On this Christmas Eve 2013 I want to take a moment to thank the NHL Players Association and the National Hockey League. Thank you for agreeing not to play games on December 24, 25 and 26th.
For as long as I’ve been working in the league there have never been games on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The last time the NHL played on Christmas Eve was 1972 and there haven’t been games on Christmas Day since 1971. Under the new collective bargaining agreement the holiday break is now 3 full days. I think it’s an excellent decision.
Christmas is a time for families to gather and share time together. That goes for hockey players, coaches, trainers, broadcasters, referees, arena employees and everyone else connected with working in the game. I get it that some fans would like to kick back and watch games over the holidays but the NBA pretty much has December 25th to themselves and there are inevitably already college bowl games and the occasional NFL tilt. And you can now get your hockey fix anyway watching the always-compelling World Junior Hockey Tournament that is now televised live in the US on the NHL Network.
The league has already successfully determined that New Years Day will be it’s day to shine with the Winter Classic. Why play at Christmas?
The NHL’s players especially welcome the three-day break. The regular season is a grind, especially when the schedule is compacted due to the Winter Olympic Games, as it is this year.
So enjoy your Christmas holiday whether it has spiritual significance for you or not. It’s a time to enjoy those we care about and love most. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and we’ll look forward to December 27th in Phoenix against the Desert Dogs!
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
A day in the life on the road in St. Louis:
7:30am - CST Alarm goes off that Siri set for me on iPhone. Thanks Siri.
7:31 - Locate robe.
7:32 Turn on NHL Network. Check last nights highlights
7:35 - Make coffee. Any hotel that doesn’t have a coffee machine in the room cannot become one of my favorite hotels. Ever.
8:00 - Fire up laptop and log into NHL game notes site. Game day process begins.
8:17 - Check last night's leftover calzone from “Sauce On The Side.” Still edible. Salad is not.
9:15 - Catch team bus to Scottrade Center for morning practice
9:30 - Catch up with GM Doug Wilson, Dan Rusanowsky and Drew Remenda. Nashville stories exchanged. Also discuss the question: “What would you do if you won tonight’s lottery?”.
10ish - Watch Sharks hit the ice for morning skate.
10:05 - Chat with Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. Happy 62nd birthday, fellow Edmonton native!
10:15 - Enjoy lively discussion with Blues color commentator Darren Pang and assistant coach Brad Shaw. Another Ottawa boy, Jamie Baker, joins in the fun.
11:15 - Join the media scrum to talk to Sharks coach Todd McLellan about tonight's tilt.
11:30 - Back on the bus to hotel.
11:45 - Lunch with the aforementioned Mr. Rusanowsky. French onion soup and tuna melt.
12:30pm - Back in room and more pregame prep.
2 - Gym. Would prefer outdoor run but anything under about 40 degrees turns me into a treadmill runner. Hard to believe I use to be Edmontonian.
4:30 - Bus back to arena.
4:45 - Come up with an idea for Great White Bites that was actually due this morning, write it and file it.
Still to come tonight - game vs Blues, bus to Lambert Field, charter to LAX, bus to hotel near Staples Center and check into room. It better have coffee.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
I’ll be taking part in one of my favorite events of the year on Wednesday, the Sharks Holiday Assist Party. While the Sharks Foundation has several terrific fundraisers every year, the Holiday Assist Party is a little different.
Healthy Start (headed by Susie Aldrich, wife of Sharks Equipment Manager Mike Aldrich), provides the Sharks a list of families in the Bay Area who are in need of assistance. The families are then distributed to “assisters” who purchase items on their wish list. Most of the parents in these families have jobs, and are working long hours trying to make ends meet, but falling just short. Through this event, these families are given a much-needed reason to smile.
This year the Sharks players, coaches, broadcasters and front office staff will assist 41 such families. Well over 200 people will attend a party featuring a photo booth, ice skating, arts & crafts, cookie decorating, dinner and last but not least, gift giving.
I’m proud to be associated with a special group of broadcast professionals who put on our telecasts each and every game night on Comcast Sportsnet California. For several years the “people in the TV truck” have pooled resources to assist one of these families in need. Wednesday we will have the honor of meeting our family, getting to know them a little bit, and helping them in the small way we can to make sure that their holiday is just a little bit brighter. What a privilege.
In our business there are many special moments like when the Sharks win a big game or when a particular broadcast goes very well. But the experience of being part of the Holiday Assist Party tops them all.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
When the Sharks beat St. Louis 6-3 on the recent home stand there were a number of things that made the game stand out. The Sharks exploded out of the gate scoring 4 times in the first half of the first period. Then the Blues battled back to make a game of it in the third before the Sharks pulled away for the win. And who could forget Brent Burns first NHL hat trick! But most memorable for me, was walking out of SAP Center, and seeing all of the children streaming out of the building.
There were hundreds and hundreds of kids at the game last Saturday. That’s because it was a 1 p.m. faceoff. When games start at 7:30 p.m., and often it’s mid-week, it’s difficult if not impossible to pack up the little ones and take them along. Remember back when you were a kid and if you were lucky enough, got to go to a live sporting event. Most of us who attend on a regular basis are jaded, we forget what it was like to go through the experience for the first time, but think about it. First there’s the anticipation of actually going. Then once you get there it’s a sensory overload of the best kind! There’s the spectacle of thousands of people gathered in one place to have fun, the smell of the hot dogs and popcorn, all the lights and other sights and sounds. And a Sharks game has it’s own unique flavor. There’s the ice itself and the Zamboni and the Shark head and SJ Sharkie and the players jetting back and forth. There’s the goal horn, and “the chomp” and cheering and booing. There are the banners in the rafters, the Shark Head with its lights and smoke, the anthems and all of the other little things that make it fun to be there. Kids ought to experience all of that. After all they are the future generation of hockey fans.
I loved it that the Sharks had an afternoon home game this year. I hope they can do it at least once every season going forward and make it a “Sharks Family Tradition.”
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
So far so good on the Sharks five game home stand. The 5-1 win over Tampa Bay was impressive and they managed to score just enough against Martin Brodeur and shut down Jaromir Jagr in the 2-1 win over the Devils. Now things get really, really interesting.
There’s no way the NHL schedule maker could have known it at the time, but it’s hard to imagine a more compelling three game set than the one the Sharks face at home starting Wednesday. The LA Kings, hot off their stunning come from behind win in Vancouver on Monday night, pay their first visit of the season to SAP Center. The last time the Kings were in the Bay Area they dropped Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals but would go on to knock the Sharks out in Game 7. LA also beat the Sharks 4-3 in overtime in their only meeting this season back in late October at Staples Center.
After a break for Thanksgiving, the Sharks host St. Louis in a rare 1 p.m. matinee game on Friday. The Blues are hot right now and after a four game drought, so is their leading goal scorer Alexander Steen. He bagged a pair of goals Monday in their win over Nashville giving him 19 on the season. Steen is very much in the hunt with Alexander Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard Trophy. The Sharks beat the Blues 6-2 in St. Louis last month on the night that Dan Boyle was injured on the hit by Maxim Lapierre. But don’t be fooled. The Blues are the real deal and have managed to stay within a point of the first place Blackhawks in the Central Division.
And then to top off the holiday weekend the Sharks go back to back at home on Saturday night against the Pacific Division leading Anaheim Ducks. It’s the first meeting of the year between the California rivals and will be an awesome way to end as compelling a week of hockey as we’ve had around here in quite some time. Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday and enjoy the hockey at SAP Center!
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
A woman approached me at a charity event Tuesday and asked “What’s wrong with the Sharks?” I reminded her that they have one of the best records in the NHL and that while the loss in Chicago Sunday wasn’t pretty; it’s a long season.
But I do get what she means. When your team starts the season 6-0 for the second straight year you get used to it, and then you start to expect it to continue. When you put up a 9 spot against the Rangers, expectations get a little out of whack.
But the great thing about being an NHL fan is that every season is a roller coaster ride wrapped up in a soap opera. When you play an 82 game schedule in 30 cities from October through April a lot of stuff is going to happen. Times will go from great, to good, to not so great to ugly. If you can manage the not so great and ugly part and keep that to a minimum you’ve got a good chance to make the playoffs. And then a much more exciting roller coaster ride starts all over again.
Here’s the bottom line for the Sharks a quarter of the way through the season. They are a point out of first place in the toughest division in the league and two points away from claiming first place overall to themselves. Joe Thornton leads the league in assists and is one of the best two-way centers in the game. The Sharks have 3 legitimate scoring lines on most nights. The blueline is anchored by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun who are having Olympic Team worthy seasons. The goaltending of Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock has been great to excellent. Special teams? Check. They are extremely well coached and most nights that is reflected in their detailed play. And they have the leading candidate for the Calder Trophy in Tomas Hertl.
Do the second periods need to get better? Yes. Can they do a better jog closing out games some nights? I think so. Would it be awesome if somebody other than Logan Couture scored a shootout goal every once in a while? Yep.
But looking at the big picture things aren’t so bad. Was the loss in Chicago disappointing? Of course it was. Maybe the outcome would have been a little different if the Sharks didn’t have to play the defending champions on the final night of a five-game in five time zones in eight days, west-to east-to west-to east, road trip. But that’s one of the obstacles along the way that must be faced.
As a group the Sharks ought to be pleased with the first quarter of the season but not satisfied. They’ve established a foundation for success going forward but there’s room for improvement.
No team wins them all and no team loses them all. It’s a roller coaster ride to be enjoyed. Enjoy.
I’m Randy Hahn
Well that feels a little better, doesn’t it?
Tuesday night in Calgary the Sharks found a way to end their five-game winless streak and beat the Flames 3-2 in overtime. Winning is never easy in the NHL no matter who the opponent is. Forget that Calgary had lost 9 of their prior 12 coming in and had a power play in a 0-30 funk. What Calgary did have was Swiss goaltending sensation Reto Berra and a “no quit” attitude that kept them in the game and earned them a point.
But the Sharks were just a little bit better. In fact through most of the first two periods they were a lot better than Calgary. The Sharks dominated the first period, outshooting the Flames 17-3 and then held them to just 3 more shots in the second. In fact, a franchise road record was tied when Calgary managed only 13 shots all night. Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau both scored in the first period, ending goalless slumps. The team also played with a lot of energy. Credit Calgary for taking advantage of the great goaltending they were getting from Berra and when they scored twice in the third, including one on the power play, they had a shot at an unlikely win.
But in the end it was an unlikely sequence by the Sharks that ended the game in overtime. Joe Thornton who doesn’t shoot often, shot. Brad Stuart, who doesn’t end up at the front of the net often, went to the net. When Thornton’s shot hit Stuart under the arm and the puck slid underneath Berra, Stuart had an overtime winner, his first goal of the season, and his first goal as a Shark in 8 years! Unlikely indeed.
But a win is a win and the Sharks can now continue this road trip with a little bit of their confidence restored.
I’m Randy Hahn for SJSharks.com
If you watched Tuesday nights broadcast of the Sharks game against Buffalo on Comcast Sportsnet California or saw the highlights later on you know that the Sharks got a raw deal in overtime. The problem is I’m still not sure how a winning goal in overtime went undetected by the on-ice officials and the video review officials. Here’s what I think happened.
About two minutes into overtime, with the score tied 4-4, the Sharks Tyler Kennedy fired a hard wrist shot past Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and it bounced off the far goal post. Referee Mike Leggo immediately and correctly waved his arms indicating no goal, but he did not blow his whistle nor did it seem he was about to. The puck then bounced back underneath Miller back into the crease. Then a diving Tommy Wingels poked it into the net. The overhead replay then clearly shows Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers quickly kicking the puck back out of the net with his right skate and the puck was then frozen underneath Millers pad. Leggo then blew the play dead.
It seems to me that Mike Leggo never saw the puck enter the net and didn’t see Meyers quickly slide it back out with his foot/skate. I’m guessing that in Leggo’s mind there was nothing to review because he never saw a goal. Now of course, we know that there was a goal.
The next question is what happened to the video review process? As I understand it the video goal judge at SAP Center has a dedicated live feed of both the overhead goal camera and the NHL’s in-net camera. Both of those views clearly showed the puck entering the net. It is also my understanding that the NHL’s video control center in Toronto has exactly the same live feed of those two camera’s. But neither the in-arena video goal judge, nor the staff manning the NHL video control center noticed the puck going into the net. Once the ensuing faceoff occurred and overtime continued, no goal could be awarded.
A few moments later our Comcast crew, in reviewing the play, noticed the puck had crossed the line and then we aired our footage at the next stoppage of play.
In summary: The Sharks scored in overtime, the on ice officials didn’t see it and the in arena video goal judge didn’t see it on the live feeds, nor did his colleagues in Toronto. The NHL’s usually reliable process failed this time. It cost the Sharks a win and a point in the standings and I’m not sure how the hockey gods will even this one out.
I’m Randy Hahn
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.
The Sharks are back on the road for their first extended trip and their first visit to the Eastern Conference. Here’s how I rank the cities for their hockey buzz and more.
Detroit - October 21
Detroit’s been in the headlines lately for a lot of the wrong reasons. But what it may lack in some areas it more than makes up for as an Original Six hockey city. After all, it is aptly nicknamed Hockey Town. No visit to Joe Louis Arena would be complete without a photo op in front of the Gordie Howe statue. And while the “old barn” is overdue for a remake or replacement there’s something about those Stanley Cup banners in the rafters dating back to 1936 that makes a trip to Detroit special. For food and drink check out Cheli’s Chili bar next to Comerica Park where you might run into owner and newly elected Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios.
Randy’s Roadie Rank : #11 - On an off day sign up for an assembly line tour at the Ford factory in Dearborn and don’t miss fascinating Greenfield Village.