Sometimes, a change of seasons brings forth a change of perspective, and with two straight Sharks losses on their current road trip, it is heartening to know that spring is here.
Spring begins on the occasion of the vernal equinox, when days and nights are approximately equal everywhere and where the Sun rises due East and sets due West. It marks increasing daylight, the end of hibernation, the return of green pastures and flowery landscapes, and a general rebirth.
Today in Edmonton, there isn’t much sign of spring, as the temperatures will rise to about 35 degrees Fahrenheit. The forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies, wind, and a 50% chance of snow later in the evening. In other words, it’s hockey weather.
Today, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is slated to skate in his 500th career game. He’s one of several “home grown” Sharks who have reached that point in his career with the team. That includes Scott Hannan, Marcus Ragnarsson, and Mike Rathje. He is the youngest to do so, at 25 years (plus 355 days) of age, and he’s the kind of player who will continue to excel for years to come.
It’s interesting to note that Vlasic is only the 11th player to skate in 500 games in a Sharks uniform. Along with Rathje (671 games), Ragnarsson (519), and Hannan (508), there are seven additional players who have accomplished the feat: Patrick Marleau (1145), Joe Thornton (573), Owen Nolan (568), Evgeni Nabokov (563), Marco Sturm (553), Mike Ricci (529), and Jeff Friesen (512). That’s a pretty distinguished group of Sharks!
Douglas Murray is scheduled to skate in his 450th Sharks/NHL game tonight, but he will have to wait until next season to get to 500 because of the shortened schedule. Brad Stuart will play in his 406th Sharks game (his first 377 were with San Jose before beginning his “Great Circle Route” around the NHL via Boston, Calgary, Los Angeles, and Detroit before returning to the Sharks this year).
With the beginning of spring, the newly achieved milestones, and some hard work, the Sharks are hoping for rebirth in the win column on this road trip. If that happens, it couldn’t be on a more symbolic day: the first day of spring.
A lot of people these days say, “Isn’t the Internet great?” The wonders of the World Wide Web never cease to amaze us, and that includes those of us who follow the world of hockey. Recently, I stumbled over a hockey blog that linked to something that I had seen some time ago on YouTube, and I thought that I would share it with you today.
Back in the 1950’s, hockey was not generally on television. Hockey Night in Canada had only added the orthicon tube to its program delivery, having been exclusively a radio affair in its earliest years. But in the United States, hockey was virtually nonexistent on TV and was looking for unique ways to market itself.
It’s really interesting to go back to November 19, 1957, to see one of those efforts. Believe it or not, Montreal Canadiens superstar Jean Béliveau appeared on “To Tell the Truth,” which happened to be one of my favorite programs when I was growing up. This is an earlier edition of the same program where legendary imposter Frank Abagnale, Jr. made such an impression on me approximately 20 years later. Let’s watch:
Can you imagine a New York based, nationally televised program actually putting Wayne Gretzky on the air in the prime of his career and not expecting someone to recognize him? Had I been on this Earth and sitting next to Kitty Carlisle on that night, I would have had to disqualify myself, because Le Gros Bill is immediately recognizable in his Montreal Canadiens uniform (or, “costume,” as Miss Carlisle described it charmingly).
As you watch this wonderful look back in NHL marketing history, note that Béliveau is not wearing his famous number 4, but number 22. One of the other contestants is wearing number 4. As it turns out, one of the other contestants is also a CBC television director.
A couple of other notes: Ching Johnson was a great, domineering defenseman for the New York Rangers in the 1930’s. Here is a famous pose:
What a wonderful look back at history. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?
Patrick Marleau became the 88th player in NHL history to reach 400 goals in his career, but only the 30th ever to record his first 400 goals with one team. Of course, he’s the first Shark to score all 400 goals in a San Jose uniform.
That is a tremendous accomplishment, and he deserves many congratulations for it. But beyond that, it is equally impressive how he did it.
You see, Patrick’s 400th goal won’t be on a “play to tell your grandchildren about.” It wasn’t as the result of a major deke on a goaltender, a blazing dash up the ice, or that quick release of a heavy shot that we have known Marleau to take.
No, Patrick Marleau’s 400th goal came as the result of hard work, intelligent positioning, and, yes, a quick reaction with his stick. It was a deflection of a Justin Braun shot, with Joe Pavelski setting up traffic in front of Semyon Varlamov, that did the trick.
You may or may not remember that Patrick’s first NHL goal, scored at America West Arena on October 19, 1997, was also in the slot on a very quick reaction in front of the net. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed over the years: if you go to the hard working areas, you’re going to get chances, but you have to have the presence of mind and the quick hands that Patrick Marleau has to do it 400 times or more in the NHL.
In a unique twist, Patrick seems to like scoring big milestone goals against Russian born goaltenders. His first goal in Phoenix was scored on Nikolai Khabibulin, and his 400th came against Semyon Varlamov last night in Colorado.
What’s most gratifying is how well Patrick is playing in all areas of the game this season. The bodycheck that he threw against St. Louis captain David Backes on Saturday is a case in point. He’s doing everything that he can in all three zones of the ice to help his team win.
Congratulations on the milestone, Patrick. We look forward to celebrating more with you.
So, what do you think of realignment, and what should the schedule look like?
First impressions are pretty good, even though there is a technicality surrounding the relative difficulty for teams to qualify for the playoffs in the East vs. the West. I say that is made up for by the difference in travel, but there is also the reality that there are more teams in the Eastern Time Zone than in the others. It’s essentially organized around time zones and geographical rivalries as best as possible.
From the Sharks’ point of view, it ups the games against Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, and is a sort of modern-day re-creation of the old Smythe Division, which had San Jose, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Calgary. Yes, that’s right, the Sharks used to be in that division, way back in the Cow Palace days.
Now, let’s look at what the possibilities for the schedule are:
The visor debate has begun to really rage in NHL circles, after the eye injury suffered by New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal a few days ago. It’s somewhat ironic that the entire issue bubbled to the surface as the result of a game between the Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.
I still recall two significant eye-related injuries from Rangers-Flyers games that actually ended careers back in the helmetless days of the 1970’s. In 1974, Flyers defenseman Barry Ashbee suffered a career-ending eye injury after getting hit by a slap shot from Dale Rolfe of the Rangers. In 1979, Rangers left wing Don Maloney and Flyers defenseman Jimmy Watson tangled for position in front of Philadelphia goaltender Bernie Parent. As they tumbled to the ice, an errant stick clipped Parent in the eyehole of his old-style, fiberglass mask, and caused him to have a career-ending eye injury.
Now, another Rangers-Flyers game has produced another eye injury, this time to a member of the Broadway Blueshirts. It has also brought up the idea of making visors mandatory.
While the NHL has encouraged this progression, the NHLPA has maintained a desire for player choice in the matter. But should we be reactive or proactive on this issue? Should we take that issue out of the players’ hands, or should a player make that choice himself?
If I were playing professionally, I’d certainly wear, at minimum, a visor. But I wouldn’t necessarily use force of a mandate to remove the choice of a player, not yet. But what is needed is a continued coordinated effort by both League and NHLPA to strongly encourage their players to wear eye protection. The marketplace of information should be enough to cause the transition to continue as it has been, as we have seen a sharp rise in the use of visors in the last decade in the League.
Today, there is zero controversy about wearing a helmet. The NHL mandated a phase-in after it seemed as if the transition wasn’t happening fast enough. I’m not convinced that the natural visor phase-in that we are seeing in the NHL isn’t fast enough, but we do need continued education and encouragement.
No one would accuse Marc Staal of lacking courage if he returns to the NHL wearing eye protection, and I hope that he does. The best news of all, of course, is that his doctors are saying that he is expected to make a full recovery, and that’s the most important thing.
Now, on to solving the next mystery: why does this particular type of injury keep cropping up in games involving the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers? I’m sure that no one has the answer to that question.
I was watching the “Top Chef” finale this morning between two great chefs, Brooke and Kristen. The margin of difference between the two chefs was so infinitesimal, and the difference between winning and losing was so razor-thin, it reminded me of the challenges that NHL clubs like the San Jose Sharks are facing these days.
In the competition, it turned out to be the sous chefs, line cooks, and other team members who played a huge part in the decision. Brooke was a great chef, but her personally selected team member, C.J., burned pig’s ears because of a moment of indecision, and maybe a momentary loss of composure. That led to her losing to eventual Top Chef winner Kristen, whose team converted on all of its major opportunities, despite the fact that they were also human beings who undoubtedly made a few errors during the matchup.
It sort of reminded me of a couple of 2-on-1’s in the Detroit game just a couple of days ago where a single millisecond changed the complexion of the game from a Sharks perspective. Detroit made some mistakes in the game, too, but they not only were able to overcome them, they had their group clicking together at the critical moments of the game.
Perhaps the theme of the remainder of the Sharks season should be, “Don’t burn the pig’s ears.” Sticking to the game plan, and forging ahead in spite of a human being’s penchant for making errors, is all part of how a championship team is built.
Last season, the Los Angeles Kings played 13 consecutive games in which they scored 2 goals or less in 12 of them. The stretch ended with an 8-2 defeat at Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings.
In 23 of their last 48 games, L.A. scored 2 goals or less. But they did something else: they allowed 2 goals or less in 35 of their last 48 games (72.9%). You may also remember that the Kings, built around the defensive excellence, stopped burning the pig’s ears, picked up a bit of offensive help, and won the Stanley Cup.
Right now, the Sharks have scored 2 goals or less in 11 of their last 12 games, and 14 of 19 total games played. But they’ve also allowed 2 goals or less in 8 of their last 12, and 13 of 19 total games played (68.4%).
I’m not saying that the San Jose Sharks are on the same path as the Los Angeles Kings are, but I am saying that the margin between victory and defeat, which is so razor thin, can and will be turned. All that it takes is a little synchronicity between the sous chefs and the line cooks, and making sure that you don’t burn the pig’s ears.
I’ll shift from folksy imagery to plain mysticism for my final thought: Given that the scoring outage began with the very first game against the Nashville Predators on February 2nd, it stands to reason that it will all end with the final game against Nashville, which is being played tonight.
It's always great to get together with Sharks fans, but Monday's "Sampling With The Sharks" presented by Citrix at Club Auto Sport in San Jose is always a highlight of the year.
A gourmet wine and dinner experience with Douglas Murray was "auctioned off" to two separate groups, and along with many other great auction items, thousands of dollars were raised to benefit the Sharks Foundation and the Rotary PlayGarden project at Guadalupe River Park.
It's events like these when we are all reminded of the greatness of our community. Here is a photo of coach Todd McLellan with Richard Parnell and Joe Keller of Citrix, presenting sponsor of the event.
Thanks to everyone for a wonderful evening!
It's always fun to visit Chicago. It's a big city, with plenty of character and just as many characters.
A case in point: the practice facility that the Sharks are skating at today has a homespun name: Johnny's Ice House. It's on the second floor of a building that's between the United Center and the Magnificent Mile.
On the walls of Johnny's are a few written sayings that I thought I'd share with you:
"To win the game is great. To play the game is greater. To love the game is greatest."
"Don't judge those who try and fail. Judge only those who fail to try."
"Success is a journey, not a destination."
"If you lose,say little. If you win, say less."
"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."
"If there is no one in your way, then you're not going anywhere."
It's always interesting to see what people are saying about the game (and how they say it) as we travel around the country.
The St. Louis Blues have finally landed at 6:33 a.m. Central Time today, just in time for rush hour traffic, after being stranded all day yesterday at the Vancouver airport due to mechanical difficulties. They will face the San Jose Sharks tonight in the very first meeting between the two clubs since winning the Western Conference Quarterfinal round, four games to one, this past spring.
It is highly ironic that the Sharks are on the other side of this challenge, but the backdrop of the game is not the source of the irony. To find it, you have to go way back to 1991, and the very first season of Sharks history, and when you do, you’ll discover a travel snafu that sounds eerily similar to what The Note is going through right now. Some of the details are clearly different, but the essence of the challenge is similar.
It was October 22, 1991, and the Sharks were a brand-new arrival in the NHL. The Cow Palace was still home, the players lived and practiced on the Peninsula, and all team flights were based at Oakland International Airport. It was there that the Sharks, 1-8-0 in their first season, all gathered to fly across the country to start a seven-game road trip in Hartford against the Whalers.
As fate would have it, the pilot of the charter aircraft charged with the trip was a relative newcomer to the Boeing 737, so before the Sharks were slated to arrive, he was practicing touch-and-go landings with the aircraft. On one such approach, he came in a little hot, struck the runway a little hard, and blew a tire.
It was former NHL right winger Ron Stewart who was credited with saying something like the following: “If you’re in a game and you’re down, 4-1 or greater, and there are five minutes or less remaining in the game, take a penalty. That way, the folks back home will look at the summary in the newspaper the next morning, and they’ll know that you played.” The calls on Douglas Murray and Adam Burish at 19:25 of the third period last night don’t fall into this category, because they were called for coincidental minors with two Blackhawks. But on Tuesday in St. Louis, the Sharks will play for each other, for the logo on the front of their sweaters, and for the city embossed in their team’s name. After all, it’s the first time that they’ve faced the team that sent them to their earliest playoff exit in franchise history. I’m expecting a great game against the Blues.