Can you imagine the NFL season being 32 games in 68 days? That's the equivalent of this short season where teams are playing 48 intense, pressure filled games in 99 days.
Anyone who expects the players to be at their best for that many games in such a short time period with all the travel has never seen a game played at ice level --- or played in a short NHL season before. It's fast, it's physical and the bumps and bruises add up.
The Sharks have laid an egg twice this year - in Columbus and in Calgary, otherwise they have competed in every game. In Columbus they looked mentally unprepared to battle - it happens!. In Calgary they were working hard but they had no legs and couldn't get to the places their brains told them to go to, it happens! Playing the night before and traveling on game day is not an excuse, it's an explanation.
We are exactly at the halfway point of this truncated (love that word by the way) season. The Sharks are truly a half is glass full, glass is half empty team depending on how you want to analyze them.
Stingy defense with great goaltending or a team that can't score? The Sharks are currently in 7th place, 2 points out of 4th and 6 points away from 15th. The schedule gets even tougher the last month and a half and it will be a wild ride to the finish.
This short season sure beats the non-season in 2004/05. I can't wait to get the 2nd half of this season going and the opponent is perfect, the St. Louis Blues, the team who knocked the Sharks out of the playoffs last year.
Tonight should be a good game and then it's back to back with our SoCal rivals and the defending Stanley Cup Champions - what a great week for hockey.
Patrick Marleau became the 88th player in NHL history to reach 400 goals in his career, but only the 30th ever to record his first 400 goals with one team. Of course, he’s the first Shark to score all 400 goals in a San Jose uniform.
That is a tremendous accomplishment, and he deserves many congratulations for it. But beyond that, it is equally impressive how he did it.
You see, Patrick’s 400th goal won’t be on a “play to tell your grandchildren about.” It wasn’t as the result of a major deke on a goaltender, a blazing dash up the ice, or that quick release of a heavy shot that we have known Marleau to take.
No, Patrick Marleau’s 400th goal came as the result of hard work, intelligent positioning, and, yes, a quick reaction with his stick. It was a deflection of a Justin Braun shot, with Joe Pavelski setting up traffic in front of Semyon Varlamov, that did the trick.
You may or may not remember that Patrick’s first NHL goal, scored at America West Arena on October 19, 1997, was also in the slot on a very quick reaction in front of the net. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed over the years: if you go to the hard working areas, you’re going to get chances, but you have to have the presence of mind and the quick hands that Patrick Marleau has to do it 400 times or more in the NHL.
In a unique twist, Patrick seems to like scoring big milestone goals against Russian born goaltenders. His first goal in Phoenix was scored on Nikolai Khabibulin, and his 400th came against Semyon Varlamov last night in Colorado.
What’s most gratifying is how well Patrick is playing in all areas of the game this season. The bodycheck that he threw against St. Louis captain David Backes on Saturday is a case in point. He’s doing everything that he can in all three zones of the ice to help his team win.
Congratulations on the milestone, Patrick. We look forward to celebrating more with you.
Hockey is a weird game.
I can't ice the puck unless my team is serving a penalty for breaking the rules.
I have to stay in the penalty box for 2 minutes for a rule infraction unless the other team scores. Then I'm let out for good behavior, or the officials feel sorry for me.
I can't shoot the puck over the glass if I'm in the defensive zone but I can shoot it over the glass if I'm in the neutral zone or offensive zone.
I can glove the puck forward to a teammate in the defensive zone (but not back off a face-off)
but I can't in any of the other zones.
However I can kick a puck to anyone anywhere on the ice but I can't kick it into the net. Well I can as long as I don't really kick the puck, I can angle it, direct it even nudge it..that's OK.
Like I said weird.
We’ve pretty much reached the halfway point of the season so the “Halfway NHL Award Winners” lists are hitting the web and the airways. Yesterday, ESPN NHL columnist Scott Burnside gave his halfway Vezina Trophy to the Sharks Antti Niemi. The Vezina Trophy is annually awarded to the NHL’s best goaltender as determined by a vote of the leagues general managers.
It’s a given that Niemi has been the Sharks team MVP up to this point. Going into Saturday’s game against St. Louis he had a 10-4-4 record with a 1.83 goals against average and .935 save percentage. His one shutout came in a shootout loss to Phoenix.
In a season when the Sharks have often struggled to score goals, Niemi has kept them in game after game. He has allowed 2 or fewer goals in 13 of the 18 games he’s started. With a little more offensive support he would likely be leading the league in victories.
If the Sharks can find a way to improve their offense and get to that “magical” third goal, on a game-to-game basis, Niemi’s excellent goaltending should serve them well in nailing down a playoff spot.
- I like the new proposed re-alignment from the Sharks standpoint. In their division are 3 teams from Canada; Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. These cities are all hockey hotbeds and fun to visit, not to mention some good rivalries. Makes for a great road trip for any hockey fan looking to see Sharks hockey on the road.
- The Sharks and Blues both have 26 points, with the Sharks having 1 game in hand. Makes for an awesome matchup on Saturday at 1pm at HP Pavilion. This will be an intense, physical game and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the Sharks respond after the loss in Calgary, not to mention these two teams meet again on Tuesday in St. Louis.
- After the game the Sharks hit the road for Colorado where they play on Sunday and start a span of 7 games out of the next 8 on the road. We knew this tough schedule would be a grind and it is.
- Hard to believe that we are almost as the halfway mark (24 games) for the season. Even more incredible is the fact Chicago has played 24 games, or half their season, and still has not lost in regulation.
- Parity is great for the fans but the coaches are all scratching their heads trying to figure out how to get even the slightest edge to help them gain some ground in the standings.
Enjoy the games this weekend!
The visor debate has begun to really rage in NHL circles, after the eye injury suffered by New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal a few days ago. It’s somewhat ironic that the entire issue bubbled to the surface as the result of a game between the Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.
I still recall two significant eye-related injuries from Rangers-Flyers games that actually ended careers back in the helmetless days of the 1970’s. In 1974, Flyers defenseman Barry Ashbee suffered a career-ending eye injury after getting hit by a slap shot from Dale Rolfe of the Rangers. In 1979, Rangers left wing Don Maloney and Flyers defenseman Jimmy Watson tangled for position in front of Philadelphia goaltender Bernie Parent. As they tumbled to the ice, an errant stick clipped Parent in the eyehole of his old-style, fiberglass mask, and caused him to have a career-ending eye injury.
Now, another Rangers-Flyers game has produced another eye injury, this time to a member of the Broadway Blueshirts. It has also brought up the idea of making visors mandatory.
While the NHL has encouraged this progression, the NHLPA has maintained a desire for player choice in the matter. But should we be reactive or proactive on this issue? Should we take that issue out of the players’ hands, or should a player make that choice himself?
If I were playing professionally, I’d certainly wear, at minimum, a visor. But I wouldn’t necessarily use force of a mandate to remove the choice of a player, not yet. But what is needed is a continued coordinated effort by both League and NHLPA to strongly encourage their players to wear eye protection. The marketplace of information should be enough to cause the transition to continue as it has been, as we have seen a sharp rise in the use of visors in the last decade in the League.
Today, there is zero controversy about wearing a helmet. The NHL mandated a phase-in after it seemed as if the transition wasn’t happening fast enough. I’m not convinced that the natural visor phase-in that we are seeing in the NHL isn’t fast enough, but we do need continued education and encouragement.
No one would accuse Marc Staal of lacking courage if he returns to the NHL wearing eye protection, and I hope that he does. The best news of all, of course, is that his doctors are saying that he is expected to make a full recovery, and that’s the most important thing.
Now, on to solving the next mystery: why does this particular type of injury keep cropping up in games involving the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers? I’m sure that no one has the answer to that question.
If you watched the post game show on Comcast Sportsnet California last night, you saw me get upset again at Ray Ratto and Bret Hedican.
Their analysis of the Sharks shootout win was that the Sharks "stole" two points from the Vancouver Canucks.
They thought the Canucks thoroughly outplayed San Jose.
I was incredulous and disagreed in my own volatile way...
Truthfully, I hate being That Guy.
I love to debate but I hate to argue.
I am paid to voice my opinion but I hate it when I become obnoxious and emotional.
However, when the Sharks display intensity, passion, desire and courage.
When they are truly battling for every speck of ice and every puck.
When they are 100% committed to winning the game.
I've got their back, every single time.
Vancouver – I’m often asked what my favorite NHL road city is. There are plenty of good ones but Vancouver has to be at the top of my list.
The natural beauty and cultural diversity makes it special, think San Francisco with snow capped mountains.
For a Bay Area Sharks fan it’s the perfect roadie location. The flight is about 2 hours. You can drive it in a little over a day. Once you get here the options are endless.
I’m a jogger so a run around world famous Stanley Park is a must for me, but its also perfect for cycling or just walking. There are many unique neighborhoods like Kitsilano, Gastown or Robson Street.
The food and drink destinations are outstanding. My favorites include Joe Forte’s and Cardero’s. Both feature fresh British Columbia salmon and mussels.
And finally there’s the passion for hockey. Vancouverite’s eat, breathe and sleep Canucks hockey.
If a hockey road trip is in your future, try Vancouver. Rain or shine it’s my top stop in the league.
Maybe the reason the Sharks are struggling offensively is the team is in transition. I say that because this version of the Sharks has had a total team commitment to team defense. The goaltending has been great and pretty much every player is sacrificing in some way for the collective whole, from a defense first standpoint. Here are the facts:
Goals Against Per Game: 2.05 3rd NHL
Penalty Killing: 86.7% 4th NHL
Given up 2 or less goals in a game: 14x (8-2-4)
5-5 Goals Against: 25
Defense wins championships and this year the Sharks are playing as well defensively as I have seem in a long time. Remember the LA Kings struggled last year to score but built the foundation of team defense, solid PK and great goaltending during the regular season and their playoff ride was pretty decent to say the least.
Good test this week as the Sharks head to Canada to play back to back games against Vancouver and Calgary.
I was watching the “Top Chef” finale this morning between two great chefs, Brooke and Kristen. The margin of difference between the two chefs was so infinitesimal, and the difference between winning and losing was so razor-thin, it reminded me of the challenges that NHL clubs like the San Jose Sharks are facing these days.
In the competition, it turned out to be the sous chefs, line cooks, and other team members who played a huge part in the decision. Brooke was a great chef, but her personally selected team member, C.J., burned pig’s ears because of a moment of indecision, and maybe a momentary loss of composure. That led to her losing to eventual Top Chef winner Kristen, whose team converted on all of its major opportunities, despite the fact that they were also human beings who undoubtedly made a few errors during the matchup.
It sort of reminded me of a couple of 2-on-1’s in the Detroit game just a couple of days ago where a single millisecond changed the complexion of the game from a Sharks perspective. Detroit made some mistakes in the game, too, but they not only were able to overcome them, they had their group clicking together at the critical moments of the game.
Perhaps the theme of the remainder of the Sharks season should be, “Don’t burn the pig’s ears.” Sticking to the game plan, and forging ahead in spite of a human being’s penchant for making errors, is all part of how a championship team is built.
Last season, the Los Angeles Kings played 13 consecutive games in which they scored 2 goals or less in 12 of them. The stretch ended with an 8-2 defeat at Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings.
In 23 of their last 48 games, L.A. scored 2 goals or less. But they did something else: they allowed 2 goals or less in 35 of their last 48 games (72.9%). You may also remember that the Kings, built around the defensive excellence, stopped burning the pig’s ears, picked up a bit of offensive help, and won the Stanley Cup.
Right now, the Sharks have scored 2 goals or less in 11 of their last 12 games, and 14 of 19 total games played. But they’ve also allowed 2 goals or less in 8 of their last 12, and 13 of 19 total games played (68.4%).
I’m not saying that the San Jose Sharks are on the same path as the Los Angeles Kings are, but I am saying that the margin between victory and defeat, which is so razor thin, can and will be turned. All that it takes is a little synchronicity between the sous chefs and the line cooks, and making sure that you don’t burn the pig’s ears.
I’ll shift from folksy imagery to plain mysticism for my final thought: Given that the scoring outage began with the very first game against the Nashville Predators on February 2nd, it stands to reason that it will all end with the final game against Nashville, which is being played tonight.