Notes from the first round…
Last night at Staples Center the Kings beat the Sharks 6-3 forcing a game 5 in San Jose this Saturday. The Kings made a statement to everyone involved that they will not go down without a fight. The Sharks also made it clear that they will not back down from anyone. With the game essentially decided the 2 California teams found a way to make the final moments of game 4 get chippy. Game 5 seems to be set to be a memorable classic playoff battle.
Despite the San Jose being up 3 games to one in their series, the Sharks-Kings rivalry is alive and well. With three playoff meetings in the past 4 seasons there are plenty of bragging rights authored by each California club.
The Sharks captain, Joe Thornton, scored the game 6 and series winner in 2011. Last season the Kings/Sharks series ‘deux’ went the 7-game distance, only to see the Kings capture the deciding game in LA. Both teams brought their solid franchise core to this spring’s 1st round matchup.
In many ways these teams mirror one another. LA and San Jose both have excellent coaches. The Kings Darryl Sutter plays it ‘old-school’. He’s a no nonsense guy who demands unwavering discipline and effort. Anything less and Sutter will find a way to get his group re-engaged. The Sharks bench boss, Todd McLellan is not afraid to lay down the law either, but his style is to stress details and create an environment of responsibility. Players know they are responsible to their team and their teammates. Todd’s staff spends considerable time breaking down tape, to ensure each player is prepared and provided with best information possible. Both coaches are genius at making adjustments during the game. Lastly both are winners. Sutter led the Kings to NHL royalty status by capturing the Stanley in 2012 while McLellan was part of the coaching staff in Detroit that led the Wings to the 2008 Cup.
The Kings Cup squad was built around a great puck-moving D-man (Drew Daughty) and a corps of forwarded who combine skill, speed and work ethic (Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards). The Sharks long run as an NHL power has been anchored by future hall-of-famer Joe Thornton, franchise icon Patrick Marleau and a combination of young and experienced impact players. Both clubs have consistently restocked their rosters via the NHL draft.
Regardless of the outcome the Sharks-Kings rivalry is set up for years to come. Both GMs, Doug Wilson of the Sharks and Dean Lombardi of the Kings know what it takes to assemble a competitive NHL squad. Like great chess masters they can look into the future and anticipate the dynamics of their organization.
It’s been fun to watch these two emerging hockey markets grow and embrace the west coast game, especially those matchups with feature the Sharks, Kings and the Powerful Anaheim Ducks. These games are some of the most anticipated be it regular season or the playoffs.
As we prepare for game 5 of the series it’s interesting to ponder the idea of young California kids watching these games, falling in love with the game and identifying with California natives, Matt Nieto of the Sharks and Alec Martinez of the Kings. This series will certainly add to the rich history of California hockey. Mark my words; it won’t be all that long until we see a fresh crop of California hockey talent break into the NHL.
So as you watch the Sharks and Kings face off tomorrow, be aware you are seeing one of the great rivalries of the NHL. Enjoy the games.
Something we learned watching game 1 of the Kings/Sharks series was that no lead is ever safe in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks burst out of the gate to a 5-0 lead after two periods. But it wasn’t by luck that the Los Angeles Kings won the Cup in 2012. Three 3rd period goals and a wave after wave attack by the Kings made it clear that each and every game will be a struggle.
It’s not a coincidence that when the San Jose club stopped finishing their checks the Kings came to life. Sunday’s Game 2 will start with a 0-0 tie and the Sharks need to again push the pace and play the body for all 60 minutes.
The Kings’ all-world netminder Jonathon Quick never seemed in control of his game following the Sharks crashing of the net from the opening faceoff. Expect Quick to rebound and give his team a great chance to win in Game 2. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Quick will not give up 5 goals again this series.
How different are the Sharks with Tomas Hertl and Raffi Torres back in the lineup? Hertl's debut in the Stanley Cup was impressive as he scored one goal and chipped in with an assist. The amazing thing about the Sharks’ rookie phenom is he doesn’t get rattled. He doesn’t shy away from physical play and works to make plays at every turn. As for Torres, his body on body style of play clearly rattled the Kings. If Torres can continue his hard-nosed style while staying out of the penalty box he will prove to be a force on every shift.
This season two Sharks in particular appeared grow their game by leaps and bounds. Jason Demers has blossomed into a solid, trusted puck-moving defenseman who also has upped his level of battle. Operating in the shadow of veteran d-man Dan Boyle for the past few seasons, Demers has been a good study and gives San Jose highly valuable right-handed blueliner.
Up front, James Sheppard is playing an inspired game. The former first-round pick of the Wild suffered a horrific ATV accident that put his career in Jeopardy. Sharks GM Doug Wilson identified Sheppard’s potential and said yes while many teams said no. That decision has been paying off as Sheppard was named the Sharks’ Player of the Month for March. Combined with the return of Hertl and Torres, Sheppard’s play makes match-ups difficult for the Kings’ bench boss Darryl Sutter.
This first-round matchup has the potential to be an epic test of wills. Enjoy.
Into Twitter? Do yourself a favor and follow Darin Stephens @SharksStats. Darin is the main graphics man for the Sharks television games on Comcast Sports Net California. His ability to get deep inside the numbers of hockey makes him the best in the biz.
Samples of his work from last night…
--The Sharks are the 1st team to score 6+ in their playoff opener since the 2007 Senators.
--Tomas Hertl (20 years old) is the youngest Shark to score a playoff goal since Patrick Marleau (19 years old) in 1999.
Make note of the 7:00 p.m. start time for this Sunday’s Game 2 in San Jose.
The greatest day of the season has arrived for Sharks fans. It’s the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs!
I was fortunate enough to have been around when the 1993-94 Sharks shocked the hockey world by qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in only their third season and then stunned the hockey world by knocking off Detroit in game 7.
Bob Errey, now a successful television broadcaster with the Pittsburgh Penguins, was the captain of that 1993-94 Sharks squad. Before game 1 of that series, Errey posted his now famous “16 Points for Playoff Success” on the bulletin board in the Sharks dressing room. It’s been somewhat of a tradition to re-post Errey’s list. So in keeping with Sharks tradition, here it is.
1. It takes 16 Wins to Win the Stanley Cup.
2. 4 Wins per series.
3. Never dwell on the past (Good, Bad, Win, Lose).
4. Never take anything for granted.
5. One shift is as important as 20.
9. Throw statistics out the window.
11. Play bigger.
12. Never Retaliate.
13. Get pucks out, get pucks deep.
14. You’re never out of a game (major penalty for high-sticking = 5 min. PP)
15. Have fun.
16. Heart is more important than skill.
Here’s to hoping for a long ride and lot’s of fun.
I’m Randy Hahn for sjsharks.com
Here’s the reality and truth about NHL players – they bleed for the logo, their teammates and the fans.
As the players head into the playoffs they all know one thing, starting Thursday night the intensity gets ratcheted up another notch and in the next two weeks and beyond pretty much every player is going to be hurt or injured in some capacity and will still lay it on the line during games.
This is what makes the NHL playoffs such an amazing spectacle… Players have received their full salary for the year and now they literally play for passion, pride and a chance to win the greatest trophy in the world, the Stanley Cup.
Knowing you are about to begin a journey where you get injured, and excited to do so, takes a different type of person and athlete. To win the Cup it will take a band of players that are selfless, play for each other, make each other better, are tough, fast and skilled and after all of that they will still need a bit of puck luck.
16 wins, that’s what it takes. The toughest 16 wins of the year, but its worth it because hockey players bleed for the logo, their teammates and their fans.
It’s what makes hockey so special!
Ladies and Gentleman, start your engines, buckle up and let the real season begin.
I am Jamie Baker, ex-San Jose Shark who bled for you and can’t wait to watch this version of the Sharks do the same.
The regular season has come to an end, and we are about to throw all the stats out the window. The Sharks have finished up with a two-game winning streak, and the pump is primed for what is sure to be an epic first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings.
Here are a couple of notes:
• With his 2 goals in Phoenix, Joe Pavelski became the fourth Shark to hit the 40-goal mark, winding up with 41. He’s the first Sharks 40-goal man since 2009-10.
• Two assists in the Phoenix game put Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle officially over the 200 assist mark in a San Jose uniform. Boyle is the only defenseman to record 200 career Sharks assists. Marc-Edouard Vlasic (134) and Brad Stuart (132) are next on that list.
• Boyle (201 career Sharks assists) is only the 6th player to reach the milestone. He’s now tied with Jeff Friesen. Players ahead of them: Joe Thornton (567), Patrick Marleau (493), Owen Nolan (245), and Joe Pavelski (224).
• Pavelski’s 40th goal came on the power play. It was his 16th power play goal of the year, which is second only to Alexander Ovechkin (24). His 41 goals ranks him 3rd overall, behind Ovechkin (51) and Corey Perry (43).
• Penalty killing is an important factor in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and so is the concept of staying out of the box. The Sharks allowed just 33 power play goals by opponents, which is the lowest number they’ve allowed in a full-length NHL season. They were only shorthanded 219 times, which is also an all-time team low.
• Scoring balance is also important when preparing for a long playoff run. The Sharks have 10 skaters who have scored 10 or more goals this season, 4 with 20 or more, and 2 with 30 or more. Four players have 50 points or more.
• In goal, Antti Niemi had a very strong night in the desert, capped by his terrific stop on a breakaway by Shane Doan in the second period, when the Coyotes outshot the Sharks 16-13 in the middle frame. He wound up tied for 2nd in wins with 39, and the Sharks are in the top 5 in goals-against average.
• Tomas Hertl is back to health, and the two games that he played will be very valuable preparation benchmarks for the playoffs.
Now, it’s time to throw those stats out the window, and get ready for a series that everyone concedes will be an epic one: the San Jose Sharks against the Los Angeles Kings. Let’s get started!
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.
Hockey is a fast, beautiful and often violent game.
It's a game of ...
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A game....that belongs to all of us!
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.