I think the most fan friendly change this year is playing a home and away with every team in the other conference. The Sharks first Eastern Conference foe this year is the New York Rangers on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at the SAP Center.
Now that the Sharks play every team in the East twice this year, what should we expect from the Eastern Conference in the 2013-14 season?
Four of the Original 6 teams reside in the Atlantic Division and it’s possible all of them make the playoffs – they all did last year however Detroit was in the West.
Boston, Detroit, Ottawa and Toronto should all make the playoffs, barring significant injuries although that didn’t stop Ottawa last year.
Montreal and Tampa Bay are my tweeners meaning if they get on a roll could make a push to make the playoffs or just miss out.
I don’t see how Florida and Buffalo can make the playoffs this year. Florida is intriguing and could be a tweener if they get great goaltending.
The two worst days, lockouts not included, of the year in hockey (NHL) have been yesterday and today. That's because it's finalize the roster day, which means you have to let the last cuts know they didn't make the team.
I will put it very bluntly from someone who has been there: It's not fun being so close to the NHL and getting cut! It happened to me my first three years in pro hockey, and the sting got worse every year because I was that much closer.
And, I sat across from good people, their eyes told me it wasn't a fun day for them either. This is the human side, and very compelling side, of sports.
So to all the guys who came that close, awesome job in camp. Good luck and keep working for that dream.
The photo below is a snapshot of my hockey journey, starting at St. Lawrence University in 1985 before retiring in 1999 after 10 years of pro hockey. In the snapshot is 3 consecutive years of getting cut during training camp for the Quebec Nordiques (now I'm aging myself by mentioning Quebec City ... I hope the beautiful city gets a team in the NHL someday.)
Jamie Baker (@Bakes_Jamie13)
It's time for hockey fans on the east coast to recognize how good Marc-Edouard Vlasic is. My two cents has him making Team Canada to represent the storied hockey nation at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Vlasic defied the odds at his first pro training camp by making the Sharks team even though he was more or less penciled in to play one more year of Junior. From the moment Vlasic played in the NHL it was obvious he had tremendous defensive skills, from anticipation to footwork and of course his great stick which he uses so well.
We have watched Vlasic grow as a player and become more assertive as he has gotten stronger and gained more experience. He is someone who makes tough plays look easy because of his tremendous positioning and cherishes playing against the top players from other teams.
It's hard to believe that Pickles is only 26 and has already played 519 regular season NHL games and 79 NHL playoff games. The fact is the best is yet to come as he is just now reaching his prime. It will be fun to watch him continue to impact games and help the Sharks pursue the coveted Stanley Cup.
Vlasic has become a quiet leader and an integral part of the puzzle in San Jose. Above is a video from a couple of seasons ago where Vlasic shuts down the Avalanche forward Matt Duchene with his tremendous skating, stick and defensive positioning. He makes it look so simple!!!
Pickles, good luck with your tryouts for Team Canada, my ballot is for you to make the team this year.
The schedule is out which gets the juices flowing in anticipation for the 2013-14 NHL season. Whenever the schedule is released it means it's time to circle the calendar for specific games, home-stands and road trips.
Here are ones that I have circled and look forward to.
* Two of the first four games are against the John Tortorella coached Vancouver Canucks, the team the Sharks swept in the first round in the 2013 playoffs. You can add some intrigue in the Sharks 3rd game when the NY Rangers come to town, coached by ex-Canuck coach Alain Vignault.
* Oct 21 the Sharks play in Detroit for the only time this year now that the Red Wings are in the Eastern Conference. From there the Sharks head to Boston, Montreal (on Saturday = Hockey Night in Canada), Ottawa before finishing up the first lengthy road trip in LA who knocked out the Sharks in a classic seven game series this past spring. If you can swing it, the Boston, Montreal and Ottawa games would make for one memorable hockey road trip.
* Nov 10 to 15 is a classic western road trip as the Sharks play Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton before finishing the five game road trip in the windy city, home of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions.
* Nov 21 Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and company play in San Jose followed by the return of ex-Shark fan favorite Ryane Clowe on Nov 23 as the Devils play their only game at SAP Center.
* Speaking of ex-Sharks, on December 10 the legendary Evgeni Nabokov and the NY Islanders will be playing at SAP Center.
It was 6 years ago to the day, on July 1, 2007 that Joe Thornton signed his first 3-year extension with the San Jose Sharks. Joe could have waited a year to test the free agency market but instead took a deal that paid him fair market value but also left money on the table for the Sharks to sign other key players like Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle to long term deals.
That’s Joe Thornton; he’ll try and do what he can to make his team better. He has the rare combination of size, skill, hockey sense and toughness that make him such a complete hockey player. It’s easy to take for granted how good Joe really is, especially his on-ice vision and passing ability. He makes plays every game that most players in the NHL can’t make, and it’s usually setting someone up for a great scoring chance.
Joe’s stats and individual accomplishments including winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP are well documented, but there are other factors that show Joe’s team first mentality and why he has been such a huge part of the San Jose Sharks organization since being traded on Nov 30, 2005.
Pierre LeBrun of ESPN summed up this series as well as anyone, "Kings claim epic California battle -- barely".
Someone had to lose this incredibly close, well fought series where every player that played laid it on the line and paid the price. This was the 'no time no space' series accentuated with a lot of ice bags.
Darryl Sutter, whose post game pressers always have a level of intrigue summed up the Sharks very concisely, "they're as good as us."
That doesn't make any of the Sharks players, coaches, management or its loyal fan base feel any better. As Logan Couture said on Twitter this morning, "Today Sucks".
Today is not about analyzing what went wrong because you'll drive yourself crazy. The difference in this series is one goal, a flukey power play goal after a questionable interference call on Brent Burns. Don't get mad at the refs, in the end the penalties and calls evened out.
The closer you get, the bigger the disappointment. I equate it to hiking a mountain - the higher the mountain, the tougher the climb, the more likelihood you won't make it to the top, but when you do make it to the top it's the best feeling in the world. Take the easy short hill over the mountain and you can get to the top but the view and satisfaction isn't the same.
The Sharks will get to the top of the mountain one day. Winning the Stanley Cup is one of the hardest trophies in sports to win. It will take a breakthrough performance from a breakthrough group to do it, just like the Kings did last year.
As Dustin Brown said after last nights game, "I didn't know this until June 12 last year, but you don't know what you're really playing for until you win. You don't know the feeling; you don't know what it's like until you win it."
It's no real surprise based on Brown's quote that the 5 remaining teams in the playoffs (4 after tonights Chicago vs Detroit game 7) are the last 5 Stanley Cup Champions. They know the feeling and want to feel it again.
The additions of Brad Stuart, Adam Burrish, Scott Gomez and Larry Robinson as Assistant Coach know, because they have all won Stanley Cups. Someday Logan Couture is going to know that feeling because he is an amazing player and leader and has the ability to will his team to victory.
Today's feeling of "this sucks" is part of the process but every player on the Sharks can hold their head up high because they battled adversity all year and were a fun team to watch.
As Todd McLellan said yesterday morning before game 7, "Nothing more powerful in sports than people coming together and playing for each other."
The Sharks did that and more this year and it was incredible to watch. Maybe they didn't make it to the top of the mountain but it was fun watching them try and will make it all the more enjoyable when they do get to the top. And they will, because they have the will.
Long live Sharks Territory!
Watching the NHL Playoffs is awesome but I can't stop thinking that the West, overall, has better playoff style teams. I look at the Sharks and Kings series and I wonder how many teams in the East could beat these teams in a 7 game series. The same goes for the Blues vs Kings 1st round matchup. It's probably safe to say some people in Vancouver are also saying the same thing right now.
In a way, the NHL Playoffs are kind of unfair. The West has more travel and better competition. The best team could be in the East, and Pittsburgh sure looks good, but what if they had to match up against a bunch of West during their run?
It will never happen for a lot of reasons, let's just leave it at that. But wouldn't an East vs West 1st round crossover, in a playoff bracket system, be really interesting to play out?
Just think of some of the potential Stanley Cup matchups that could happen that otherwise cannot:
Toronto vs Montreal
San Jose vs Los Angeles
Pittsburgh vs Boston
Chicago vs St. Louis
Another interesting question is how many West teams would still be playing in the 2nd round? Or the Semi-Finals? My guess is 6 teams in the 2nd round and 3 in the semi's.
So it's now a best 2 out of 3, as it should be and really to no one's surprise.
The Sharks and Kings each won twice against each other in the regular season. San Jose was 2-2-0 and LA was 2-1-1 losing one game in the shootout but winning a relatively non important last game of the season. Total goals in the regular season were 10 for San Jose and 13 for LA.
In the playoffs the series is tied 2-2 both teams holding serve at home. The Sharks have scored 7 goals in 4 games and the Kings have scored 8 goals. This series is a mental and physical battle that is testing the resolve of both teams. In other words it's playoff hockey at its finest.
Some thoughts on the first 4 games:
* The Sharks played one of their best periods in a long long time to start game 4 led by Captain Joe Thornton. I think he reminded everyone the type of leader and player he is and he has a great supporting group around him that he makes better.
Logan Couture has been the 1st star in 3 of the Sharks 5 playoff wins this year!
Last game Logan changed the energy in the HP Pavilion when he emerged from the dressing room near the end of the 2nd period to let everyone know he was fine as he did a little loop during the TV break. Everyone was watching including his coaches, teammates, the Kings players and coaches, the fans, broadcasters and anyone else associated with the game. He then went on to be the best player on the ice and score the OT winning goal.
Jonathan Quick has been the 1st star in 3 of the Kings 6 playoff wins this year!
Quick made a couple of mistakes in games 1 and 2 vs St. Louis and then stole game 3 for the Kings as they got back into the series. This version of the LA Kings relies on Quick, almost too much. While shots are not the sole indicator they do tell a story when you watch a team that doesn't have territorial edge for most of the games it has played in the playoffs, which is the case for the LA Kings. They were outshot in 4 of the 6 games vs the Blues and outshot 177 to 149 in the series. Against the Sharks the shots have been tied once and the Sharks outshot LA the other two times. The shots for the series are 106 to 78 for San Jose who looks like the better team.
The Sharks need Logan Couture as he has emerged as a superstar in this league. This season and playoffs are a bit of a coming out for him and he is handling the added attention as the pro that he is.
The Kings don't just need Quick to be amazing, they rely on it happening. He's good enough to steal a game and help propel his team to a series win as he did against the Blues.
This series is not Couture vs Quick but you sure get the impression that how they go, so goes their respective teams.
The best players and leaders make others better and that's exactly what these players are doing for their teams.
Bring on game 4, and let's see who is going to be the first star tonight.
So what do the Sharks need to do to win game 2. I would say based on the quotes below play the same way they did in game 1 but with more edge, grit and desperation in the offensive zone.
Here are some telling quotes from the last few days.
Jarret Stoll - before the series discussing what the Kings need to do in this series
“There’s probably 5 or 6 guys on that team that we’ve got to neutralize, and we’ve got to shut down, get in their face, make it a very uncomfortable game for them. That’s what playoffs are all about – making it uncomfortable, taking away time and space, getting people out of their comfort zone and staying out of the box too.”
Stoll's quote is very telling and LA played that way in game 1 and were victorious. Now take a look at some of the quotes from the Sharks after game 1.
Head Coach Todd McLellan
“I spent six days reviewing the St. Louis series, and I heard a lot of the same stuff coming out of their mouths,” McLellan said. “We didn’t accomplish enough. There is a team that just played against them for six nights, and said they had a lot of chances and the goaltender made a number of saves. We can’t be that team again. We’ve got to find ways to score, and we’ve got to make it a lot harder on him.”
“Guys weren’t committed to getting in front of him (Quick), so that needs to change. They check tight. You’ve got to beat their guy out of the corner to get to the net, and we weren’t able to do that.”
“Our effort was pretty good,” Boyle said. “But, it’s probably a broken record with what St. Louis went through. I read that they felt they possibly were the better team in the series, they just weren’t scoring enough goals. We’ve got to get a little hungrier and a little dirtier and a little meaner in front of their net.”
“We feel we can play with them. After tonight, everyone in this room feels they are beatable. It's not going to be easy, obviously. They are the Stanley Cup champs, a team that has learned how to win."
Pavelski said it very well, the Sharks know they can beat the Kings but it won't be easy. I am going to re-visit my RAM Trucks 3 Keys to the Series because they were applicable in game 1, will be applicable tonight and throughout the series. This is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one.
Tight checking. Low scoring. Always someone in your face. No time or space. That's LA hockey and it's frustrating to play against and tests your moxie and patience. The Sharks have to be prepared for 60 minutes plus every night with air-tight defense first hockey that requires incredible focus and concentration.
2. Every battle counts ... a lot!
This is LA's bread and butter - they wear you down by winning battles which wears you down mentally. The Sharks match up well in this category but it will take an enormous toll every shift, every period, every game.
3. Confidence thru goaltending
When your goalie exudes confidence it reverberates throughout the lineup because the players know the last line of defense is the goalie and he has you covered if you make a mistake. Niemi vs Quick is an enticing matchup because they are the goalies who have won 2 of the last 3 Stanley Cups and they are both on top of their game right now.