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.
I could go in several different directions in writing about the Sharks 6-2 win in St. Louis on Tuesday night but I’m going to pick the high road.
The way I saw it, Maxime Lapierre of the Blues delivered a dirty hit to Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle in the first period. Hopefully Boyle will be OK and will be able to return to the lineup soon. Now the incident is in the hands of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Lapierre is a repeat offender, having been docked four games in 2010 for a cheap shot on the Sharks Scott Nichol. My guess is he’s going to be suspended for more than 4 games this time around.
But how about the performance by the Sharks, who at 6-0 are now one of only two unbeaten teams left in the NHL along with Colorado? It seems as if the Sharks have won every game this season in a different manner. In St. Louis, they punished the Blues for their lack of discipline scoring three power play goals. And when the Blues went on the power play they could hardly get pucks through to the net thanks to the courageous shot blocking of Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Justin Braun and the rest of the penalty kill unit.
Joe Thornton played his strongest offensive game of the young season with a goal and three assists. He continues to march up the NHL all-time points and assists lists. Tuesday night he passed Guy Lafleur and tied Mike Bossy and Joe Nieuwendyk, Hall of Famers all of them.
Six different Sharks scored goals and 11 had points in a very one-sided affair against a previously undefeated St. Louis team.
Tommy Wingels was the third star. He hit everything, blocked shots and became the sixth different Shark to record a game winning goal this season.
The list goes on and on. Patrick Marleau had a three point night, Braun had over 25 minutes of ice time and Antti Niemi was solid when he had to be, shutting the Blues out until almost halfway through the third period to record his league leading sixth win.
This was “another” team victory. It was also a win for Dan Boyle. His teammates couldn’t bear the thought of Boyle paying the price he did and then losing the game.
Here’s to Dan Boyle’s health and on to Dallas!
The Sharks will play 41 road games in 29 different North American cities this season. First up will be trips to Vancouver, St. Louis and Dallas. Here’s how I rank the towns for the hockey buzz and more.
At Vancouver - October 10
On a clear day there is no city more beautiful in the entire NHL than Vancouver, British Columbia. Considering that it’s a mere 2 ½ hour flight from the Bay Area, this should be a must stop for any Sharks fan considering a roadie. (You can also drive it in a 16 hour marathon day). Think of San Francisco with snow capped mountains and even more cultural diversity. And think hockey. If you’re wondering just how important the Canucks are to the average Vancouverite, imagine what the Green Bay Packers mean to the average citizen of Wisconsin. And then multiply that by 2. I’m a runner so I always schedule a jog around the world famous Stanley Park Seawall. It’s a 10-kilometer loop around Canada’s version of Central Park in Manhattan. Even if you’re not a runner its an amazing walk or bike ride.
Randy’s Roadie Rank : #2 - Amazing beauty, the best fresh salmon anywhere and very passionate hockey fans.
Well, you don’t see that every night!
That just might be the understatement of the season. What Sharks 19-year-old rookie forward Tomas Hertl did at SAP Center on Tuesday was nothing short of incredible. He scored his first National Hockey League hat trick in only his third game and then added a fourth goal that just might hold up as the NHL goal of the year.
Who saw any of this coming? Who saw the Sharks fall behind the NY Rangers 1-0 in the first period and then score six unanswered goals and eventually win by a 9-2 final tally? And who could have even imagined the fourth Hertl goal? Tomas Hertl, that’s who! At full speed he cut in front of the Ranger net, put his stick between his legs and roofed a shot off the crossbar and behind helpless New York goaltender Martin Biron. Henrick Lundqvist, the Rangers Vezina Trophy winning starter could only watch from the bench after leaving the game when Hertl made it 4-1 with his first goal of the night.
And then there was Hertl’s mother and girlfriend visiting him from his native Prague in the Czech republic. The tears they shed when he scored his third goal and the joy they witnessed all around them when he stunned the sold out arena with a “one for the ages” fourth goal.
Lost somewhat were so many other outstanding performances like Joe Pavelski and Jason Demers three assist nights, the 14 different Sharks players who had points in the game, and 20-year-old Matt Nieto, the first ever California born player drafted by the Sharks who scored his first NHL goal and also finished with a three point night.
It’s one of those games we will all never forget. Not the skill, not the brilliance, not the tears of joy.
Like I’ve said countless times over the years, the best thing about being a broadcaster in the NHL is that every time I go to work I don’t know what I’m going to see. What we saw Tuesday night was a game, and a performance for the ages.
I’m Randy Hahn
There’s so much to look forward to this NHL season. For starters it’ll be a full 82 game season. There will be a Winter Classic outdoor, in fact there will be six outdoor games around the league. And it will be an Olympic season with the hockey’s best players gathering in Sochi, Russia in February for a couple of weeks while the NHL takes a break.
For Sharks fans there’s plenty to be excited about too. Will the team pick up where it left off in last years playoffs with a high tempo, north-south game? Will Logan Couture continue his ascension to hockey stardom? Can Antti Niemi follow up his best statistical regular season ever with an ever better one? How will Tomas Hertl hold up through a full game season and playoffs?
But let’s not forget what ought to be one of the true joys for all Sharks fans for the next 7+ months: Watching Joe Thornton play hockey night in and night out.
Let’s face it. From time to time we take Joe Thornton for granted. Ever since he came to San Jose in 2005 in the biggest trade in franchise history, “Jumbo” Joe has rarely disappointed. He is the captain of the team, he is arguably the best player the team has ever had and he is certainly going to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
With over 1100 career points, Joe will most likely crack the top 50 of all-time in that category this season. With a healthy year he could catch and pass Bobby Hull in 48th. His 787 career assists put him 33rd. Soon he will pass the likes of Peter Stastny, Guy Lafleur, Jari Kurri and Mike Modano. He’s realistically got a good shot at catching the immortal Alex Delvecchio (25th all-time) by the end of this year.
For my money he is the best passer in the NHL. At 34 years of age Joe still skates extremely well. He works his but off virtually every shift. He dominates play 5 on 5 and on the power play. His first period in Game 3 last spring against LA in the playoffs was the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play.
Enjoy watching the future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton this season. Here’s hoping he’s around here well beyond this year. But one thing is certain he won’t be around forever.
10 things you might not know about Sharks forward Tommy Wingels:
- He’s a member of the Advisory Board of the You Can Play Project, an organization created in the memory of Brendan Burke who was the student-manager on Wingels’ Miami University of Ohio team. Burke, who announced to the team he was gay, was killed in an auto accident in February of 2010. You can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation
- Burke would regularly hang out on football Sunday’s with Tommy and his college roommate Justin Vaive, son of former NHL All-Star winger Rick Vaive.
- Wingels was part of a very interesting 2008 NHL Entry Draft for the Sharks. He was selected in the 6th round (177th overall) hardly a shoo-in spot to crack an NHL lineup. Sharks defenseman Jason Demers and goaltending prospect Harri Sateri were also picked in 2008.