With the afterglow of the Stadium Series game fading, it’s back to serious business for the San Jose Sharks beginning Thursday night against the visiting Detroit Red Wings. For a lot of teams the “push to the playoffs” begins after the trade deadline, which arrives next Monday. For the Sharks the push is already on.
Saturday’s loss to the Kings was disappointing but it was also damaging in the standings. With Los Angeles now on an eight game winning streak the Sharks are two points behind them for third place in the Pacific Division and LA has two games in hand. But that’s just one problem. With 68 points the Sharks are a point out of a wildcard playoff spot and depending on what Calgary does Wednesday night in New Jersey that gap could widen. With only 21 games to go the Sharks have to get back on track and get on a roll. First of all they must solve their issues on home ice. Including the game at Levi Stadium last weekend the Sharks are 14-12-5 at home. They’ve lost more than they’ve won. That has to change and it starts Thursday against the Red Wings and then Saturday against Ottawa and Monday vs. Montreal. The team has to find a way to recapture the significant home ice advantage that has been their calling card at SAP Center for the past decade.
It’s looking like the Sharks battle to make the post season will continue right through to the end of the regular season. There’s a seven game road trip looming in March and the club will have to play 10 of its final 13 games away from home. But those are worries for another day. Right now the Sharks have to start their “push to the playoffs” at the arena they made so famous for being one of the loudest in the NHL. It’s time to make some noise.
I am done with the NHL shootout. It’s over. It’s dead to me.
When the league brought in the shootout following the 2004-2005 lockout I was all for it. Ties were boring and it was going to be fun to see some creativity when games went beyond five minutes of overtime. However after the Sharks record 13 round “snoozeout” against Edmonton Monday, I’ve crossed over to the other side. The longer that thing went the worse it got. A total of 26 shots were taken and only THREE goals were scored. Seriously? And it’s not like the goalies were amazing or anything. The Sharks kept shooting 5-hole on Viktor Fasth and he kept stopping them. At the other end the Oilers kept shooting glove hand high on Antti Niemi and he kept catching them. It was beyond dull. I guess it got fun for the players in the later rounds as they got to watch teammates who normally don’t get the call, attempt to score. Do you think Matt Irwin got chirped at all in the dressing room after the game?
But when you think about it the league is pretty much over the whole shootout thing too. Right off the bat they devalued a shootout win by creating the ROW column in the standings and making that the first tiebreaker. Then at the start of the season they outlawed “spin-o-rama” goals effectively taking the gimmick factor out of what was a gimmick to begin with. And then part way through this season the dry scrape was abandoned leaving the ice so poor in many rinks by the time overtime is over than even the most skilled players don’t want to deke the goalie for fear that they’ll lose the puck, not get a shot on goal and get chirped by their teammates in the dressing room later (see above).
So if the game is still tied after overtime go ahead and play 3-on-3 or 2-on-2 or flip a coin or have the captains arm wrestle at center ice. But the shootout? Kill it.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
With the rest of the Sharks season set to resume Thursday there are so many questions that will be answered over the next 10 weeks. Questions like...
Is it a foregone conclusion that Anaheim will win the Pacific Division or can a team like the Sharks still put together a run to try and catch them?
How many more Hall of Famers will Joe Thornton pass on the NHL all-time points and assists lists before the end of the season?
Are the LA Kings about to shake their inconsistent ways and make a run up the standings as they attempt to defend their championship?
Will Patrick Marleau regain the scoring touch that has earned him the reputation of being one of the Sharks most reliable goal scorers over the last decade and a half?
Can the Nashville Predators hold off Chicago and St. Louis for the Central Division title?
Can Joe Pavelski repeat his 41 goal season and possibly take a run at 50?
Will the Sharks-Kings Stadium Series game at Levi's Stadium next month be the "iconic" game in Bay Area hockey history?
Will Brent Burns win the defenseman scoring race?
Will the Sharks final game of the season April 11 against the Kings decide which team makes the post season and which misses?
Lots of questions with all the answers about to be revealed! Enjoy the rest of the hockey season and the push to the playoffs!
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.
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!
If the NHL amateur draft lottery were held today the Edmonton Oilers would be the #1 seed and the favorite to pick #1 overall, again. Due to their stretch of 8 straight non-playoff seasons, the Oilers have had quite a run at the draft table. From 2010 to 2012 they selected first overall each year taking LW Taylor Hall, C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and RW Nail Yakupov. Unless things improve appreciably this season there’s a good chance they’ll end up with the opportunity to draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, both of whom are being described by the hockey scouting community as “generational players”.
It’s tough to argue with the Oilers picks when they’ve selected first overall. It’s what they’ve done beyond the first round in their drafting that is under the microscope now. When they skated onto the ice against the Sharks this week the Oilers had only one player on their roster that they drafted outside of the first round. That’s a problem. The success of a good team certainly starts with solid first round picks but it doesn’t end there. Depth comes from the middle and later rounds. The Sharks have had some very good first round picks over the years that are on the current roster. Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Mirco Mueller were all taken in the first round. But the organization has filled the rest of the team with excellent players from much deeper in the draft. Joe Pavelski and Justin Braun were both taken in the 7th round. Tommy Wingels went in the 6th. Goaltender Alex Stalock was a 4th rounder. Matt Nieto and Marc-Eduard Vlasic came out of the 2nd round. That’s an impressive group. It could be a core group for many franchises. A top scoring center/winger in Pavelski, a top defense pair in Vlasic and Braun, speed/skill in Nieto, physicality/heart/leadership from Wingels and a goalie (Stalock) with the potential to be a starter.
It all points to some solid scouting and drafting by the Sharks, a skill that a team like the Oilers will have to be more successful at if they’re to be a playoff team again.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
I’m feeling some angst in Sharks Territory these days. Fans are asking “what’s wrong with the team?”
Granted the Sharks present record wouldn’t have them in a playoff spot if the postseason started today, but they’re not that far back.
And how many times over the past 10 straight years of playoff appearances by the team have we seen the Sharks shoot out of the gate straight to the top of the division standings in autumn only to see them come up short in the spring?
Adversity builds character. The Sharks are going through their share of adversity right now. The road heavy schedule in October and November was brutal. There have been several very disappointing nights so far. It’s hard to understand how the team can be 0-5-1 collectively against Florida, Columbus and Buffalo. But this is a different team than last years. There are new players and the leadership dynamic is in transition. These things take time. It’s difficult to be patient when you’re used to seeing the Sharks cruising along through most of the season.
Are these Sharks good enough to make the playoffs come April ? I believe they are. Are these Sharks good enough to win a Stanley Cup? I have no idea. What I do know is that when a team goes through tough times together and has to fight and scrap for wins like the Sharks did on Tuesday night against Philadelphia, it’s bound to unite them and instill a stronger spirit in the group. Those are character traits that ought to serve them well when the big games come next spring.
Back in the late 80’s I was invited to be part of an organization called Pro Hockey San Jose. The purpose of the group was to promote San Jose as a viable NHL expansion destination and to hopefully attract ownership. We succeeded in educating a lot of hockey people about the city and ultimately the Gund family became the owners of the Sharks franchise. It was an amazing experience with lots of twists and turns along the way. There were also a lot of people who helped us achieve our goals. One of those people was former NHL player, coach, General Manager and executive Pat Quinn who died this week at the age of 71.
Right around the time that Pro Hockey San Jose was making inroads with then San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery about the idea of the new Arena becoming the home of a hockey team, Pat Quinn was the President and General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks. Quinn reached out to our group and wanted to help in whatever way he and the Canucks could. And it made sense. It would benefit a West Coast franchise like the Canucks to have another team in their time zone. It would help their travel and it would perhaps even offer up another rivalry, which it ultimately did. Pat Quinn dispatched his then assistant GM Brian Burke to San Jose to meet with our group and eventually Mayor McEnery and his staff. Burke, under the instructions of Quinn, shared the Canucks business plan with McEnery and spent hours answering questions about how an NHL team works and how it might impact the downtown area. That information proved to be incredibly valuable to the mayor and the city council in their eventual decision to back the idea of a hockey team for San Jose.
With his passing, Pat Quinn will be remembered for many things. I’ll always remember him for his interest in our idea’s and the hand he had in making the dream of NHL hockey in San Jose a reality.
In professional sports, with every injury there is also an opportunity. With Alex Stalock out of the lineup and on inured reserve it’s a chance for Worcester Sharks call-up Troy Grosenick to show what he’s got. He’ll be dressed for his first ever NHL game on Thursday when the Sharks continue their road trip in Tampa.
First of all Grosenick is a good goalie. In college he took his Union Dutchmen team to the NCAA Final Four his sophomore year and became the first ever player from that program to be a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s outstanding play college hockey player.
This year the undrafted free agent leads the American Hockey League in victories with 10 and has a lot of people believing that the Worcester Sharks will be a playoff team and could really do some damage if they get there.
In chatting with Worcester play-by-play man Eric Lindquist he describes Grosenick as a “battler”. The kind of goalie who makes the last save, the big save. He’s athletic and intense. He’s also a character. Grosenick juggles three tennis balls up against the wall as part of his pregame ritual. He’s sporting a totally legit “Movember” moustache and if he happens to get an NHL start and happens to get his fist NHL win, keep an eye on his water bottle. Apparently after a win, Grosenick grabs his water bottle off the top of the net, goes down on a knee and throws the bottle down the ice. Check out this video at about the 2:30 mark.
And if that’s not colorful enough for you, Grosenick’s fiancé Maggie has her own business. She makes bow ties for dogs and sells them. You can’t make this up. You have to love hockey goalies!
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
My thought today is all about Tuesday’s “Meet The Sharks” event at SAP Center. For several hours my fellow Sharks broadcast colleagues and I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting with so many ardent and wonderful hockey fans. Back in the day when the broadcast positions were in the lower seating area we met fans each and every night. For the past few years we have been located in the upper press box area, which is closed off from the main arena. I miss the day-to-day, game-to-game contact with you the fans.
Tuesday we met little children who are just finding out about hockey and about the Sharks. We met moms and dads who brought them along and have been faithful fans for years. We saw familiar friendly faces, the people who we see at these events all the time. Your dedication is always appreciated. One of my fondest memories was meeting a couple, well into their golden years, which stopped by to chat with us. They were new fans. They discovered Sharks hockey as seniors, and fell in love with it. How uplifting is that?
There were many gracious comments about our broadcasts. We truly appreciate that. It’s especially gratifying when we hear that you enjoy learning more about the game but also like the “entertainment factor”. It’s always our goal on radio and television to bring that blend.
I sincerely felt energized leaving the arena Tuesday night. It’s so humbling and gratifying to know that so many of you care about the Sharks and care about how we present them to you. Thank you!
I’m Randy Hahn for SJsharks.com