It’s finally here. Tonight the Sharks face the Los Angeles Kings. Is it rivalry night on the west coast? You bet it is. Debate all you want but the Sharks top rival is LA and the Kings top rival is San Jose.
A dozen games into the season the Sharks sit atop the Pacific Division with 21 points. The Kings are 5 points back in fourth place. It’s too early to try and figure out what the landscape will look like in April but the early returns for both teams are good.
They might have looked a little flat last night in a 3-1 loss in Phoenix but the Kings have a good team again. They’re only 16 months removed from winning the Stanley Cup and last season got to the Western Conference Final for a second straight season. And oh yes, the Kings are the team that knocked the Sharks out of the playoffs last spring.
If you think that fact is lost on the Sharks players who skated off the ice at Staples Center following a 2-1 loss on May 28th you would be incorrect. Who knows if both the Sharks and Kings will make the playoffs this season? Who knows if they’ll meet again if they do both qualify? But if you are a Sharks player, coach or member of management you went into the past off-season thinking about what it would take to get past the Kings, didn’t you? How do you beat LA in a 7 game series? How do you win on LA ice, something the Sharks failed to do in last seasons second round series.
Those questions can’t be answered until a future playoff meeting, but the message sending starts tonight. The Sharks want to show that their early season improvement is for real. The Kings want to maintain the upper hand on their northern rivals.
It’s the biggest game of the season, so far. The Sharks want to beat LA.
I think it's important to note that all 4 of those teams made the playoffs last year:
Boston - went to the Cup Finals losing to Chicago in 6 games Detroit - Lost in the 2nd round to eventual Cup Champs Chicago in 7 games Ottawa - Lost to Pittsburgh in the 2nd round Montreal - Lost to Ottawa in the 1st round
Goals For: 8
Goals Against: 4
Players injured, not playing: Boyle, Burns, Torres, Burrish, Havlat
Discipline and patience - those are two of the characteristics the Sharks showed in a defensive gem as the Sharks shut out the Red Wings at Joe Louis and won the game in the shootout.
Spectacular - the save Neimi made on Bertuzzi to secure the win.
Stifling - The Sharks did that to the Bruins out-shooting them 39-17 only to get a taste of their own 'stifling' medicine by Tukka Rask who stole the game for the hometown Bruins.
Buzzer beater - we see it in basketball all the time but not very often in hockey. Unfortunately for the Sharks, who were the last team in the NHL without a regulation loss, the Bruins scored with 0.8 seconds left to win the game 2-1.
Suffocating - that's what the Sharks did to Montreal's offense as the visiting Sharks shut out the Habs 2-0 on Hockey Night In Canada.
Chien chaud - the hot dogs in Montreal are terrific. If I've said it once I've said it a million times, it's all about the bun and they toast the buns there.
Gumption - what the Sharks showed as they played about 20 hours after an emotional win in Montreal to defeat the Senators 5-2.
Perseverance - Alex Stalock getting his 1st NHL start at the age of 26 after overcoming a career threatening injury.
On the flight home from Ottawa, it’s time to reflect on what has been a most eventful road trip for San Jose Sharks hockey. On this trip, the team found out a lot about itself and virtually all of it remains a very exciting sign for the prospects for the season.
Let’s look at the most important things that the Sharks found out about themselves on this little trip to the Eastern Time Zone. All of what they found relate to one word, “response,” and more specifically, “response to a variety of challenges by outstanding teams.”
It all began in Detroit, where the Sharks and their perpetual shooting gallery was met by the coach’s video preparations on the opposite side of the ice. Yes, the Detroit staff was ready for the Sharks, and what ensued was an intellectually-based chess match between Todd McLellan and Mike Babcock, a goaltending duel between Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard, warm, soft, slow ice conditions, an irregularity in the Motor City, and a 65:00 of intense hockey where the Sharks were held to just 27 shots on goal and where Detroit mustered only 24.
Both goaltenders made some crucial stops, but none was more important than the one that Niemi made on Todd Bertuzzi in the shootout. With Logan Couture having just scored, all Niemi needed to do was stop the puck to get the win and when he was able to lift his right pad upward just enough to get Bertuzzi’s formidable attempt, the look on Bertuzzi’s face was priceless and the Sharks got out of town with two points in the standings.
On to Boston, San Jose simply dominated the action for, conservatively speaking, 59:30 of the 60:00. They outshot Boston 39-17 for the game, and forged ahead against the Bruins. But victory wasn’t to be: late in the second period, Jarome Iginla found a way to deflect one past Niemi for his first Bruins goal, and then, with 0.8 seconds left in the game, a David Krejci deflection of an Adam McQuaid shot from the point got past Niemi, and the Sharks lost for the first time in Boston since the Joe Thornton trade.
The question on everyone’s mind after that loss was, “How were the Sharks going to respond?” Their next matchup was in Montreal, on Saturday night, in front of an entire province and nation (on CBC television). All they did was skate with the speedy Canadiens stride for stride. They got a brilliant performance in all three zones from Logan Couture, who scored twice. The Quebec natives, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jason Demers, had terrific nights, and Niemi was solid again as the Sharks won, 2-0, only their third win ever in Montreal, and first in 11 years.
But what happened in the final three minutes of that game was truly incredible. Against a solid team, the Sharks made it impossible for the Canadiens to pull goaltender Carey Price in the third period. Montreal simply couldn’t get far enough up ice to do it. In the third period, the Sharks played essentially three lines and used Joe Thornton with James Sheppard and John McCarthy, who did an outstanding job when called upon to play great defensive hockey. With Vlasic and Justin Braun shutting things down, the Sharks simply put on a clinic that was incredibly impressive.
The very next day, San Jose had everything working against them: an afternoon start against a team that was rested and ostensibly motivated, given a 50-shot performance by the Sharks against them at SAP Center just a few weeks before. The Sharks were going with Alex Stalock in net for the first time, giving Niemi a game off after 11 straight starts.
What happened wasn’t the prettiest of games, but the Sharks also chose to show how it would respond to a satisfying, successful night. They didn’t have their legs, which was understandable, but Stalock had a great first NHL start with 38 saves, including 16 in the first period when the Sens really were going for the kill.
San Jose found out after the warmup that Matt Nieto was not going to be able to play, and although that looks like a short-term situation, it changed the plans for the evening. But Andrew Desjardins and James Sheppard came up with their first goals of the season, Tomas Hertl ended a goal-scoring drought, the Sharks scored in the opening 1:30 of the first and 3rd periods, Tommy Wingels scored a shorthanded goal, and Joe Pavelski finished off the Sens with a deflection on a give-and-go with Justin Braun, who continues to be mighty impressive.
All in all, the Sharks are showing that they are up for virtually any challenge, and every member of the team is making a contribution and commitment to the cause.
Now, it’s on to Los Angeles to finish the trip. The challenges will continue to mount, but so will the excitement.
This and that:
- The Sabres’ John Scott laid out a brutal hit on the Bruins’ Loui Eriksson Wednesday night. It’s another example a hit which must be policed and punished. Eriksson had clearly shot the puck into the offensive and was viciously blindsided the Bruins’ player. The targeting of the head cannot be permitted. The NHL and the NHLPA needs to work together on this topic to protect the players. The NHL should look at the sad stories emerging with players in the NFL.
- The Sharks added depth and toughness with the acquisition of forward Mike Brown from the Oilers for a 4th round draft pick. The Sharks are the 5th club that Brown has suited up for. Sharks fans will remember Brown from his 2 years in Anaheim. Brown is another American NHLer. He’s from Chicago and played college hockey for Red Berenson’s Michigan Wolverines.
- Antti Niemi’s shootout save on the Red Wings’ Todd Bertuzzi Monday night was one for the ages. Bertuzzi started right then to left attempting to out wait the Finish netminder, but Niemi stayed with it and while laying on his belly found a way to extend his right pad stealing a shootout goal and sealing a Sharks 1-0 victory over the Wings.
- For Sharks’ fans who just can’t get enough of their team, I have good news. This is the first season that the SJSharks.com producers will be on every road trip. Look for great pre and postgame video coverage of the players and members of the Sharks broadcast team. Content will be on almost every platform, SJSharks.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more. The website’s production team is at every practice and game, home and away. Let us know what you think and what more you’d like to see.
- The current road trip is a special one. With stops in original six cities Detroit, Boston, Montreal along with hockey-crazed Ottawa, and winding it up with a rival game in LA, makes it a fun time to follow the Sharks.
- If you’d like to see photos from the Sharks road adventures, follow me on twitter @sharkstv.
- The Sharks depth is being tested with recent injuries to Dan Boyle and Brent Burns, not to mention the extended time out from Adam Burish and Martin Havlat. So far San Jose has successfully relied on production from those on the 3rd and 4th lines. Quality minutes are being logged by everyone on the roster.
- Last night’s game in Boston was a special one for several Sharks players. Rookie forward Freddie Hamilton skated on NHL ice for the first time against his younger brother Dougie. It was certainly a proud moment for the Hamilton family of Toronto, Ontario. 4 other Sharks returned to Boston ice after earning their college stripes in Beantown, Matt Nieto and John McCarthy skated at Boston University while Matt Erwin and Justin Braun wore the colors of Boston College. Boston gives Detroit a good run for the title of Hockeytown USA.
Eight days ago Dan Boyle was carted off the ice on a stretcher after a chickenyouknowwhat hit by Blues forward Maxim Lapierre.
Since then there have been four more dangerous head shots and/or dirty hits from behind.
Cody McLeod from the Avalanche runs Nick Kronwall from the Red Wings Michael Grabner from the Islanders catches Nathan Gerbe on the jaw.
Ryan Garbutt's feet leave the ice, (note he didn't leave his feet) and KO's Dustin Penner.
AND .. .tonight I'm watching the Bruins Loui Eriksson being helped off the ice after getting his head snapped by the Sabres John Scott.
Are these guys a wee bit slow on the uptake?
Don't get me wrong I still don't fret and worry or wring my hands about theses poor boys getting hurt or the NHL looking bad or the long term effects of concussions. Callous?
I know but who is more callous and uncaring, me or the meatheads that continue to allow and perpetrate these idiotic hits?
It's not the Head Honchos in the NHL's offices who are at fault.
I believe that 100% of the blame should be placed with the players union and it's administrators.
Until the NHLPA members demand that all the union members treat each other with respect, nothing will change and guys will continue to be carted off the ice wondering what day it is and if the day will ever come when they can get back on the ice.
I don't think elaboration is needed in my blog, or extensive explanation, or reasoning. It's way to simple for that.
Guys, stop hitting each other from behind and stop hitting each other in the head. No one wants to see someone lay on the ice unconscious for over 2 minutes, especially knowing that person has family and friends watching the game.
3 stretchers in 1 week means we are getting closer to someone getting paralyzed, having a career ending injury of God forbid, dying.
Do you really want to live with the guilt of being that player, you know, the one who will forever be known as the player who paralyzed another player or ended someone's career, or the worst scenario of all, the God forbid scenario?
I know the game is played on the edge ... I was there! But at some point, it's not worth it! It's a game, a sport and you make a lot of money.
Be smarter guys, if not for each other, for all the family members and friends out there that care for you.
On the cross-country flight to Detroit, the names Mike Smith, Scott Thornton, and Evgeni Nabokov are weaving together into an interesting yarn that brings several memories into one.
Thornton, of course, is the cousin of current Sharks captain Joe Thornton, and in the years that he played in San Jose, he was one of the more popular veterans on the team. Currently, “Thorty” is retired from the game, living in Collingwood, Ontario, and is taking part in CBC television’s popular “Battle of the Blades” program. That’s a show where Thornton, like some former NHL’ers before him, take on a different skating role in an ice dancing competition with a partner to raise money for a charity. Thornton is dancing with Amanda Evora of Sarasota, FL, and they’re trying to win the competition to raise funds for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
Smith is the starting goaltender of the Phoenix Coyotes, one of the better ones in the game. One of his major attributes is his “puckability,” as coach Todd McLellan described it on the October 5th edition of “Coach’s Chalkboard” on KFOX 98.5/102.1 and the San Jose Sharks Radio Network. On Saturday night, Smith entered history by becoming the 11th goaltender in NHL history to score a goal when he threw the puck the length of the ice into an empty net.
It wasn’t Smith’s first goal as a pro. In his first game for the ECHL’s Lexington Man O’War in 2002-03, Smith had the unique distinction of getting a major penalty for fighting and scoring a goal in the same contest. That’s rather unique, don’t you think?
Nabokov, of course, is the Sharks’ all-time wins leader among goaltenders with 293, and is currently playing for the New York Islanders.
There’s the background. Now, let’s start weaving.
Two weeks into the 2013-14 NHL season it appears that the Sharks have built upon their late season and playoff success from last spring.
Projecting veteran team fortunes is fairly simple. One can review career trends and past results. Using this information you can predict the ultimate success of that team. But when important veterans get up in age, their skills can quickly erode. If enough vets performances decline, it may be time to break up that squad and build for the future. Those teams often try to move quality players and stockpile prospects and draft picks. The history of NHL has many examples of teams in a constant rebuild mode. If scouts and general managers don’t have vision and a philosophy that works, teams can wallow in failure for years and even decades.
Teams that catapult into elite status are often driven by youth. Players who have been in the league for 10+ years are often there due to their consistency. That is a huge portion of their value to the team. Young players are a work in progress. Their job is to contribute, learn and get better. Some players succeed, but many more fail. Through the years many high draft picks with great potential fail. Other undrafted, poorly regarded players work at their craft, take advantages of opportunity learn from experience to become great NHLers. When a large portion of a club boasts young, talented players they can skyrocket into a Cup contender.
The Sharks are one of those teams. Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson along with his scouting staff and a solid coaching staff has provided San Jose fans with a competitive and entertaining team. San Jose has not needed to ‘rebuild’. Wilson has coined the saying that his job is to ‘reset and refresh’. In the past few season we’ve seen the emergence of Logan Couture. A first-rounder who has bloomed into one of the best players in the league. Young defensemen such as Marc-Edourd Vlasic, Justin Braun and Matt Irwin have worked on their games and have become reliable and trusted blue-liners. This season has debuted a pair of young exciting forwards, Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto. Their speed, energy and skill has been in large supply and are a big part of the Sharks early success. Young veterans like Andrew Desjardin, James Sheppard and Tommy Wingels are showing better consistency and the coaching staff has come to ‘trust’ them, especially in important moments in a game.
Looking over the San Jose roster shows a great mix of young prospects, youthful veterans and star players. This is a balanced team. With the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelsk, the younger players have mentors both on and off the ice. It’s early in the season. Anti Niemi has played brilliant in net. It’s great that the Sharks sit at 6-0-1. Early indications are there that this could be a very special season for a much-loved team from Northern California. Enjoy the games!
I could go in several different directions in writing about the Sharks 6-2 win in St. Louis on Tuesday night but I’m going to pick the high road.
The way I saw it, Maxime Lapierre of the Blues delivered a dirty hit to Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle in the first period. Hopefully Boyle will be OK and will be able to return to the lineup soon. Now the incident is in the hands of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Lapierre is a repeat offender, having been docked four games in 2010 for a cheap shot on the Sharks Scott Nichol. My guess is he’s going to be suspended for more than 4 games this time around.
But how about the performance by the Sharks, who at 6-0 are now one of only two unbeaten teams left in the NHL along with Colorado? It seems as if the Sharks have won every game this season in a different manner. In St. Louis, they punished the Blues for their lack of discipline scoring three power play goals. And when the Blues went on the power play they could hardly get pucks through to the net thanks to the courageous shot blocking of Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Justin Braun and the rest of the penalty kill unit.
Joe Thornton played his strongest offensive game of the young season with a goal and three assists. He continues to march up the NHL all-time points and assists lists. Tuesday night he passed Guy Lafleur and tied Mike Bossy and Joe Nieuwendyk, Hall of Famers all of them.
Six different Sharks scored goals and 11 had points in a very one-sided affair against a previously undefeated St. Louis team.
Tommy Wingels was the third star. He hit everything, blocked shots and became the sixth different Shark to record a game winning goal this season.
The list goes on and on. Patrick Marleau had a three point night, Braun had over 25 minutes of ice time and Antti Niemi was solid when he had to be, shutting the Blues out until almost halfway through the third period to record his league leading sixth win.
This was “another” team victory. It was also a win for Dan Boyle. His teammates couldn’t bear the thought of Boyle paying the price he did and then losing the game.
Here’s to Dan Boyle’s health and on to Dallas!