Saturday, May 2, 2009
This afternoon I made an exception and stayed on KNBR because they were discussing the interview, and it is so rare that they talk about a team I care about.
I am not much of an NBA fan because its officiating is a joke and I am not much of a baseball fan because of the tilted playing field. They are much more likely to talk about those sports than hockey. Even if I were to follow a team in those sports, it would be the Milwaukee Bucks and Brewers who I grew up watching, for I am a Cheesehead.
Which also means I do not care about the sorry Oakland Raiders or even that much about my wife's team, the San Francisco Forty-Niners. For a Packers fan, there is little room in our hearts to love any team other than the only non-profit professional sports team in the world, and the only team owned by the community.
But there is no NHL hockey team in Wisconsin, so there was one team I could adopt from my new home I hope to stay in, the glorious Bay Area: the San Jose Sharks. So even though I am upset at the team for not caring as much as I do, I stayed with KNBR.
See, it is not that these two guys do not know sports or are not entertaining. It is not even that I am some Christian prude who cannot handle the locker room humour and worldly mentality that the two play to; I know that plays well to their mainstream audience and besides, I used to be in those locker rooms.
It is that they do not know hockey well enough. Even more than that, it is that they measure the Sharks by the pitiful competition in the Bay Area.
Case in point: "Let that be a lesson to you other Bay Area teams—don't make the playoffs, 'cause if you do, you better win the whole thing" or face an unreasonable response what at another point of the show they called "reactionary fans."
So let me get this straight: I am supposed to settle for regular season success just because no other Bay Area team can manage even that? And I am reactionary because I am upset that the Sharks have a losing post-season record over the four years since the lockout, thrice losing to lower seeded opponents and twice to an eight seed?
Oh, man, you are right—that is unreasonable! Four chances is hardly giving them a chance—you know the saying, "five strikes and you're out." And after all, who will remember the post-season success of a team that had so many wins in the regular season?
Quick, can you tell me who the most recent President's Trophy winners have been? Let me give it a shot as far back as I can without looking it up:
* 2009: San Jose Sharks
* 2008: Detroit Red Wings
* 2007: Buffalo Sabres
* 2006: Detroit Red Wings
Okay, that's as far as I can go. I think Tampa Bay may have won the year before the lockout, but I am not sure. I think Detroit won it in either 2002 or 2003. But I can name off the following past Cup winners:
* 2008: Detroit Red Wings
* 2007: Anaheim Ducks
* 2006: Carolina Hurricanes
* 2004: Tampa Bay Lightning
* 2003: New Jersey Devils
* 2002: Detroit Red Wings
* 2001: Colorado Avalanche
* 2000: New Jersey Devils
* 1999: Dallas Stars (not really—Hull absolutely was in the crease)
* 1998: Detroit Red Wings
* 1997: Detroit Red Wings
* 1996: Colorado Avalanche
* 1995: New Jersey Devils
* 1994: New York Rangers
I am pretty sure the winner the year before was Montreal, but it might have been in '92...and you get the picture anyway...final score: Lord Stanley's Cup 14, President's Trophy 4. Looks kinda like the combined score of the Sharks' first-round tilt with Anaheim.
But I am the guy being unreasonable.
Here is a further look at how wrong that opinion is: http://thehockeywriters.com/sharks-heart-not-into-this-relationship/. That is why I could not take their stupidity anymore and turned off the radio.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
They will be following fellow forwards Tomas Plihal and Claude Lemieux, who rejoined the team for Tuesday's win over Colorado. The Sharks also recently saw Marcel Goc, Rob Blake, and Jeremy Roenick return.
At one time or another, 12 different players spent time out for injuries in March, with Dan Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov, and Brad Lukowich also spending games in street clothes. The team has maintained that it expects all players healthy for the playoffs.
Just in time, too. The Sharks have two games left in the regular season, and the playoffs will start next Wednesday or Thursday. You always want to have a few games in for each player before the intensity ramps up, and at least they will have two or three to regain their rhythm.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, neither team they face has much left to play for, and that may make that intensity gap wider. Phoenix is trying to be one of the few teams in the league, and only one in the division, to not lose the season series with the Sharks. Los Angeles, where the Sharks end the regular season on Saturday, is trying to avoid being swept by the Sharks.
This leaves only centre Torrey Mitchell, who was injured early in training camp, and defenceman Ken Huskins, acquired minutes before the trade deadline, on the list. The problem for Huskins and Mitchell is that neither has played a minute this season with their current team.
But at least we know there are a number of players that can step up should the Sharks injury woes strike again in the post-season: 30 players got 10 or more games on the ice, and of the 28 skaters, only one posted a rating lower than -7 with the Sharks. That's the kind of depth that can help a team hoist the Stanley Cup.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
San Jose plays three at home and three on the road, but three of those games are against teams not even in the playoff hunt. Detroit plays tougher competition down the stretch, but four of their last six are at home. However, Detroit dropped a home game recently to the New York Islanders, who possess the worst record in the NHL.
Their struggles are not alone among the NHL’s elite. Calgary has fallen out of first in the Northwest, Chicago has been struggling for some time, and even New Jersey (my pick to win it all) has dropped five of six since Martin Brodeur became the winningest goalie in NHL history.
Meanwhile, the Sharks are beginning to show moxie. Against Calgary, they won despite being out-shot because of incredible goaltending and disciplined, fundamental hockey. They also have battled through without a healthy roster, with their injury report reaching ten players and including key members like Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe, and Rob Blake.
They are supposed to be at full strength by the playoffs, and perhaps the adversity will have them better prepared for it. In years’ past, the knock on them is that they choke under pressure, and that has led to premature playoff exits.
In reality, the problem with the Sharks in previous playoffs has had little to do with traditional examples we often ascribe to choking. The reality is the Sharks have been a team lacking experience in a key position: the blue line.
The last three seasons, the Sharks had no more than one defenceman dressed who was at least 30 years of age. Meanwhile, coach Ron Wilson was relying on players who could not grow a playoff beard. Christian Ehrhoff, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Matt Carle were all under 25.
When a defenceman who has little big game experience is put in a pressure-packed situation—i.e. an elimination game on the road in overtime with a forward pressuring you as you dig the puck out of the corner—the chance of a mistake is exponentially higher than with an established veteran. That is what makes this year's team different: the Sharks have Dan Boyle, Brad Lukowich, and Rob Blake in that position, all of whom are over 30.
More importantly, between them they have four Stanley Cup rings. They have been there, and are not going to get flustered in those high-pressure situations. Beyond that, the system new coach Todd McLellan has implemented does not put as much burden on the blue line. Wilson relied on the unit to always be in position, and any mistakes were thus magnified. McLellan encourages his defence to jump up into the play and create scoring opportunities.
This works on two levels. First, it helps the team score more, making each opposition goal allowed less devastating. Second, it mandates that forwards pay attention to players jumping in and cover for them, spreading the responsibility of defence among five players instead of two.
The Sharks blue line now is at or near the top of the league in shots, goals, and points. This has taken some pressure off the forwards for scoring, and the team has been in the top three in the league in scoring pretty much all season because of it. While defence does indeed win championships, the top ten teams in the league in point percentage all average three or more goals per game.
This is not Ron Wilson’s Sharks, so we have every reason to think things will be different this May. Then again, in 2006 we thought Joe Thornton made the team different. In 2007, we thought Bill Guerin would. In 2008, it was Brian Campbell…
But teams that have to mid-season makeovers rarely win the Cup; this team has been together the entire season.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Against the Los Angeles Kings, who are desperately fighting to stay alive for the playoffs, Nabby was dynamite in his first day back. The only goal he gave up in 24 shots was a rebound Wayne Simmonds punched home, and he stopped six of seven shooters in the shootout. He even turned away a two-on-none shorthanded breakaway.
But Erik Ersberg was better, stopping 38 of 39 shots, with the only goal being a Milan Michalek redirect of a shot-pass by Joe Pavelski. He also turned away five of seven shots in the shootout--not enough to avoid the loss, but that was only because his teammates, coming off a game the previous night in Vancouver, could not match the fresher legs and superior talent of their opponents.
Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich returned for that game, but Christian Ehrhoff was held out because of a "lower-body tweak." Then on Sunday, having to play less than 20 hours after completing the previous grueling contest and after a late-night flight, the line-up was the same. Including in net.
So after not having played for two and a half weeks, Nabby is expected to play for 125 minutes-plus in under 25 hours. Foolish.
The last time Nabby played in back-to-back games, the Sharks lost 6-0 to Detroit. I pointed out in my recap article that he has not been very successful in those outings.
But in this one, Nabby was even better. Anaheim's fresher legs staked them to a 12-7 edge in shots in the first period, and they held that five-shot edge through two. But with about a minute left in that period, Jamie McGinn backhanded a pass through the middle that former Duck Travis Moen deflected over Jonas Hiller's shoulder.
That one goal was all Nabby needed. He stopped all 34 shots he saw, and endured some abuse at the hands of Corey Perry, who in keeping with the thuggish approach of the Ducks, whacked at a puck Nabby had covered after the whistle.
Maybe it wasn't so foolish to play him after all. He stole two games to keep the Sharks within a point of Detroit with two games in hand. Thanks to Nabby, the Sharks still have the best point percentage in the league and are still in the driver's seat for the President's Trophy.
My biggest complaints for the Sharks of late has been not playing with the desperation of their opponents. But there was no problem with the effort this weekend. They out-shot the Kings 38-24 and hung in there on the road against a team who had not played for five days, even though there were less than 20 hours between games.
This is a good sign because the Sharks finish the season with 34 games in 66 days before entering the grueling Western Conference playoffs, in which they are likely to play a lot of long series. They have shown they can muster the energy and clamp down on defence.
But they are not going to face teams like Anaheim, who has lost too much talent to overcome four teams and three points in their final 13 games. Even if they somehow make it in, they are certainly not going to be there in the second round, when the Sharks need to break their jinx.
The Sharks have now become the first team in the league to clinch a playoff birth. They are one point away from clinching the division title. They are a lock to be at least a two seed, since they seven and a half games ahead of Calgary. They are even likely to finish ahead of Detroit thanks to having two more games to play.
At the same time, if they want to win in the playoffs, they will have to figure out how to score. Excluding the shootout, the Sharks have scored just 19 goals in 11 games, and just 18 in regulation.
It is amazing that they are 5-5-1 in that stretch, but only two of the teams in that stretch will be in the playoffs, and they can't blame the scoring on injuries: Rob Blake was the only player out to have scored over 22 points, and he only missed two games. They have even failed in their last 16 power play attempts.
They have 14 games to figure out their scoring. If they cannot, they will get no further than they have in the past three seasons.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Perhaps their view is that I am all-too quick to assume that every problem is systemic, not isolated. And I will agree with them that every team has problems, so are ours so much worse?
Not worse than Detroit's. The only reason I would rather be Detroit than San Jose right now is that I would currently have the Cup, a legitimate chance to keep it, and there would be no monkey on my back. But they absolutely do not have as good a chance of repeating as we have of taking it from them, because they have serious problems in net and their defence is thus not the Cup-worthy one they entered last post-season with.
Not worse than Boston's. The Bruins have an even larger monkey on their backs than San Jose, who at least routinely makes it to the second round. They have some of Detroit's questions in net, with two goalies who have limited playoff success and prior to this season were not consistent. There are questions about resiliency, since this year they have rarely come back from a third period deficit.
Not even worse than Calgary's. The Flames have this made for the playoffs mystique that facts simply do not back up. They made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004, but since have not made it out of the first round.
Chicago and Washington have no playoff experience. The Rangers and Canadiens are a mess and might not even make the playoffs. Vancouver has not made it out of the second round in two U.S. presidential administrations. Pittsburgh started so far back that their road is going to be tough, they are still young, their roster has morphed leaving questions about how they will gel, and they are not a great defence.
Does that pretty much cover it? No, it leaves out New Jersey. That is why I picked them to win it all.
They have an experienced and dominant goalie who will be rested and have a good offence in front of him for the first time in his three-time champion career. They have an upgraded blueline and a system that enabled them to retain the third-best defence in the Eastern Conference despite the loss of their Hall of Fame goalie for more than half the season.
Are they unbeatable? No. Are the Sharks the most likely team to do it? Yes.
But my problems with the Sharks continue. The reason I think they are indicative of larger issues is that there are similarities of this team and last year's.
Both teams had such success (last year after the trade for Campbell, this year up until January) that they could believe they would inevitably win. This leads to the team not playing a full sixty minutes, and that is a bad habit to get into.
Playoff teams are opportunistic, especially those that make it into the second round. They take advantage of those lapses, and a goal surrendered (and along with it, momentum) is harder to make up for than it is in the regular season against lesser competition.
Last season, the Sharks laid an egg in their first game hosting Dallas, then seemed to assume it wouldn't happen again—it did. One of those games was lost because Patrick Marleau jumped out of the way of a Mike Modano power play shot instead of blocking it, in the process screening his goalie, it exemplified how the team's lack of dedication.
The round before, the Sharks were flat in a couple games. In one, they jumped out to a three-goal lead over Calgary and relaxed. The Flames responded by taking it to the Sharks physically, and fought their way back to a 4-3 win because San Jose was unable to recapture the momentum. The series became a seven-game meat-grinder that left them worn down, leading to a 3-0 second-round series deficit for a team too battered to come back from that hole.
Fast-forward to 2009. The Sharks did the same thing in this game, the first time they blew a three-goal lead in the regular season in 13 years. I have written a recap of the game for The Hockey Writers.
Let me make it clear: this is not just about losses. Every team goes through losing streaks, and every team has bad months.
In the playoffs, I would apply Vince Lombardi's famous quote, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." But for the regular season, I would use his less famous theme, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."
How you play shows how ready you are, and this team is not ready. To showcase their problems, I go back to three games before they started losing.
The Sharks have played 19 games since their big win over Detroit January 17, and have struggled in 14 of them despite going 9-5-5. (In the playoffs, that is 9-10.) Here are the highlights of their struggles in this stretch prior to Thursday's loss:
1. They did not show up until late in the third period against Vancouver and were bailed out by Evgeni Nabokov, scoring only on a last minute (literally) goal with him pulled before winning in overtime.
2. Ilja Bryzgalov, who trails Evgeni Nabokov with the 28th-best save percentage and the 33rd GAA, stops 27 of 28 shots he faces.
3. They came out flat against Chicago at home, giving up a goal on their first shift, ending their 13-game winning streak over their foes, and taking just their second home loss in regulation, 4-2.
4. They blew a 2-0 lead against Carolina to lose their second straight game at home.
5. They gave up multiple goals in the first period in Columbus, and were unable to recover from it; it was the first of five consecutive games in which they allowed the first goal.
6. It took them over 50 minutes to score their only goal against Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 21st in save percentage and 25th in GAA.
7. They gave up three early goals to Buffalo, then blew a lead with seconds to go, promptly losing in a shootout.
8. They gave up another three goals in the first period and six goals for the game in New Jersey, including a third period lead for the second game in a row.
9. It took more than two periods to score at home against the second-worst team in the league and another mediocre goalie (Kari Lehtonen, 29th in save percentage and 40th in GAA).
10. They managed just 24 shots and one goal against a Dallas squad that had four of their top six players out with injury or illness.
11. They were dominated 4-1 in Detroit by Ty Conklin, who is ranked 17th in save percentage.
12. They were held scoreless for 58:42 of a game against Alex Auld, ranked 25th in save percentage, scoring only on the power play.
13. Once again, San Jose surrenders three first period goals and cannot score more than twice on 48 shots against back-up goalie Jaroslav Halak (20th in save percentage, 32nd in GAA).
14. Manage just 25 shots and one goal while surrendering four at home to a Dallas team coming off a five-game losing streak on their six game homestand.
So why is everyone still so confident? Here are several excuses I have heard:
* The Sharks have players out with injury. Okay, so why has Dallas, missing much more than the Sharks (who are only without role-players), managed to get back into the playoff chase? And are we expecting the team to be healthy in the playoffs, or are we only going to expect the Stanley Cup if they are?
* We've run into some great goaltending. At what point does the cavalcade of mediocre goalies stumping the Sharks start to become an offensive problem instead of opposing goalie play? Because in nine of these 19 games, the Sharks have failed to score more than two goals.
* It's just a temporary funk. Is six wins in 16 games (20 percent of the season) a temporary funk or a pattern forming?
* This team is not the one who lost the last three years. True, but it looks awfully similar at this point.
* They are still the best team in the league. Okay, but in 2006, the Sharks were the best team in the league after acquiring Joe Thornton. In 2008, the Sharks were the best team in the league after acquiring Brian Campbell. The more things change, the more they stay the same...
* The regular season means nothing in the playoffs. I go back to patterns that exist now that have been our undoing in playoffs past. Todd McLellan always talks about the process and playing sound hockey because he knows the games do matter.
* They're still getting points in a lot of those losses. Are there any rewards for overtime losses in the playoffs? Isn't the playoffs what really matter? 'Nuff said.
* They lost a lot of those games on the road. Yes, but they have lost four of their last seven at home, too.
* We still have one of the best road records in the league. True, but we have fewer quality wins on the road than they have home losses (see here). And that record includes overtime losses as a plus, which as I said, means nothing in the playoffs.
* These difficulties test them, force them to scrap, and prepare them for the playoffs. HERE I WILL AGREE, and if we can solve these problems in the next five weeks, we will return to our status as an irresistible force.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
The 2009 NHL Trade Deadline started off slow but really picked up at the end. The Phoenix Coyotes were one of the busiest teams on the day, making a total of four trades. The moves will be significant in both the present and the future of the franchise.
Who got the better end? .
The Flyers welcome one of the league’s premier enforcers. He currently leads the NHL in penalty minutes, something he did last year as well, as a rookie. Although he is not having the best offensive season, he doesn’t have the worst hands. I still think he is capable of scoring 20 goals a season.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Moen, 26, will be able to fill in for Mike Grier on the penalty kill, but not as well as Ian Laperriere, 35, would have. He has neither the experience or offensive capabilities, coming in with just 12 points to Laperriere's 17. He adds the feistiness the team lacks, but does so without honour: Moen is the one who viciously attacked one-armed agitator Steve Ott Saturday. But he does have his name on the Stanley Cup.
It is hard to see Huskins, 29, playing unless there are injuries on the blueline or coach Todd McLellan decides to dress seven defencemen. He has two goals and four assists, as well as a +6 rating, in limited action, having missed half the season with an injury. He is +26 for his young career, showing that he does not make mistakes. However, he does not have Douglas Murray's hitting abilities or any other of the top six defencemen's offensive skills.
Ducks Trade D Steve Montador to the Boston Bruins for F Petteri Nokelainen.
I'll have more info on this with some analysis and the rest of the days items as the deadline passes.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
“Both are going to be out an extended period,” said Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan.
In order to help shore up the front lines, Brad Staubitz and Lukas Kaspar were called up. Staubitz was in San Jose for the morning skate and skated in a line with Tomas Plihal and Jonathan Cheechoo. The top two lines remained in tact, but it appeared the third line could have a mix of Alexei Semenov, Claude Lemieux, Jody Shelley or Kaspar.
With Evgeni Nabokov still battling a bit of the flu, McLellan will put Brian Boucher in net for the evening’s match up against the Dallas Stars.
“Nabby won’t go tonight,” said McLellan, noting that his No. 1 will still be able to backup. “We wanted to play Boucher more and with Nabby not 100 percent, now is the time.”
This simply makes my suggested trades all the more necessary. The Sharks will have to replace Grier's defence and penalty-killing, as well as Roenick's fire. Ian Laperriere provides both.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Those of you who see the glass as only half-full will tell me that is a .500 road record in February, better than half the teams in the NHL. However, I recognize that a glass that is half-full is also half-empty (and vice-versa).
Overtime losses mean nothing in the playoffs. Excluding all shootouts since they won't happen in the playoffs either, the Sharks are 14-11 on the road. That is not bad, but the following teams among those 14 legitimate wins are not likely to make the playoffs: Kings, Avalanche (twice), Lightning, Predators, Coyotes, Blues, and Senators.
In addition, the Stars (thrice), and Oilers are bubble teams. That's 12 of the 14 legit wins, leaving two of 25 games against quality foes in which San Jose has won on the road without a shootout—eight percent.
The reason the Sharks struggle against the better teams so much is you cannot get away with starting out in a big hole against good teams. This spells seven-game series after the first round (when they will face a bubble team that skated into the post-season) in which San Jose will have to win every home game to win the series or get one of their eight percent quality wins; with nine games, the odds of getting just one such win are 47.2 percent.
Fortunately, the Sharks have won 25 of their 29 home games that did not go to a shootout. But of those 25 games, six came against teams that are not going to make the playoffs (Blues, Kings, Islanders, Thrashers, Lightning, and Maple Leafs) and nine came against bubble teams (two against both the Blue Jackets and Ducks, and one more against the Oilers, Wild, Stars, Rangers, and Penguins).
That means only 10 of 14 non-shootout home wins were against the kinds of teams the Sharks will face after the first round. At that ratio, winning all 12 of their home games in order to win the Stanley Cup is only a 1.8 percent chance.
That's why the Sharks need a trade. They have a 52.8 percent chance of losing all their road games after the first round and, if they do, only a 1.8 percent chance of winning all their home games. All because they do not play for 60 minutes away from the Shark Tank.
They need someone to hold them accountable. They need someone who can win a fight, instead of losing one as Jody Shelley always seems to do, sometimes giving momentum to the other team. They need an energy guy and a leader for both of the checking lines, and they currently have only Jeremy Roenick on the fourth.
So who should the Sharks acquire? They do not need a defenceman, because that would knock someone playing well out of the lineup.
Thus, the following is a list of forwards the Sharks should look at and some potential trades that would work; those at the bottom of the list I would support only because they might shake up the team without destroying its chemistry:
1. Ian Laperriere is a 35-year old player on the worst team in the West in the last year of his contract. They will take almost anything for him, and the Sharks could give away any draft picks it takes. The obstacle for this trade is Laperriere's salary: according to Hockeybuzz.com, Ian's contract is $1.15 million, and the Sharks only have $24,166 in cap space. Even at the deadline, the Sharks would be responsible for over $250,000 of that money. Perhaps The Avs would take Shelley off our hands because he is a younger enforcer under contract next year. Or they might want Lukas Kaspar or Tomas Plihal; then the Sharks would only have to dump Claude Lemieux (let's face it, that experiment has not yielded results) to clear space.
2. Toronto may be a willing partner, and they have two players of the appropriate age and style: Brad May and Jamal Mayers. May would come cheaply enough that the Sharks would only need to dump Lemieux, but would not add much but grit to the team. Mayers would cost a bit more in salary than Laperriere, and offer less; if there is a trade with Toronto, it would probably be for May.
3. Atlanta does have Marty Reasoner, who is a good penalty killer over 30 with some scoring punch in the last year of his contract; he might not fit in the long-term plans of the Thrashers, and costs about the same as Laperriere. The Sharks could go in a different direction with their trade, adding scoring. If this is the decision, Atlanta is a good partner, as well: Jonathan Cheechoo, who has struggled to produce consistently, could be traded for Slava Kozlov, Atlanta's third best scorer. However, I would not do this, as Cheech is younger and better defensively; San Jose would also have to dump Lemieux to get under the cap.
4. Steven Reinprecht is an energy guy and penalty killer who can provide secondary scoring and is good in the faceoff circle. He is also over 30 and in the last year of his contract; perhaps Phoenix would let him go. The Sharks would need to dump more salary to make it work; however, trading Cheechoo for Reinprecht does not make sense unless you are going to use that cap space for another trade, and I doubt the Coyotes would throw young enforcer Dan Carcillo in like they might in my dreams, even if we send picks their way. (Carcillo is my kind of player and a perfect fit for the team.) They might throw Todd Fedoruk in, but I would want a draft pick swap that favours the Sharks in this case.
5. While Gary Roberts fits the Sharks' needs, his salary is too high to justify what the Sharks would have to give up. Mark Recchi does not add enough skill to make a difference at this stage of his career. But San Jose could look at Vaclav Prospal; similar to trading for Kozlov, this would require giving up Cheechoo and dumping Lemieux for a player that is more offence than defence.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Whitney, 26, (6'4 230) had 2 goals and 11 assists in 28 games last year, and has been slowed a bit by injuries. The young defender fills a gap the Ducks have beyond this season, in their defensive corps that stands to lose a large number of players to free-agency this off-season.
Kunitz was by far one of my Favorite Ducks, so thanks for the great years, Chris. Hope life w/ Crosby treats you well, you were a class act, and a great member of the Ducks in both the team and community.
Looks like the GM believes this is time to blow it up.
Monday, February 23, 2009
What a difference a week makes.
A week ago, this looked like an especially difficult trip. The Stars were surging toward what looked to be a certain fifth or sixth seed in the West, Detroit looked like it would challenge the Sharks for the top seed, Ottawa had won five straight through February 16, and Montreal had added Matthieu Schneider to their defence.
Now, the Stars have lost their best remaining skater, the Sharks lead over the Wings has grown to three games (three points plus three games in hand), and Ottawa has dropped three. Montreal's problems are the stuff of a bad movie: Alexei Kovalev being sent home for a couple games and the Kostitsyn brothers and Roman Hamrlik being linked to organized crime. (Maybe Hamrlik should have used that connection to sabotage Alex Ovechkin's skates before he made him look so bad.)
Perhaps more significantly, San Jose has four of its six injured players back for this trip. Defenceman Brad Lukowich has yet to play, but has been activated and took part in the pre-game skate before Saturday's game before the coaching staff decided to scratch him. Forwards Jody Shelley, Tomas Plihal, and Jeremy Roenick returned to play in that game.
Even an overtime/shootout loss Monday to Dallas would ensure a victory in that season series and keep the Sharks 12 games up on the second-place Stars, who would have just 23 games left to catch San Jose. You can see my preview of that game on The Hockey Writers.
The Sharks have a chance to mathematically ensure a playoff spot before the trade deadline if they win all four games on the trip and the first game back home against Dallas. While that is not likely, what looked like a trip in which the Sharks would be lucky to get three points now seems like one in which anything less than four would be a disappointment.
Look for San Jose to come away with five, beating Dallas and Ottawa and taking Montreal to a shootout. They will go into March still holding a two-point and two-game lead on the Red Wings and as many points as the Bruins, who they will have a game in hand on.
Friday, February 20, 2009
If the Kings and Sharks happen to meet in the playoffs...the playoff series winner trumps the regular season winner...got it?"
Those were your words in taking my Pacific Division Challenge, and disappearing from this site doesn't get you off the hook. Now that you cannot win the season series, when—er, if, your Kings don't make the playoffs, you owe me that post if you are a real man. If by some chance y'all DO make it in (in which case you are likely to play us, since it looks like we'll be the top seed or at least second, and you're unlikely to make it higher than eighth or maybe seventh), when—er, if, you lose, be ready with that 1000 words on our superiority.
As for the rest of you, none of you even had Dave's courage to take the challenge...
Hey' it's s'posed to be a trash-talking rivalry blog, so whaddya 'spect?
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Note: salary and expectations are not a factor in this determination, and thus does not measure over/under-achievement, but it does factor in how much they have to work with, which explains why Setoguchi is ranked below Pavelski and Clowe.
1. Doug Wilson: If this team does not start playing with more consistent urgency, don’t be afraid to make a change in personnel—we need the Cup this year because who knows what the chances will be in the future.
2. Todd McLellan and staff: Light a fire under these guys’ butts, because they are not focused enough! I hate to recommend techniques used by Ron Wilson, but occasionally calling someone out publicly might work if doing it in the locker room so far has not.
3. Patrick Marleau: Be more physical. You are big, play like it.
4. Joe Thornton: Shoot the puck more! People would give you more passing lanes if they had to respect the shot.
5. Dan Boyle: Don’t take so long to wind up on those great slapshots—it’s giving the opposition too much time to clog the shooting lanes.
6. Rob Blake: Your offence and leadership have been great, but you are in the penalty box too much.
7. Joe Pavelski: Your shootout efficiency has dropped, and with it the team’s last four competitions—we need you to be money again.
8. Ryane Clowe: You are my favourite player, but it is ridiculous that your linemate is more effective in traffic in front of the net when he is over 50 pounds lighter than you are.
9. Devin Setoguchi: You still need to keep working on attending to your defensive responsibilities more—don’t make the second-year mistake of cheating for offensive opportunities.
10. Marc-Eduoard Vlasic: Ron Wilson is not coaching this team anymore—you don’t have to be afraid of mistakes so much that you don’t get as involved as you could on the offensive end.
11. Milan Michalek: In your case, a well-placed roughing penalty might send a message on the league to stop picking on you.
12. Christian Ehrhoff: Remember to take something off that slapshot so you can put it somewhere that helps us. When your production disappeared mid-season, you were missing everything from the point. (Or stop whining about every penalty like you’ve never committed one—I’ll take either.)
13. Douglas Murray: Keep the hits coming, but you need to work on that shot!
14. Mike Grier: Stop putting useless shots right into the goalie—aim for a corner or the five-hole on some of those, or bounce one in front of him he needs to fight off.
15. Torrey Mitchell: Just get healthy already, and no more rushing your recovery, causing set-backs!
16. Jonathan Cheechoo: We need the guy that scores back, and you need to work on that until it is as casual as it was in 2006, ‘cause your in a real funk.
17. Brad Lukowich: I’d like to see you more involved in the offence when you finally return.
18. Tomas Plihal: Go to the net, young man, and you will get more points.
19. Marcel Goc: Make sure more of your shots are on net—you’ve blown a few big chances you worked hard to create by missing high and/or wide.
20. Jeremy Roenick: Can’t you bring the fire in the locker room or practice rink? ‘Cause this team lacks it, and Scott Parker used to motivate when he didn’t play.
21. Evgeni Nabokov: What the heck are you doing behind a bunch of people who have missed a bunch of games? Because you are not playing consistently, and if you can’t handle the workload, it is your responsibility to own up to that.
22. Jody Shelley: Too many teams are taking too many liberties with your teammates, and it’s time for you to make them more afraid to do so.
23. Alexei Semenov: See above, and work on your fighting—at your size, you should never lose.
24. Brian Boucher: You have been the team’s best netminder since coming over at last year’s trade deadline. Do whatever it takes to get a coach to put you in net, even if it means kissing butt!
25. Claude Lemieux: Get a point already, or at least do more enforcing.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
That win has been the only one in a seven game stretch in which the Sharks are 1-2-4. And do not tell me about them getting a point in four of five road games; remember, the goal is winning the Stanley Cup, and overtime losses are just losses after Easter.
They have surrendered the first goal in six of those seven games. They have squandered a third period lead in three of those seven games. They have committed more penalties than their opponents in four straight games.
The one in particular that bothers me is showing up late. How can you not be ready when the puck drops? You have the best team in the NHL, and are the odds-on favourite to win Lord Stanley's Cup playing teams that may be playoff bound—how can that NOT have you jazzed as soon as the puck drops?
Jeremy Roenick is what this team needs. He may not score anymore, but he could always be counted on to light the fire. Claude Lemieux has been unable to get his passion to spread through the team, perhaps because he has yet to get a single point in 10 games. JR might not score much, but this team has seen him score big goals for them and may get behind him and respond to him more readily.
If Roenick does not return soon by next week's road trip, the Sharks need to make a trade to get things going. They play three home games against two bubble teams and one of the worst teams in hockey this week. If they do not win them all, there is a huge problem.
But after that, they close the month with four road games against three playoff teams in six days. Just 1-1-4 so far this month, they will be lucky to finish February .500 and they will be lucky to still be in first in the conference, as one of those road games is against Detroit who is now just one point back (but two games behind in baseball terms, as they have played three more).
If I could suggest a trade, it would be great if we could get someone to take solid but overpaid Kyle McLaren off our hands along with a draft pick, but we would have to clear cap space to do pay the player we get in return. Any trade with McLaren would have to involve another player if it would bring San Jose help right now.
The next most logical trade candidate is Jonathan Cheechoo. It seems clear that Cheech is not going to return to his goal scoring form. He has been one of the league's three best goal scorers after the All Star break in the post-lockout era, but most of that came in his Richard Trophy season. He did finally score against New Jersey, but he is young enough and with a small enough contract ($3 million per year) to make him desirable enough for others.
I like Cheechoo. He always plays hard, and he is good defensively. But he is clearly not the scorer we paid him to be and we need someone on that third line who will put the puck in the net, because right now we only have two lines that can do that.
In return, we need a player with some fire. Even if he is old, since our goal is to win now. Someone like Sean Avery, but a little more evolved. I will be looking at candidates whose teams may be willing to move them in the coming two weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
That was exactly what they did for the game in Boston. In an interview after the game, Joe Thornton literally said, "We tweaked our game a bit" because of the previous struggles.
Thanks for listening, guys! It's nice to know you listen to me. I mean, a lot of fans wear shirts that say things like "San Jose Sharks Assistant Coach" because that's what they fancy themselves. But I guess being a community leader for the team brings real results!
(To show you the extent and limit of my ego, I don't really believe that, but I also don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility. Athletes and coaches read and write blogs, too.)
I have written a recap of the game for The Hockey Writers (I also have written a preview for the Penguins game; please hit the link and subscribe to my articles!), but I want to stress the five most significant accomplishments in Tuesday's victory in Boston:
1. The fact that the Sharks were able to take control of a game on the road in the third period
2. Bouncing back from the only three-game losing streak all season
3. Getting multi-point scoring performances from multiple sources
4. Taming a hot team
5. Winning against a quality opponent on the road with much of the hockey world watching
What is clear to me from this response is that the Sharks were indeed overlooking Columbus, and did indeed suffer a letdown following the match-up against Detroit. While this is disturbing, it does not suggest a team not ready for the playoffs.
It may in fact suggest a team more ready. Teams cannot play at full instensity for the 100-plus games it takes to win a Stanley Cup. Vancouver, Chicago, Carolina, and Columbus whom the Sharks struggled against after playing Detroit are all potential playoff opponents, but they are not likely to be overlooked in a playoff match-up.
It is much more important you win the big games than the little ones. Not only do you get the two points yourself, but you hurt the teams you beat in their quest to catch you. The Sharks have now won both "Games of the Year;" one in Boston and one at home versus Detroit.
I cannot wait for April!
Monday, February 9, 2009
Did you peak too early? Because the play of this team is far from inspired, and I am concerned.
Winning the Stanley Cup is the only thing that matters to me, and I what am I seeing tells me you are not ready to win the Cup. For instance:
1. You are not beating the teams that you are supposed to. Columbus came into Saturday's game with more losses than wins (an overtime/shootout loss is a loss), having played and traveled the night before, and with half the team sick or hurt, including its top three goalies. You were rested and had three players out, two of whom play on checking lines.
2. You do not consistently win the games you really need. You needed this one because you had two previous losses and were staring at four more games against teams either currently in the playoffs or who won the Eastern Conference last season; that one is on the second of back-to-back nights, to boot.
3. You have to avoid a long letdown after big games. Since beating Detroit January 17, you have been flat, particularly on offence. You have gotten only 13 shots past goalies in six games, losing three of them even though four of the six were at home.
4. You cannot have any one player indispensable, and it could be argued that some of the above trouble was because Dan Boyle was hurt for three games, during which only six shots beat a goalie.
5. You have gotten fat off the highest percentage of home games in the league, while playing the fewest number of games overall. This means you will have the most grueling travel schedule in the league over the remaining nine weeks.
Should you be hitting the panic button? Heck, no! There are 32 games left.
But there are concerns, and I think low expectations from fans lead to low expectations by teams. Ask players if letting down their guard is allowed in places like Montreal, where Stanley Cups are the only acceptable goal and regular season success is meaningless.
We all need to raise our expectations. We are sick of hearing about playoff chokes, whether justified or not. We must expect a level of performance that we know means you are ready for post-season success so those comments will not be heard again.
I bring these expectations to you because I expect you to play better. I expect you to play better because I know how good you are. Here is why I still believe in you:
1. You are top five in offence, defence, power play, and penalty kill. No other team can say that.
2. You have twice won games in the same week in which one required six-plus goals and the other was 2-1.
3. You win a lot of close games, going 15-2-7 in one-goal games.
4. You have overcome injuries to key players, including a stretch without two of your top four defencemen and another without your top goalie.
5. You have balanced scoring. Eight players have 30-plus goals and two more have at least two dozen; four of them are defencemen. An astounding 18 players have scored a game-winner, with only six doing so more than once.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
In the past few seasons the Phoenix Coyotes have always lacked offense. They have recently taken that lack of offense to a whole other level.
In the four games since the all-star break the Coyotes have scored a combined total of four goals. It is safe to say they lost all of those games. There are a few reasons why there is a lack of offense on the Coyotes behalf.
The first reason is their absolutely dreadful powerplay. Their powerplay currently ranks second last in the league with dismal 13.1% success rate. The Coyotes are currently on a 0-19 run on the powerplay. That is simply unacceptable.
Head Coach Wayne Gretzky had the team recently in practice work mainly on their weak powerplay, so far none of that work is showing.
One of the reasons their powerplay isn’t working like it should be is their lack of puck control. One of the best ways to gain puck control is by winning faceoff’s.
The Coyotes are the leagues worse faceoff team. They have a dismal 43.6% faceoff winning percentage. To put it in perspective the second worse face off team, the Dallas Stars have a full 5% higher faceoff winning percentage.
The Coyotes lack any real good faceoff men. It’s too bad they don’t have Yanic Perrault anymore because he could sure teach the Coyotes a thing or two on how to win a faceoff.
Another reason they are struggling to score goals is because they recently have had injuries to a couple of key offensive contributors. Both Peter Mueller and Steven Reinprecht are out with injuries.
They are currently third and fourth respectively on the Coyotes in points. The Coyotes sure do miss both of these key players.
Lastly the Coyotes are just not getting enough production of their star off season acquisition in Olli Jokinen. He is currently on pace for a 54 point season, his worst point total since the 2001-02 season.
That is just way too low for a guy who has the potential and has shown he can score 90+ points. He is not helping on the powerplay or at the faceoff dot either.
The NHL Western Conference is very tight especially from the fifth to the eighth position. If the Coyotes can’t start scoring more goals they can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Evgeni Nabokov had a 170-minute, 10-second shutout streak. It took only 48 seconds for the first to fall, as on a delayed penalty in the San Jose offensive zone, the Sharks failed to get possession of the puck.
Former Shark Brian Campbell skated into the attacking zone, dumped a pass to Andrew Ladd and attacked the net. Nabby saved his one-timer, but the rebound came to Shark-hunter Jonathan Toews (6 goals, 2 assists in 5 career games against the Sharks, including the first goal of his career) for the easy put-back.
A strange sequence followed in which it appeared Dave Bolland scored to give Chicago a two-goal lead just 10:59 into the game. But an obscure rule allowed for the referees to reverse the fourth penalty they failed to call on Chicago (they also let one go from the Sharks), and the goal was taken off the board.
Apparently, linesmen can only call majors and double-minors, but they can actually reverse the action that takes place after a non-call if there is any such penalty. Seeing that Jonathan Cheechoo had been bloodied, they reviewed video and assessed a penalty to Kris Versteeg.
Only trouble is, the penalty was commited by Toews, and the officials did not put the extra four or five seconds on the clock, either. Since they were already looking at video, why couldn't they see those two things?
And there are more questions:
1. With no explanation given over the microphone, we are forced to speculate on the nature of the decision. But since the review of video took a few minutes and the call was not made until it was completed, we can only assume it was video that brought the penalty. Why have I never seen this before, when many timesthere is this evidence?
2. How could Cheechoo coming back out of the tunnel with a cut be enough to make them get the call? Couldn't someone simply go cut themselves in the tunnel to get a call at a key time?
3. What difference does it make whether the high-sticking draws blood in deciding a penalty should be a double-minor? Is it not the action that is the infraction, not the result? And wouldn't it be worse if a slash broke my wrist than gave me a bloody nose, even though it would draw no blood? But then that is how the league issues discipline, too: if no one is hurt, you can do anything.
4. Why not allow the linesmen to call any penalties just like the referees? I understand they might not be watching for penalties as much as off-sides, but if they can make some calls, why not others? Wouldn't it make officiating better to have a another couple pairs of eyes in some situations?
In the resulting double-minor, the Sharks capitalized. About half-way through the first of the two minors, Joe Pavelski passed the puck from the point to Ryan Clowe on the half-boards, and he moved it to Chrstian Ehrhoff on the blue line right in the centre of the ice.
Ehrhoff's slapshot found its way through two Chicago defenders and two Sharks teammates screening Nicholai Khabibulin to tie the game. It was his second straight game with a power play goal, both with the Sharks primary man advantage weapon, Dan Boyle, out with an injury.
The power play has clearly suffered without Boyle. The Sharks are 3-14 (21.4 percent) in those three games, and while that is just two percent worse than the season overall, they also gave up a short-handed goal in this game.
Bolland got his point after all, picking up a shot that Ehrhoff heeled and racing in all alone. Ehrhoff tripped him in trying to dive and kick the puck away, making Nabby's save easy. But no one picked up Versteeg who put the rebound home uncontested.
Later saw another of the Sharks' streaks come to an end: three games without having given up a power play goal. That came with 3:45 left in the second and the Sharks having a man without a stick. Cam Barker passed the puck from the point to Patrick Kane, who got it to Toews on the doorstep to Nabby's glove side. Toews roofed a quick shot past Nabby as soon as he went down into the butterfly.
The Sharks gave up another power play goal to Duncan Keith (assists by Brent Seabrook and Versteeg) in the third period, but needed only ten seconds to respond. Pavelski won a faceoff to Blake, who passed the puck from the boards to the blue line, where a streaking Milan Michalek picked it up, split the defence, and skated in for the backhand breakaway goal.
Unfortunately five minutes later, it was clear the Sharks would have a couple other streaks end.
For one, they had a 13-game winning streak over Chicago dating back to 2005. They also were on a four-game winning streak—modest by their standards, but a streak nonetheless. That had helped them to an eight-point lead over the Detroit Red Wings, who are now mired in a five-game losing streak.
San Jose also had earned a point in 25 of 26 home games, with 23 of those coming in victories. And Chicago was playing its third game in four nights half-way across the country from their home.
This should definitely have been a win for San Jose. I am not saying it should have been easy—in fact, I told my wife before the game I expected Nabby to give up four or five goals to the powerful Chicago offence.
What I am saying is that you have to be able to beat a tired team when things are in your favour—you are playing well with a hot goalie, home ice, and a looming dominance over your opponent. Especially when you do not beat many contending teams on the road.
So far this season, of the Sharks' hosts who are currently in the top eight in their conferences in point percentage, only Chicago, Edmonton, Dallas, and Philadelphia lost to San Jose on their home ice. But of those four, only Chicago was playing well enough to be eligible for the playoffs at the time; Philadelphia and Dallas, in fact, were in the basement of their conferences.
With Edmonton's overtime victory of the Sharks, two of those four teams have also beaten San Jose at HP Pavilion, as have the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators. Since overtime losses are still losses in the playoffs, that means four quality road wins and four home losses, one of which is to a non-playoff team (they would have qualified at the time, however).
Thus, perhaps no team needs home ice as much as San Jose. If San Jose expects to avoid every playoff series going to seven games (no one has ever won a Cup with four seven-game series), they better show they can acquire quality road wins this month, and they will have plenty of chances.
After Thursday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Sharks embark on a five-game road trip. Following that, the Sharks have three at home before going on a four-game road trip to close February. After all that, they will still have one more road game than home game left this season.
February is the month for them to prove they can win on the road and therefore win the Cup. They are expecting to get Boyle back Thursday, and there is a good chance that the Sharks other three injured players—Jeremy Roenick, Brad Lukowich, and Torrey Mitchell—may all return before the month is out, as well.
But at this time of the year, you can neither count on getting nor staying healthy.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Viktor Tikhonov suffered a hand injury on January 8th and hasn’t played since. He is expected to be back in the lineup within a week. Tikhonov has been a great suprise defensively for the Coyotes this season.
When he was in the lineup he was one of the Coyotes top penalty killers. Since he has been out the lineup the Coyotes penalty kill has started to fall off a bit. They currently have the 20th ranked penalty kill in the league. Expect that to rise with the return of Viktor Tikhonov.
Peter Mueller suffered his first notable injury in the NHL when he was forced to leave a game on January 27th against the Anaheim Ducks with a minor concussion.
The first diagnosis of Steven Reinprecht’s injured shoulder had him out for 4 -12 weeks. His status has since been updated to two weeks on the injured list. The two weeks that he will be out are still going to be a tough couple weeks for the Coyotes.
Reinprecht has been one of the Coyotes' best player’s this season. He currently ranks fourth on the Coyotes with 28 points. Not to mention Reinprecht is one of a few veteran leaders the Coyotes have in the locker room.
The most significant injury to the Coyotes so far this season is to that of defenseman Kurt Sauer. Sauer has been out since January 10th but is expected to be back in the lineup in the next couple weeks. When Sauer was in the Coyotes lineup he played huge minutes and was responsible for shutting down some of the league’s top players.
In replacement of Sauer, both David Hale and Keith Yandle were given permanent spots on the Coyotes blue line. While Yandle has stepped up his game both offensively and defensively, Hale has been prone to making some costly defensive mistakes.
The Coyotes defensive group isn’t very deep to begin with so getting a healthy Kurt Sauer back will give much more depth to the Coyotes blue line.
The Coyotes have been patient throughout all of the injuries this season and that’s what they will continue to do. Players like Joel Perrault and Alexander Nikulin have come into the lineup and contributed what they can. The Coyotes should have all their players back in time for the stretch run. At the end of that run could be their first playoff appearance in seven years.