Randy's Ramblings - 4/6/2012
I think I’m pretty safe in assuming that ALL Sharks fans and most of the hockey world expected the team to make the playoffs going into this season back in October. But after the Sharks returned from the long February road trip with 5 out of a possible 18 points there were plenty of doubters. On March 10th when the Sharks were shutout 3-0 at Phoenix to fall into 9th place did you REALLY think they’d get to the post season for an 8th straight year? Let’s be honest. Outside the Sharks dressing room there was plenty of doubt. Even as recently as March 28-29 when they dropped back to back games in Anaheim and Phoenix you had to wonder if this year’s group had what it takes. But inside the dressing room the mantra was the same. The team refused to allow doubt to creep in. They maintained their resolve. The coaches did their best to relieve the pressure and the leaders led. Now the Sharks are in the playoffs and still have a chance to win the Pacific and grab home ice advantage in the first round. Just like every hockey season this one was a roller coaster ride wrapped up in a soap opera. The Sharks have won 6 of their last 8 down the stretch, taken their rivalry with Los Angeles to new heights and completely reinvigorated the fan base.
Thursdays 6-5 shootout win over the Kings was an instant “Sharks Classic Game”. First of all you have the NORCAL vs SOCAL dynamic in play. Then you have the carryover from last year’s first round playoff series that the Sharks clinched on LA ice. As the game began the intensity on the ice was palpable. The Kings pushed hard in the first period outshooting San Jose 18-8 but ending up tied 1-1 thanks to Anti Niemi’s heroics. But beyond that there seemed to be a nasty scrum every time one of the goalies froze the puck. There were face washes, punches in the face and a barrage of trash talk shift after shift. Then there were the individual performances. The first ever occurrence of two ”Gordie Howe Hat Tricks” by the Sharks with both Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe was something to behold. Both players were possessed. Thornton’s beatdown of Drew Doughty was tone setting and message sending. Clowe fought twice earning the decision in scraps against Matt Greene and Kyle Clifford. There were the questionable hits by the Kings on Torrey Mitchell and Logan Couture, there were the SEVEN power play goals, there was the Sharks missed power play opportunity in overtime, there was Pavelski’s snipe against Jonathan Quick and of course there was Clowe’s controversial move of playing the puck while on the bench with none of the officials picking it up. When it comes to regular season games in the Sharks two decade long history, they don’t come much more compelling than that.
What can you say about Joe Thornton. At this moment he is clearly leading the Sharks in every way imaginable. I’d even argue that he’s playing the best OVERALL hockey of his career right now. Joe’s never been one for big speeches but I’m guessing he’s had his say in the dressing room and impressed upon the group just how much they all need to contribute right now. But it’s on the ice that Jumbo Joe is doing his best work. He was terrific in the ultra important two games against Dallas that pretty much killed the Stars season and he might have played one of his best ever NHL games against the Kings. No, this isn’t the Joe Thornton of a few years ago who was putting up big stats and winning shiny individual trophies. This Joe Thornton is a terrific two-way center who is among the NHL leaders in takeaways and still manages to lead his team in points. He’s exactly what you want your captain to be.
Ryane Clowe’s act of interfering with the play in the third period Thursday, while on the Sharks bench, has generated a lot of discussion around the league. Clearly what Clowe did was against the rules and he should have received a 2 minute minor for interference. Some are accusing Clowe of cheating. Well folks, here’s a bulletin. Every team in the league engages in their share of “cheating” every time they play. That’s why there’s a rule book. What Clowe did was obviously against the rules. Just like punching someone in the face is against the rules or cross checking someone in the the boards from behind is cheating. Clowe didn’t get caught, but to suggest that what he did is some sort or egregious act that deserves a suspension is ridiculous. Was the outcome of the game affected by Clowe’s act? Perhaps. But as Kings coach Darryl Sutter might say, “Hey, nobody died.”
Thursday night’s Kings-Sharks tilt attracted a record viewing audience for a regular season game on Comcast Sportsnet California. The game did a 2.7 rating. That’s tops since the games moved to CSNCA a few years ago. Considering what’s on the line Saturday night when the teams hook up again at HP Pavilion the record rating could be in jeopardy. I get to be there in person Saturday, but if I wasn’t there I know I’d be watching that game no matter what.
And congratulations are in order to our friends and broadcast partners at Comcast Sportsnet. They are – without question – the most vibrant Regional Sports Network(s) in the country, especially in the month of April. In this month’s thirty days, they will produce 70 LIVE events all in HD, 99 Pre and Post game shows, 90 SportsNet Central’s, 21 Chronicle Live’s, 61 Sports News Hits for KNTV/NBC Bay Area, four team magazine shows, two NFL draft specials, a special from Japan, and a riveting documentary about Oakland basketball. For those of you counting, that is at least 322 hours of LIVE programming. And don’t forget, the Sharks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, coming your way next week!