It’s my day in the rotation to write a thought of the day and it just so happens that it coincides with the parade in San Francisco for the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants on Halloween.
There’s no need for a trick here, this is a treat to witness a dynasty in today’s modern era of sports and to say it’s impressive in an understatement of huge proportions.
I’m writing about the Giants because last night after the Giants won their 3rd World Series in five years, team President Larry Baer said “We play a team sport, I think we are a role model for all teams” in regards to playing for each other and dealing with the highs and lows of a long season and playoff drama.
So if the Giants are in fact a role model, then what is the secret? Below is an excerpt from the New York Times about the Giants’ playoff heroics:
“Many of the players have changed over the years, but the team has had three important constants: Larry Baer, the team president; Brian Sabean, the general manager; and Bochy, the manager, who also led the San Diego Padres to the National League pennant in 1998.
“It’s down to the culture and chemistry of this club,” Baer said. “All the working parts have to work together. These working parts worked together like I’ve never seen before.”
Culture and chemistry, the exact thing the Sharks are longing for so they can reach the pinnacle of their sport, winning the Stanley Cup.
Makes sense, now lets get back to enjoying the ups and downs and seeing how the team responds. Watching the Giants was great theater, and so is watching the 2014-15 San Jose Sharks.
It took an amazing effort by Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Antti Niemi in the shootout but the Sharks managed to win 3-2 in Colorado on Tuesday night and string together consecutive victories.
Talk about a frustrating night! The Sharks carried over what they established in the Anaheim win and absolutely dominated the Avalanche in the first period outshooting them 23-8. But thanks to a goal post, a crossbar and that guy named Semyon Varlamov, San Jose only had a 1-0 lead. When Alex Tanguay tied it shorthanded in the second period that sinking feeling set in just a little. How many times over the years have we seen a team dominate but not get rewarded around the net and ultimately lose? And when Gabriel Landeskog beat Niemi with a shot from the wing it felt like a rerun of heartbreaking losses from the past.
But it would be different this time. Right after Jamie Baker noted on the broadcast that Justin Braun expects to grow his game even more this year, including offensively, Braun hit the post with a booming shot and Logan Couture scored on the rebound. And then Niemi made the critical save of regulation when he robbed Ryan O’Reilly with what might very well have been the “dagger in the heart” winner had it gone in.
The shootout belonged to the Sharks thanks to the sniper like accuracy of Marleau and Pavelski and the “shut the door” goaltending of Niemi who absolutely deserved his first star of the game honors despite Varlamov’s 49 save night.
It’s still early but it’s another brick in the foundation of a long season. The Sharks proved that the Anaheim game wasn’t a one and done. They built on it. That’s a good thing.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
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.
It's amazing how one weekend (more like a 32-hour span) brought us the definitive lows and highs of this young Sharks season, to date.
San Jose players were quite honest after losing a 4th straight game on Saturday afternoon, especially 2-1 to the struggling Buffalo Sabres. As Logan Couture put it: it was "a look in the mirror" kind of defeat.
Fast forward to include travel, fatigue, and going up against the NHL's leading team in points one night later - and it makes their decisive 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks that much more impressive. As Todd McLellan put it: "The best sixty minutes we have played all year".
So how does one group show two very different looks in such a short time period?
Fans and media ask this question of the players and coaches (of all teams) on a regular basis. The responses are rarely good. That's because if the performers HAD the answers, they would HAVE the solution, and they would execute to perfection 100% of the time.
I'm not here to tell you I have the answer either, but I do think I have an explanation. It's human nature.
None of us are perfect at our job, every day - every shift (to put it in hockey terms). Some days at the office are a grind, for internal or external reasons. And if we regularly threw our work team's collective effort out there against the competition - would it always win?
I'm here to humbly admit - I have good days, and bad days on the job. For better or worse, you the CSN viewer, gets to share in all of them. My premonitions about shows - good or bad - are usually on target. When personal mistakes arise, it's because I'm a human being who stumbles on the occasional ad-libbed word. Not a robot spitting out a perfectly dictated script.
Back to the point: much as we build athletes up as the brilliant performers they are, NHL players are the same human beings we are. They are expected to produce at a peak level on a highly consistent basis. And when they don't ... it is exposed on television, radio, and the internet for all to see.
So until the day comes where NHL teams send out droids, expect to see what makes the game interesting: individual and collective human nature.
Definition of Interesting
In – ter – est – ing
“arousing curiosity or interest; holding or catching the attention”
It’s early in the 2014/15 NHL season but two topics are very interesting so far.
1. The parity in the league culminating in close games and come-from-behind wins.
Example: On Tuesday October 20, 2014 there were 10 games around the league:
- Seven saw a team overcome a deficit at any point in the game to pick up a win.
- Six were tied or within one goal entering the third period.
- Five featured a third period comeback that eventually led to a win.
- Five went past regulation, including four that were decided in overtime.
- Two saw a tying goal scored in the final five minutes of regulation. Both teams that tied the game late in regulation went on to win in.
2. The San Jose Sharks have to be one of the most interesting teams, if not the most interesting team, to watch this season. Case in point:
- Game 1 – Sharks spoil the Cup Banner night in LA shutting out the Kings 4-0.
- Game 2 – Sharks explode to early lead, shutout Jets 3-0 and go 0-8 on the PP.
- Game 3 – Sharks have 3-0 and 4-1 leads in Washington and end up winning the game 6-5 in the shootout.
- Game 4 – Sharks get outshot by a large margin, give up a lead, tie the game in the 3rd before losing the game in the shootout to the Islanders.
- Game 5 – Sharks score first for the 5th consecutive game, are comfortably up 3-0 early in third but give up two quick goals before holding on for 4-2 win with ex-Captain and current assistant Captain Joe Thornton getting his 1,200th point by scoring into an empty net.
- Game 6 – Sharks were playing well until late in the 2nd period when they looked like the bad news bears for about 2-3 minutes and ended up getting shut out to the Rangers for their first regulation loss of the year.
- Game 7 – Sharks score twice late in the 2nd period but give up three unanswered goals in the 3rd to lose to the Bruins.
Call it can’t miss live action, or can’t miss TV or can’t miss Radio or can’t miss Internet, this NHL season has already shown it’s going to be a wild with lots of ups and downs and the Sharks are in the front seat of this roller coaster ride.
I love it, because interesting can be good, can be bad but as the definition says, it certainly captures our attention, and isn’t that what pro sports are all about?
Now that the Sharks first lengthy road trip (5 games) is over, what have we learned?
This year’s team is capable of beating top-notch opponents. The New York Islanders are a good hockey team and the New Jersey Devils won’t miss the playoffs this year. Those were solid road wins.
Logan Couture can still score. He might have failed to light the lamp in the first four games of the season but once Couture broke the seal in New Jersey he was on his way to a 5-point roadie.
The Sharks goaltending is solid. Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock are both playing well right now. Stalock might want a goal or two back from the New York Ranger tilt but stuff happens. The whole team was off their game that day.
Adjusting to the NHL at the age of 19 is tough. Mirco Mueller and Chris Tierney both spent part of the trip watching from the press box. It’s a big jump from junior to “the show”. It’s much better to be patient with young players and give them an opportunity to succeed than to thrown them to the wolves.
We learned that the New York Islanders are legit. They will be a tough team in the east all season.
We learned that Henrik Lundqvist is a really good goalie. But then we already knew that.
And we learned that while a 2-2-1 Sharks road trip (.500) is OK, there is still plenty of room for improvement
Most of all it’s great to be back in the rhythm of the regular season.
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.
|Even an "old school" hockey player like Todd believes in a new way of thinking.|
As a person who is fortunate enough to host baseball and hockey shows on CSN, there is one major difference in covering the two sports: available numbers.
For baseball, there are dozens of universally accepted statistics that easily quantify the performance of an individual hitter or pitcher. Batting average, earned run average, fielding percentage... it's quite easy to reference stats, and say one player had a good game, or not.
But in hockey, judging success by basic numbers alone doesn't always do players proper justice. It's just the nature of the game. For example: last week in New York, Logan Couture goes out front of the crease and screens Jaroslav Halak, resulting in a Patrick Marleau power play goal. What does Logan get on the stat sheet? Nothing! On television, what more can we say than... "Nice job there, by Couture"? Not much. Beyond the video of it happening, it's almost like Logan's effort doesn't exist in hockey history.
Enter advanced stats. Things like "Corsi,” which measures puck possession. "PDO" which values even strength shooting/save percentages. And "Zone starts,” charting which players are selected to be on the ice for faceoffs in all three zones. These have all been emerging and maturing in the last few years, and have captured the attention of hockey's top minds.
"I firmly believe in analytics”, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan recently shared.
"I think the most precious analytics that I have, are my eyeballs to begin with. Then we've got four more sets of them in assistant coaches. Then we turn to the paper and the pen. When we look at the stuff that is presented to us, it should support what we're seeing. If it doesn't then, we've got to ask the questions,” explained McLellan.
In the same way that baseball purists initially resisted "sabermetrics,” it's not surprising "advanced stats" are finding their way to hockey... with a cautious optimism.
Said McLellan: "Analytics can't become the be-all and end-all. It can't be the lazy way of doing things, it still has to be the work. Watching and feeling."
I'm positive advanced stats will continue to expand in the hockey world, if they can (at minimum) do the following things:
1) Explain trends which were previously unexplainable
2) Put a value on players who do the intangible things to win
3) Remain easy enough to comprehend, and accurately track
I wrote this blog as the Sharks prepared to play their last regular season game at Nassau Coliseum, home of the New York Islanders. Being here is nostalgic for me because when I was younger my favorite team was the Islanders, and yes my high school years were fun as they pumped out 4 Stanley Cups.
So why were the Islanders so good? And at the same time, what makes the current version of the San Francisco Giants so good when it comes to playoff time?
No question you have to have the right ingredients of speed, skill and toughness but lots of teams have that and don’t rise to the occasion when it matters most. The last piece to the Championship puzzle is the mental side of playing the game and this next part is important, the ability to over-achieve as an individual and a team.
The Giants know they just need to make the playoffs and then it’s time for everyone to rise to the occasion. That’s what the great Islanders team did, and that’s what the LA Kings did last year.
Having a great regular season gets you good contracts that set you up for life. Having a great playoff is what your legacy will be remembered for. As I looked at the 4 Stanley Cup banners hanging in the rafters I didn’t think about how the Islanders team did in the regular season, but how they dismantled other teams in the playoffs with their; tenacity, grit, speed, toughness, skill, goaltending and an willing desire to refuse to lose and be mentally stronger than their opponents. Their legacies are cemented in Islander and NHL history!
That’s what this season is about for the San Jose Sharks. Can they, as individuals and a group, over-achieve when it matters most. It’s been a long time since a Sharks team has over-achieved.
The regular season is about getting invited to the party. Like the Islanders, Kings and the San Francisco Giants, it’s then about peaking at the right time and taking your game to a new, and much higher level. That’s the opportunity and challenge that lies ahead for the 2014/15 version of the San Jose Sharks.
It’s a small world isn’t it?
On March 28, 1989 Bernadette Devorski was a nurse working at the maternity ward of the main hospital in Guelph, Ontario. That day an expectant mother came into the hospital to give birth. Her doctor was summoned but didn’t arrive in time. Nurse Devorski delivered the baby. That child was Logan Couture. Thursday night on Long Island, Couture will line up at center for the San Jose Sharks. Also lining up and wearing stripes as one of the referee’s for the game will be 25 year NHL veteran official Paul Devorski. Bernadette is his mother. Chet Couture, Logan’s father, who lives in Southern Ontario will also be there to watch his son. He’s never met Paul Devorski but perhaps that will happen after the game. Devorski lives in Hershey, New York but his wife…is originally from San Jose.
It’s a small word.