Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sharks Send Avs to Davey Jones Locker

The second half of the NHL season started Tuesday. For the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche, the setting for Act II was the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.

This game served as a second act in several ways. It was a reunion of many former teammates and champions from both teams.

The Avalanche are famously without aging stars of their glory days like Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, and Adam Foote, and any chance they have of returning to the playoffs rests on their ability to stay in the hunt until their former studs can return.

The Sharks saw the return of two other teammates of those great Avs teams. The newest Shark, 43-year old Claude Lemieux, returned to one of the few places he is not hated.

Rob Blake not only returned to the Arena he won his Stnaley Cup with, but also returned from what is believed to be a broken jaw. However, that was off-set by the news that fellow blue line addition Dan Boyle reinjured himself in the All Star game. San Jose was also without their other off-season addition, Brad Lukowich, as well as Jeremy Roenick and Torrey Mitchell.

So how would the teams perform without their full compliment? Both have been dealing with this for most of the year; to this point, San Jose has the best point percentage in the league, and Colorado has the ninth worst.

Early on, the Avalanche was getting a majority of the pressure, out-shooting the Sharks 9-5 in the first period. However, two key lapses led to a San Jose lead.

First, former Sharks defenceman Scott Hannan (sorry, Colorado fans: he is no Minister of Defense—that title belongs to the late Reggie White ONLY!) took a penalty for high-sticking. For more than a minute-and-a-half, they did an excellent job killing the penalty.

But then they made their second mistake. Christian Ehrhoff took the puck from Ryan Clowe behind the net, and the Avs left Milan Michalek alone drifting toward the crease; he easily put the one-timer home for a lead just 8:15 in.

The Sharks looked like they might take over the game at the end of the period. Alexei Semenov had one of the best shifts I have ever witnessed (I am officially off his case and about to get on his bandwagon), checking David Jones hard twice and drawing a double minor for high-sticking from Cody McLeod. But the Sharks power play struggled to even get shots against the league's 22nd-ranked penalty kill without Dan Boyle as its catalyst.

A couple shifts into the second period, the assault on Jones continued from Douglas Murray, and that hit sent him to Davey Jones' locker. Just as the pirates of old for whom that term was first used, he did not return.

The physical play helped generate momentum to lead to another score by Michalek just 1:31 into the second. Blake advanced the puck to Joe Pavelski, who found Milan streaking up the right wing. Michalek kept Andrew Raycroft guessing between pass or shot and ripped a quick, hard wristshot to the corner.

Michalek has three two-goal games at the Pepsi Center in the last two years. He now has 10 in his career without a single hat trick.

These events also led to further confrontations. One was a fight between Murray and Chris Stewart, in which Murray landed several shots to his opponent's one, but that one was a doozy. The other was Ryan Smyth being knocked over the back of the net, toppling the cage with him onto Evgeni Nabokov; no one was hurt.

Nabby was also dominant. One on occasion, he made a save in which he slid into the net but kept the puck out. On another, he kept a puck from going in despite half the net being open. Rookie defenceman Derek Joslin also beat Wojtek Wolski to a loose puck in front of the crease with Nabby on his back.

From this point, the Sharks began to take over. By the end of the period when they took a penalty, they had registered several unanswered shots and ended the second with a 21-19 lead in shots.

It continued into the third, when the Sharks out-shot the Avs 17-12, including the empty net goal by Patrick Marleau (assisted by Tomas Plihal and Joe Thornton) with 38 seconds to go.

The Sharks come home to HP Pavilion to play the second place Phoenix Coyotes Thursday night at 7:30pm PST. The Coyotes lost to Anaheim to fall 22 points back of the Sharks, who also have three games in hand on their pursuers.

The Sharks got mixed news from their other two hunters, seeing their lead over the Detroit Red Wings, who lost in overtime to the Columbus Blue Jackets, rise to six points with a game in hand.

But Boston was a winner in overtime against Washington, and is thus still able to claim they are tied for the best record in the NHL because of the moronic precedence given to the point system over the fact that they have played two more games. They will maintain that two extra game edge by hosting New Jersey Thursday.

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