I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Every NHL season is a rollercoaster ride wrapped up in a soap opera.
How do you figure the Sharks playing one of their best games on home ice all year last Saturday against Chicago followed by Monday night’s clunker against Philadelphia?
And the Sharks aren’t alone. Not long ago visiting teams feared the Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose road swing. Somebody called it the West Coast version of the Bermuda Triangle. Now the landscape has shifted a little bit. Remember when the Ducks were almost unbeatable on home ice? They went 20-0-2 before losing in regulation at Honda Center. Now all of the sudden they’ve lost three of their last five home contests and all of them in regulation. Up the freeway in Los Angeles the Kings have hit an even worse stretch. They’ve lost eight of the last nine games and a stunning 15 of 20.
The Sharks aren’t struggling anywhere near as bad as that. Shortly after losing Logan Couture they went on a six game winning streak fueled by a red-hot Joe Pavelski. But the Sharks have dropped four of their last five games and are having trouble putting the puck in the net and keeping it out of their own. And they’ve lost home games this year to Buffalo, the New York Islanders and most recently the Flyers. It figured that losing Couture along with Tomas Hertl and the rest of the injured forwards would catch up to the Sharks and it seems that it has.
But the key is keeping it in perspective. The Sharks are still solidly in a playoff spot in the Pacific Division and they’ll be rested after the Olympic break and will also be getting back Couture, Raffi Torres and Adam Burish .
There’s still plenty of hockey to be played before the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s too early to panic and too early to plan the parade. Just keeping on riding the roller coaster, with all its thrills and occasional spills.
I’m Randy Hahn
What’s your Plus/Minus…?
Plus - The remarkable goal scoring of Joe Pavelski. While he’s not exceptionally fast, Joe more than makes up for that with fearless determination and willingness to go to the toughest places on the ice. He’s Mr. Clutch too.
Minus – Linesmen who fail to drop the puck more often than not. Hockey fans do not pay to see linesmen kick guys out of the circle while feeding an ego trip of making sure everyone knows they are the boss.
Plus – I’ve been around NHL hockey longer than I’d like to admit and I’ve seen players and coaches come and go. The Sharks current coaching staff of Todd McLellan, Larry Robinson, Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft are the classiest, hardest working and most prepared group I’ve had the opportunity to be around. They have passion for their jobs without being abrasive to the people around them. They are just another reason I’d like to see the Sharks make along run into early June one of these years.
Minus – An 82 game schedule. Pro hockey is a big business. Millions of dollars are generated and fans have passion for the NHL. But in my opinion 82 games are just too many for players and the game to put the best product on the ice every night. Prior to the 1967 expansion the NHL worked with a 70-game schedule. Even the best, most highly trained players cannot get up for all 82 games. The schedule and travel takes its toll on body and mind.
Plus – Technology as it relates to the NHL. The digital age and the growth of the internet is an ally to fans of our game. Get a laptop and a few subscriptions and anyone in the world can watch or listen to every game no matter where it is played or where they might live. sjsharks.com, Game Center Live, countless hockey websites, bloggers and Youtube can be pure nirvana to the faithful. It wasn’t all that long ago that games were being aired on tape delay and radio signals were a constant problem. Thanks to you Al Gore.
Minus – Fans who tirelessly pound on the glass any time the players get near their front row seats. I’m also down on fans who are are on their cell phones while they stand and wave to themselves on the game camera shared by TV and the Jumbotron.
Plus – They NHL’s great performance pulling off the massive Stadium Series events. We all now share brand new iconic images of the regular season games staged at Dodger and Yankee Stadiums. I’ve especially enjoyed comments made by the players on how much they enjoyed and appreciated their participation in the outdoor games.
Minus – Arrogant, humorless coaches who call out their own players publicly. I’m equally unhappy with bench bosses fail credit opponents following a loss. They need to remember hockey is a game of mistakes and that both sides are doing everything possible to win their games.
Plus – Players who interact with young fans during warm-ups. This is not life and death stuff. Everyone in hockey needs to remember it’s a game and that fans, particularly young fans are making memories that will last a lifetime. The sight of kids with eyes as big as saucers are a thing to be treasured.
Minus – Fair weather fans who only follow their team when wins are coming easy. True fans follow their team year in and year out regardless of the win-loss record. If you stay with your team long enough, the payoff with a Cup will be all the sweeter.
Plus – A golden era for the Sharks who boast star power and a run that has seen them make the playoffs 14 of the last 15 seasons.
Enjoy the games!
If you watch and listen to our broadcasts on Comcast Sportsnet California, you may have heard me mention Sharks Video Guru, Brett Heimlich.
Brett and I are kindred spirits because as some of you may know I was the video guy for the team when we first started this little adventure called San Jose Sharks Hockey.
Now when I was doing video, I was referred to as "The Vidiot". For "Bretzky" that is not the case. The kid is a Wiz when it comes to computers and game analysis.
Brett is the operating master behind a system that collects, stores, analyzes, edits and shares digital video and statistical evidence in all of the hockey categories you can think of and some you haven't.
The Sharks made that hefty investment because it is the lifeblood of information for the coaches, management, scouts and players. With the desire being the more you arm an individual with visual facts and figures, the better that individual will become. If your entire hockey department is plugged into that information super highway, then your team and organization will be successful.
Information is power.
However the XO System is mainly used by the coaches to to breakdown games, scout opponents and compile video to improve player performance.
Under the guidance of Todd McLellan and working closely with every member of the coaching staff, Brett diligently produces clear concise video vignettes that help drive home salient points the coaches need to make.
He also pours over voluminous numbers and says to either affirm or dissuade opinions on players, opponents, special teams, faceoffs, shootouts, hits...well you get the picture.
Remember though that any piece of equipment is only as good as the person operating it.
Brettster is about as good as it gets.
But besides his work ethic and technical know-how, I have become a fan of how Brett has grown into a "Hockey Guy".
He breaks down a game as good as anyone I know. He has gained insight working with the great coaches.
He has learned the tough lessons of what it takes to be great working with Todd McLellan.
But you can learn a lot by watching how he works with and interacts with his co-workers. Put aside the pranks, jokes and good natured name calling. Brett treats and is treated with admiration and respect. Admiration and respect that he has earned.
With the Sharks winning streak now over at 6 games it’s worth noting just how impressive their run was.
In victories over Washington, Florida, Tampa Bay, Calgary, Winnipeg and Minnesota the Sharks managed to win 3 times on the road and 3 times at SAP Center. Four of the wins were by a single goal, the victory over the Capitals came in a shootout and they blanked the Panthers 3-0 while also shutting out Winnipeg 1-0. And let’s not forget how they overcame Martin St. Louis 4 goal effort for the Lightning and still found a way to win. That was also the only game during the streak in which they gave up any power play goals. In the other 5 games the penalty kill was a perfect 8 for 8.
It also bodes well for the rest of the season that the Sharks performed so well considering the lineup that Todd McLellan was forced to play due to injuries. Matt Nieto, Eriah Hayes, Backen Kearns and Alex Stalock have each appeared in less than 50 NHL games in their careers. Matt Irwin and John McCarthy are both under 100 games played. In fact if you combine all of their experience in the league it totals 251 games, less than Logan Couture’s 275. That’s impressive! But it’s also expected. Every year the Sharks carefully draft and then develop players with the expectation that at some point they will be able to make a contribution at the NHL level. All those mentioned have indeed contributed and here’s hoping another long winning streak is about to start all over again.
I’m Randy Hahn
One day, not too long after Dustin Brown ended Tomas Hertl’s consecutive games-played streak and Kellan Lain played 0:02 and picked up 15 penalty minutes in his NHL debut, just as the finishing touches of Sharks captain Joe Thornton’s and alternate captain Patrick Marleau’s contract extensions were finalized and Anze Kopitar prepared to play at Dodger Stadium against Ryan Getzlaf in front of over 55,000 spectators, a seemingly unthinkable event occurred.
The Vancouver Canucks center, Henrik Sedin, was held out of a game against the Edmonton Oilers, and his lengthy ironman streak came to an end at an amazing 679 games.
I immediately wondered whether Patrick Marleau’s current ironman streak would graduate into the top 5 among active NHL players, and after counting it up positively, we got the folks at the organization we fondly refer to as the “Patrick Elias Sports Bureau” to double check it for us.
We were correct. Marleau is currently 5th on the active NHL ironman list, behind leader Jay Bouwmeester (686), Andrew Cogliano (512), Antoine Vermette (363), and Keith Yandle (355). It’s the second longest such streak in Sharks history, right behind Thornton’s 379 games, which was set between the day the captain was acquired from Boston and March 27, 2010.
The subjects of speed, stickhandling ability, hand-eye coordination, balance, checking ability, and shooting ability often get discussed when talking about the cream of the NHL’s crop. However, there is another subject that needs to be considered when truly understanding the impact of what players bring to the table in the NHL today.
Imagine the schedule, the challenges of travel, the sheer toll that the game places on an individual player’s body each season. Tack on the fact that the top players in question are playing against the best players on the other team nearly all of the time, and knock on every piece of wood possible, because durability is one of the most important qualities of any NHL superstar.
Let’s look at a recent accounting of some of the top players in the game today:
|Player, Team||GP Since 2005-06||Pct. Team Total GP||GP Since 2007-08||Pct. Team Total GP|
|Joe Thornton, SJS||668||99.10%||505||99.00%|
|Patrick Marleau, SJS||659||97.80%||500||98.00%|
|Ryan Getzlaf, ANA||606||89.90%||467||91.60%|
|Anze Kopitar, LAK||502||98.40%|
|Henrik Sedin, VAN||672||99.70%||508||99.60%|
|Daniel Sedin, VAN||643||95.40%||480||94.10%|
|Sidney Crosby, PIT||522||77.50%||362||71.00%|
|Evgeni Malkin, PIT||421||82.50%|
When you count the fact that Joe Thornton has currently skated in 251 straight contests, which ranks fourth all-time in Sharks history, it’s absolutely remarkable to note that in his nine seasons with the team, he has missed a grand total of only 5 regular season games. Over the same span, Marleau has missed only 15.
When you compare and contrast that with other top stars in the game, the Sharks duo of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are miles ahead of most, doing it in the ultra-competitive Western Conference with all of the travel considerations therein. It really is a remarkable achievement to date, and it really gives Sharks fans cause for celebration to learn that they have agreed to extend their time in Silicon Valley three additional years.
Let’s not take their contributions for granted. They are true NHL stars, and it’s a privilege to watch them work toward their ultimate goal of bringing a Stanley Cup to San Jose.
Thank you, Joe and Patrick. I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
This and that…
--With the Winnipeg Jets paying their first visit to San Jose last night, it made me think of the World Hockey Association. The WHA was a rival league which impacted hockey significantly in the ‘70s but also has made its mark on the 21st century NHL.
--The WHA brought with it overtime to regular season games. The league played a sudden-death 10-minute period for games ending in regulation tied. The WHA was the first league to draw European talent in large numbers to North America.
--The Winnipeg Jets franchise (now the Phoenix club) gave the league immediate credibility when it signed the great Bobby Hull to a long-term multi-million dollar contract. The WHA also were the first to draft 18-year olds. At the time the NHL drafted 20-year olds. Following a 7-year war, the NHL absorbed Winnipeg, Hartford, Quebec and Edmonton into the NHL. The bidding war for hockey talent made it possible for professional hockey players to be paid full market value.
--The current Winnipeg Jets are presently in their 3rd season after being relocated from Atlanta. These Jets were not part of the WHA, but it offends me to see that the Jets’ Evander Kane wears number 9. The Golden Jet, Bobby Hull, gave so much to major league hockey and made it possible for the NHL to be successful in secondary Canadian markets and was key in getting Winnipeg major league status.
--How about Captain America Joe Pavelski’s incredible scoring streak? The Sharks Wisconsin-born centerman has notched a remarkable 18 goals in his last 20 games. The only Teal wearing player to score more was Jonathan Cheechoo who scored 20 goals in a 20-game span back in 2005-06. The Sharks #8’s recent exploits have raised “USA-USA-USA” chants from the Sharks fans in San Jose. Joe is maxing out his talent and is tireless in his preparation and in game production. “Little Joe” has 27 goals in 50 games, and is on a pace for 44 goals, 2nd to the Capitals Alexander Ovechkin. Pavelski will have a huge impact on Team USA’s drive toward an Olympic Medal next month in Sochi Russia.
--I enjoyed Sharks TV color man Drew Remenda’s take on the opening faceoff series of fights last Saturday as the Flames visited Vancouver. Drew floated the opinion that these sorts of things happen every once in a while and to true longtime fans recognize that. The mainstream media may be wringing its hands, but the NHL community should not be concerned. For the last 20-25 years the NHL has courted a broader fan base (particularly in the US) with little to show for it. I look at the NHL as a huge world-wide club open to whomever wants to join, but I don’t believe we should change our game for those who couldn’t care less.
--Be sure to tune in to NBC Sports Network tomorrow at 6:30 PM when the Ducks and Kings square off in the first warm weather outdoor game at Dodger Stadium. Sunday NBC will be at Yankee Stadium for an outdoor tilt featuring the Rangers and the Devils. Who knows…a Northern California outdoor game could be in the NHL’s future.
--What’s up with the NHL’s injury updates featuring only ‘upper body’ or ‘lower body’ descriptions? The reports are so vague they might as well say nothing at all.
--Lost Wages. Next time the NHL expands there will be a need to put more teams in the west. Currently the Eastern Conference has 16 teams while the Western Conference has only 14 clubs.
How about a team in Las Vegas? During the winter snow birds from around the world visit Nevada for the warm weather, entertainment and gambling. Given their position in the sports pecking order I think hockey should be first. However precautions need to be made to ensure gamblers never get to close to the game and its players. The city would be wise to welcome the NHL with open arms.
--Monday night will be the first meeting between the Sharks and Kings since Dustin Brown’s questionable hit on San Jose rookie scorer Tomas Hertl. Hertl had to undergo surgery and it is unclear if he can return this season. The game at SAP Center Monday starts at 7:00pm and will be televised on the NBC Sports Network.
Enjoy the games.
Back on January 6, the Sharks announced that Logan Couture would have surgery for an upper body injury. He would be out for at least 2-3 weeks. At the time, the Sharks were already without forwards Tomas Hertl, Martin Havlat, Raffi Torres and Adam Burish. How could the Sharks possibly have enough offense to score three goals a night, universally recognized as the “magic number” to have a legitimate chance to win? What would LWL (life without Logan) be like?
Enter The Big Pavelski!
With Couture out of the lineup, Head Coach Todd McLellan had to hope the rest of his team would collectively make up the offensive slack in the absence of one of his better scorers, and that’s been the case. But no single player has picked up that slack in a more dominant fashion than winger/center Joe Pavelski.
Since Couture’s injury the Sharks have fashioned a 5-2 record and Pavelski has been on one of the best offensive runs of his 8-year NHL career. In those seven games he has 9 goals and an assist including his first ever hat trick. Going back to January 1 when he was named to Team USA for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, Pavelski has 11 goals and two assists.
It’s been amazing to watch Pavelski this month, but should we really be all that surprised? Great players tend to be at their best when the pressure is on. Pavelski has come through in a big way and with six goals in his last 3 games he’s showing no signs of cooling off.
Joe Pavelski will never be “Little Joe” to me. He’s “The Big Pavelski” 100%, and he’s made LWL a lot easier to deal with.
Hey Dad, I want to go…
The NHL hit a home run with their most recent ‘Winter Classic’. Over 105,000 people attended the outdoor game in Ann Arbor on January 1. The league deserves full marks for a great event. My only criticism was that the TV broadcast failed to translate the enormity of the event. Also with a rink in the middle of a football field, there appeared a limited sense of intimacy.
I’m very curious how the upcoming games at Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Soldier Field and BC Place in Vancouver will go.
The enemy of taking ice outside is not temperature but rain. If we get dry days the games should go well. The question many have is, has the NHL bitten off more that it can chew? The league has gone from a singular ‘Winter Classic’, to multiple games in multiple markets. Those questions will be answered shortly after the final game on March 2nd in Vancouver.
Is there a better way, an opportunity?
Looking into my crystal ball, I can envision a day..…
…when the NHL will own and operate a true, custom built, outdoor hockey stadium. It would be built on the U.S.-Canadian border just north of International Falls, Minnesota. This location would all but guarantee sub-freezing weather from December to March. It would have a 40,000 to 50,000 capacity. The stands would begin immediately at the boards and would have steep series of rows much like most of the indoor arenas in the NHL. Rows would be fairly steep allowing for both a large audience and an intimate view. The design would be a 270 degree bowl configuration. The stadium would be positioned right against scenic lake with ancient pine trees. The vast majority of fans and TV broadcasts would enjoy a breath-taking scenic/iconic winter view.
When the weather allows the lake would be a staging area for a series of outdoor, natural shinny rinks. NHL fans and amateur players, young and old players would come from around the world for not only NHL games, but also to play in amateur tournaments. College, minor league, and International games could also be played here also. Youth tournaments from across North America would be played there nearly every weekend.
The NHL would use their “Heritage Stadium” for the NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. It also would be the site of a Christmas-season four-team tournament with a special trophy going to the tourney winning team. Winning the Xmas event would mean a return the next season. The NHL would also stage a series of regular season games there on a frequent basis. All 30 teams would play at least one game there every two years. Fans of NHL teams would have access all-inclusive travel packages which would include flights, game tickets, rooms at hockey-themed hotels, food, beverage and Heritage Stadium merchandise. NHL sponsors would have access to many of these events allowing them market their businesses.
The NHL would move the Hall-of-Fame from Toronto to join the USA Hockey Hall-of-Fame near International Falls. The border location would make this a hockey pilgrimage destination for fans/teams from both the US and Canada.
Much like skiing venues ‘Heritage Stadium’ would have a special ‘Hockey Village’. The village would boast Hockey-themed restaurants, hotels, shops and theaters. Indoors rinks would provide venues for summer-time hockey schools and training centers. NHL teams would frequently hold club training camps there.
After just a few years I believe this would be an amazing venue. It would be literally be the center of the hockey universe. It would quickly become a bucket list visit for fans from around the world.
It might sound like the pipe dream of a rink rat, but who knows?”