The 2015 NHL All-Star Game in Columbus will be remembered as a finesse-filled, high-scoring affair, with the statistics not coming close to resembling an average regular season game.
First, the names of the teams were player-based for the third consecutive season. Team Toews and Team Foligno were selected in a draft that featured a “trade” for the first time ever: Nick Foligno “traded” Phil Kessel to Team Toews for Tyler Seguin in a move that patterned a real-life deal when Kessel was traded by Boston to Toronto in exchange for some draft picks, one of which turned out to be the second overall pick in the 2010 Draft, which wound up being Seguin.
Second, a relaxed and celebratory nature of the show was evident all weekend, right down to the Jonathan Toews comments about how Kessel was among the “most coachable” in the League, which was a friendly slap directed at the real-life comments made on the Madison, Wisconsin native’s coachability.
Third, Team Toews defeated Team Foligno, 17-12, in a finesse-oriented game that featured no penalties, 92 shots between the teams, and where the goaltenders weren’t reaching for ulcer treatment when the puck went into the net. The total of 29 goals was a new All-Star record, and the four goals recorded by John Tavares of Team Toews tied the all-time record held by Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Vincent Damphousse, Mike Gartner, and Dany Heatley. The Sharks’ Brent Burns represented his team and his city well, getting into the high 90’s with his heavy shot, and scoring a goal and an assist in the game, including the last goal of the contest late in the third period.
With the World Cup of Hockey returning in 2016 for the first time in 12 years, with the NHL participating in each Winter Olympic Games since 1998, and with the Winter Classic and Stadium Series games reaching the height of popularity, a lot of people have wondered whether the mid-season All-Star game is really serving a purpose any longer. My answer is: “Yes.”
To provide more background for my answer, I’ll draw on personal experience from the two All-Star Games that I have been privileged to attend: the game in San Jose way back in 1997, and another one at Madison Square Garden in New York way, WAY back in 1973.
In the 1970’s, it was a little bit closer to a regular game than perhaps it is now, and the format was a little more traditional, pitting the East vs. the West. Instead of a 17-12 football score, it was a game won by the East, 5-4. There were penalties called in the game, all minors, assessed to Bobby Orr, Gary Bergman, Ken Hodge, and Bill White. With two goals, Pittsburgh’s Greg Polis was named the game’s MVP.
For me, a kid from Connecticut lucky enough to have an uncle who worked for a Manhattan-based company, Exxon, that had tickets available, it was an absolute thrill to be able to go to the game. I had been to two other NHL games to that point, and understood that this game didn’t count in the standings. However, the greatest part of the experience for me was to see so many of the NHL’s top players in person.
These were players that I had heard about while listening to NHL games on the radio. Occasionally, I was able to watch some of them on TV in those pre-cable days. In that game, I got a chance to see Bobby Orr and Brad Park play together on the power play, which was something that couldn’t happen in the regular season and doesn’t really occur in the modern All-Star Game.
For me, while moment-by-moment memories are somewhat faded, here are a few things that stuck with me: I got to see the “MPH Line” of Pit Martin, Jim Pappin, and Dennis Hull play together, as they did normally for the Chicago Blackhawks. I saw Stan Mikita play in person. I was very impressed by the goaltending of LA’s Rogie Vachon, whom I had only heard about but who I gained more respect for after seeing him play acrobatically in person. I even got to see Joey Johnston of the California Golden Seals play in the game, along with some of my other favorites, including Jean Ratelle (NYR), Dave Keon (TOR) and Yvan Cournoyer (MTL).
The entertaining humor in the game was also evident during the introductions. When members of the arch-rival Boston Bruins were announced, the Garden crowd began its high-decibel level of booing, which brought smiles to all of the players, including the Bruins, who had defeated the hometown Rangers in the previous Stanley Cup Final. Phil Esposito was introduced to a chorus of boos, and he playfully shook his fist at the crowd, which brought an even louder decibel level of hostility.
Then, Bobby Orr was introduced, and for the greatest player of his generation, the boos subsided. There were some cheers from the New York fans as Number Four reached the ice. Coming to a stop, Orr’s skate hit a rut on the ice, causing him to trip and fall flat on his face in front of the 16,986 assembled fans. It was probably the only time that Orr ever actually misstepped in his entire NHL career. He made up for it by looking great in the game.
Fast-forward to 1997, and we had the All-Star Game right here in San Jose, and we had the magic of Owen Nolan’s “called shot” on his hat trick, and a truly great weekend that gave an up-close-and-personal look at Silicon Valley to the rest of the hockey world. Masterton Trophy winner Tony Granato was in the starting lineup, which represented a tremendous comeback from a serious brain injury the year before he came to San Jose. The goals were up from 1973, as the East beat the West, 11-7, and Mark Recchi was awarded the MVP in spite of Owen’s memorable performance.
Beyond the game, some of the more memorable moments for me included the NHL Alumni game, where Walt McKechnie skated onto the ice in the old-time CCM Tacks that were painted white by edict of Seals owner Charles O. Finley, the late Fred Glover found some peace and memory behind the bench, and where Mr. Hockey himself, the great Gordie Howe, made an impression on adults and kids all over the city. I also remember Gary “Cobra” Simmons huffing and puffing as he played the game in spite of recovering from pneumonia only a week or so earlier.
There was a great event at the airship hangar in Mountain View that was packed to the gills with people, and postgame, a memorable downtown party had the fans sharing time with the players themselves. I remember thinking that no other game would have something like that happening, but it did, in San Jose, in 1997.
Today, as the hockey world celebrates Wayne Douglas Gretzky’s 54th (!) birthday, we can reflect positively on the evolution of the NHL All-Star Game, and enjoy its place in the pantheon of all of the great events that the League puts on each year.
We have more goals being scored, and less penalties (none this year) being taken. We have flashy uniforms, teams named after players, a fantasy draft, and even trades consummated. With these changes, what we still have is a unique showcase which puts a spotlight on individual NHL cities, and an exhibition emphasizing the truly magnificent skill of the players, not all of whom get as much exposure in person for the fans in attendance. It’s a lot of work for the League and the host city, and it’s still a great, unique event.
Next month, we’ll get some outstanding exposure for Northern California’s support of the sport at the Coors Light Stadium Series game at Levi’s Stadium between the Sharks and the Kings. That’s also going to be a memorable day in the annals of hockey here in the Golden State. I’m looking forward to that experience, and I know that you are, too.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
That in itself would make the centerman worthy of a focus, here on sjsharks.com.
But instead - I want to elaborate on all of the little things the stat sheet does not tell you about Logan.
Last outing is a perfect example. Early in Saturday night's game against Calgary, Couture took a high stick from Brodie (as in T.J., not me). It cost him parts of three front teeth. Logan went off for repairs but came back in the period.
In the second stanza - after Todd McLellan had surely given his team a stiff talk inside the dressing room - Logan comes out and scores a quick goal less than 20 seconds into play. His team responds by getting two more quick ones, and takes a 3-2 lead.
Then in the 3rd period, Couture pays the ultimate sacrifice on defense, extending his right skate boot to block Mark Giordano's whopper from the point. He later said it got him right where the "shot blocker" did not protect, and before even getting back on his feet, Logan continued defending on the play from his rear end.
San Jose ended up losing that one 4-3 in overtime. And during his postgame interview scrum, Logan went out of his way to tastefully, yet tactfully, yet accurately point out how team defense has been failing lately. The honesty and precision in pointing out what went wrong, in such a short time after the game and all of the emotions, was actually refreshing.
I have watched every single contest that Logan has played in the NHL: 343 in the regular season, plus another 56 in the playoffs. And in those 399 games, I could come up with dozens upon dozens of other examples where Couture showed relentless drive, selfless risk-taking, and an unusual passion to win.
In the bigger picture, things haven't all come easy for Logan. He was an NHL All-Star in 2012... picked last. He was a nominee, likely a finalist to be on Team Canada's 2014 Olympic roster... but ended up getting snubbed. And when San Jose decided on 4 alternate captains this season... Logan was not one of them.
But as you can see, Logan has not let any of this slow or stop him. At 25 years old, Couture should have a lot of hockey left. And hopefully the best rewards are still to come.
- Say what you want about the Toronto Maple Leafs but they play an entertaining brand of hockey. Lots of scoring chances, some good hits and lots of emotion that led to some good ol’ nastiness on the ice. Of course, I’m not cheering for the Leafs so whether they win or lose is irrelevant to me unlike their passionate fan base that are screaming (literally) for a playoff contending team. The Leafs, by the way, have missed the playoffs 8 of the past 9 years.
- If Marleau and Nieto use their speed to crash the net like they did vs the Leafs it is going to open up all kinds of ice for Thornton who will inevitably get the puck to them.
- Tyler Kennedy has looked really good in the two games back since missing 15 games with an upper body injury.
- Justin Braun continues his steady play with tremendous defense and he chipped in with 2 assists vs the Leafs and was named the 1st star of the game.
- What happened to the Pacific Division? Two years ago it was considered the best division in hockey. The Sharks currently sit 2nd in the Pacific with 53 points but that point total would only be good enough for 4th place in the Metropolitan Division and 5th place in the Central and Atlantic. Then again we all know we can’t take stock in the LA Kings regular season point totals – fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice, shame on us! Come playoff time the Pacific Division turns into possibly the toughest division to get out of!
- The past week all the Sharks pro and amateur scouts convened in San Jose for some mid-season meetings. I mentioned on a broadcast that they attend 150 to 200 games and an old friend and scout sent me a direct message on Twitter saying “If they are not going to 300 games and spending 200 nights in a hotel they are working part-time.” Love it! Point is, scouts are the backbone to an organization, have a great eye for talent and they are good old school guys in a very tight-knit scouting community. Good people them scouts are … safe travels guys and keep up the awesome work!
Who is the Sharks best defenseman? It seems like a simple enough question but coming up with an answer isn’t that easy.
Part of the answer lies in what defines a good defenseman. Is he solely a player who should be judged on his defensive play or does the offense he provides also factor into the equation?
Some would argue that Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the Sharks best defenseman. Head Coach Todd McLellan typically has Vlasic on the ice against the opponents’ top offensive players. Vlasic leads the team in +- rating at +12 and he has respectable offensive numbers with 6 goals and 14 points including 3 game winning goals. He was also named to Team Canada’s Olympic squad last year in Sochi and came home with a gold medal around his neck.
Others might offer that Brent Burns rules the San Jose blue line. Burns is one of the NHL’s top scoring defensemen with 11 goals and 35 points. His 24 assists are just 1 behind team leader Joe Thornton. Burns has a booming shot. It’s a weapon. He’s also a key to the Sharks power play where he’s scored 4 goals and he has 2 game winners. But at -8 Burns has one of the poorer +- ratings on the team. Depending on how much value you place in that statistic it may diminish his reputation as a top defender.
When the NHL named its 2015 All Star representative from the Sharks it named Brent Burns. Does that mean the league regards Burns as a better defenseman than Vlasic? I’m not sure. Perhaps Burns was being recognized as much for his personality and admirable community work as he was his play this season.
One thing that is certian is that the Sharks have a good problem when it’s unclear who their best defenseman is and they have two very good ones. And when they are paired together on the ice as they have been recently in games, it’s a big problem for the opposition.
We are now 43 games deep into San Jose's campaign. And although he has only played in the most recent 14 contests, I think it's safe to recognize Melker Karlsson as the biggest surprise for the Sharks, this season.
Before we go any further, I say "surprise" with full respect - he was certainly scouted, signed, and promoted for what San Jose's eyes saw in him. But to collect 10 points in your first 14 NHL games... and be promoted to the top line... and get power play time... I'm not sure anyone could have seen that coming.
Currently, Melker is on a 5-game goal streak, which ties him for the rookie franchise record with Jeff Friesen (1994-1995). He scored a beautifully redirected puck recently, but most of his markers on this current stretch have come from crashing the net. He has come across great opportunities on second chances - specifically the rebounds and loose pucks goalies have been leaving on the doorstep. Karlsson has been rewarded by going to what Todd McLellan describes as the "difficult areas" of the ice. McLellan also once beautifully singled Melker out as being a "puck hunter".
I've gone out and proclaimed Karlsson as the "Melkman" on Twitter and social media. And why not? The Melkman keeps getting the cookies! (Get it?)
But some don't like it. That was a nickname already used infamously by Melky Cabrera when he was a member of the San Francisco Giants.
Furthermore - I've never even asked Karlsson if he's cool with being the "Melkman".
So I propose something different.
Do you know what the name Melker means, in his native Sweden?
It translates to: King.
We should help #68 with a nickname along those lines. Because if he continues at this pace, the moniker will be fitting.
On Thursday night in St. Louis, Head Coach Todd McLellan coached his 500th NHL game. He deserves a big congrats on the milestone for many reasons:
• 64th coach in NHL history to coach 500 games
• He is only the 20th to coach his first 500 with the same franchise
• His 293 wins in his first 500 games in 3rd all-time behind Mike Babcock (303) and Joel Quenville (294)
• He is in his 7th season with the Sharks with a very impressive record of 293-145-62 for a Win % of 58.6% and a Points % of 64.8%
• In his 21 years as a coach he has never missed the playoffs and won an AHL Championship as Head Coach of the Houston Aeros and a Stanley Cup as an Assistant Coach for the Detroit Red Wings.
So what makes Todd McLellan such a good coach? I think I can answer that question using 5 key attributes: Passion, Humility, Integrity, Preparation, and Hockey IQ.
It's what drives any successful coach because they eat, sleep, and think hockey most of the time. Todd loves and respects the game of hockey and his passion is what drives him the most.
It comes from his family that raised him in Melville Saskatchewan. Todd was the ultimate team player when he played and he coaches the same way. He surrounds himself with good people, and does not put himself above the team or the logo that he works for.
Todd is honest and garners respect from his players who continue to play for him and respect him. Todd realizes that hockey, and life itself, is about relationships and how you treat people and uses that model everyday. When we travel from city to city it's remarkable how much respect Todd gets around the league.
I am not saying Todd is the hardest working coach because I know there are other coaches that put in long hours - but I don't think anyone works harder. Whether it's early meetings to go over video, practice plans, meeting with players, or studying game film into the wee hours of the night Todd leads my example with his work ethic and preparation.
Todd has a plan, stays focused on the plan and has an extremely high hockey IQ. I know that other coaches study and use some of the systems that Todd and his staff have used over the years. He processes extremely fast which is mandatory to be a good bench coach at the NHL level and he has an eye for both technical and tactical aspects of the game. You learn something new every time you have a hockey conversation with Todd McLellan.
There are other attributes but those 5 sum up the type of person and coach Todd McLellan is.
Congrats coach on your 500th game - you are in an elite group that have reached that milestone in the top hockey league in the world, the NHL!
Joe Thornton had played in 319 consecutive games for the Sharks when he was injured in Anaheim on New Years Eve, so it was going to be interesting to see how the team responded without him. The initial good news was that they beat Anaheim that night. Three days later the Sharks struggled against St. Louis in a humbling 7-2 loss. They came out flat, put on a brief push late in the first period, and then collapsed the rest of the way surrendering six unanswered goals. They also went 0 for 6 on the power play. Life without Jumbo didn’t look very promising.
But two nights later in Winnipeg, the Sharks other leaders took it upon themselves to respond. Just like they have on other occasions this year when they’ve had less than acceptable outings (Buffalo and Vancouver at home), the team rallied. Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Antti Niemi led the way. And then Marc-Eduard Vlasic stuck a dagger in the Jet’s with a game-winning goal in the dying seconds.
The next night in Minnesota the Sharks had to rally from a 2-0 deficit. Pavelski came through again. So did Tommy Wingels who broke a scoring slump. Rookie Melker Karlsson, who doesn’t look like a typical rookie, scored for a third straight game. Alex Stalock settled down after a shaky first period and the Sharks found a way to get the game to overtime. Then Mr. GWG, Vlasic, scored in the extra frame and the Sharks had another road victory.
It’s not a huge body of work but it’s hugely uplifting to see the Sharks players playing for one another and playing for the coaches. That’s what it feels like. We’ll see how they respond against the Blues on Thursday. And everyone in the dressing room looks forward to the return of Joe Thornton!
Make sure that you’re tuned in to the game tonight in the State of Hockey. It’s sure to be a big one for the Sharks and the Minnesota Wild, for a variety of different reasons.
San Jose recovered nicely from their recent disappointments at home with a strong road performance in blustery, cold Winnipeg last night. The goal by Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 5 seconds to play was certainly one to remember, and it was the second one that he has scored in the closing seconds of the third period.
You remember the first one: on December 20th vs. St. Louis, the Sharks were trailing, 2-1, Antti Niemi was on the bench for an extra attacker, and Vlasic forced OT with passes from Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson with 21 seconds to play. Brent Burns later won it in overtime with a 4-on-3 power play goal.
This time, Karlsson had put the Sharks in front, 2-1, with a nifty give-and-go play from Joe Pavelski and Burns. But Jay Harrison, on a broken play, scored a power play goal to tie it, and everyone was preparing for overtime.
Then, Vlasic got back on the ice. On a brilliant faceoff play, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture combined to get the puck over to Vlasic, who was moving in from his position on the left point. Vlasic’s shot got by goaltender Michael Hutchinson at 19:55, and just as quickly as that, the Sharks added 2 points in the standings and the Jets, who were expecting to add at least 1, added zero.
It should be a great game tonight. Both previous meetings have been decided by a single goal. On Oct. 30th at Xcel Energy Center, Antti Niemi stopped 43 shots as his team faced a season-high 46 attempts on goal. The Sharks led that game, 2-0 and 3-1, before Kyle Brodziak scored twice in the third to force overtime for the Wild. Then, Jason Pominville got the game deciding goal in the shootout.
On Dec. 11th at SAP Center, St. Paul native Alex Stalock got the call for the first time in his career against his hometown team. He made 18 saves, and Joe Pavelski got the game winner for him in the 2-1 victory.
Is Stalock playing tonight? Well, in the immortal words of my former color commentator, Pete Stemkowski, “when they drop the puck, we’ll know.” But if he does get the start, it would be his first-ever NHL assignment in his home state, and that would make it a big night for him.
For the Sharks, it’s a big night either way. They’re at the halfway point of the season, and they’re tied with Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Winnipeg in the increasingly tight Western Conference playoff race. A win would take them into a big game in St. Louis with a chance to sweep a trip and gain ground.
For the Wild, it’s an increasingly desperate situation. They’re 7 points out of the playoff pack, but they do have 3 games in hand on the Sharks, L.A., and Winnipeg. They didn’t play last night. They are going with Darcy Kuemper in net, and they’ll be without Nate Prosser (sick) on defense.
While tonight’s game is nationally televised on NBC SportsNet, we appreciate the fact that many fans would like to have a local broadcast that is in synch with the TV picture. We have that option for you on the San Jose Sharks Radio Network. Our coverage begins on affiliate stations and sjsharks.com at 4:30, and flagship station 98.5 KFOX joins us at 5:00. To synch up the radio feed with what you see on TV, we have directions right here on our website:
Enjoy the game, and the rest of the road trip! I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
On Saturday night, Joe Pavelski scored his 20th goal of the season. Which is a milestone he has reached six times now, with San Jose. It's an accomplishment that puts Pavelski alongside the names Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Owen Nolan... guys who someday should have their numbers hanging in the rafters.
This season, what's equally impressive to how many Joe has scored... is how he is scoring them. Of the 20, six have come on quick releases such as one timers. Another six have come on redirects or tips.
Joe recently gave me his perspective on that breakdown.
"The goalies are so good that it's got to be a bang-bang play. If it isn't a tip or the first shot, it's usually the second one laying there where you have an empty net."
He continued, and got more specific.
"There's lots of times you're looking goalies straight in the eyes and he's making the save, for the most part. Something has to go wrong, so anytime you can change that direction, hit that one-timer quick, there's a few more holes there," said Pavelski.
When the cameras went away, I asked Joe the burning question in my mind.
"Are you telling me... that when say, Vlasic fires a point shot, and you're standing out front of the crease... that you actually have enough confidence and control to redirect that puck to specific corner of the net... or maybe even aim five-hole?...," I said.
Joe's response: "You'd like to think so."
Head Coach Todd McLellan likes where Joe is scoring from, this season.
"For me it's how he works into position. He's got a nose to go to the net. Not behind it. Not in the corner fading away. He's got great hand-eye coordination, and when he's not tipping, deflecting or finding rebounds... he's finding available ice to release the puck," said McLellan.
The stat that is most impressive lies in the calendar year of 2014. Where no NHL player scored more regular season goals than Joe Pavelski. He had 44. Think about it... Kane, Ovechkin, Kessel, Stamkos, Malkin... they didn't score as many as "Little Joe."
"It's an art, it's worked on," said McLellan.
"The way he approaches the game, how he practices, the extras he does before and after. He puts himself in situations he knows he'll be in during games, and works on it. And all of a sudden he's rewarded."
Watch Sharks Pregame Live tonight at 4:30 on Comcast SportsNet California!
Instead of posing a perspective this week, I bring a question:
Who is San Jose's biggest rival?
First, we should probably acknowledge and dismiss all of the auxiliary possibilities.
While there have been plenty of fascinating and meaningful playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings, I'm not sure they can be counted here. Even though Jamie Baker's 1994 goal is still the "biggest in Sharks history", and even though Todd McLellan is a direct disciple of the greatness that is Mike Babcock... geography, and recent conference re-alignment has diminished any growing animosity between Detroit and San Jose.
The Vancouver Canucks have a lot in common with the Sharks. A West Coast team, frequent playoff appearances in the last 10 seasons, and both franchises are searching for their first Stanley Cup. Not to mention, each club has a tech-savvy and passionate fan-base, which has seen each other in the postseason several times in recent years. But for whatever reason, Vancouverites only seem to align their rivalries East-West instead of anything immediately below the border. Meetings with Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg carry the most weight. And because a rivalry has to go two-ways, San Jose is off the list, despite being a division foe.
I'll throw the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes into the same category, here. Fun, competitive, nasty games to watch against San Jose over the years - including respective postseason series since 2000, against each. But one thing which promotes instant rivalry is sustained competitiveness - something which the Stars and Coyotes just haven't timed out well with San Jose's playoff runs in the last 11 years. Phoenix makes the more sense than Dallas, from a geographical perspective but either way - the rivalry "temperature" is not hot enough in these two cities, even though the actual temperatures might be.
Which brings us to the realistic possibilities. And even though Los Angeles and Anaheim are "natural rivals" considering their short driving distance from each other - one of them is likely San Jose's biggest rival, too.
Is it the Los Angeles Kings? Considering the playoffs of the last several seasons (2011, 2013, 2014) there is now much significance in their meetings with San Jose. There is also the upcoming Stadium Series game, which will add a new chapter between the clubs. While LA has distinguished itself amongst the hockey world with 2 Stanley Cups in the last 3 years, they have also been in existence nearly 50 years - essentially twice as long as the Sharks. I know what that "head start" means to the development of franchises, but I'm not sure if it means something to the rivalry. Either way - impressive how San Jose has "caught up", from not even existing in 1990.
So it has got to be the Anaheim Ducks, right? Probably. Orange County and Silicon Valley aren't exactly twins, but each is an important piece of their region. The "Mighty Ducks" and Sharks both entered the NHL at similar times, and found success in "untraditional" hockey markets. There has been only one (unfortunate) postseason series between these two teams, but they have still played enough nasty hockey games over the years for the rivalry to exist.
Who do you think the biggest rival is? Leave your comment, below!