remaining in the first, Ryan Clowe intercepted Matt Niskanen's attempt to advance the puck out of the zone and kept control of it in the offensive zone even though his feet were behind the blueline. He stick-handled his way around Mark Parrish, skated back in and let go a shot from above the circle on the left wing; Joe Pavelski deflected it home.

Dallas did answer back 91 seconds later, with Brad Richards feeding Loui Ericsson the puck from behind the net and Ericsson putting it home off Rob Blake.

But the Sharks earned a power play 1:11 later, when Wilson high-sticked Dan Boyle; it took only ten seconds for them to get a score. Joe Thornton won the face-off back to Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, who advanced the puck up to Patrick Marleau on the half-boards. Marleau fed it across to Boyle, who slapped it hom from the point through a Thornton screen.

Four minutes later, Jeremy Roenick took a pass from Devin Setoguchi and chipped it back to him behind the goalline. Niskanen had a body on him, so he poked it to Thornton on the other side of the net, who found a wide open Boyle pinching down between the circles; Marty Turco never had a chance to make that save, and the Sharks went into the locker room with a 3-1 lead.

The Sharks extended a couple streaks with their first period success, too. All three first line forwards saw their point-streaks extended to seven games, and the Sharks streak of games with a power play goal was extended to eight straight; during that streak, they are 17-48 (35.4 percent). By contrast, San Jose had given up only 14 power play goals all season in 89 chances.

The Sharks struggled on the first power play of the second period, but still got the same result. Finally able to control the puck in the attacking zone from behind the goalline, Clowe sent it up the boards to Pavelski on the right wing half-boards. He passed to Blake, took the puck back, and quickly fed it between the circles to Clowe, whose shot caromed to Milan Michalek all alone in front of the crease for the easy score.

Near the end of the period, the Sharks widened the lead when Thornton took a carom off the endboards from Setoguchi, skated up the half-boards and fed it up to Blake for the one-timer. That was the last goal Turco would give up, facing 19 shots and saving only 14 (.737 save percentage), but the only goal he even had a chance to stop was the first, and it is hard to blame a goalie for a deflection.

Regardless, Dallas started the second period with Stephan Tobias in net. While he stopped 10 of 11, about half-way through the third he gave up a goal to Tomas Plihal. Roenick attacked up the middle and dropped the puck to Ryan Clowe along the boards just inside the blueline on the right wing. Clowe fed a cross-ice pass to Plihal, whose shot from the face-off dot on the left wing found the corner on the near side.

Dallas got a goal in garbage time, with James Neal showing incredible puck control to skate backwards with the puck in front of the crease until he could get clear of Nabokov and put it home. Parrish and Mike Ribiero got the assists.

Notes: Pavelski and Richards entered the game with the most points for any player without a penalty, and Richards had the league's longest active streak without one dating back to last season. Both were whistled for minors in the third period.

The Sharks game against Phoenix was not televised except on NHL Centre Ice, just as their first match-up. However, this was the reverse of the last one, in which the tired Sharks (also playing in Phoenix the day after a match-up with the Stars) jumped out to an early two-goal lead before relaxing and losing.

This time, the Sharks gave up a goal on the first shift to Derrick Morris through an army of bodies, with assists by Shane Doan and Peter Mueller. Less than three minutes later and 12 seconds into a power play, Ed Jovanovski shot one from the point, Doan got the rebound and tipped the puck over to Kyle Turris for the easy goal.

But the Sharks scored on the only two shots they got on Ilya Bryzgalov. Michalek tried a wrap-around but the puck was blocked. Clowe tried to knock it home, but it was Pavelski who got to the loose puck and got it through traffic with 15:45 left in the first. Just 1:11 later, Marcel Goc took the puck from Plihal and fed it to Rob Blake pinching in along the boards for the one-timer.

Bryzgalov was the Sharks' second goaltending victim in as many days because Blake's shot was not from a good angle. Then both goalies settled things down.

It was not until the third period that the Sharks got the go-ahead goal and eventual game-winner. Lukowich took a pass from Michalek and shot it toward the net. Pavelski got a stick on it and then put the rebound home through the legs of a defender, and the Sharks made it hold up as the game-winner.

San Jose rang two shots off the goalpost in a span of two or three seconds on a late power play, but could not cash in, ending their streak of games with a goal on the man advantage at eight. None of the top line forwards scored, either, ending that streak for all of them at seven games.

However, the Sharks have extended their winning streak to seven games and completed their best-ever two months with a 20-3-1 record. They face the Toronto Maple Leafs and former coach Ron Wilson Tuesday night at 7:30pm PST at HP Pavilion.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sharks Beat Chicago for Thirteenth Straight Time

On Wednesday night, the San Jose Sharks extended their now league-leading active winning streak over the Chicago Blackhawks to 13 games. They did it in a way very contrary to how they won the two teams' first match-up, winning 3-2 in overtime rather than 6-5 in regulation. Instead of both teams taking five or more penalties, both were assessed only two.

The first line carried the weight as they have for the past six games, with all three forwards extending their scoring streaks to six games. Devin Setoguchi had an assist and Patrick Marleau had the game-tying goal in the third period on a wrap-around that was the first score against Christabol Huet.

Marleau missed two golden scoring opportunities, including one in which a prone and injured Nikolai Khabibulin was covering only the low portion of the far side of the net. Marleau shot the puck right into his pad, bringing the stoppage of play on Khabibulin's 24th save that allowed Chicago to replace him with Huet. This was one of the reasons it was inexplicable that Marleau got first star of the game, when Thornton had the game-winner 45 seconds into overtime and the primary assist on Marleau's goal.

Prior to the score, Thornton had to fight off the stick of a Chicago defender and slide the pass to Ryan Clowe, who returned it for the give-and-go one-timer and his second assist of the game. His first came on a five-on-three power play late in the first period, when he took a feed from Dan Boyle and got it to Rob Blake for the one-timer.

Sharks radio play-by-play announcer Dan Rusanowsky got the second star right: Chicago forward Jonathan Toews scored both Chicago goals, getting the tying score just past the mid-point and the go-ahead goal as a five-on-three penalty was two seconds from expiring early in the third period.

That power play started with a match penalty for boarding to Mike Grier, who finished a check against the boards on Aaron Johnson even though Johnson's back was to him. Johnson did not return to the game, but the league determined that Grier's punishment in the game was sufficient.

The Sharks out-shot Chicago 17-2 in the first period, but coach Joel Quennville made adjustments that helped his team get the Sharks out of rhythm for most of the rest of the game. The final shot tally was 40-26 thanks to a late flurry of shots in the third period and overtime.

In a side-note, Sharks fans booed former Shark Brian Campbell each time he touched the puck. Campbell left San Jose for a big payday in Chicago, but I believe the source of fans' ire was that Campbell never really gave San Jose a chance to re-sign him.

He said he wanted to play closer to home, which is Ottawa. Had he signed with the Senators, perhaps that would have been more understood, but I think fans felt misled that the team, in giving up Steve Bernier and a first round pick, was going to be considered for re-signing, especially in light of Campbell's friendship with alternate captain Joe Thornton that dates back to childhood.

Before the game, Campbell visited and had dinner at the Thornton home, where he had stayed in his brief time with the team. He said fans had been good to him and he enjoyed his time in San Jose. Apparently, these facts were not enough to even entertain offers from the team, who by all appearances made re-signing the star defenceman a priority.

However, I personally do not hold anything against Campbell, and here's why: Had he stayed with the team, there likely would have been no other changes to a blueline that was obviously not enough as it had been outplayed three seasons in a row. There simply would not have been enough money left over to trade for Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich and also may not have been enough to add Rob Blake.

I still believe that Campbell, who has comparable skills to Boyle and is bigger, is a better overall defenceman. But even had the team been able to add Blake, possible only had they traded Rivet and Carle anyway, the differences between this year and last would be Campbell and McLaren vs. Lukowich and Boyle. With McLaren available in the event of a long-term injury to the blueline, there is no doubt this year's unit is better.

While Soupy was only here briefly, he proved to general manager Doug Wilson that a more skilled blueline worked better, and his leaving opened the door for Wilson to upgrade the unit. Sharks fans should thank Campbell for the time he was here and then for saving the team money by not giving them a chance to match the over-sized contract offered by Chicago so they had to go in a different direction.

San Jose plays Dallas Friday at 5:30pm PST at American Airlines Center.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wounded Dog: What is Wrong with the Phoenix Coyotes?

Well last night the New York Rangers beat up on the Phoenix Coyotes winning by a final score of 4-1, bringing their losing streak to 6 games. Enver Lisin had the only Coyote goal which was the first goal of the game. However, the New York Rangers woke up and put 4 past Ilya Bryzgalov.
Yes I was rooting for the Coyotes. But the Rangers won which is always a positive. Despite playing a game I wouldn't call fantastic *cough* Rozsival *cough* the Rangers were playing a team that is in complete disarray at the moment, that being their 6th straight loss. 
Last night confirmed to me one thing that I had been thinking about but was hoping was wrong. The Coyotes are not a playoff team. General Manager Don Maloney said that this team is a team that will be fighting for a playoff spot at the beginning of the year. Things certainly looked that way as Shane Doan, Olli Jokinen and other had some good starts to the year. But the youth factor is very high on this team and that is ultimately what will bring this team down. It would be wonderful to see the Coyotes youngsters start lighting the lamp and being a factor in the offense but they haven't picked up the load that I am sure Don Maloney was looking for.
Should they be shouldered with all that responsibility? Probably not. These kids are barely older than me and are expected to be immediate offensive talents in the NHL when in reality they aren't. I am not saying that some of these guys won't turn into great players but immediate greatness is not in the cards here. 
There is one other problem that I know will not be addressed simply because of politics and that is the coaching. Yes Wayne Gretzky has a stake in the Phoenix Coyotes organization as a managing partner and alternate governor. However, that should not give him untouchable status in terms of his job as a coach. 
The Coyotes have a very young team which needs a coach who can teach players how to play at the NHL level. You would think that Wayne would be the best person for that but being a coach is more than that. The Coyotes need a system that works and a coach who has been a coach. Someone who can keep the development of the young players going while inputting a system that will be hard to beat every night. 
I understand that Gretzky just signed a 5 year extension as a coach but this is what I think. Put Gretzky as an assistant coach for awhile...maybe he can figure out this abysmal powerplay of the Coyotes. When Ulf Samuelsson is your powerplay coach, it isn't going to work. Get a real coach in there for a couple of years. If Wayne is itching to be head coach again then that is fine but for a team that is rebuilding a coach is important in getting a system of play down that will inspire younger players and help them learn the nuances of the NHL game. Afterwards Gretzky can take things back.

It is rough to be a Coyotes fan with the NHL team on a 6 game losing streak. Things aren't much better down on the AHL affiliate in San Antonio where the Rampage have dropped 13 straight games. They are 2-17 on the season. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sharks Dominate Ovechkin, Capitals in 7-2 Rout

The Sharks cleared another hurdle in their impressive first season under coach Todd McLellan: they played well rusty.

In years' past, the Sharks were notoriously vulnerable after a long lay-off. Saturday night, while struggling to control play and getting only five shots on goal, they still tallied three first period scores and never looked back.

The game also had a physical element from the start.

Defenceman Douglas Murray chipped a puck in and leveled the forward racing toward the puck. A couple of shifts later, Jody Shelley checked Donald Brashear against the boards behind the Washington goalline right after Brashear advanced the puck, and the two enforcers went at it.

It was a good fight, but Brashear, in my opinion the toughest guy in hockey, ended up on top and bloodied Shelley's nose. He also taunted the Sharks and their fans on the way to the box, with both penalties coming just 3:24 into the game.

Just over nine minutes into the game, defenceman Dan Boyle took a Devin Setoguchi feed from behind the goalline and skated until he had a passing lane. He got the puck to Patrick Marleau just inside the face-off circle to Brent Johnson's glove side, and the captain put a wristshot to the far side half-way up on the first shot of the game for the Sharks.

It took the Sharks just over three minutes to add to that score, but they needed a little help from Washington defenceman Shaone Morrison. Milan Michalek got the puck to the point, where Rob Blake fired it on net. Ryan Clowe got his stick on the rebound, and in trying to clear the puck away, Morrison tipped it into his own net.

Again it took the Sharks only about three more minutes to increase their lead. On the first power play of the game, Marleau got the puck to Thornton in the corner, who flipped a backhand pass to Setoguchi at the face-off dot on Johnson's glove side. Setoguchi's one-timer was wired to the corner on the far side just five seconds after the power play expired, and the Sharks had three goals on five shots in a 6:32 stretch.

Washington responded with a strong opening to the second period, culminating in a score 7:56 in. Blake Sloan got the puck to the net, and Matt Bradley got his stick on it in the scramble. As the puck skitted along the goalline, Tom Poti punched it in from his stomach after being knocked down.

However, that seemed to wake the Sharks up. On the third power play of the game, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic took a feed from Boyle and shot-passed it to Joe Thornton, who redirected it into the net through a screen by Setoguchi.

With the team on a four-on-four in the last minute of the second, Vlasic took a pass from Blake and put it home to all but end the game; Jonathan Cheechoo, relegated to the third line since returning from injury, got the secondary assist.

Instead of resting on their laurels as Ron Wilson's Sharks used to (and, indeed, his Maple Leafs did against Chicago Saturday night), McLellan's Sharks smelled blood in the water and attacked. With a 16-15 shots on goal deficit, San Jose outshot Washington 13-5 in the final period.

The Sharks did surrender the first goal. With Setoguchi in the box for hooking, Nicklas Backstrom got the puck to Alex Ovechkin on the point. Faking a slapshot to get the defense down, he passed to Tomas Fleischmann just outside the crease on Brian Boucher's glove side for the easy one-timer. The assist kept alive Ovechkin's point streak at six and was his first point against San Jose in three career games.

However, it took the home team just 3:25 to answer on a power play of their own. Blake took a pass from Boyle and fed Clowe in the face-off circle the Sharks were doing all their damage. Clowe faked a shot and fed it back to Blake, who one-timed it on goal. Clowe crashed the net and put home the easy rebound.

It was not Blake's last time on the score sheet, either. He head-manned the puck to Jeremy Roenick with a minute to go, and Roenick fed a pass through traffic to Mike Grier, who managed to get just enough on a backhand while muscling off a defender to get it past Johnson. The Sharks spent the final 52 seconds passing the puck back and forth in their defensive zone to run out the clock.

After the game, McLellan said Evgeni Nabokov would be returning to net in the Sharks next game, Wednesday night at HP Pavilion against Chicago. He was dressed for Saturday's game, but McLellan had said he wanted him to get a few more practices before facing game situations. Boucher was 5-1-1 in relief of Nabokov.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dallas Stars: Brenden Morrow Out 6 Months With ACL Tear


On Friday afternoon the Dallas Stars announced today that team captain Brenden Morrow will be out for at least six months after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last night against the Chicago Blackhawks. Morrow will likely require surgery to repair the knee and in his absence the Stars chose to call up Landon Wilson from the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins.

"It's adds to what has already been a frustrating season, but we have to pull together and face the adversity and overcome it," coach Dave Tippett said to the Dallas Morning News. "This will test the strength of our group. Are we willing to bond together?"

Morrow was trying to make a hit in the third period against Chicago on Thursday night when he caught the edge of his skate in a rut on the ice and fell awkwardly. With about six minutes remaining in the game Morrow limped to the Stars dressing room and did not return.

In 18 games this season Morrow has recorded 5 goals, 10 assists for 15 points with 49 penalty minutes. He was slowly leading the Stars out of the seller with his leadership, but now he will be forced to watch from a press box in a suit rather than suited up with his teammates.

"You can't replace him. There's just not another player like him around," said co-general manager Brett Hull to the Dallas Morning News. "What we have to do is find a way to play without him."

Much like fantasy owners who built a team with Morrow in mind like me, the Stars must also find a way to recover roster wise. The Stars are dangerously close to the salary cap but will likely file for a long-term injury reserve exception on Morrow’s $4.1 million salary.

According to the Dallas Morning News Co-GM Les Jackson said the team is looking into salary cap implication and owner Tom Hicks’ budget to determine the possibility of a trade.

Most likely Dallas must rebuild from within, for now the answer is Landon Wilson but the Stars have many talented prospects and this season could go from being a Stanley Cup year to a rebuilding year after an injury like this. Building up the young talent will be good for this club and make this team very dangerous in the future.

On Saturday the Dallas Stars will face the Pacific division rival Anaheim Ducks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. The puck drops at 7pm Central and will be radio broadcast on WBAP-AM 820 and on television on Fox Sports Net Southwest..

For Ken Armer’s Ducks vs. Stars preview tune into NHL 2Day at 12:30 central for talk around the league, more news on the Morrow injury and everything else hockey as Armer and Co-host Alan Bass discuss this past week in the NHL.

Image: Courtesy of Yahoo Sports and Getty Images

Quotes: Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News

Stars Press Release: Courtesy of Dallas Stars website

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sharks Punch Back at Predators

Last week, the Nashville Predators ended the San Jose Sharks home unbeaten streak with an overtime victory at HP Pavilion. It was probably small consolation to the franchise that was knocked out of the playoffs two years in a row by the Sharks, but it may have helped that it springboarded them to a three-game sweep of California teams to end their road trip.

Nevertheless, in the next chance they got after that loss, the Sharks punched back Monday night.

San Jose got on the board with two early tallies in the first period. On the first, Devin Setoguchi stood inside the face-off circle to goalie Dan Ellis' left and rocketed a one-timer pass from Joe Thornton; Patrick Marleau got the secondary assist on the power play goal. On the second, Jody Shelley got his first goal of the year in a scramble in front of the net; Brad Staubitz also got his first point of the season, and Rob Blake got the secondary assist.

After Tomas Plihal put home a slapshot 7:43 into the second, things got nasty. Jordin Tootoo tried to check Ryan Clowe and was knocked down. Unhappy with the embarassment, he went after a smaller target, Joe Pavelski. He received a cross-checking minor for it, but it led to more rough-stuff.

A couple shifts later, the Sharks scored again, Marleau put home a rebound of a Christian Ehrhoff shot (devin Setoguchi got the other assist), and Tootoo was immediately put back onto the ice to instigate.

But the Sharks punched back.

Tootoo dropped the gloves to fight Staubitz, but before Brad could even throw a punch, Tootoo landed a right to his head and dropped him. Inexplicably, Staubitz still got a fighting major, so Shelley tossed the gloves with Greg DeVries immediately. That fight ended in a draw, no matter how much announcer Randy Hahn wanted to claim it as a victory.

That was not the end of the fighting, either. Not only did both pairs have a round two (this time I would say Staubitz had a draw at best, but Shelley won), but Thornton danced with Scott Nichol and clearly won. I did not see this one start or either of Shelley's begin, but the Tootoo fights were clearly initiated by him.

But the Sharks punched back.

Unfortunately, at this point the Sharks seemed more interested in fighting than playing. Even on the power play, the Sharks gave up a short-handed goal to David Legwand, who took a Dan Hamhuis pass and got behind Ehrhoff for a breakaway. He put home his own rebound when the defence did not get to it; Radek Bonk got the secondary assist.

To that point, the Predators had a 13-1 shot advantage in the period, and ended up with a 16-8 edge in the third and 33-32 edge for the game. It was the second straight game in which the Sharks have been out-shot.

After back-to-back nights playing, with travel in between, the Sharks are staying one more night in Nashville to spend time with their fathers on the almost-annual father-son outing. After that, they get much-needed rest before hosting Washington Saturday.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sharks Outplayed by Chicago, Win Anyway

You could have billed this as a competition between the defenceman the Sharks acquired late last season, Brian Campbell, to put them over the hump and the one who replaced him, Dan Boyle.

Or a chance for the Sharks to get revenge on the player who bolted from the very house of his childhood friend (Joe Thornton) for a big contract. Or for Chicago to avenge the 11 straight losses they have suffered at the hands of San Jose.

Ultimately, all of those storylines were in play, no matter how much everyone denied it. You listen to the fans bellyache about their team's struggles against a particular opponent, and as a human being who appreciates those who pay your ample salary, you want to make it right.

When a player leaves, you understand it's a business and even the reasoning that a player wants to be closer to home. But you also feel at least a little betrayed. If you are that player or his replacement, you want to show you were worth that contract or your new team is better off than with the other guy.

Boyle scored two goals, Campbell scored only one but added two assists. Tough to call a winner there. Thornton added a goal and an assist.

But the bottom line is who won, and that was the Sharks, 6-5. The power play clicked, getting four goals for the second straight game; the unit has gone 8 for 15 in those contests. In the process, it has jumped from the bottom half of the league into the top 20 percent.

This one was not pretty, unless you are one of those Philistines who just wants to see scoring instead of sound fundamental hockey. The Sharks jumped out to a 1-0 lead on the second period of the game when Joe Pavelski's face-off win came back to Milan Michalek, who snapped off a quick wrist shot high to Christabol Huet's glove side.

But Sharks goalie Brian Boucher gave it back. Handling a puck behind the net on the power play, he hesitated until Chicago rookie Kris Versteeg was close enough to worry about, then threw it toward him. Versteeg poke checked it away from Boucher's stick, recovered it, and backhanded it into the goal before Boucher could stop him.

On the very next shift, Thornton bailed out his teammate, coming up with a loose puck and burying it; Devin Setoguchi and Patrick Marleau got assists. That goal held up until the last two and a half minutes of the period, when Campbell slapped home a D-to-D pass along the blueline from Cam Barker; Martin Havlat got the secondary assist and caused the Sharks problems all night with his ability to penetrate with his puck handling.

Not to be outdone, Boyle got his first power play goal of the game on a pass from Pavelski (Marc-Eduoard Vlasic got the second assist) less than six minutes into the second period. Jeremy Roenick scored his first goal of the season on his former team just over three minutes later, gobbling up a turnover by Brent Sopel and faking Huet to his far side before putting a backhand in near side.

But the Sharks were being outplayed in the second period, as rare a thing for them as being out-shot (31-33 in this game and 15-6 in the second); ironically San Jose is 3-0 when the latter happens. Less than two minutes later, Versteeg got his second goal by bouncing it off a sprawling Boucher from behind the net; Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane got assists.

The pressure of Chicago finally caught up with the Sharks in a big way at the end of the period, as they drew back-to-back penalties and scored on both 18 seconds apart in the last three minutes, and Campbell got the primary assist on both.

On the first, he returned the favour with a D-to-D pass along the blueline to Barker after a feed from Toews. On the second, he took pass from Barker and faked a shot before passing to Kane on the wing for a one-timer.

It was a lesson the Sharks would apply themselves. On the power play in the third, Pavelski took a pass from Vlasic and faked a shot before finding Boyle in the very same place. It was so well-duplicated I am unsure why neither of the announcers or David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News noted it...it was like watching a replay.

The equalizer for the Sharks came with 4:15 to go, and again on the power play. Thornton got the puck to Christian Ehrhoff at the point, and he found Setoguchi between the top of the circles for a fierce one-timer that Huet may never have even seen well because of the traffic provided by Marleau and Thornton.

Somehow, the Sharks made that hold up. But they made it interesting when Ryan Clowe took a bad penalty with over three minutes to go, then iced the puck with a minute left after coming out of the box and Huet pulled.

The Sharks are playing right now in Nashville (actually, the game must be over by now), and return home to play Washington Saturday.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sharks Extinguish Flames

In the first match-up of the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames since the nasty first round playoff contest last April, one might have expected fireworks.

After all, this was the one that featured the hit on Sharks captain Patrick Marleau by Flames defenceman Corey Sarich that nearly changed the series. It was a hit that should have been called roughing (high hit), or charging (Sarich lept up into the hit), or some might say boarding (I would not agree there).

More importantly, someone on the Sharks should have come to the defence of their captain. It was not even the first cheapshot on Marleau in the game: defenceman Dion Phaneuf allowed Marleau to touch up to avoid an icing so he could splat him to the boards.

There was nothing illegal about that hit, and cheap or not, it's a legitmate game play. But it should have at least set the Sharks on edge enough that the Sarich hit would have forced a response. Or maybe at least gotten the team to show a little heart and intensity for the rest of the game.

Instead, they folded their tents, and I knew right then I was backing the wrong horse.

When things are going tough, you fall back on what you know. The Flames have always been nasty. Former coach and current general manager Darryl Sutter was always that style.

At the time, the going was definitely tough for Calgary. The Sharks were up 3-0 just a few minutes into the game, looking like they would be recapturing home ice advantage.

It wasn't the first time we saw this, either. Let's take a look at the progression:

While coaching the Flames in 2006, Sutter saw that his team, down 4-1 with under five minutes to go, could not beat the Detroit Red Wings, so they decided to beat them up, especially once the Red Wings scored on the power play that resulted from the first of those penalties.

In the last 4:48, the Flames took 37 minutes of penalties. Captain Jerome Iginla raced up the ice spearing an opponent with the butt end of his stick. Back-up goalie Jamie McLennan swung his stick like a sword at another forward's midsection and received a match penalty. Obviously, there were other infractions.

In 2007, the team hired "Iron Mike" Keenan to coach the team. His reputation is one of a coach who is hard on his players and expects them to play with his personality. The team was as erratic as their coach all season, ranging from the number three to out of the playoffs at various times after the All Star break.

They finished seventh and looked horribly over-matched at times against the second-seeded Sharks. But, in keeping with their coach's personality, they played with more passion and more of an edge in taking the Sharks to seven games.

In 2008, apparently not satisfied with their representation of thuggishness, they signed one of the game's all-time villains, Todd Bertuzzi. His cowardly attack on Steve Moore las left Moore paralyzed for life and rates as one of the worst actions anyone has ever taken in performance of a sport.

The game is shaping up to be pretty nasty, huh? Most fans were expecting fireworks in the form of vicious hits and fisticuffs.

Instead, they got fireworks from the Sharks lighting the lamp.

The Sharks power play came into the game in the bottom half of the league, but they needed only seven seconds of the Flames initial penalty to light the lamp. Christian Ehrhoff passed the puck to Rob Blake, whose shot rebounded off Mikka Kiprusoff and to the stick of Joe Pavelski. Kiprusoff never had a chance on the rebound because defenceman Robin Regehr had ridden Ryan Clowe right into his goalie.

It was the beginning of a big night for all three scorers.

On the very next shift, Dan Boyle advanced the puck to Ehrhoff, who found Milan Michalek racing past the Flames defence. Michalek faked a slapshot to get Kiprusoff into the butterfly position, then skated further until he had an angle to shoot it past the goalie as he was trying to get back up to cut it off.

About four and a half minutes later, Calgary was called for a second penalty, this time for too many men on the ice. The Sharks moved the puck well and controlled it in the offensive zone for more than the first minute but were not getting shots on goal.

After a late clear, Ehrhoff got it back into the zone with only eleven seconds left; Marleau dropped it for Devin Setoguchi, who bounced it off the boards behind the net. It caromed to Joe Thornton, who found Blake at the point for a one-timer. Kiprusoff made the save, but the rebound came to an uncovered Marleau for an easy put-back.

At that point, the Sharks were dominating in shots 18-3, but unlike the playoff game last April, they did not let up. Bertuzzi was called for Calgary's third penalty with a high-stick just over a minute later, and this time the power play had trouble even getting a shot.

With about 30 seconds left in the man-advantage, Boyle kept faking shots to try to see a lane, eventually settling for just sending a soft pass toward the net to hope for a lucky bounce. He got one: Setoguchi could not control the pass, but it bounced off Phaneuf's stick right to Thornton, who put it home past a scrambling Kiprusoff.

The announcers mentioned Sarich's hit and the expectation that Calgary would retaliate, but it never really happened and there was one scuffle on the next shift. The period also ended with Brad Staubitz and Phaneuf taking matching minors (a great trade-off for the Sharks), but the only physical penalties after the first period were matching minors for roughing to Bertuzzi and Staubitz in the last five seconds of the game.

The Sharks ended that first period with a 20-5 edge in shots and chased Kiprusoff in favour of little-used back-up Curtis McElhinney. While a four-on-four would seem to favour the faster-skating Sharks, the puck stayed in San Jose's zone for more than a minute.

Once Boyle's skating freed him up to advance the puck to Ehrhoff, the Sharks wasted no time in getting one past McElhinney. Michalek took a cross-ice feed from him and stuck home the loose puck on his backhand from behind the goalline, taking advantage of Calgary being without their best defender.

The rest of the period was rather uneventful: no scoring and two penalties for each team. The Sharks out-shot Calgary 15-8.

The Sharks scored one more time on a five-on-three power play in the third period when Blake passed to Boyle just outside the face-off circle on the stick-side. The kick save on the one-timer was made, but the loose puck was gobbled up by Pavelski because Michalek got away with a slash of Sarich's stick in front of the net so he couldn't clear it.

Calgary eventually scored when a soft penalty for interference was called on Jody Shelley. Just 23 seconds later, new Flame Mike Cammalleri put a rebound of an Adrian Aucoin flip towards Boucher from behind the goalline through a small opening between Boucher's arm and chest. He also created the original scoring opportunity when he took a Curtis Glencross pass and attacked the net from the right wing, forcing the initial save that started the scramble for the puck.

The Sharks finished with a 46-24 edge in shots and still matched Calgary in blocked shots with 11. After winning the first six face-offs of the game, San Jose managed only a 29-27 edge there and were out-hit 32-24. They had 15 giveaways to the Flames' five, but that's what happens when you control the puck so much more.

This was a game in which the Sharks best players carried them. The power play was 4-9 (the Flames' was 1-4). Blake and Boyle each finished with three assists, Ehrhoff had two and Thornton, Marleau, Setoguchi, Clowe and Pavelski each had one. Pavelski and Michalek both finished with two goals, and Thornton and Marleau each had one.

San Jose's next game is Sunday afternoon (4pm PST) in Chicago.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sharks Analysis, One Month In

(I am writing this article as I watch a recording of tonight's game; all stats and analysis are prior to that game.)

After one month, we can get a pretty good read on the Sharks. The tone of all teams is set behind the bench, so looking at how the team looks starts there.

Coaching

This has been their best start ever even after losing two in a row, one of which was in overtime. They are still 13-3-1, good for 27 points (out of a possible 34, a .794 clip) and are on pace for 130 points and the President's Trophy.

They are winning at home this year, going 9-0-1 so far. There have been 10 different players to score the 11 game winners, so everyone's getting involved. Players are going until the clock runs out, like when Christian Ehrhoff blocked a shot with less than five seconds left and the Sharks up by more than one goal.

The Sharks have a gear they never have had before this year, and lead the league in both shots on goal and fewest shots against per game. The team has already set the record for most games with 40-plus shots in a season (eight) just over one-fifth of the way into the season, hitting that mark 47.1 percent of the time so far.

They also have tied their franchise record of 50 shots on the road and broke their franchise record of 49 shots at home with their 57-shot performance Tuesday; 55 of those were in regulation. Ironically, those two games account for half of the Sharks' losses.

(As a sidenote, I have noticed that the Sharks score more often when my wife is in the room; now she must watch every minute of every game until we win the President's Trophy, then every minute of every playoff game until we win the one that matters.)

All of these things point to an excellent system and excellent attention to detail. Only in the Phoenix game did the team lack intensity. All of these things suggest to me great coaching.

Goaltending

This is the most important unit on any team, but it is easily the worst unit on the Sharks. Evgeni Nabokov has a 10-2 record but a 2.72 GAA and a save percentage of just .891 with no shutouts.

By contrast, back-up goalie Brian Boucher, he entered Thursday's game with an inferior 3-1-1 record but otherwise much better statistics. His save percentage was .936 and he had two shutouts with a 1.59 GAA. His only loss in regulation came in a game in which he had finished playing another game less than 20 hours earlier and had to travel in between.

Nabokov is currently out with an undisclosed lower-body injury that everyone knows is his left knee, but no one outside of the franchise knows how serious it is. However, he is doing light skating and is not on injured reserve, so it is not believed to be serious.

The team has called Tomas Greiss up, but he has seen no action. Thus, their overall stats are 13-3-1, 2.39 GAA, .904 save percentage and two shutouts--very average.

Defencemen

This is the unit that is most different from last season, both in personnel and play. The Sharks have always had a young and inexperienced blueline that pretty much stayed at home; last season the Sharks had the fewest points by this unit in the league. Now they have a dynamic and veteran blueline that is leading the lead in points.

Christian Ehrhoff, the whipping boy of so many Sharks fans last season, leads NHL defencemen in points (2 G, 10 A) and is +4. (The fact that I pointed that out should tell you I was an Ehrhoff apologist, but even I thought the team overpaid for him with his new contract.)

The teammates who came over in the trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning have also been stellar, being tied for the team lead with a +7 rating. Dan Boyle leads the unit with four goals, and Lukowich, a stay-at-home defenceman and penalty-killer, has four assists.

The other veteran, Rob Blake, has two goals and seven assists. Marc-Eduoard Vlasic has one goal and seven assists. Douglas Murray is pointless and -2, but as much a physical force as ever but has taken only one minor penalty. Even my personal whipping boy, Alexei Semenov, has an assist and even rating in seven games.

In all, the unit is an average of better than +2, with nine goals and 36 assists. That is outstanding.

Forwards

This unit has been among the league's best since Joe Thornton arrived in late 2005. However, they seem to have reached a new level with the extra support of the defence in the offensive zone.

Patrick Marleau had struggled mightily since the end of the first round of the 2007 playoffs. In the 101 games that the team played since then, Marleau had 46 points and a -26 rating. I was able to recall those statistics from memory I had espoused them so much--I spent much of last season calling for or lamenting the lack of a trade of him for more blueline talent.

But General Manager Doug Wilson found a way to improve the blueline without trading the captain, and coach Todd McLellan found a way to make his captain his best player again. Marleau leads the team with 18 points, and is tied with Lukowich and Boyle with a +7 rating. He has even been used on the penalty kill and has two short-handed goals.

Devin Setoguchi was moved up to the first line and has played better than anyone should have expected. He leads the team in goals with nine and has eight assists and a +6 rating. Joe Pavelski has five goals and five assists and Ryan Clowe has nine goals (five on the power play) and five assists.

Even the rookies are getting into the scoring act. Jamie McGinn has two goals and one assist in five games with a game-winner, and rookie Lukas Kaspar has a game-winning goal in six games.

Even the Sharks top scorers who could be considered to be having off years have been productive. Thornton once again leads the team with 13 assists, Jonathan Cheechoo (four goals, three assists in 14 games) was leading the team in hits before being scratched for injury.

The only real disappointment would have to be Jeremy Roenick, who has just three assists and no goals with a -1 rating. This unit is performing top-to-bottom, with all four lines producing.

Special Teams

The Sharks have a penalty kill that is not only in the top quarter of the league, but is at the top with five shorthanded goals. The net of goals for and against for this unit is the best in the league.

However, the power play has been a big disappointment. Not only does it rank just under the league's mid-point, it has given up more than its share of shorthanded goals--three in two games with Philadelphia alone. Teams will get the idea that they can take a run at San Jose's best players if the power play doesn't start making them pay for it.

Still, what I would consider the league's best penalty kill and a power play just barely in the bottom third of the league balances out to a pretty good special teams unit.

Final Report Card of General Manager Doug Wilson, responsible for assembling players and coaches...

Coaching: A-

Goaltending: C

Defence: A

Forwards: A-

Special Teams: B-

Overall GPA: 3.40

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Erik Ersberg Leading Kings Charge

Erik Ersberg continues to win games and the Kings are moving up the Western Conference standings after a slow start.

Erik has been outstanding in his 4 starts leading the Kings to a 3-0-1 record. The overtime loss was a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Anaheim Ducks.

Coach Terry Murray has already indicated that he will start his 5th game in a row tomorrow night in Dallas.

I was fully behind having a #1 netminder at the start of the season instead of a constant carousel. Jason LaBarbera didn't play poorly, but he just lacked that big save ability. At one point the Kings were 1-6 in games decided by a goal. In Ersberg's 4 starts the Kings are 2-0-1 in one-goal games.

I can't help but ask myself, maybe Erik Ersberg is the ONE that Kings fans have been waiting for.

A lot of hype has gone into Jonathan Bernier and Jeff Zatkoff. Jonathan Quick is also developing well. Erik Ersberg is rarely in the discussion when people discuss the future for the Kings.

In 14 appearances last season Ersberg posted a respectable 6-5-3 record, with a 2.48 GAA and .927 save percentage. His performance was dismissed due to the Kings being out of the playoff race and playing without any pressure. I don't buy this either. It was his first taste of the NHL and that was pressure enough.

This year in 5 appearances he has a microscopic 1.93 GAA. What is it really going to take from this guy for people to start taking notice.

Fans and analysts have written off the Kings this year and every year until Jonathan Bernier makes his arrival. The solution could already be here. It has always been a size issue with Ersberg. He is too small has always been the knock.

He has late bloomer written all over him. Especially when he comments how the NHL has been the easiest league he has played in when it comes to reading the play in front of him. The players are more polished and he knows what to expect.

He makes big saves, he is a black hole when it comes to not leaving rebounds, and the team is playing great in front of him allowing less than 20 shots per game.

It is a little premature, but come January, you should not be surprised if the Kings netminder of the future has a different name than expected.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sharks-Coyotes: Was that Last Season's Sharks?

Sunday night, the team with the best record in the league (San Jose, 13-2) played the team coached by Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player of all-time. It was broadcast on NHL Network in Canada, but to get it in the Bay Area, I would have to pay $159 for NHL Center Ice.

Even in a better economy, that is madness. In this economy, it is criminal.

Thus, I was relegated to listening to it on the radio. That's why I am not confirm who was on the ice.

The scoresheet says Dan Boyle scored the first goal of the game and recorded a double minor for high sticking, and he was not a member of last season's squad. Neither was Rob Blake (assist) or Brad Staubitz (fighting).

But I would swear this was last year's squad. Let me showcase why:

The Good: The Sharks ended last season with one of the league's better power play units, but so far this year they are in the bottom half of the league. Sunday, they scored on two of the first three power plays, both on penalties to Dan Carcillo. (Both were from the second unit--i.e. not the one with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.)

The Bad: Unlike most games this year, the Sharks did not dominate in shots on goal, with only a 32-29 edge. They actually trailed in the department for most of the game and did not control that stat in the second period like they have this season, being outshot 10-9.

The Ugly: After getting that early 2-0 lead, the team seemed to quit playing. They took two shifts in a row off, and the Coyotes scored on both, at 12:07 and 12:34 of the first period. So because the Sharks took a minute off, they had to work hard for 47, and it was not enough. Very 2007-2008.

Notes: The Sharks second goal was scored by Ryan Clowe, assisted by Blake and Christian Ehrhoff. It was his fifth on the power play and ninth overall, and his fifth game in a row with a goal. He also had an assist on the first goal, along with Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. The Sharks power play was 2-5, and Phoenix went 2-7.

Brian Boucher suffered his first loss of the season and second game of nine as a Shark in which he gave up more than one goal. The Sharks were on the opposite side of the fortunate scheduling this time, as they started this game less than 20 hours after completing their game in Dallas, and had to take the nearly two hour flight to Phoenix to boot. Only the ducks and the Rangers have played more gamesthan the Sharks.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sharks Outlast Tired Stars, Stay Perfect at Home

For the second straight game, the Sharks caught a break in the schedule and played a team that had played the night before in Anaheim. However, this opponent was coming off a decisive win over the hot Ducks in a game that seemed to signify a turnaround in the Stars season.

The Stars got Sergei Zubov, their best and most experienced defenceman, back from IR. He quarterbacks their power play, he is essential for getting the puck out of the zone, and he is an underrated defender.

They signed Mark Parrish to a contract after he was released by the Minnesota Wild, and he immediately contributed a hat trick. Marty Turco had been struggling, but he played well, giving up just two goals.

Sean Avery combined with line-mate Mike Modano for a score. Avery was seemingly a target of public comments by Modano, the top-scoring American born player in league history and the only holdover from their days as the North Stars in Minnesota, making him the indisputed face of the franchise. Nothing helps teammates bury the hatchet like scoring together.

Plus, the Sharks were without their designated number one goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov. He will not make the trip to Phoenix for Sunday's game, but is expected to do light skating Monday, meaning it is possible he will return in time for the Sharks' games Tuesday or Thursday.

Jonathan Cheechoo was also out of the lineup, and not only has he been the team's top goal scorer since the lockout ended, he has been the top hitter so far this season. He also will not make the trip to Phoenix but is listed day-to-day.

When I saw Marty Turco in net again, I thought of all the times former Sharks coach Ron Wilson put Nabby back in net on the second of back-to-back nights last season, often even when there was travel between the games. I am sorry, but I think the only time you do that is if your other guy is hurt and you have no one who is remotely ready for the NHL as an option.

Sometimes it works in the short run, but I still think the workload may be one reason Nabokov held a save percentage under .900 until the four-OT thriller against these Stars last May 2. And when someone has been struggling, forcing them to play tired seems even less advisable.

However, if Turco was tired, he didn't show it. But then again, Boucher once again did not look like anyone's backup goalie. This was a goaltending duel reminiscent of the Belfour-Roy playoff match-ups that used to make my heart race in the late 90s.

The officiating was that bad, too.

Early on, cheap-shot Neanderthal Sean Avery took down Brad Lukowich away from the play and stood over him so he couldn't get up, all the while flapping his gums with disrespect. I have always felt there was one answer for a guy like that: send Jody Shelley on the ice and make him back up his talk. If he does, you pull a good player off the ice for the Stars in exchange for a fourth-line grinder; if he doesn't, he loses all impact because he's nothing but a coward who is all talk, no action.

Instead, Ryan Clowe drops the gloves with Brandon Crombeen, essentially allowing Dallas to get the edge in talent taken off the ice. It is absolutely stupid for Clowe to get into that fight because it basically allows the Stars to know that they can be more aggressive because if they are called for a penalty the Sharks will not have their best power play unit on the ice.

The Ducks did this to the Sharks last month with Joe Thornton, and sure enough, that was exactly what happened Saturday night. Clowe might not be Thornton in terms of the unit's importance, but with the team already struggling on the power play and missing Cheechoo, they could not afford to yield more talent.

The bad calls continued throughout the game, and I will provide the other five worst examples:

1. Turco got away with sweeping Thornton's feet out from under him.
2. At the end of the same shift, Joe was called for a boarding penalty when he hit the man shoulder-to-shoulder.
3. Avery was called for a slash that came nowhere near the hands or even the shaft of the stick.
4. Thornton got away with a high-stick on Mike Ribiero two feet from the official.
5. They did not call Mike for the retaliatory slash.

Throughout most of the contest, the Sharks were taking it to the Stars. They out-hit Dallas 43-21 and out-shot them 33-24, with an edge in that department in all three periods as well.

San Jose took an early lead 7:13 into the game when Joe Thornton hustled to keep a puck in and Lukowich controlled it on the blueline. Then he slid it along the blueline to Patrick Marleau in the middle, who found Joe Thornton penetrating to the faceoff dot to Turco's stick side. Dan Boyle, having already read the play when Marleau got the puck, was streaking toward the face-off circle on the weakside, and Thornton found him for the easy goal.

Dallas blocked more shots (17-9) mostly because San Jose took more of them, but they did hold a slight edge in face-offs (27-24) and giveaways were even (12). The one time the Stars did take control was early in the third.

Their pressure paid off 3:41 into the period. Lukowich mishandled the puck behind the net, and Loui Eriksson got to it. He passed it to an onrushing Steve Ott between the circles, then grabbed the carom of Ott's Wild shot off the boards for the easy put-back because both Boucher and Lukowich came out to play Ott.

That ended Boucher's shutout streak to start the season ended. With the way Turco was playing, one had to wonder if the Sharks could extend their perfect record to nine games without a second consecutive shootout win.

Early in the second period, the announcers pointed out how Turco's ability to play the puck drew a penalty on the Sharks for too many men on the ice. Just over halfway through the period, Turco made an incredible save in which he batted away a puck that had already bounced over and behind him. Several times Turco came out above the circles to play the puck and keep the Sharks from the attack.

However, the Sharks got a gift from their goalie nemesis with under 30 seconds left. Turco came out just past the crease to play the puck, but instead of dumping it behind his net, he tried to backhand it past a net-crashing Marleau. The puck went off Patty's skate, who promptly knocked it in front of the net with his stick and then poked it home.

By getting the win in regulation, the Sharks widened their lead over the Dallas Stars to 14 points and six-and-a-half games. Even should Dallas win all five games it has left against San Jose in regulation, they would not cover that ground. With 68 games to play, they would have to earn nearly ten percent more points to overtake the Sharks. That is a huge hole to dig so early against so good an opponent.

The Sharks have the same 14-point lead over every team in the division but Anaheim. Phoenix has the easiest deficit to overcome out of those three teams, with three games in hand and six to go against the Sharks. Even Anaheim is seven points and four games back, and have to win an extra game in every 15 compared to the Sharks to catch them.

This means that the Sharks could come down to earth and still have the division locked up by March. But lest we get overconfident, nothing that matters is won with that many games to go: just ask Major League Baseball's Angels how that worked out for them.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Stars-Ducks: Dallas' Mark Parrish Serves Up Duck on California Roadtrip


It’s amazing how things can change in a week. Last Friday the Dallas Stars were having their tails handed to them by the Chicago Blackhawks and last night the Stars showed the Anaheim Ducks a team’s record has nothing to do with its talent.

Last week the Stars were looking for a scoring spark and a missing piece that may or may not lead the team out of the depths of a slump. Last night Sergei Zubov the rock on the Stars blue line returned along with new addition Mark Parrish who would record a hat-trick in his first game as a Dallas Star. Way to set the bar high mark.

“Great start by Parrish, we knew he was in his element,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said in the Stars pregame recap. “He had some timely goals on the spot and he was a solid player for us tonight.”

Anaheim may have come into the game seeking redemption after last years disappointing playoffs exit at the hands of Dallas but the Stars would open up scoring at 7:07 of the first with a backhand goal by rookie Fabian Brunnstrom. Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow assisted on the goal. At 9:14 the Ducks Travis Moen took an elbowing penalty setting up the Stars Mark Parrish with a power play goal at 10:44. Sean Avery and Philippe Boucher recorded assists on Parrish’s first goal of the season. Anaheim’s Brendan Morrison, an offseason free agent signing, would chip away at the Stars two goal lead with a tip-in goal at 17:28.

“Brunnstrom is very typical for a young player, good hands around the net and he is an astute learner,” Tippett said. “He is a good player around the net and he’ll continue to improve as he goes.”

The second period would be all Mark Parrish. Parrish would score his newest team two more goals in the period, making the score 4-1. The first goal came on a snap shot and on the power play. Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards assisted on the goal. At 5:52 Parrish scored his first hat-trick as a Dallas Star. Can anyone believe Dallas got this guy for half a million?

Notable penalties of the second period were a fight between the Ducks Brian Sutherby and the Stars Phillipe Boucher at 3:24, and offsetting roughing penalties at 15:39 between Anaheim’s Chris Pronger and the Stars’ Steve Ott.

The third saw just as much exciting action between the two teams, including a very talented Ducks team refuse to give up on the game. At 9:01 Brad Richards extended the Stars lead to 5-1 on a tip-in goal from Steve Ott and Trevor Daley. Scott Niedermayer would draw final blood on Marty Turco with a power play goal at 10:35. Assisting on the goal were Chris Pronger and Ryan Getzlaf.

Surprisingly enough Anaheim outshot Dallas 30-26. Dallas’ Marty Turco seemed to regain some confidence in himself and his team with the win, especially with a talented goalie like J.S. Giguere across from him being lit up, and replaced by back-up Jonas Hiller. Both Hiller and Giguere faced 13 shots; Hiller stopped 12 while Giguere stopped 9.

“I’ve been working hard and we’ve been through some rough patches, I wasn’t myself, but tonight is a step in the right direction,” Turco said. “Parrish was really good tonight obviously and I think playing the Ducks here brings out the best in us tonight. It’s important to get a win no matter what and build on this moving forward.”

Other Stars News:

- Dallas’ Sergei Zubov recorded 21:09 worth of ice time and seemed more than ready to be back on the ice.

- Mark Parris appears to have been paired on a second line with Sean Avery and Brad Richards.

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

Original Image: Courtesy of Yahoo Sports via Getty Images

Quotes: Courtesy of Dallas Stars website

Original Boxscore: Courtesy of NHL.com

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sharks Grit Out Win, Stay Unbeaten at Home

Thursday night, the Sharks faced a St. Louis Blues team that had lost three in a row, including a thrashing at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks the night before.

In that game, they lost their leading scorer, Paul Kariya. They had spent their back-up goalie, Chris Mason. Their starter, Manny Legace, is out thanks to the carpet used for vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin to drop the ceremonial first puck. (In a swing state, that could have cost them the election.) The Blues also started the season without young star defenceman Erik Johnson, and have two other players on injured reserve.

The Sharks were only without Marcel Goc and Jody Shelley, whose wife gave birth to their first child, Owen. Alexei Semenov filled in on the left wing of the fourth line.

The Blues are also in the middle of a road trip two time zones away from their home. They had to fly back to Southern California after the game to play Los Angeles this weekend. Wednesday night, they could not fly into San Jose after their loss to Anaheim because of the city's rules about late night flights, so they had to fly into Oakland and bus into San Jose.

This always has me wondering, why don't teams stay in a hotel in the city they're in and fly into the new town the next day? That way they get a good night's sleep instead of napping on the plane and maybe bus before getting to a hotel exceptionally late and perhaps having their sleep disrupted by the naps. I would do this even if there were not restrictions on flying into a city.

Thus, with so many obstacles for a team that was not a match for the Sharks on paper, a win was required; a blowout should have been expected. Early on, it was clear that was not going to be the case.

Just 3:17 into the first period, one of the Blues players was kicking at a puck under Evgeni Nabokov, and Semenov took exception; his reaction drew a penalty for roughing. Half-way through it, Rob Blake was called for hooking.

With four seconds left in the ensuing five-on-three penalty, the Blues' Keith Tkachuk scored, ending Semenov's penalty. Ten seconds after Blake's penalty expired, Lee Stepniak extended the Blues' lead with a one-timer goal off a beautiful feed from Patrik Berglund.

As many of you remember, I have been brutal regarding Semenov being a waste of salary, roster space, and just about everything else. So how do I feel about this penalty that led to a score?

I thought it was a great penalty. In fact, I thought it should not have even been necessary. How on earth can the officials justify letting a player kick at a goalie with sharp skates and the puck under their control? Shouldn't they have been concerned with that player's safety?

I'm glad someone was, and I'm even more glad it was Semenov. His play has been good the past three or four games, and I would like nothing more than to be wrong about his signing.

However, the Sharks were now left in a 2-0 hole just 6:30 into the game. Last season, the Blues only scored two goals in their four games against the Sharks combined. So how would the Sharks respond?

Just under three minutes later, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton did a little role-reversal. Marleau got to a Devin Setoguchi dump-in behind the net and fed Thornton for a one-timer just outside the crease; it was Joe's second goal of the season.

The Sharks dominated the second period as they have all season, out-shooting the Blues 12-3, but only scored once. On a power play 7:07 into the period, Rob Blake got his first goal of the season as he pinched in for a big slapshot of a loose puck that was a blocked Christian Ehrhoff shot.

The third period is when things got really strange. The Sharks came into the game as the league's least penalized team, but in two minutes, the Sharks got two penalties; fortunately for them, the Blues answered both with penalties of their own 10 and 32 seconds later. There was so much four-on-four time, it was like overtime had started 5:15 early.

And yes, this one went into overtime, but not without some more scoring. Andy McDonald scored on a wrap-around 7:56 into the third, Evgeni Nabokov's only soft goal in the 29 shots he faced.

Just over a minute later, Ryan Clowe put home a rebound of a Rob Blake shot that was redirected by Jeremy Roenick. But the game did not remain tied long--1:35 later, David Backes knocked a rebound of a Stepniak shot out of mid-air to regain the lead.

That lead looked like it might actually hold up, but during all the penalties late in the period, Clowe scored his second goal of the game. He took a Brad Lukowich feed from his backhand to his forehand while Setoguchi occupied the defence in front of the net at a sharp angle, and rung a shot off the inside of the far post. Setoguchi got credit for a secondary assist; it was Lukowich's third consecutive game with an assist.

Both teams went scoreless in the extra period, but the shootout was drama-filled. The Sharks sent their best two shooters to start, Joe Pavelski and Jeremy Roenick. Both failed to score.

Meanwhile, Andy McDonald beat Nabokov on the first shot. This meant that if Nabokov failed to stop the next shot, the Sharks perfect home record would be lost. He faced former Shark and goal scorer extraordinaire Brad Boyes, and forced him wide on the backhand.

Next up for the Sharks was defenceman Dan Boyle, who had to score in order for the Sharks to stay alive. He put a great deke on rookie goaltender and former University of Maine standout Ben Bishop for the Sharks first goal in the shootout.

But the Sharks were still facing elimination, as Nabby had to stop the next shot to go into sudden death. For whatever reason, Blues coach Mike Kitchen sent David Perron up next, and when Nabby stopped him (nearly sliding back into the net to make the goal count anyway), Kitchen sent Berglund with the game on the line. No Keith Tkachuk, no David Backes, no Lee Stepniak.

By contrast, Sharks coach Todd McLellan knew who to put out: Ryan Clowe. He had scored the biggest two goals of the game and now netted the potential winner in the shootout, just as long as Nabby could stop Berglund.

Nabby came out aggressively to stop him, stopping between the face-off dots before setting up to stop the shot. As Berglund tried to go back to Nabby's left to get an angle to shoot around him, Nabby extended his left leg and forced the shot wide.

Unfortunately, in the process he twisted his knee, and he put no weight on the leg until he reached the tunnel, and then limped badly. By not putting Nabokov on injured reserve, one might speculate that the injury is not serious enough for him to miss more than a week.

The team has officially revealed only a "lower body injury," but they sent Jamie McGinn down to the minors and recalled Tomas Greiss and Brad Staubitz. Thus, it is safe to assume the injury is significant enough for Nabby to be out for at least the next couple games.

Brian Boucher has shutouts in his only two appearances this season, so the team should not be hurt much in the short-term without Nabby. However, they host Dallas Saturday and then travel to Phoenix Sunday, and may have to rely on Greiss or a tired Boucher for the second game.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ryan Clowe Gets Howe Hat Trick

When asked if I think Wayne Gretzky was the greatest hockey player of all-time, I always say, "no, Gordie Howe was!"

How can I say that when I never saw the man play? Because no one else in the history of hockey had his level of grit, skill, and intimidation.

The man did it all: he checked, he passed, he scored, he even fought. Hence, the Gordie Howe hat trick: a goal, an assist, and a fight that in my mind must be won, because Gordie would have won it.

Now, I have never played organized hockey. On the pond, I was a very good skater, a big hitter, and needed to tussle more than a few times because either I didn't like someone else's hit or they didn't like mine. And I could pass.

But I could never score goals. I had two one game, and nearly got a third. But that was a fluke as I rarely scored one and never again scored two.

Because of my lack of goal-scoring ability, a regular hat trick would have been much more of an accomplishment for me than the Howe Trick. A fight victory was not that rare, and an assist commonplace.

I never got either hat trick, but despite the increased difficulty of the regular hat trick, the only one I ever wanted was the Gordie Howe. Show me a guy that can do all three phases of the game, and that's the guy I want to go to war with.

Ryan Clowe is that guy. Tuesday, in front of a non-sellout crowd as fans no doubt were watching the historic election that had a chance to have had the highest turnout in a century, Clowe got the first Gordie Howe hat trick I have witnessed by a Sharks player, and the tenth in franchise history.

With a 1-0 deficit and 2:39 left in the opening period, Clowe took a feed from new linemate Tomas Plihal and put a wrist shot off of Mike Grier for the assist. The score remained tied until the 3:11 of third period, when Jamie McGinn got his second NHL goal to give the Sharks the lead.

Then a mere 2:14 later, Clowe pounced on his own blocked shot attempt and wristed it past the exceptional Niklas Backstrom for the goal. Assists went to Grier and Brad Lukowich, who after failing to score in the Sharks' first 11 games has now scored in two in a row.

The last leg of the Howe trick came 3:55 later, when he fought the man who had blocked his initial shot on his goal, Erik Reitz. The fight was competitive, especially before Clowe got Reitz's visored helmet off, but in the end, Clowe was on top of Reitz who was on the ice. Clowe had the trifecta.

More impressive was the Sharks ability to turn it on in the third period, something lacking in their past few games. They outshot Minnesota 22-5 in the third and 49-24 for the game. Their 49 shots tied a franchise record on home ice and was one shot off the franchise record they tied in Florida this year.

Minnesota was without offensive superstar Marion Gaborik, defenceman Brent Burns, and former Shark Owen Nolan. The Sharks next game is Thursday, 7:30pm PST, at HP Pavilion against the St. Louis Blues.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sharks Struggle to Beat Avs

The San Jose Sharks came into Sunday's contest leading the league in fewest shots allowed, were second in the league in shots on goal, and had the best shot differential.

Sunday, for only the second time this season, they were outshot in this game (36-29). For the second game in a row, they were outshot in the third period. This time it was 18-7; against Detroit the difference was 14-6. The Sharks still managed to keep up with both on scores (two a piece Sunday, one a piece Thursday).

It is still a point of contention in the locker room: "We've got to have better third periods," said Devin Setoguchi. "They were putting on the pressure and we didn't match their work ethic."

When dealing with a group as successful as the Sharks have been so far this season, the coaching staff needs to seek for things like this to have the team work on in order to maintain their focus. The Sharks are tied for the league lead in wins with 10 and are just one point behind the New York Rangers, who have played two more games. Only Montreal has more of their potential points (.850 vs. .833).

The game was relatively penalty-free, with the Sharks taking three penalties and the Avs taking two, one of which came six seconds into their first power play. However, it featured a lot of end-to-end action and frequent scoring chances and rebound opportunities that were not cleared and made the goalies statistics look worse than they played.

Late in the game, Nabokov made multiple saves as Colorado kept the pressure on. This may have been Nabby's best game this season, and he should be a fugitive in Colorado after his theft of this victory.

The Sharks got out to an early lead with a slapshot goal by Milan Michalek at 7:02 of the first. Brad Lukowich got his first point as a Shark with the headman pass to Joe Pavelski, who got a cross-ice feed between a defender's legs to Michalek streaking across the blueline.

Exactly two minutes later, Devin Setoguchi punched a loose puck past an out-of-position Peter Budaj, who had to slide out to confront a breaking Christian Ehrhoff. Ehrhoff got the puck to Joe Thornton, who shot it toward the net; Joe was not credited with a shot on goal, so Setoguchi must have gotten his stick on it before it reached Budaj.

Six shots, two goals. But Colorado had a quick answer: Jordan Leopold shot a rocket from the point off a Peter Stasny face-off win past a partially screened Nabokov with 5:36 left in the first.

The Sharks best period was once again the second, as they were even with Colorado in shots at 12. At one point, they controlled the puck in Colorado's end for 1:17 with Ryan Clowe able to hold the puck along the boards, allowing the Sharks to get the only line change in the shift.

San Jose also scored the only goal of the period. With 7:17 left, Setoguchi got his second goal on a beautiful feed from Joe Thornton near the net. Captain Patrick Marleau had a secondary assist on the play, and leads the Sharks in points with 12 (6 G, 6 A); he is also second at +7 (Ehrhoff is +8).

Colorado came out the third dominating play against the Sharks third line. Just over a minute into the period, San Jose had to ice the puck; on the ensuing face-off, Milan Hejduk was able to intercept a clearing attempt and put it in behind a defenseless Evgeni Nabokov. Wojtek Wolski and Joe Sakic were credited with assists.

Michalek got his second goal of the game (he has eight career two-goal games, but no hat tricks) at 5:44 of the period, fighting off the defence to knock home a rebound of a Jonathan Cheechoo shot. Rob Blake got a secondary assist on that goal.

But the see-saw battle continued, as Colorado pulled to within one again with 6:19 left as John-Michael Liles got his second goal of the game, a wrister past Nabokov, with assists to Hejduk and Sakic. Ryan Clowe ended the scoring with his first non-power play goal of the season, a rebound of a Mike Grier shot in which Marleau got another secondary assist.

The Sharks next game is Election Night at HP Pavilion against the Minnesota Wild, 7:30pm PST.