We have just witnessed a few more reasons why the 2014-15 San Jose Sharks/NHL season is going to be interesting, but perhaps we should add another word: “fascinating.”
The Sharks, faced with the pain and suffering of a four-game regulation losing streak, came together as a group in Anaheim, and took on all comers in a 4-1 win against the top-rated Ducks. In case anyone missed listening to the game on the radio or watching it on TV, it was a pivotal matchup, featuring all sorts of extracurricular activities that resulted in 165 penalty minutes issued by the officials.
But the fascination continued in the Mile High City just two nights later in a game that featured some very distinct entities.
Entity #1 was the San Jose Sharks offensive juggernaut, which put 23 shots on goal in the first period alone, and a season-high 51 for the entire night. Brent Burns made a brilliant play to start and finish off the first Sharks goal, tipping a Mirco Mueller shot home to make it 1-0. But that’s where Entity #2, Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov, came in.
Varlamov stopped Joe Pavelski’s shorthanded chance about six minutes into the first period, made two great saves, one off Joe Thornton, during a wacky stretch when a Tomas Hertl chance toward a 4x6 space hit the crossbar, and many more. The score was 1-1 after the second period because Varlamov had stopped 40 of 41 shots and because veteran Alex Tanguay had taken an equally wacky bounce off Brent Burns’ glove to gather the puck, stride to his left. To repeat, that’s 40 Varlamov saves after the second period, not the third.
So, the Sharks were doing everything they possibly could do, but Varlamov and a bit of Lady Luck was holding the Avalanche in. Then, the Avs got a break when a Gabriel Landeskog shot found the back of the net. The Sharks were facing a challenge.
Enter Entity #3: Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi. While he clearly would have liked to have the Landeskog shot back, San Jose’s ace in the hole had quietly been making some big saves in the shadow of Varlamov’s stupendous performance. There was a nice stop on the always-dangerous Nathan MacKinnon about 6 ½ minutes into the first period. There was a great save on Matt Duchene at 19:58 of the first. Then, after Landeskog scored and Logan Couture spectacularly responded, there was a spectacular stop on Ryan O’Reilly at 7:52 of the third that held the score at 2-2.
But once again, as time was expiring in overtime, Nemo made a big stop on Duchene again. In the third period and in OT, Colorado outshot San Jose, 16-10, and the Sharks goaltender stopped 15 of them.
Then, in the shootout, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski scored on two brilliant shots, while Niemi stopped Tanguay and Duchene chances. Sharks hockey picked up a 3-2 thriller in a shootout, and the winning streak was alive.
As the team took to the air to fly to Minnesota, a look out of town provided some fodder for the next dramatic chapter of “Sharks Hockey: The Interesting (and Fascinating) Season.” The Minnesota Wild, the next opponent, had just gone through a see-saw, teeter-totter series of games in which everyone fell to the ice like a limp dishrag after the contests were over, and as was the case with the Sharks, they had to pull together, too.
The Wild had blown a 3-0 lead at Madison Square Garden when the Rangers scored five times in the third period to take a win. In the process, Jonas Brodin, Zach Parise, and Eric Haula had all been shaken up to one degree or another.
But in Boston at TD Garden the very next night, with Niklas Backstrom in net against Tuukka Rask and with Brodin and Haula out, the Wild had fallen behind, 3-1, after the second period. Taking from what they had learned at MSG the night before, Minnesota scored three times to take a 4-3 regulation win away from the Bruins.
Now, the two teams with the wacky pairs of games get set to face off against each other, in a city where the Sharks always seem to be when the San Francisco Giants are in an ultimate clinching opportunity in the World Series.
It’s a long and winding road, and it’s an incredible season already. Make sure you’re listening on the radio, watching on television, or showing up at the rink. Whether the film turns out to be a Frank Capra or Oliver Stone production, it’s sure to be an artistic masterpiece.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
As the Sharks move through the young season on this East Coast road trip, I was thinking about something that we’re all witnessing that’s awfully rare at the National Hockey League level. However, in order to relate that properly, I have to venture back in time for a brief story.
Back in the halcyon years of my hockey youth, I used to listen to a lot of New York Rangers games on the radio, and in those days, the Broadway Blueshirts had a player on the roster named Ron “Harry” Harris. Harris, who also was a member of both the WHL’s San Francisco Seals and the NHL’s Oakland Seals earlier in his career, was a journeyman defenseman from Verdun, Quebec who had a mean streak and a rugged playing style that was appreciated by fans in Oakland, Detroit, Atlanta, and New York.
To counter the brusque, bullying style of the Philadelphia Flyers and other clubs in those days, Rangers’ legendary GM/coach Emile Francis decided one day to skate Harris on the right wing. If there was trouble, Harry would put a stop to it, and he often did. It was a rare experiment that worked.
But Harris was the equivalent of a sixth or seventh defenseman for the Rangers back in those days, and as a right wing, he was generally on the fourth line.
Back to the present.
Over the course of his career, Brent Burns has played both right wing and defense in the NHL, and regardless of what position he’s playing, he’s slotted in one of the top two forward lines or the top four defensemen. He is a physical specimen, with tremendous skating ability, great size, a physical presence, and the ability to score.
Whether Burns plays forward or defense, he’s an impact player for his team. While with the Minnesota Wild, Burnzie scored 17 goals as a defenseman in 2010-11. Last season, he scored 22 goals as a right wing, notching a career-high 48 points and finishing 5th on the team’s scoring list while playing on a line with Joe Thornton.
What’s interesting is how rare it really is to see a player excel at both forward and defense in the National Hockey League. On October 11th, we saw an even greater rarity: two such players competing against each other in the same game. At SAP Center on that date, Burns was opposed by Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien, who finished 3rd among defensemen in 2010-11 when he was with the Atlanta Thrashers and who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010. In this game, Byfuglien was back on the wing with the Jets, and as is the case with Burns, he cuts a large swath on the ice with a big presence.
Going back in NHL history, I can think of only two other instances of players who excelled at this high a level at both forward and defense:
When he began his professional career with the Houston Aeros of the WHA, Howe was a winger, and in 6 WHA seasons, he scored 30 or more goals 5 times while playing alongside his father, the legendary Gordie Howe. Moving to Hartford, Philadelphia, and Detroit in the NHL, he converted to defense and broke the 20 goal mark 3 times, scoring a career-best 82 points with the Flyers in 1985-86. Paired with the late Brad McCrimmon, he was regularly at the top of the plus-minus stats in the League.
Howe was selected as an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
When the family of the late Red Wings owner-president James Norris presented a trophy in his memory to be given to the NHL’s best defenseman, its first winner in 1954 was Leonard “Red” Kelly, who happened to play for Detroit at the time. Kelly distinguished himself for many years as a top blue liner, finishing as Norris Trophy runner up on two more occasions. He may very well have won another one, had Doug Harvey not have been playing at the same time in history.
But when he moved to Toronto in the 1960’s, GM/Coach Punch Imlach decided to convert Kelly into a center. Easily making the transition, Kelly had three 20-goal seasons with the Leafs playing up front.
Kelly was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969. He won a total of 8 Stanley Cups, 4 with Detroit and 4 with Toronto.
Playing defense with the legendary Fern Flaman and forward with Don McKenney in Boston, Mohns was one of the more proficicent users of the slap shot in the 1950’s, but was often lost in the aura surrounding Bobby Hull and “Boom Boom” Geoffrion. He played both forward and defense over a 22-year NHL career. In Chicago, he played wing on the “Scooter Line” with Kenny Wharram and Stan Mikita, and was 9th in NHL scoring in 1966-67. Later in his career, he played for Minnesota, Atlanta, and Washington, and was the very first captain of the Washington Capitals. He wasn’t a Hockey Hall of Famer, but he did play in seven NHL All-Star games, and excelled at both forward and defense over 1,390 regular season and 94 Stanley Cup playoff games.
Burns is back on defense this season, but he’s also at or near the top of his team’s scoring list. He’s on the ice for more minutes, playing 22:02 and 25:08 in the recent back-to-back set of contests at New Jersey and at Madison Square Garden. He’s looking good alongside the promising Mirco Mueller, which bodes well for the Sharks as they skate forward.
Remember, when you watch or listen to Brent Burns’ exploits this season, you’re witnessing some history, but you’re also seeing a unique level of excellence in the National Hockey League. That’s the case, whether he happens to play defense, as he is now, or forward, which he certainly can do with elan.
Winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal for every National Hockey League player, but being selected in the NHL Draft is the first dream that comes true en route to that unforgettable achievement. Such a selection is a tremendous honor, and it’s the first sign that a player has a chance to make it to the greatest hockey league in the world.
But the Draft has not always been the main way that players arrived on the scene. In fact, the original draft that was held in 1963, then called the “NHL Amateur Draft,” held the position that today’s free agency holds in one sense: it produced some NHL players, but was not the primary method of procuring the future stars of the world’s fastest game.
For instance, if the San Jose Sharks were in business back in the 1960’s as one of the “Original Six,” the media guide would not have had the following phrase next to Logan Couture’s name: “Selected by San Jose in the NHL Draft (1st round, 9th overall).” Instead, the more likely phrase would have been, “Product of San Jose Sharks organization.”
Now, even though one could use that phrase about many current Sharks, it had a slightly different meaning back in those halcyon years. By the mid-1940’s, NHL clubs were directly subsidizing what are now called “major junior” teams, and had either outright ownership or working agreements with affiliated American Hockey League clubs, and that gave them exclusive playing rights for the players who played on these teams and who had signed a “C-Form” commitment. Once a player signed such a form, he became an apprentice in the trade of professional hockey, and his entire existence was in the control of the NHL team that had signed him.
Transporting a modern player into that era, a young Logan Couture would have likely signed a C-Form after being watched as a bantam and perhaps a midget by Sharks super-scouts. The Sharks would have subsidized a team in, say, the Ontario Hockey League, and Logan would have automatically become property of that club. Invited to an NHL training camp, he would have likely progressed through a team’s system, first to the American Hockey League, and then to the Sharks.
As is the case today, the rare exception would jump directly to the NHL, and that’s essentially how it all happened for one of the greatest players of all time, Bobby Orr. Signed to a commitment by scout Wren Blair and the Boston Bruins when he was just 14 years of age, Orr played junior hockey with the Oshawa Generals, the Bruins-subsidized organization in the OHL. Then, at 18, in 1966-67, he cracked the Bruins roster, and the rest was history.
While this system certainly vacuumed up most of the burgeoning young talent and provided them a competitive place to play, there were always those who developed later or whom the scouts missed. The NHL Amateur Draft was developed as a way to distribute those talented players around the League.
So it was on a quiet summer day in 1963, at a non-public event at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, that the first NHL Amateur Draft was conducted. The first player ever selected was Garry Monahan, a winger who wound up playing in 748 NHL games for Montreal, Detroit, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Toronto.
After the 1969-70 season, the last vestiges of this system slipped into the modern format of what is now the NHL Draft, which today is a hugely public event that is conducted with much pomp and circumstance over two days, including prime national television coverage. It is in this system that the San Jose Sharks will select their future stars, and in which they possess three picks in the top 60.
The Sharks will select 20th this year, based on their ending position in the standings. Over the course of their history, they have selected with the 20th pick only once. It was 2001, at what is now known as the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, and the Sharks stepped to the podium to select center Marcel Goc.
Goc, of course, would have a memorable first run in the NHL during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. After spending a full season in the AHL with the Cleveland Barons, he found himself in the lineup for his first NHL game of any kind in Game 5 of the first round against St. Louis, and he picked up an assist on the series-winning goal by Mark Smith. Then, in round two against Colorado, he scored his first-ever NHL goal of any kind in Game 6, on a play that turned out to be the series-winning goal.
Some other notable 20th-overall selections in the history of the NHL Draft include Larry Robinson (Montreal, 1971), Brian Sutter (St. Louis, 1976), Michel Goulet (Quebec, 1979), Martin Brodeur (New Jersey, 1990), Scott Parker (Colorado, 1998), Brent Burns (Minnesota, 2003), Travis Zajac (New Jersey, 2004), and Michael Del Zotto (N.Y. Rangers, 2008).
Who could the Sharks get with the 51st and 53rd selections? Historically speaking, here are a few names for you: Butch Goring (LA, 51st, 1969), Nicklas Lidstrom (DET, 53rd, 1989), Patrick Elias (NJ, 51st, 1994), David Booth (FLA, 53rd, 2004), Mason Raymond (VAN, 51st, 2005), and Derek Stepan (NYR, 51st, 2008), to name a few.
But in every draft, there is always the hidden gem who turns up, and these players are prime examples of that in Sharks history: Marcus Ragnarsson (99th, 1992), Alexander Korolyuk (141st, 1994), Evgeni Nabokov (219th, 1994), Vesa Toskala (90th, 1995), Miikka Kiprusoff (116th, 1995), Matt Bradley (102nd, 1996), Mark Smith (219th, 1997), Mikael Samuelsson (145th, 1998), Douglas Murray (241st, 1999), Ryane Clowe (175th, 2001), Joe Pavelski (205th, 2003), Alex Stalock (112th, 2005), Justin Braun (201st, 2007), Tommy Wingels (177th, 2008), and Jason Demers (186th, 2008).
Beyond that, there are the free agent players who are also scouted, signed, and developed alongside all those who had the “head start” of being selected in the draft. An outstanding example is Andrew Desjardins, who played in the OHL for four years and was neither drafted, nor signed immediately, by an NHL team. His path to the League went through Laredo, Texas (CHL), Phoenix, Arizona (ECHL), and Worcester, Massachusetts (AHL), before getting to the NHL here in San Jose for the first time in 2010.
As is the case with all of the draftees, past and present, “Desi” has worked his way up through the system, and has earned the right to be identified as the earlier players used to be: “Product of the San Jose Sharks organization.”
It is a designation that all home-grown Sharks players have the right to be proud of, and it is a tribute to the dedication and professionalism of these players, and that of the staff that discovered them, that deserves to be celebrated this week. Whether they’re drafted, acquired in trades, or signed as free agents, they all become products of the organization that developed them.
Make sure that you pay close attention to each and every selection that is made at this week’s draft. You’ll be reviewing some household names of the future, and some Stanley Cup champions in years to come. But on Friday and Saturday, you’ll also see the first dream of young players coming true, with the chance to achieve the ultimate goal.
See you at Stanley’s on Friday at Sharks Ice at San Jose, for the NHL Draft Viewing Party, presented by Coors Light. For more information on that event, click here.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
The FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, an event that occurs every four years, is now underway for the United States, and sports fans from around the world will be following the exploits of their respective nations in what is sure to be a dramatic scene in Brazil. As is the case in international hockey, there are favorites, underdogs, upsets, strange bedfellows, and tremendous competition.
From a hockey fan perspective, it’s interesting to contrast our sport’s premier event, the Stanley Cup playoffs, with what’s happening now in cities like Sao Paolo, Belo Horizonte, and Recife. There is nothing like the World Cup every four years for soccer fans, but there is nothing like the Stanley Cup playoffs every year for a hockey fan.
From a San Jose Sharks perspective, of course, there are no smiles over what occurred this past spring, and it seemed appropriate that the final day was Friday, the 13th of June. On that evening, the Los Angeles Kings overcame a 2-1 deficit, tied the game on a power play in the third, and won the Stanley Cup in front of their fan base at the Staples Center. It was the second Stanley Cup championship for the Sharks’ arch rivals, and it capped a spring of disappointment and soul-searching for the Men in Teal.
But beyond the too-early end for the Sharks, the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs were truly a remarkable showcase of the greatest game on earth, and unlike the World Cup or the Olympics, it happens every year, not every four years. Aside from the many remarkable, albeit painful stories that led to the Kings’ championship, there were so many others.
The New York Rangers made it back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years, and that was quite an accomplishment for the Broadway Blueshirts, an excellent and improving team over the course of the season. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 7 games, fell behind Pittsburgh 3 games to 1 in round 2, and roared back to take Game Seven at Burgh Hockey in a comeback that rivaled any in this post-season. Then, in a traditional Original Six matchup, they took the Montreal Canadiens in six games, setting things up for the Final against the Kings.
The Chicago Blackhawks, like the Sharks , saw their season end too soon, and as was the case with San Jose, they were defeated in Game Seven at home by the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Chicago trailed its series 3 games to 1 before fighting back to force Game Seven. But as was the case for three great teams, they dropped Game Seven at home to the Kings.
One of the most interesting aspects, of course, of the Stanley Cup playoffs is how grueling it is over the span of years. Consider the path of the two Finalists. The Kings have played an NHL record 64 playoff games in the past three seasons, which gives them a grand total of 276 games played. But the Rangers, with 57 playoff contests in the last three years, are not far behind, with 269 games played. By comparison, the Sharks have played in 23 playoff contests in the last three seasons, ranking them 8th among all teams. That’s a total of 235 games overall for the Sharks in that span.
The new season officially kicks off with the NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, with the first round scheduled for Friday, June 27th. The future stars of the world’s fastest game will be selected, and the Sharks will begin their long journey to training camp, looking forward with excitement. The coaches, players, and hockey staff are already doing so.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky for sjsharks.com.
I don’t think that there is anyone who believes that the NHL’s conference final series are “over,” but everyone must agree that the hockey that is being played is absolutely spectacular.
The sight of Martin St. Louis taking advantage of an opportunity and scoring a superbly placed OT game-winner for the New York Rangers against Montreal certainly was inspirational for Gotham hockey fans.
Meanwhile, in the LA-Chicago series, the Blackhawks made it close the night before, but the Los Angeles Kings got a big goal from Drew Doughty in the third period and took a 2-1 series lead in their 4-3 victory.
One of the interesting notes about the Kings and the Rangers is that they’re the only teams in the NHL with 50 or more post-season games played in the last three seasons. As of today, here are the top 10 post-season teams in that time span, arranged by winning percentage:
|1||LOS ANGELES||55||35||20||0.636||150||109||9||8||1||0.889||Won Stanley Cup|
|2||CHICAGO||44||27||17||0.614||119||103||7||6||1||0.857||Won Stanley Cup|
|4||NEW JERSEY||24||14||10||0.583||60||58||4||3||1||0.75||Lost Final|
|5||PHOENIX||16||9||7||0.563||37||35||3||2||1||0.667||Lost Conference Final|
|6||N.Y. RANGERS||50||26||24||0.52||118||107||7||5||2||0.714||Conference Final|
|7||ANAHEIM||20||10||10||0.5||56||55||3||1||2||0.333||Lost Round 2|
|9||NASHVILLE||10||5||5||0.5||22||21||2||1||1||0.5||Lost Round 2|
|10||PITTSBURGH||34||17||17||0.5||110||103||6||3||3||0.5||Lost Conference Final|
It really is amazing to note that both Los Angeles and New York are playing fresh hockey, even though they’ve endured so many grueling games over these past three playoff campaigns. They each have played in more than 50 post-season contests in that time span. Chicago has also played in 44 playoff games, while the Canadiens have 20. San Jose, by the way, has played in 23 playoff games, 8th most in the NHL since the 2011-12 season.
The remaining teams are all strong in goal. With Carey Price out the Canadiens have been going with Dustin Tokarski, who won the Memorial Cup in 2008 and MVP honors with Spokane, won the World Junior Tournament for Canada in 2009, and added the Calder Cup championship in 2012 with the Norfolk Admirals to his resume. Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford have Stanley Cup championships, and are looking for another, while Henrik Lundqvist is an elite netminder looking for his first Stanley Cup crown.
All four teams have excellent defensemen who are firmly in the prime of their NHL careers. All have been doing an admirable job in both ends of the rink. When considering this position, think Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Ryan McDonagh, and P.K. Subban.
Up front, each team is configured slightly differently, but even though the road has been grueling, players like Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Thomas Vanek, and Lars Eller have been making tremendous offensive contributions.
The role players, as is usually the case with teams that advance this far, are all significant with the four clubs.
Here is a tip of the hat to the NHL and the clubs still competing for the Stanley Cup. It’s been quite an amazing ride for them. I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
The regular season has come to an end, and we are about to throw all the stats out the window. The Sharks have finished up with a two-game winning streak, and the pump is primed for what is sure to be an epic first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings.
Here are a couple of notes:
• With his 2 goals in Phoenix, Joe Pavelski became the fourth Shark to hit the 40-goal mark, winding up with 41. He’s the first Sharks 40-goal man since 2009-10.
• Two assists in the Phoenix game put Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle officially over the 200 assist mark in a San Jose uniform. Boyle is the only defenseman to record 200 career Sharks assists. Marc-Edouard Vlasic (134) and Brad Stuart (132) are next on that list.
• Boyle (201 career Sharks assists) is only the 6th player to reach the milestone. He’s now tied with Jeff Friesen. Players ahead of them: Joe Thornton (567), Patrick Marleau (493), Owen Nolan (245), and Joe Pavelski (224).
• Pavelski’s 40th goal came on the power play. It was his 16th power play goal of the year, which is second only to Alexander Ovechkin (24). His 41 goals ranks him 3rd overall, behind Ovechkin (51) and Corey Perry (43).
• Penalty killing is an important factor in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and so is the concept of staying out of the box. The Sharks allowed just 33 power play goals by opponents, which is the lowest number they’ve allowed in a full-length NHL season. They were only shorthanded 219 times, which is also an all-time team low.
• Scoring balance is also important when preparing for a long playoff run. The Sharks have 10 skaters who have scored 10 or more goals this season, 4 with 20 or more, and 2 with 30 or more. Four players have 50 points or more.
• In goal, Antti Niemi had a very strong night in the desert, capped by his terrific stop on a breakaway by Shane Doan in the second period, when the Coyotes outshot the Sharks 16-13 in the middle frame. He wound up tied for 2nd in wins with 39, and the Sharks are in the top 5 in goals-against average.
• Tomas Hertl is back to health, and the two games that he played will be very valuable preparation benchmarks for the playoffs.
Now, it’s time to throw those stats out the window, and get ready for a series that everyone concedes will be an epic one: the San Jose Sharks against the Los Angeles Kings. Let’s get started!
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
At this time of the year, the hard work and extra effort that the San Jose Sharks have put in really starts to pay off.
It starts at the top with the management, hockey operations, and scouting. All have to work together to properly field a team, take care of the budget, deal with injuries, and prepare for contingencies. It continues with the coaching staff, in the area of managing players’ ice time during a difficult, condensed schedule, developing players in practice, and getting results on game nights.
But perhaps the greatest area of importance lies in the players’ conditioning base, body maintenance, and sheer resolve during the difficult grind of the season. That’s something that begins in the early summer, when the Sharks work out their individual training programs with Mike Potenza, Ray Tufts, and the staff. Sometimes they train with specialized coaches, whether it’s for off-ice training, or for skating edge work. But summer is no longer a leisurely time for hockey players. It’s the time when hard work is banked for future dividend collection later.
“Later” is now. Sharks Hockey has just finished a stretch of playing 14 games in 26 days, with travel to and from three of the four time zones on the North American continent. As for the one time zone they didn’t play in, the Central Time Zone, they had to fly through it to get to where they were going. They’ve had to face the likes of top rated clubs like the Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins, desperate clubs like the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals, a few teams out of the hunt but with a lot to prove like Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg, and a few afternoon games thrown in to boot. In addition, the team put together an 8-3-3 record in those games.
That’s a schedule that is being played out throughout the National Hockey League, and we are starting to see a few injuries, some serious, as a result. Through the process, fatigue sometimes results in a fluky play. That was the case on Saturday, when Colorado’s Matt Duchene was injured on an unfortunate collision with his linemate, Jamie McGinn, just 32 seconds into the game.
Later in the contest, McGinn, who had the lighting rod attached to his body for most of the day, threw a body check on James Sheppard, who fell awkwardly into the boards. It was another scary moment, but it was great to see Sheppard return to action and make another tremendous contribution to the team’s effort.
Sheppard’s story is an excellent story. He essentially missed two full seasons after seriously injuring his knee in the summer of 2010. Provided a chance by the Sharks, who acquired him from Minnesota for a third round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, Sheppard has worked diligently on restoring his health and has transformed his game, and in the stretch drive, he has provided lots of value to his team. In his last 5 games, he’s scored 2 goals and added 3 assists, and has looked very comfortable at center along with his usual linemates, Tommy Wingels and Marty Havlat, who have shown good chemistry together.
When called upon, Alex Stalock’s solid goaltending has been another show of depth on the squad. Stalock, another amazing story of medical recovery, has pushed Antti Niemi to be at his best and has provided 11 wins, 2 shutouts, and a 1.91 goals-against average to the table. He and Niemi are always working on their game.
With Adam Burish out indefinitely after hand surgery, the Sharks depth was showcased when Andrew Desjardins was put together with Mike Brown and Tyler Kennedy. Even though the Sharks lost in Colorado on Saturday afternoon, this unit succeeded in drawing two penalties, including one that led to a power play goal by Joe Pavelski. This line is not simply “eating up minutes,” it’s also providing important value to the team.
It’s in games like these, coming up, that are really showcasing the hard work of players such as these. They set things up for the top scorers like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture, and are important parts of any championship club.
All of us can’t wait until the playoffs begin, but the final stretch of the regular season should prove to be a dramatic and spectacular roadway to that exciting time. How will the Sharks do in their final six games of the season? Where will they finish up? Who will be in the playoff lineup for Game One, and what team will the Sharks face?
All questions will be answered soon, but one has been answered already. The San Jose Sharks have been preparing for this time of year for a long time. I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
It’s an exciting time of the year. There are 10 games remaining in the regular season, beginning with Monday night’s game at Calgary.
Here is a breakdown of what’s left:
Mar. 24 at Calgary
Mar. 25 at Edmonton
Mar. 27 WINNIPEG
Mar. 29 at Colorado
Apr. 1 EDMONTON
Apr. 3 LOS ANGELES
Apr. 5 NASHVILLE
Apr. 9 at Anaheim
Apr. 11 COLORADO
Apr. 13 at Phoenix
As of March 24, here is what that schedule brings:
Games vs. Teams in Playoff Position: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Games vs. Teams out of Playoff Position: 5 (3 home, 2 away)
Games vs. Pacific Division: 6 (2 home, 4 away)
Record vs. Pacific Division: 14-6-2 (H: 9-2-1 A: 5-4-1)
Games vs. Central Division: 4 (3 home, 1 away)
Record vs. Central Division: 11-5-2 (H: 8-0-0 A: 3-5-2)
Top Scorers Facing Sharks in Final 10 Games:
Calgary Jiri Hudler (15-31-46)
Edmonton Taylor Hall (24-41-65)
Winnipeg Blake Wheeler (24-35-59)
Colorado Matt Duchene (22-45-67)
Los Angeles Anze Kopitar (22-36-58)
Nashville Shea Weber (18-28-46)
Anaheim Ryan Getzlaf (29-47-76)
Phoenix Keith Yandle (8-42-50)
Top Goaltenders Facing Sharks in Final 10 Games:
Calgary Karri Ramo (12-10-4, 2.60)
Edmonton Ben Scrivens (6-7-0, 2.67)
Winnipeg Ondrej Pavelec (20-24-6, 2.97)
Colorado Semyon Varlamov (34-14-5, 2.48)
Los Angeles Jonathan Quick (23-15-2, 2.01)
Nashville Pekka Rinne (6-9-1, 2.75)
Anaheim Jonas Hiller (27-11-6, 2.40)
Phoenix Mike Smith (27-21-10, 2.65)
The Sharks are poised to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for a 10th consecutive season. When they do, they will have a chance to be the only team in the National Hockey League that can say that.
There is one other team in the NHL that might have something to say about that. The Detroit Red Wings are in the heart of a tremendous battle within the Eastern Conference of the NHL, and for the first time in a long time, there is a real possibility that they could miss post-season action. With 12 games to play, Detroit is in the final playoff position in the East. Given the spirit with which they have been playing, I’m not betting against them.
The Sharks and the Red Wings have benefited from tremendous contributions from their coaching staffs to solve a variety of challenges. In Todd McLellan’s case, he and his staff have done a remarkable job in managing through several serious injuries to important players, have set up young players to succeed, including a handful who have spent most of the year in the American Hockey League and have also done amazing work in the area of ice time management to set things up for the final drive and the post-season.
While Detroits head coach Mike Babcock’s challenges have been distributed differently, it is clear that he and his staff have really excelled as well. These are two coaches who deserve some serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award, handed to the NHL’s Coach of the Year, along with a reasonably large pool of candidates who will be considered.
Over the last 9 years, the Sharks and the Red Wings are the only teams to qualify for every playoff year, and they have each advanced beyond the first round a League-high 7 times. Only Philadelphia (5 advancements) , Boston (4), NY Rangers (4), Pittsburgh (4), and Vancouver (4) have come close.
Now, since the 2003-04 season, when San Jose began its current run of qualifying for the post-season, there have been eight different Cup winners, with Chicago the only team to win twice. There have been nine different losing Finalists.
But, here is where it gets interesting. There have been only 5 teams to advance to the Conference Final or further a minimum of 3 times. Those teams are: Philadelphia (4 times), Pittsburgh (3), Chicago (3), Detroit (3), and San Jose (3).
I think that the Sharks see this year as a year of great challenge and tremendous opportunity. They have been prepared extraordinarily well by an outstanding coaching staff. They have built their depth, and have proved that they can handle adversity. As of this moment, they are in first place in their division, with a chance to capture that banner by the end of the season.
Now, all that remains is to play the final portion of the schedule, and get to professional sports’ ultimate playoff championship, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let the games begin! I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com
I don’t know about you, but I’m really enjoying the hockey competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Once every four years, it’s worth it to see the best players in the world represent their countries on one of the largest stages in sports.
Both the Bolshoy Ice Dome and Shayba Arena have seen some great action, with inspiring play, excellent goaltending, world leaders in attendance, and some old fashioned drama. But the best is yet to come, starting with Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchups between the United States and the Czech Republic, Russia and Finland, Canada and Latvia, and Sweden and Slovenia. Just about anything can happen, and if you’re not tuned in, make sure you either DVR it, record it, listen to it, or stream it on the internet when you get the opportunity.
Some observations of what’s happening so far:
- Latvia, with 41-year-old ex-Shark Sandis Ozolinsh captaining the team and with Buffalo Sabres’ coach Ted Nolan directing the action from behind the bench, has been one of the great stories of the tournament. With their victory in the preliminary playoff round against favored Switzerland, 3-1, the Latvians advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in that nation’s history.
- The Latvians now will face powerhouse Canada in quarterfinal action. It’s the first meeting of these nations in Olympic play in 78 years. Back in 1936, Canada beat Latvia, 11-0, but given the way that the Latvians are grinding it out, don’t expect that kind of game in the quarters.
- Latvia has Ozolinsh (875 NHL games), Oskars Bartulis (66), Herbert Vasiljevs (51), Martins Karsums (24), Kaspars Daugavins (91), Zemgus Girgensons (51 games w/Buffalo this year) among players with NHL experience.
- Slovenia, with only LA’s Anze Kopitar (581) and former Red Wing prospect Jan Mursak (46) on the roster, have put together a solid team effort. They qualified for the preliminary round by virtue of their victory against Slovakia, and then, with a 4-0 win against Austria, earned the chance to reach the quarterfinal round against Sweden.
- Slovenia, which has a population of about 2 million, counts Kopitar among its biggest sports heroes. If the Slovenians are able to use their solid team game against Sweden and advance, they’ll be just as popular as current double gold medal winner Tina Maze, the Lindsey Vonn of her country.
- Sticking with Slovenia, they have two players with the last name “Rodman” and one with the last name “Kuralt” on the roster. I wonder if they have any interest in either basketball or the evening news?
- One more Slovenian note: did you know that former Shark Todd Elik played two seasons in Ljubuljana, the capital of the country, just before he retired at the age of 44?
- It’s also interesting to see how some of the names have changed on the backs of the players’ jerseys in this tournament. For instance, note that Ozolinsh’s last name is spelled “OZOLINS,” without the “H.” Back in the early days, the “h” was added to ensure its pronunciation by the unknowing North American crowd, but nowadays, as in the case of pronouncing Tomas Hertl’s first name “toe-mash,” we are getting used to simply pronouncing the names in the way that the player and his family want them pronounced.
- Of course, that isn’t ALWAYS true. For instance, the technically correct pronunciation of Teemu Selanne’s last name is like most Finnish names, with the stress on the first syllable. That would be “SELL-uh-nay,” which differs from the North Americanized “suh-LAHN-ee.” It simply became “suh-LAHN-ee,” and so it remains, an uncontrollable force of nature in the hockey pronunciation world.
When you watch the Russia-Finland quarterfinal on Wednesday, you may notice a few players on the Russian team that you recognize, but who possess strange name spellings when you consult the backs of their respective jerseys. Here are the ones that you should check out:
As NHL Spells It
As NHL Says It
As IOC Spells It
As IOC Says It
SYEH-min or SEH-min
What in the knick-knack-paddywhack-give-a-dog-a-bone is going on here?
Well, first things first: yes, these are the same players, but the reason why these players have different spellings to their last names, with different pronunciations, is due to several factors:
- The fact that the Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet while English uses the Roman alphabet, and one must be transliterated to the other.
- The fact that Russian publications confuse everyone when they identify two separate letters of their alphabet in one way instead of two.
- The fact that the hockey world has relied more on the publications and not the official rules of transliterating the Cyrillic to the Roman alphabet. But like the U.S. State Department, the International Olympic Committee relies on the official rules of transliteration.
- The fact that, unlike Tomas Hertl this year, many players don’t care how you pronounce their name, as long as they’re on the team and in the NHL.
In the Russian language, the two letters are written and pronounced as follows:
E, e -- “Ye,” soft e pronunciation is used, as in, “Yeh.”
Ё, ё -- “Yo,” stress is always on this letter
To borrow from my German friends, there is an umlaut over the second letter that indicates its difference from the first letter. So, that’s why when these letters are translated into English, the first one is written as “ye,” and the second is written as “yo.”
Here is where the problems start. For reasons known to only those who wish to save typeface and ink, Russians virtually never write or print the umlaut, thereby confusing the situation entirely! You’re simply supposed to know the difference, usually by osmosis, and similar to some of our crazy rules in English.
All of this, of course, causes many mispronunciations that live on in hockey. Some of these names can be saved , but some simply fall victim to the masses, similar to the Brett Hull-toe-in-crease-moment-that-was-illegal-all-season-turning –into-a-Cup-winning-goal-that-could-not-be-called-back-when-all-of-the-media-and-families-were-streaming-onto-the ice, and the Selanne example already cited.
If you’re a Dallas Stars fan, relax. Your team would have won the Cup anyway had the goal been called back. Sorry, Buffalo. But I digress.
So, yes, Alexander Semin, Nikolai Kulemin, and Fedor Tyutin technically should have the names in question pronounced as “SYO-min,” “kool-YO-min,” and “FYO-duhr.” Don’t forget to roll your r’s.
It’s also why the Sharks’ 219th overall selection in the 1994 Entry Draft had his name spelled “YEVGENY Nabokov” (or YEVGENI, in some cases) instead of the “EVGENI” that we see today.
It’s also why you saw the State Department refer to Russian economist and diplomat as “Boris FYODOROV” in the mid-1990’s, and why the NHL referred to one of their top stars as “Sergei FEDOROV,” with different pronunciations, even though they had the same last name. Just check their Wikipedia pages and you’ll see that the umlaut is printed in each of their Cyrillic last names.
Of course, when I met Sergei Fedorov and introduced myself, he said, “Hi, I’m Sergei Fedorov (FEHD-uh-roff),” thereby indicating that he was fine with the pronunciation change. So, it has stood the test of time.
Well, that’s the Tale of Two Letters. It’s the biggest conundrum in the broadcasting world since brothers Tomas and Frantisek Kaberle told their respective teams that they wanted to pronounce their last names differently (KAB-uhr-lay and KAB-uhr-luh). Or perhaps, since some broadcasters said “MAK-uh-rov” and others said “muh-KAR-ov” for former Shark Sergei Makarov. Or, perhaps, since some called Islanders goaltender Roland Melanson as “MELON-suhn,” while most others called him “mel-ON-suhn.”
George and Ira Gershwin wrote a song about it in 1937: “Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto, let’s call the whole thing off.”
Enjoy the rest of the great Olympic hockey tournament, and let’s get everyone back healthy and raring to go for what will surely be a great run to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
One day, not too long after Dustin Brown ended Tomas Hertl’s consecutive games-played streak and Kellan Lain played 0:02 and picked up 15 penalty minutes in his NHL debut, just as the finishing touches of Sharks captain Joe Thornton’s and alternate captain Patrick Marleau’s contract extensions were finalized and Anze Kopitar prepared to play at Dodger Stadium against Ryan Getzlaf in front of over 55,000 spectators, a seemingly unthinkable event occurred.
The Vancouver Canucks center, Henrik Sedin, was held out of a game against the Edmonton Oilers, and his lengthy ironman streak came to an end at an amazing 679 games.
I immediately wondered whether Patrick Marleau’s current ironman streak would graduate into the top 5 among active NHL players, and after counting it up positively, we got the folks at the organization we fondly refer to as the “Patrick Elias Sports Bureau” to double check it for us.
We were correct. Marleau is currently 5th on the active NHL ironman list, behind leader Jay Bouwmeester (686), Andrew Cogliano (512), Antoine Vermette (363), and Keith Yandle (355). It’s the second longest such streak in Sharks history, right behind Thornton’s 379 games, which was set between the day the captain was acquired from Boston and March 27, 2010.
The subjects of speed, stickhandling ability, hand-eye coordination, balance, checking ability, and shooting ability often get discussed when talking about the cream of the NHL’s crop. However, there is another subject that needs to be considered when truly understanding the impact of what players bring to the table in the NHL today.
Imagine the schedule, the challenges of travel, the sheer toll that the game places on an individual player’s body each season. Tack on the fact that the top players in question are playing against the best players on the other team nearly all of the time, and knock on every piece of wood possible, because durability is one of the most important qualities of any NHL superstar.
Let’s look at a recent accounting of some of the top players in the game today:
|Player, Team||GP Since 2005-06||Pct. Team Total GP||GP Since 2007-08||Pct. Team Total GP|
|Joe Thornton, SJS||668||99.10%||505||99.00%|
|Patrick Marleau, SJS||659||97.80%||500||98.00%|
|Ryan Getzlaf, ANA||606||89.90%||467||91.60%|
|Anze Kopitar, LAK||502||98.40%|
|Henrik Sedin, VAN||672||99.70%||508||99.60%|
|Daniel Sedin, VAN||643||95.40%||480||94.10%|
|Sidney Crosby, PIT||522||77.50%||362||71.00%|
|Evgeni Malkin, PIT||421||82.50%|
When you count the fact that Joe Thornton has currently skated in 251 straight contests, which ranks fourth all-time in Sharks history, it’s absolutely remarkable to note that in his nine seasons with the team, he has missed a grand total of only 5 regular season games. Over the same span, Marleau has missed only 15.
When you compare and contrast that with other top stars in the game, the Sharks duo of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are miles ahead of most, doing it in the ultra-competitive Western Conference with all of the travel considerations therein. It really is a remarkable achievement to date, and it really gives Sharks fans cause for celebration to learn that they have agreed to extend their time in Silicon Valley three additional years.
Let’s not take their contributions for granted. They are true NHL stars, and it’s a privilege to watch them work toward their ultimate goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to San Jose.
Thank you, Joe and Patrick. I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.