Make sure that you’re tuned in to the game tonight in the State of Hockey. It’s sure to be a big one for the Sharks and the Minnesota Wild, for a variety of different reasons.
San Jose recovered nicely from their recent disappointments at home with a strong road performance in blustery, cold Winnipeg last night. The goal by Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 5 seconds to play was certainly one to remember, and it was the second one that he has scored in the closing seconds of the third period.
You remember the first one: on December 20th vs. St. Louis, the Sharks were trailing, 2-1, Antti Niemi was on the bench for an extra attacker, and Vlasic forced OT with passes from Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson with 21 seconds to play. Brent Burns later won it in overtime with a 4-on-3 power play goal.
This time, Karlsson had put the Sharks in front, 2-1, with a nifty give-and-go play from Joe Pavelski and Burns. But Jay Harrison, on a broken play, scored a power play goal to tie it, and everyone was preparing for overtime.
Then, Vlasic got back on the ice. On a brilliant faceoff play, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture combined to get the puck over to Vlasic, who was moving in from his position on the left point. Vlasic’s shot got by goaltender Michael Hutchinson at 19:55, and just as quickly as that, the Sharks added 2 points in the standings and the Jets, who were expecting to add at least 1, added zero.
It should be a great game tonight. Both previous meetings have been decided by a single goal. On Oct. 30th at Xcel Energy Center, Antti Niemi stopped 43 shots as his team faced a season-high 46 attempts on goal. The Sharks led that game, 2-0 and 3-1, before Kyle Brodziak scored twice in the third to force overtime for the Wild. Then, Jason Pominville got the game deciding goal in the shootout.
On Dec. 11th at SAP Center, St. Paul native Alex Stalock got the call for the first time in his career against his hometown team. He made 18 saves, and Joe Pavelski got the game winner for him in the 2-1 victory.
Is Stalock playing tonight? Well, in the immortal words of my former color commentator, Pete Stemkowski, “when they drop the puck, we’ll know.” But if he does get the start, it would be his first-ever NHL assignment in his home state, and that would make it a big night for him.
For the Sharks, it’s a big night either way. They’re at the halfway point of the season, and they’re tied with Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Winnipeg in the increasingly tight Western Conference playoff race. A win would take them into a big game in St. Louis with a chance to sweep a trip and gain ground.
For the Wild, it’s an increasingly desperate situation. They’re 7 points out of the playoff pack, but they do have 3 games in hand on the Sharks, L.A., and Winnipeg. They didn’t play last night. They are going with Darcy Kuemper in net, and they’ll be without Nate Prosser (sick) on defense.
While tonight’s game is nationally televised on NBC SportsNet, we appreciate the fact that many fans would like to have a local broadcast that is in synch with the TV picture. We have that option for you on the San Jose Sharks Radio Network. Our coverage begins on affiliate stations and sjsharks.com at 4:30, and flagship station 98.5 KFOX joins us at 5:00. To synch up the radio feed with what you see on TV, we have directions right here on our website:
Enjoy the game, and the rest of the road trip! I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
On Saturday night, Joe Pavelski scored his 20th goal of the season. Which is a milestone he has reached six times now, with San Jose. It's an accomplishment that puts Pavelski alongside the names Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Owen Nolan... guys who someday should have their numbers hanging in the rafters.
This season, what's equally impressive to how many Joe has scored... is how he is scoring them. Of the 20, six have come on quick releases such as one timers. Another six have come on redirects or tips.
Joe recently gave me his perspective on that breakdown.
"The goalies are so good that it's got to be a bang-bang play. If it isn't a tip or the first shot, it's usually the second one laying there where you have an empty net."
He continued, and got more specific.
"There's lots of times you're looking goalies straight in the eyes and he's making the save, for the most part. Something has to go wrong, so anytime you can change that direction, hit that one-timer quick, there's a few more holes there," said Pavelski.
When the cameras went away, I asked Joe the burning question in my mind.
"Are you telling me... that when say, Vlasic fires a point shot, and you're standing out front of the crease... that you actually have enough confidence and control to redirect that puck to specific corner of the net... or maybe even aim five-hole?...," I said.
Joe's response: "You'd like to think so."
Head Coach Todd McLellan likes where Joe is scoring from, this season.
"For me it's how he works into position. He's got a nose to go to the net. Not behind it. Not in the corner fading away. He's got great hand-eye coordination, and when he's not tipping, deflecting or finding rebounds... he's finding available ice to release the puck," said McLellan.
The stat that is most impressive lies in the calendar year of 2014. Where no NHL player scored more regular season goals than Joe Pavelski. He had 44. Think about it... Kane, Ovechkin, Kessel, Stamkos, Malkin... they didn't score as many as "Little Joe."
"It's an art, it's worked on," said McLellan.
"The way he approaches the game, how he practices, the extras he does before and after. He puts himself in situations he knows he'll be in during games, and works on it. And all of a sudden he's rewarded."
Watch Sharks Pregame Live tonight at 4:30 on Comcast SportsNet California!
Instead of posing a perspective this week, I bring a question:
Who is San Jose's biggest rival?
First, we should probably acknowledge and dismiss all of the auxiliary possibilities.
While there have been plenty of fascinating and meaningful playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings, I'm not sure they can be counted here. Even though Jamie Baker's 1994 goal is still the "biggest in Sharks history", and even though Todd McLellan is a direct disciple of the greatness that is Mike Babcock... geography, and recent conference re-alignment has diminished any growing animosity between Detroit and San Jose.
The Vancouver Canucks have a lot in common with the Sharks. A West Coast team, frequent playoff appearances in the last 10 seasons, and both franchises are searching for their first Stanley Cup. Not to mention, each club has a tech-savvy and passionate fan-base, which has seen each other in the postseason several times in recent years. But for whatever reason, Vancouverites only seem to align their rivalries East-West instead of anything immediately below the border. Meetings with Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg carry the most weight. And because a rivalry has to go two-ways, San Jose is off the list, despite being a division foe.
I'll throw the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes into the same category, here. Fun, competitive, nasty games to watch against San Jose over the years - including respective postseason series since 2000, against each. But one thing which promotes instant rivalry is sustained competitiveness - something which the Stars and Coyotes just haven't timed out well with San Jose's playoff runs in the last 11 years. Phoenix makes the more sense than Dallas, from a geographical perspective but either way - the rivalry "temperature" is not hot enough in these two cities, even though the actual temperatures might be.
Which brings us to the realistic possibilities. And even though Los Angeles and Anaheim are "natural rivals" considering their short driving distance from each other - one of them is likely San Jose's biggest rival, too.
Is it the Los Angeles Kings? Considering the playoffs of the last several seasons (2011, 2013, 2014) there is now much significance in their meetings with San Jose. There is also the upcoming Stadium Series game, which will add a new chapter between the clubs. While LA has distinguished itself amongst the hockey world with 2 Stanley Cups in the last 3 years, they have also been in existence nearly 50 years - essentially twice as long as the Sharks. I know what that "head start" means to the development of franchises, but I'm not sure if it means something to the rivalry. Either way - impressive how San Jose has "caught up", from not even existing in 1990.
So it has got to be the Anaheim Ducks, right? Probably. Orange County and Silicon Valley aren't exactly twins, but each is an important piece of their region. The "Mighty Ducks" and Sharks both entered the NHL at similar times, and found success in "untraditional" hockey markets. There has been only one (unfortunate) postseason series between these two teams, but they have still played enough nasty hockey games over the years for the rivalry to exist.
Who do you think the biggest rival is? Leave your comment, below!
I’m thinking about a phrase that my former broadcast partner Pete Stemkowski always uses at this time of the season. As the teams skate toward Christmas, Stemmer has a tendency to say, “It’s still early, but you’d better hurry up before it’s too late.” In the case of the San Jose Sharks, one of the reasons that they have been on this recent run is that they continue to play as if that phrase applies to them all the time.
Perhaps it does. That’s the focused strategy that is needed in the NHL, and the Sharks are hoping to continue that progress as they face Edmonton and St. Louis to close out what has been a good home stand.
Technically, the Sharks are tied with Vancouver for 2nd in the Pacific Division with 38 points, but the Canucks have a game in hand. That reminds me of a redacted phrase, “(Forget) the games in hand,” that former NHLer Reggie Fleming used to say when looking at the morning newspaper in the locker room. We won’t forget the games in hand completely, but we will note that the Sharks are finding ways to rack up those important points in the standings.
But that brings us back to the focused intensity that the team has been showing and the standings seem to be requiring from everyone. While they’re tied in the points for second in the division, they’re also tied with Winnipeg for the first wild card spot, are only 2 points ahead of Los Angeles for the second wild card spot, and are two points ahead of a team, Calgary, that are on the outside looking in when it comes to the post-season.
When you look at the full NHL standings, make sure that you keep an eye on the “ROW” column, which isn’t normally printed in the morning editions of the nation’s press. That column, which stands for “regulation and overtime wins,” shows San Jose with 15, which is 1 behind Vancouver, and just 1 ahead of Winnipeg, Calgary, and Minnesota.
Yes, it’s the little details that will make the difference. Here are a few:
Joe Thornton has 8-13-21 even strength, which ties him for 11th in the NHL (Tyler Johnson of TB leads with 8-20-28). He leads the Sharks with 8 even strength goals, tied-25th. He’s 8th (56.4% faceoffs). T-24th in NHL with 24 takeaways.
Tommy Wingels is 3rd in NHL hits w/124, 1 behind Cal Clutterbuck (NYI), 20 behind Matt Martin (144).
Antti Niemi has won his last 5 straight games, including the 2-0 victory against Nashville on Saturday. Over that span, he has stopped 92.7% of his shots. In the same span, Alex Stalock has gone 2-1-0 in 3 starts, and has stopped 92.9% of the shots he’s faced. That’s good goaltending, but it’s also indicative of solid play in the defensive zone.
Brent Burns is on top of the team’s list with an average of 23:29 of ice time per game. He’s one of the top scorers among defensemen, as one would expect, and he’s settling in well to a partnership with Brenden Dillon on the blue line. Against Nashville, he played 26:20, was +2, had 3 shots 3 hits, and 4 blocked shots.
Justin Braun leads the Sharks with 56 blocked shots, ranked 32nd in the NHL overall.
Joe Pavelski has 9 goals at home, which tie him for 9th in the NHL, but they’ve come in only 14 games. He’s also 5th in the NHL with 116 shots on goal.
Patrick Marleau is on pace for 18-51-69. The assist total would be 1 shy of his career best, and if he can get over 70 points, it would be the 7th time in his career that he’s reached that mark. He also has 10 hits in his last 3 games, and when he gets involved physically, he usually winds up with more offensive opportunities.
The Sharks look to continue to develop these little details as they develop their team culture, and if they continue that, they’ll be ready to deal with any battle, and they won’t have to worry about the games in hand or hurrying up before it’s too late.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
TEN Thoughts, TEN Days Before Christmas
- If it weren’t for an unfortunate 2-1 loss to Edmonton two weekends ago, San Jose would be on an eight game win streak, right now. Which I realize is not the most outstanding current run in the Bay Area (congratulations, Warriors)… but still a very impressive stretch, worth recognizing.
- A large part of WHY San Jose has won seven of eight, is that they are finally getting “caught up"… getting back ahead of the curve. Antti Niemi hinted as much, after the game on Saturday night. Following 16 of the first 21 on the road, he explained the Sharks were still a little wore down in their first three games back at home. But quality practices and off days since then have helped earn 14 of a possible 16 points.
- Speaking of Niemi, how impressive was San Jose’s tandem goaltending in the last three games? Antti hurt himself in the pregame warmups Tuesday night, putting Alex Stalock in the crease on short notice. Stalock allowed two goals against Edmonton and one versus Minnesota, picking up wins in both tilts. That led to Niemi’s healthy return on Saturday night, where he pitched a 29 save shutout, including 18 stops in the 3rd period alone.
- If Todd McLellan’s position on “the hot seat” was going to be floated around the hockey media and social media when the team was struggling through November… then I want to see his persistence and success rewarded here in December. Simple as that.
- I had the chance to hold the Sharks new “Stadium Series” Premier jersey this past week, in hand. There are a lot of fine details and creative touches that might not be seen from afar, that will definitely be appreciated when you see them up close.
- Joe Thornton has 1,222 points in 1,239 regular season games. Let that sink in. He continues to be, essentially a point-per-game player through more than 1,200 games. There’s only ONE active player with more points than Joe… Jaromir Jagr.
- Joe Pavelski is sitting on 15 goals through 32 games. While this might be slightly on pace behind last year’s career-high of 41… I still believe “Little Joe” can once again reach the 40 mark, provided a few late-season outbursts, as he enjoyed last year. And especially if he continues to skate on the Thornton line.
- Hard to believe “The Tank” is hosting hockey for the 22nd season. Hey, has somebody bought SAP Center a beer yet? I remember going there during the first year - 1993 to see what would be my first Sharks game against the Blackhawks. What’s impressive is still how pristine and well kept the building looks. Almost like it’s still new. Credit to all those who keep the venue top-notch year round.
- Just learned about “Metallica Night” at SAP Center on January 21st. Which brings me to TWO musical selections which should not change anytime in the near future. “Seek and Destroy” when the boys come out of the Shark head, and “The Hey Song - Organ Version” when they score. One exception to this… when there is eventually a throwback night at SAP, I will NEED “Get Ready For This” by 2 Unlimited played as the team comes onto the ice, wearing their 1991 sweaters. Anybody remember that?
- Here are the important countdowns you need to know:
|My first time to the Shark Tank with my brother and a young SJ Sharkie.|
(10) Days to Christmas
(37) Days to Metallica Night at SAP Center
(68) Days to the Stadium Series game
- Voila, the Sharks are finally on a roll as they have won six of the last seven games they have played, including five straight at home.
- We are starting to see an identity surround this Sharks team now that they have endured the toughest start to a season in NHL history from a travel standpoint and now have had time to get some rest, practices in and play some home games.
- That said, the schedule is much lighter from a travel schedule in the coming weeks but the competition will be very tough. In the next 12 games the Sharks play six at home, St Louis three times, Anaheim twice, Nashville, LA, Vancouver, Minnesota and the NY Rangers.
- Joe Thornton had two assists vs Minnesota on Thursday night giving him 1,220 points for his career and moving him into sole possession of 39th on the all-time points list in NHL history. Who did he pass? The great Jean Beliveau who passed away last week. #Gulp
- I am looking forward to seeing the Nashville Predators at SAP Center on Saturday night. They are one of the surprises of the season and currently sit in 2nd place in the very tough Central Division with 40 points. Bring on rookie sensation Felip Forsberg and of course Pekke Rinne, one of the best goalies in the world when he is healthy.
- The Central Division is the toughest division in hockey right now. For instance, two teams that made the playoffs last year, Colorado and Dallas, currently sit in 6th and 7th place respectively.
- The LA Kings are just hovering in the middle of pack … again. Hey LA, you aren’t fooling anyone anymore, we all still consider you the team to beat come April.
- What a week: Barclay Goodrow scored his 1st NHL goal and Melker Karlsson got an assist on the goal in his 1st NHL game. Congrats boys!
- In the game against Minnesota the Sharks dressed 10 players who were under the age of 25 so the youth movement is in place and from early indications looks very promising.
- The Wild were held to 19 shots, their lowest total of the year and 13 shots lower than their season average. It was only the 4th time this season (in 27 games) the Wild had been outshot in a game.
- Patty Marleau looked like Joe Thornton this week with some of the passes he made that set up Sharks goals. It’s no coincidence that the Sharks were winning games at the same time Marleau had nine points during a six-game point streak.
- Congrats to Alex Stalock on his win against the Wild. The St. Paul, MN, native had lots of family and friends watching back home as he beat the team he grew up watching with a stellar performance.
- The Sharks unveiled the jersey they will wear for the Stadium Series game on February 21 against LA. My take, I’m warming up to it. I am also keeping in mind the numbers on the back and shoulders need to be visible so fans attending the game can see who is who. These are special jersey’s for a special game and the more I gander at the front of the Sharks jersey the more I like it.
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
Baker’s Half Dozen
1. Tommy Wingels is really becoming an inspirational leader for the San Jose Sharks with his consistent north-south physical brand of hockey. And he’s been wracking up the points lately too.
2. The Sharks still need to work on playing a full 60 minutes but the last two games have been impressive come from behind wins against the Flyers and Boston.
3. I think it is the responsibility of all players to do two of three things every game: win, lose, entertain! Considering they can’t win and lose in a single game, they do have to try and make the game entertaining for the paying fans at the game and others watching or listening. That Boston game was a blast too
4. How do you make a hockey game entertaining? Easy really, a good dose of energy, passion, speed, compete and skill. Voila!
5. Joe Thornton’s assist vs Boston was his 1,216th career point tying him with Jeremy Roenick and Larry Murphy for 40th all-time points in NHL history. Up next on the list is, hold your breath, Jean Beliveau who sits 39th all-time with 1,219 points.
6. I was at the Giants game when they lost to the Dodgers 17-0.
6.5 After that humbling loss I’m not sure any Giants fans were thinking about a third World Series title in five years. But that’s exactly what happened which is another reminder why all sports enthusiasts and fans should be continue to be passionate but ENJOY THE JOURNEY and realize that a single game does not determine how a team may fare in the in the long run.
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.
Think about how much money $49,000 is. Better yet - contemplate how much "good" it can accomplish.
That's an amount the Sharks Foundation raised... in one night, last week. It was a result of the 3rd annual "Sharks & Strikes" tournament at Bowlmor Lanes in San Jose.
Players, coaches, and broadcasters ventured outside our "comfort zones" in exhibiting bowling "skills" side by side with those who donated so generously.
"Somebody must have saw that, right?," Joe Pavelski said, after bowling a strike in front of our CSN camera.
Joe, like most of his teammates, were self-admittedly inexperienced on the lanes, as opposed to the ice.
"Bowling kind of intrigues me," Pavelski proclaimed. "It's a sport I never spent much time with. To see those guys [the pros] spin the ball, watching that, it's something I'd like to learn. How to spin that ball, and really get it to snap in there."
Others were a little less humble about their game, including Andrew Desjardins, who had (apparently) been reminding teammates of his (around) 240 score at last year's event.
"I think I'm pretty good for an average guy. I don't play very much, so I'm happy with my game," Desjardins told us.
But that's why we double-check with multiple sources...
Like what Tommy Wingels revealed about his fellow forward: "I know for a fact - his wife told me he plays in a couple leagues in the summer, back in Canada."
I could relate mostly to Marc-Edourard Vlasic's approach on bowling.
"I'm consistently above 100," said the defenseman. "But when it's going bad I just try different things."
Overall, "Sharks & Strikes" continues to be family-friendly, and a fan-favorite on the calendar every hockey season. If you want to meet the players up close, and see what they are really like away from the rink - I highly encourage you to participate next year, while benefitting the the Sharks Foundation.
By the way, I haven't forgot to include a review on my own bowling performance.
At one point, I asked Head Coach Todd McLellan to advise me, in picking up a spare.
"Yeah, you might not want to quit your day job," Todd said. "How's that for advice?"