The Stanley Cup Playoffs don’t start for another week but the San Jose Sharks still have at least one “biggest game of the season, so far” left on the schedule. Wednesday night, the Sharks will visit the Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim leads the Pacific Division with 110 points, three more than the second place Sharks. Both teams have three games left to play. Do the math. If Anaheim wins the game in any fashion Wednesday, the best that San Jose would be able to do is tie Anaheim by winning the last two games against Colorado and Phoenix while hoping the Ducks lose in regulation to the Kings and Avalanche in their last two games. And that would only result in a tie, and a tie at the end of the season does the Sharks no good. Anaheim holds the tiebreakers. So Wednesday is a must win. Period.
Back in mid-January, the Sharks trailed Anaheim by as many as 13 points in the standings. The last time they played one another on March 20 at SAP Center, the Sharks won 3-2 and temporarily overtook the Ducks for first place. But the Sharks were unable to hold on to the division lead. Since that win San Jose’s record is 3-3-2. The Ducks, on the other hand, have gone 5-2-1 down the stretch, allowing them to retake the lead.
The scenario going forward is taking shape. The team that wins the Pacific will probably host the Minnesota Wild in the opening round. (Unless the Blues three game stumble continues). The runner up would take on the Kings. Pick your poison. LA is two years removed from a championship and Jonathan Quick has the ability to steal a series by himself. Meanwhile the Wild are getting hot down the stretch led by a diverse scoring attack and a suddenly stingy Ilya Bryzgalov in the net.
However it shakes out you have to like the fact that the Sharks still have important games left to play this final week. It starts Wednesday against the Ducks on NBC Sports Network at 7:30pm PDT.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
As I write this blog the Sharks are tied for 4th in the NHL in points, 7th in goals per game and 4th in goals against per game. With only 3 games left in the regular season the Sharks will start the playoffs at home against either LA or Minnesota. I say bring it on - don't care who the opponent is because the road to the Cup is supposed to be tough.
The stats say the Sharks are a very good team. What about opposing coaches, what do a few of them say?
Dan Bylsma, Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins
"They (the Sharks) play not only a physical game but a fast game and I think it's something that they counter quickly. They play that type of game. They are maybe the best team in the league at getting pucks and bodies to the cage and they showed that tonight."
Darryl Sutter, Head Coach of the LA Kings
"I thought we played real well, the challenge is that they're a really good hockey club."
Patrick Roy, Head Coach of the Colorado Avalanche
"They're a team that protects the puck really well and they had a lot of chances."
I can be nit picky and say the Sharks should have won this game, or how did they lose to that team. The bottom line, after 79 games, this is a very good hockey team that has a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup. Of course there are 15 other teams thinking the same thing and as we all know the teams in the West are very very good. I don't think anyone who has watched the West this season would argue there are 6 legitimate teams that could represent the West in the Cup Finals; St. Louis, Anaheim, San Jose, Colorado, Chicago and Los Angeles.
So here we go Sharks fans, the last week of the regular season and the best spectacle in sports, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs will be upon us. I hope you have enjoyed the journey so far, and I hope the best is yet to come.
Just a few random morning Great White Bite Thoughts.
My last Great White Bites piece, I suggested shot blocking may be totally overrated and unnecessary. This was met with a bit of pushback from the Sharks Coaching Staff.
Pushback in the form of getting into an early morning debate with all of them at the same time.
It was good natured and civil, but as always with this coaching staff, a learning experience. It's more than just a "you have to sacrifice for the team" attitude.
One of the rare agreements that morning was that maybe the technique in shot blocking is the issue and not the premise itself.
As you all know I have a huge man-crush on this coaching staff. As a group they are great coaches, wonderful hockey minds, passionate for the game, dedicated and they desire to always find new ways to improve.
However their biggest attribute is they are all really good people.
Speaking of really good people... do you have any idea how good I have it working with my play-by-play partner, the incomparable Randy Hahn?
Of course you don't, only I do because I work with him... Skip that. Dumb question.
Instead I will make a statement. I'm one of the most fortunate people in the NHL to work with one of the very best broadcasters in the game. Actually, I think he's the best. Always prepared, amazingly quick witted and knows the game just as well as I do. That was so evident this week as he and I worked for NBCSN broadcasting the Los Angeles Kings games. (But don't tell him I told you any of this.)
Speaking of the Kings games...a friend asked me if I like broadcasting other teams. I have to admit I do.
I first off love to hear the different stories and opinions of the other top players in the league. Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams are two great players and wonderful to sit down and talk hockey with.
It's always a joy for me to talk to the other coaches in the league. There is a difference on how they deliver their messages but one thing is the same. You have to get the players to focus on preparing for the moment; they have to give up who they are for what they want to become.
Last but not least, I love being "inside the glass". Honestly teams should sell that spot. The game is so fast and tough you get the undeniable appreciation for the skill of the NHL. Being a fly on the wall and listening to the communication back and forth from player to player to coach is intriguing. The chirps that go back and forth are profane and hilarious. Some, a couple of the refs and linesmen threw at me over the last couple of games! Don't they listen to our broadcasts? I love referees!
For those of you on twitter, and no I'm not announcing I'm joining the mob. There is a new twitter site that all NHL Broadcasters are flocking to following every game. It's “NHLties”. A site where the broadcasters are graded on their tie selection they wear during broadcasts.
I tell you this for two reasons. One to show you how our collective broadcaster vanity knows no bounds.
We are a sick and desperate group seeking the approval of complete strangers on everything we say do or wear. Second and this is shameful, self-congratulating bragging but I have been tagged as #99Ties declaring me the Wayne Gretzky of ties. It's about time and you're welcome World Wide Web!
Barring a huge Anaheim collapse it appears that the Sharks will clash with their rivals, the LA King, in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
If Thursday’s LA vs. SJ matchup at the Tank is any indication, we are in for a series to remember. The Sharks captured a hard-fought 2-1 victory showing quite evident that this West Coast rivalry is alive and well. In many ways these team mirror one another.
It starts at the top. The Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson and the Kings’ Dean Lombardi are both experienced passionate leaders who have built their staffs with solid and trusted hockey people. Lombardi learned his trade as an assistant in San Jose. Later Dean earned the keys to the GM’s office. At the time the Sharks franchise was in disarray. Under Lombardi’s leadership the Sharks built a competitive club relying on cagey veterans who could still play at a high level, yet were also able to mentor young players like Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm. Later the Sharks stumbled, missing the playoffs in 2002-03, and Dean was relieved of his duties. After several seasons serving in Philadelphia’s scouting staff, Lombardi was named GM of the Kings. After a partial re-build, strong drafting and a culture change, LA won the Stanley Cup in 2012.
The Sharks GM, Doug Wilson took over for Lombardi and has assembled a club that is an annual Cup contender. Wilson has made strong draft picks, wise free-agent pickups and has fostered an environment of success. Each season the Sharks ‘refresh and reset’ by anticipating moves that are focused on the future without sacrificing the present. Under Doug’s leadership the Sharks have made the playoffs in 10 straight seasons, second only to the Detroit Red Wings.
The Kings’ 2012 Cup team’s bench boss was long-time NHL coach Darryl Sutter. Sutter’s no-nonsense approach was exactly what LA needed to push them to the top. It was the same Darryl Sutter that was hired in San Jose prior to the 1997-98 by then GM Dean Lombardi. It has always been Sutter’s style to create an environment of responsibly, no excuses and an inward pressure. Some call it ‘tough love’, but it drove players like Owen Nolan, Mike Ricci and Vincent Damphousse to some remarkable achievements in San Jose.
The Sharks head coach these days is hockey ‘lifer’ Todd MacLellan. He’s regarded as one of the best head coaches in the NHL and his record reflects that. MacLellan served as an assistant to Detroit’s Mike Babcock in their 2008 Stanley Cup season. That success catapulted Todd into the head coach job in San Jose. He has assembled a coaching staff that leaves no stone unturned in their quest to bring the Cup to the South Bay.
Both the Kings and Sharks have 4 games remaining in the regular season to prepare for what could be a first round playoff collision. Each club relies on a veteran cast of performers like the Sharks’ Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle. The Kings’ veteran core is lead by guys like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Anzi Kopitar.
Regardless of the final outcome of this year’s playoffs both LA and SJ have a wealth of young talent, most notably the Sharks Logan Couture and the Kings’ Drew Daughty. Daughty suffered a shoulder injury in the most recent Sharks/Kings battle. His return is essential to the Kings’ playoff fortunes.
On top of talent, these two clubs boast big, strong rosters that do not shy aware from a physical style. In fact, these teams seem to feed off one another with intensity. The long-time NorCal-SoCal rivalry has not been lost on the NHL. Two recent playoff series have only stoked the fire. The Sharks defeated the Kings in six games in round one of their 2011 run. Last season, the Kings ousted the Sharks in a hard-fought second round matchup up. It took seven games and total home ice success for the Kings to move on. Should the clubs meet this year the Sharks will hold the home-ice edge.
As they line up for the opening faceoff, know that both clubs despise but also respect one another. The Kings and Sharks share a common goal, the Stanley Cup. However, one of these teams will go home unsatisfied after the first round.
At this time of the year, the hard work and extra effort that the San Jose Sharks have put in really starts to pay off.
It starts at the top with the management, hockey operations, and scouting. All have to work together to properly field a team, take care of the budget, deal with injuries, and prepare for contingencies. It continues with the coaching staff, in the area of managing players’ ice time during a difficult, condensed schedule, developing players in practice, and getting results on game nights.
But perhaps the greatest area of importance lies in the players’ conditioning base, body maintenance, and sheer resolve during the difficult grind of the season. That’s something that begins in the early summer, when the Sharks work out their individual training programs with Mike Potenza, Ray Tufts, and the staff. Sometimes they train with specialized coaches, whether it’s for off-ice training, or for skating edge work. But summer is no longer a leisurely time for hockey players. It’s the time when hard work is banked for future dividend collection later.
“Later” is now. Sharks Hockey has just finished a stretch of playing 14 games in 26 days, with travel to and from three of the four time zones on the North American continent. As for the one time zone they didn’t play in, the Central Time Zone, they had to fly through it to get to where they were going. They’ve had to face the likes of top rated clubs like the Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins, desperate clubs like the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals, a few teams out of the hunt but with a lot to prove like Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg, and a few afternoon games thrown in to boot. In addition, the team put together an 8-3-3 record in those games.
That’s a schedule that is being played out throughout the National Hockey League, and we are starting to see a few injuries, some serious, as a result. Through the process, fatigue sometimes results in a fluky play. That was the case on Saturday, when Colorado’s Matt Duchene was injured on an unfortunate collision with his linemate, Jamie McGinn, just 32 seconds into the game.
Later in the contest, McGinn, who had the lighting rod attached to his body for most of the day, threw a body check on James Sheppard, who fell awkwardly into the boards. It was another scary moment, but it was great to see Sheppard return to action and make another tremendous contribution to the team’s effort.
Sheppard’s story is an excellent story. He essentially missed two full seasons after seriously injuring his knee in the summer of 2010. Provided a chance by the Sharks, who acquired him from Minnesota for a third round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, Sheppard has worked diligently on restoring his health and has transformed his game, and in the stretch drive, he has provided lots of value to his team. In his last 5 games, he’s scored 2 goals and added 3 assists, and has looked very comfortable at center along with his usual linemates, Tommy Wingels and Marty Havlat, who have shown good chemistry together.
When called upon, Alex Stalock’s solid goaltending has been another show of depth on the squad. Stalock, another amazing story of medical recovery, has pushed Antti Niemi to be at his best and has provided 11 wins, 2 shutouts, and a 1.91 goals-against average to the table. He and Niemi are always working on their game.
With Adam Burish out indefinitely after hand surgery, the Sharks depth was showcased when Andrew Desjardins was put together with Mike Brown and Tyler Kennedy. Even though the Sharks lost in Colorado on Saturday afternoon, this unit succeeded in drawing two penalties, including one that led to a power play goal by Joe Pavelski. This line is not simply “eating up minutes,” it’s also providing important value to the team.
It’s in games like these, coming up, that are really showcasing the hard work of players such as these. They set things up for the top scorers like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture, and are important parts of any championship club.
All of us can’t wait until the playoffs begin, but the final stretch of the regular season should prove to be a dramatic and spectacular roadway to that exciting time. How will the Sharks do in their final six games of the season? Where will they finish up? Who will be in the playoff lineup for Game One, and what team will the Sharks face?
All questions will be answered soon, but one has been answered already. The San Jose Sharks have been preparing for this time of year for a long time. I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
The road to an NHL career is long and often bumpy. Every player has his own story. Players come from the biggest cities and from the smallest towns. They come from the North America. They come from Europe. It’s the last amateur stop that separates the men from the boys. Many top players come via the Canadian Junior system; others make their way by way of U.S. College Hockey.
There was a day when virtually every NHL player came from the 3 Canadian Juniors leagues. The juniors consist primarily of the ‘Western Canadian’, the ‘Quebec Major’ and the ‘Ontario Hockey League’. Prior to the 1970’s it was rare to even dress a U.S. born player. Often they were not even scouted. It was assumed American players were not skilled or tough enough to crack an NHL lineup.
Today American players have proven their worth and the U.S. college system is a legitimate way to prepare for a pro career. Most Canadian-born players still take the junior path, while most American-born players take the college route. A vast majority of European players play junior hockey in their home countries. Some Americans play junior, some Canadians play college.
The current Sharks roster is a good example of the face of big league pro hockey in 2014. San Jose has 11 players from juniors, 11 from U.S. colleges. The club’s 2 Europeans learned at home. It can be argued that the high level stars still come primarily from the juniors. The Sharks Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all played Canadian Junior hockey. However Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle, Justin Braun, Tommy Wingels and others played college hockey.
Why junior? Why college?
Those who support junior hockey say that it closely resembles the pro game. Juniors play a 70+ game regular season with a long playoff system. Juniors travel thousands of miles by bus. Players wear half-shields, fighting is allowed and the juniors foster an environment that makes hockey the number one priority. Junior clubs are also very young, with players being from 16 to 20 years of age. It’s a great choice for a young ‘can’t miss’ type of player.
College hockey is a great option for an ‘excellent’ player who may aspire to a pro career but wants to a plan B by getting a great education while playing high level hockey. College players are generally older, more mature and bigger physically. NCAA hockey insists on full face shields or cages.
Junior hockey has more games than practices. College plays only 2 games a week which allows for more practices. NCAA hockey is perfect for the ‘late-bloomer’.
The old prejudices are no longer in place. NHL teams know that great players come from everywhere. Great players come from junior, college and from Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Winning is all they care about.
The new trend that will continue in the future is high-level players born and bred in the states of California and Texas. The Sharks boast 2 Californians, winger Matt Nieto from Long Beach and defenseman Matt Tennyson of Pleasanton. Both played in California, both took the college route. Nieto went to Boston University, Tennyson played at Western Michigan.
The hockey world is just beginning to see the emergence of players who have grown up in NHL warm-weather markets. The hard work of growing hockey in places like California, Texas, Florida and other is beginning to pay off. That only means good things for young players and for NHL fans. Dreams of NHL glory can come from warm weather places as well cold weather places. Great players can come from college and from junior hockey. One day the Sharks will dress a team made primarily of players from places like San Jose, Gilroy, San Francisco, Oakland, Fremont and countless other California towns. Equally likely is Division 1 hockey will be played by programs like Stanford, UC Berkeley and San Jose State. On that you can bet.
Before Adam's injury I watched the video of Jason Fuchs who plays in the Quebec Major Junior League lose a portion of his finger after a puck tore it off the bone.
I think shot blocking should be reconsidered as an essential defensive and penalty killing strategy.
It's not that as a player you shouldn't try to prevent the puck from getting to the net but do we really want players who are 15 feet away going down on one knee to stop a slapper from the blue line? Why do we have goalies?
I would hope coaches would examine their demands on their troops. All coaches have teams collapse to the slot and net in the defensive zone. In turn you are willing to give up points.
As the puck inevitably finds its way to the DMen with the big shots, a defensive forward is expected to get out and front or block the shot.
Those expectations are always attempted and many times met without injury. However I ask again, as a Sharks Fan are you content with two of your integral players are lost to the team because they prevented shots from getting to the winningest goalie in the NHL?
So maybe it's the way the guys block shots. Instead of sliding down on one knee and risking many appendages and fleshy parts, why not just skate at the shooter, stay on your feet and take the puck off your shins or skate guards?
I love the heart and the courage shown by all the Sharks. I just wish their sacrifice didn't result in losing players that you want to see on the ice.
My friend and colleague Jamie Baker knows a thing or two about getting to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “Bakes” is best know for scoring the biggest Sharks goal ever when he netted the winner in the teams’ Game 7 victory over the Detroit Red Wings back in the spring of 1994. By the way the 20th anniversary of that seminal moment in franchise history is a month away. But Baker also scored both goals in a 2-1 Sharks win at Los Angeles on April 5th of that year. That victory put the Sharks in the post season for the first time ever.
Monday night in Calgary the Sharks earned a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Flames. That point gave them 101 on the season and sent them to the playoffs for the 17th time. It’s also the 10th year in a row that the Sharks will get a shot at playing for glory. Only the Detroit Red Wings, with 22 straight trips to the post season, have a longer streak in the NHL. It remains to be seen if the Wings can make it 23 in a row as they are still battling in the Eastern Conference race.
Baker pointed out in his Great White Bite blog yesterday (is it wrong to blog about a blog?) that a decade of playoff hockey is the envy of a lot of organizations. He’s right. We all tend to take it for granted that the Sharks are going to be a playoff team every year. Many tend to measure the success of the franchise by how far they go in the playoffs. Fair enough, but first you have to maneuver through a treacherous and grueling schedule and get to the playoffs before you can seek the Promised Land. To be a consistent playoff team takes the commitment of ownership, the wisdom of the general manager and the skill of his scouts, the acumen of the coaching staff and the talent of the players. It also takes the support of the fans, sponsors and broadcast partners that help pay the bills. The Sharks are blessed to have enjoyed plenty of the above.
Detroit’s 22 year playoff run is tops in all of professional sports in the US and Canada. The San Antonio Spurs of the NBA are next at 16 straight. The San Jose Sharks are now in elite company with 10 straight playoff seasons, tied with another basketball team the Denver Nuggets.
The best is yet to come. The Sharks will battle for the Pacific Division title and perhaps even the Presidents Trophy over their final 9 games. And after that the best hockey tournament in the world will start. But before all of that, take a moment to appreciate another trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 14 teams won’t be going this year. Those teams will be envious.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
It’s an exciting time of the year. There are 10 games remaining in the regular season, beginning with Monday night’s game at Calgary.
Here is a breakdown of what’s left:
Mar. 24 at Calgary
Mar. 25 at Edmonton
Mar. 27 WINNIPEG
Mar. 29 at Colorado
Apr. 1 EDMONTON
Apr. 3 LOS ANGELES
Apr. 5 NASHVILLE
Apr. 9 at Anaheim
Apr. 11 COLORADO
Apr. 13 at Phoenix
As of March 24, here is what that schedule brings:
Games vs. Teams in Playoff Position: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Games vs. Teams out of Playoff Position: 5 (3 home, 2 away)
Games vs. Pacific Division: 6 (2 home, 4 away)
Record vs. Pacific Division: 14-6-2 (H: 9-2-1 A: 5-4-1)
Games vs. Central Division: 4 (3 home, 1 away)
Record vs. Central Division: 11-5-2 (H: 8-0-0 A: 3-5-2)
Top Scorers Facing Sharks in Final 10 Games:
Calgary Jiri Hudler (15-31-46)
Edmonton Taylor Hall (24-41-65)
Winnipeg Blake Wheeler (24-35-59)
Colorado Matt Duchene (22-45-67)
Los Angeles Anze Kopitar (22-36-58)
Nashville Shea Weber (18-28-46)
Anaheim Ryan Getzlaf (29-47-76)
Phoenix Keith Yandle (8-42-50)
Top Goaltenders Facing Sharks in Final 10 Games:
Calgary Karri Ramo (12-10-4, 2.60)
Edmonton Ben Scrivens (6-7-0, 2.67)
Winnipeg Ondrej Pavelec (20-24-6, 2.97)
Colorado Semyon Varlamov (34-14-5, 2.48)
Los Angeles Jonathan Quick (23-15-2, 2.01)
Nashville Pekka Rinne (6-9-1, 2.75)
Anaheim Jonas Hiller (27-11-6, 2.40)
Phoenix Mike Smith (27-21-10, 2.65)
The Sharks are poised to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for a 10th consecutive season. When they do, they will have a chance to be the only team in the National Hockey League that can say that.
There is one other team in the NHL that might have something to say about that. The Detroit Red Wings are in the heart of a tremendous battle within the Eastern Conference of the NHL, and for the first time in a long time, there is a real possibility that they could miss post-season action. With 12 games to play, Detroit is in the final playoff position in the East. Given the spirit with which they have been playing, I’m not betting against them.
The Sharks and the Red Wings have benefited from tremendous contributions from their coaching staffs to solve a variety of challenges. In Todd McLellan’s case, he and his staff have done a remarkable job in managing through several serious injuries to important players, have set up young players to succeed, including a handful who have spent most of the year in the American Hockey League and have also done amazing work in the area of ice time management to set things up for the final drive and the post-season.
While Detroits head coach Mike Babcock’s challenges have been distributed differently, it is clear that he and his staff have really excelled as well. These are two coaches who deserve some serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award, handed to the NHL’s Coach of the Year, along with a reasonably large pool of candidates who will be considered.
Over the last 9 years, the Sharks and the Red Wings are the only teams to qualify for every playoff year, and they have each advanced beyond the first round a League-high 7 times. Only Philadelphia (5 advancements) , Boston (4), NY Rangers (4), Pittsburgh (4), and Vancouver (4) have come close.
Now, since the 2003-04 season, when San Jose began its current run of qualifying for the post-season, there have been eight different Cup winners, with Chicago the only team to win twice. There have been nine different losing Finalists.
But, here is where it gets interesting. There have been only 5 teams to advance to the Conference Final or further a minimum of 3 times. Those teams are: Philadelphia (4 times), Pittsburgh (3), Chicago (3), Detroit (3), and San Jose (3).
I think that the Sharks see this year as a year of great challenge and tremendous opportunity. They have been prepared extraordinarily well by an outstanding coaching staff. They have built their depth, and have proved that they can handle adversity. As of this moment, they are in first place in their division, with a chance to capture that banner by the end of the season.
Now, all that remains is to play the final portion of the schedule, and get to professional sports’ ultimate playoff championship, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Let the games begin! I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com