A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 57

Quite the special game for both teams, but the Sharks were too much for the Minnesota Wild and won 5-2. Special was the name of the game, as in special teams. Out of the seven goals, six were from the man advantage.

Poor nsblues/BHD won’t be too happy about this one.

Whenever a team goes 4-for-7 on the power play, chances are the end result will be a win. That’s what the Sharks did. For at least one night, no one can mention how bad the power play is at home. It was stellar. Jason Demers was the quarterback, replacing the still-injured Dan Boyle, and did a marvelous job. He scored two goals on his only two shots.

Demers amassed 21:48 of ice time, playing in all three situations — even strength, power play and penalty kill. This kid will be something special. Boyle was his favorite player and inspiration to be an offensive defenseman. I can’t imagine how cool it is to end up playing with your favorite player and learn from him. Now Demers just needs some defensive improvement to become that all-around defenseman players can count on.

Back to the game: the Wild scored first showing the Sharks they were here to play. After Demers’ first tally, the Wild struck again right at the end of the first period to make it 2-1. Perhaps the hangover from the Chicago loss was getting to them, but that was cured during intermission. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov stepped his game up tremendously and made key save after key save.

Get off me, Kim. I'm a man! I'm 40! (From SJSHARKS.com)

I was reading Sharks beat writer David Pollak’s blog earlier, and a few people were questioning why Nabokov keeps starting. Well, my little grasshoppers, if you had followed the Sharks intently at all, you would know coach Todd McLellan is doing this to prevent what happened last year. McLellan gave Nabby much more rest and it didn’t work at all. This time around, he’s letting Nabby keep playing. McLellan has stated this a couple times.

I don’t see fatigue being much a factor anyway with goalies. They may be on the ice all 60 minutes, but how much are they really playing? An offensive forecheck for 30 seconds where Nabby has to watch the puck. Make one save and the puck is going the other way. He isn’t exerting that much energy during games, at least not continuously. People are looking into this way too much.

Anyway, Demers’ second goal followed by Joe Pavelski’s wicked wrister put the Sharks on top for good. Pavs’ wrister makes even the toughest men become screaming, little girls.

Speaking of little girls, Joe Thornton continued his horrendous play tonight with seven giveaways. At some point, McLellan must address this — whether reduced ice time or a complete line demotion. Thornton just isn’t trying. I think the Sharks would be better off strapping skates on a two-by-four.

Patrick Marleau finished things off with two goals in the third (one may or may not be credited to Dany Heatley). I wonder when serious contract talks start or if they already have. Patty is San Jose. Sign him for the rest of his life. Just, please, keep the “C” far, far away.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 21  MIN 18; Scott Nichol led with eight.

Detroit meanders their way into town on Tuesday. Godspeed.

–Ray

January 31, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 56

Quite the don’t-get-your-hopes-up game as the Sharks staged a three-goal comeback only to fall short in overtime 4-3 to the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Sharks finish 1-1-2 against Chicago, which is an incredible disappointment. I can already see the bandwagon filling up on both the Blackhawks one and the Sharks-can’t-win-big-games one.

Both probably should be filling up; the Blackhawks once again defeat the “best” Western Conference team, and the Sharks came out to play in sneakers against an elite team.

Four days rest was the devil this time. All that time to focus and plan and winning formula against a Chicago team nearing the end of a long road trip, all went for not. It didn’t help Dan Boyle missed a third-straight game with the always laughable, ambiguous “upper-body injury.”

Chicago came out and took it to the Sharks. Three straight goals in the first 8:23. Yippee ki-yay! I seriously thought this would be a Sharks blowout, but expect the unexpected I always say — or should have.

So down 0-3, I’m thinking this is going to be like the 9-4 win over Detroit a few years back. Yea, nine straight goals ain’t too hard for this team. They scored nine not too long ago against Calgary.

Goal Joe Pavelski. OK, here we go. Just like Mike Grier did against Detroit. Get that first goal before intermission. This will turn the tide teal.

Peek-a-boo! I see you! (From SJSHARKS.com)

Move to the second. Goal Pavelski. Yep, I’m right bro’s. Here comes the comeback.

Goal Manny Malhotra. I must be Nostradamus. Tie game. Pack it up. Here comes six more goals.

Third period. Whoa whoa, Chicago. What are you doing? Trying? That’s not right. I am the Mayan calendar. You do not defy me!

Sharks can’t clear. You could defy me. Sharks still can’t clear and Marleau is flopping around with no stick. You might defy me. Chicago shooting the puck easily. You probably will defy me. With less than two minutes to go, the Sharks take a penalty — only their second of the game. You will defy me.

Unbelievable. The Sharks did manage to hold off the inevitable by killing that penalty, but we all know by now what the Sharks do in overtime. PRE-VENT OF-FENSE, clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.

Joe Thornton decided it’d be best to miss a wide-open net. Following a Sharks turnover, the Hawks scored and sent their bandwagon fans off into the illegitimate sunset. Fan-freaking-tastic.

I’m not sure what’s more deflating — a 7-2 loss or a three-goal comeback only to lose in overtime. You tell me.

Some positives: Logan Couture was called up for this game and played well. He played alongside Jody Shelley and Torrey Mitchell. They stuck to the game plan of getting it deep and keeping it there. Shelley mentioned it in a pregame interview: if you’re in the defensive zone, get it out, the neutral zone, get it in, the offensive zone, keep it in and create chances. Glad to see one line stick to that plan from start to finish.

Pavsleki has five goals and six games. Unfortunately, his hot streak couldn’t solve the Sharks defensive zone problems.

Let’s talk about the more interesting aspect of this game: the negatives. Joe Thornton was terrible. His passes looked like they game off a rubber hose. He passed to Hawks players all night long. He coasted through the night thinking about what photo angle his abs would look best in.

The Sharks can’t clear the puck. This has been mentioned numerous times here on ITSC. I say build a brick wall on the blueline and leave one brick out. Force the players to clear the puck through that tiny hole. Maybe that’ll help them stop clearing the puck right at opposing players. Come on guys. Look for the actual holes in the defense.

The crowd was the worst all season. Man, do I love Sharks fans. They’re incredibly loyal. But tonight, I think someone gave them seditives because there was no noise to speak of. And no, this is not because of Chicago’s 3-0 lead. When the game started, no creature was stirring, not even a mouse. I hear about this marquee matchup all week long — I’m sure they did too — and they come out like a bunch of mutes? Please. If you aren’t going to lose your voice, don’t show up. How ’bout ‘dat, yo?

Injuries!

Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game with an undisclosed injury. He didn’t come back. He better come back. I don’t want no Derek Joslin coming up and ruining my life.

Douglas Murray got injured blocking a shot I believe and left temporarily. He came back though and looked fine. Good news.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 22  CHI 20; Ryane Clowe led with five.

San Jose lost the faceoff battle by a decisive 58%-42% margin. Malhotra was 29%! Wow. One of the best faceoff men in the league got wrecked.

The Minnesota Wild are the next foes as they come to town on Saturday.

–Ray

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 55

Quite the electrifying game tonight as the Sharks slayed the Sabres 5-2. Lethargic people need not apply as this game was high octane from the outset. Eastern Conference teams seem to bring out the best in the Sharks skating abilities, and tonight was no different.

The Sharks escaped from the grind-it-out clutches of Western Conference teams and put on a show for the sellout crowd.

Buffalo was on a tear before this game with a record of 6-1-3 in their last 10 games. It looked like it would be another victory when the Sabres came out flying and executing. The scorching hot Tim Connolly scored his 13th goal of the season putting the Sharks down just seven minutes in.

After being outshot 14-5 in the first, San Jose came out with a different mindset; it was their turn to blow by the Sabres. Joe Pavelski notched his 11th goal to start with a bang, and Dany Heatley joined the 30-goal club to end with a bang.

Throughout the second, scrums formed, but no fights materialized. You could tell each team wanted to prove they were the best in the NHL.

Like a true elite club, the Sabres never backed down. They scored just 18 seconds into the third on the power play to end a Sharks streak of around 35 straight penalties killed.

A boxing match broke out in HP Pavilion; both teams threw haymakers at each other. It was toe-to-toe folks. Would one fighter tire out? Yes.

Mama said knock you out! (From SJSHARKS.com)

The Sabres’ legs became spaghetti as Pavelski slammed home his second goal of the game six minutes in.

Another right hook came from the Sharks when Jed Ortmeyer scored his career-high sixth goal of the season off a one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Not wanting to concede defeat, the Sabres squeezed every ounce of energy into the final minutes of play, but the Sharks defense was too strong. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov blocked every punch to close out the game.

Ortmeyer completed the KO with an empty net goal, sending the Eastern Conference challenger back to the training room.

The Sharks got better as the night went on and the third period was one of their best third periods of the season. Buffalo forced them to step their game up, and the Sharks actually responded. Whether it was Douglas Murray throwing Sabres to the ice with ease or Patrick Marleau shifting into hyperspeed, the Sharks proved they can play at an entirely different level — one perhaps they didn’t fully realize they could.

Unfortunately, there’s a four-day layoff between now and the next game. That could be huge considering the next game is a battle against the always-pesky Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks have had the Sharks number so far, so it’ll be crucial for San Jose to bottle this energy and unleash it again Thursday.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 32  BUF 23; Scott Nichol led with seven.

Buffalo outshot the Sharks 40-24. Nabby played outstanding.

Chicago is in town next Thursday. No Sharks fan wants to remember the last time Chicago was in HP Pavilion. A 7-2 loss. Perhaps that can be used as extra motivation for the players.

–Ray

January 24, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 54

Quite the justice game for the Sharks as they took down the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 tonight. The win puts the Sharks 5-0 against the Ducks this season.

Say what you want about regular season games and getting vengeance against teams who ousted you in the playoffs, but this feels awesome. If the Ducks did make it to the playoffs and the Sharks faced them again, these five wins mean nothing, but I’m living in the moment. Cross that bridge when or if they get there. Right now, we beat the Ducks at their best so enjoy it.

First thing that must be addressed was the awful feed of the game on NHL GameCenter. I think the feed is up to the broadcasters and Anaheim did a poor job with their cameras. The game looked like it was being viewed through a smog filter. On top of that it was blurry and you have the boring Ducks announce team. A recipe for a non-fun viewing experience. Nevertheless, I and other Sharks fans endured.

The Sharks had to endure this game without Dan Boyle’s services because of an upper body injury. From the reports I’ve read, he’ll miss the big inter-conference showdown with Buffalo on Saturday, too. He should be back next week.

Being on this hot streak recently, the Ducks tried to send a message with a couple fights and keeping things intense. It backfired.

Ryane Clowe and George Parros had a dance four minutes in. It was a welcome change from seeing Jody Shelley always fight Parros. Clowe beat down Ron Jeremy, Jr., and it started off the game fantastically.

Brad Staubitz and Nick Boynton tangoed six minutes later. Haymaker after haymaker ensued, but Bitz got the best of Boynton putting the Sharks in control of the momentum.

Take seat, duckling. I make Swedish bonesaw--errr, meatballs-- for you. (From SJSHARKS.com)

The Ducks were charged with a four minute high-sticking penalty, and it took 3:55 for the Sharks to convert. Better late than never, of course. Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored off a wrist shot near the blue line.

Anaheim started to build their own momentum, but it was crushed when Rob Blake found the twine. He was set up by an absolutely beautiful pass from Joe Thornton.

As you probably already guessed, goalie Evgeni Nabokov allowed his trademark one goal. Again. The Sharks held on to win.

Penalty Destroyers

No extra-man goals for the Ducks. The Sharks’ penalty kill unit stopped all five chances.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 24  ANA 22; Jody Shelley led with four.

As I eluded to earlier, the Sabres continue their road trip by playing San Jose on Saturday.

–Ray

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 53

Quite the vicegrip game for the Sharks as they clamped down on the Los Angeles Kings and won 5-1. It was the Sharks best performance and third win against the Kings this season. The two previous wins were 2-1 affairs.

San Jose has outscored their last three opponents 18-4 and have found their groove.

This has to be one of the best stretches the defense has played all year. They’re keeping their sticks on the ice, using good positioning and locking down opposing teams’ best players. That’s a recipe for success.

Jay Leach has really surprised me. He’s learned the system and playing great defensively; he’s also been seen pinching in the offensive zone. Even his partner Kent Huskins, who I enjoy ripping, is playing well. He was second on the team in ice time tonight with 20:23. Wow! Perhaps I underrated him? Hahaha, no.

Patrick Marleau started things off quickly with a power play goal just five minutes in. Power plays were the name of the game. The Sharks were 3-3 on the man advantage and held the Kings to no power play goals on five opportunities.

Patty would score another power play goal in the second period; it came just after a Kings shorthanded breakaway that goalie Evgeni Nabokov stopped. Nabby couldn’t find the magic for a shutout though, like usual. I tell you what — the Sharks are like me playing NHL 10. I always manage to allow at least one goal and never get shutouts. It’s the same story in real life. I wonder if Nabby is wondering if he’ll ever get one again. We’ll never know because he’ll just tell the media it’s about the win. Don’t just take that answer. He’s a prideful Russian.

Aaaaahhh! Get your wooden stake away from me, mortal! (From SJSHARKS.com)

Ryane Clowe scored two goals as well, making it his first two-goal game since Nov. 11, 2008. Guess who was on the ice and notched the primary assist. Manny Malhotra! OK, this is the one thing I was definitely wrong about. Manny is an amazing catalyst right now especially, but he’s provided so much to the team. Every line he ends up on scores. Joe Thornton, Jr. anyone?

Maybe my favorite part of the night was the third period. Again the Sharks kept their teeth on the jugular. Dan Boyle attempted to fight Dustin Brown, but the refs wouldn’t allow it. This star player protection needs to stop. Let these guys fight. The biggest excuse is “but we don’t want them to get hurt.” I rarely ever see players get hurt in fights. Injuries happen much more after bonecrushing hits or cheap elbows.

That wraps up the season series with L.A. thankfully. The Sharks finally solved them. It only took four months to do so.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 18  LA 28; Scott Nichol led with four.

The Sharks look to continue their Sherman-like march on Thursday when Anaheim travels to San Jose.

–Ray

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 52

Quite the absolute annihilation, destruction and obliteration tonight as the Sharks pummeled the Calgary Flames 9-1. Nine players had multi-point nights, and eight different players scored a goal. Joe Pavelski led the pack with four points (1 goal, 3 assists).

Coach Todd McLellan’s decision to move Ryane Clowe down one line and bring Manny Malhotra up one line might be the best idea of the season.

He wanted secondary scoring, and boy did he get it. Only two goals came from the top line. Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer both amassed three points, and linemate Clowe added two more for a total of eight points. I never thought I’d see the third line do that — not even on their best night.

Maybe Devin Setoguchi breaking his scoring drought opened the flood gates for the rest of the team. It was Ortmeyer’s first goal in 28 games and Nichol’s first goal since November 17. Let’s hope they save some of this firepower for the playoffs.

The second line notched eight points (3 goals, 5 assists). This is an oddity because Joe Pavelski and Manny Malhotra are both natural centers. They’re playing off each other so well, though. Pavs takes faceoffs on the right side; Malhotra takes them on the left side. Add in their domination of the faceoff circle, and the second line is almost guaranteed to start with the puck.

This is what happens when an unstoppable force and an immovable object have a baby. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Only four players failed to get a point, but they contributed as well. Torrey Mitchell fought Rene Bourque late in the game, Jody Shelley had four hits, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was a +2 and Kent Huskins was a +3.

This was the worst I’ve seen the Flames in a long time. I can’t tell you how much I love pounding Alberta teams into the dirt. Granted the Flames played the previous night, but this was a team who gave up early on. Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff became Mikka Kovalev with his lack of effort.

By the way, the Oilers got crushed 6-0, so Alberta lost tonight by a total of 15-1. That’s just plain redonkulous.

It’s about time the Sharks crushed someone like this; they’ve usually been on the wrong side of these games. Unfortunately, the Sharks couldn’t score one more, much to the chagrin of the fans who chanted “we-want-10!”

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 34  CGY 30; Brad Staubitz led with seven. Bitz also fought Brandon Prust early on in the game.

The Sharks travel to Los Angeles tomorrow to take on the Kings.

–Ray

January 19, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 51

Quite the taking-care-of-business game for the Sharks are the beat down the Edmonton Oilers 4-2. This was the best game the Sharks have played against the Oilers all season, and it was topped off with Devin Setoguchi finally returning to form.

Seto’s struggles didn’t have to do with his line, didn’t have to do with a curse; it was because of his…hair? Who would have thought that? Realizing his drought was becoming a bit ridiculous, he turned to his roommate Torrey Mitchell and Mitchell’s girlfriend to shave off his head. The struggles were cut away with every hair follicle to hit the floor. The bald Seto debuted tonight with two goals on eight shots.

Another catalyst may have worked in Seto’s favor: Manny Malhotra. Coach Todd McLellan decided to juggle the secondary lines because of the lack of scoring. Seto’s first goal came with Malhotra and Clowe; his second goal came with Pavelski and Malhotra.

Whatever the true reason for the sudden spark doesn’t matter. Let’s just hope it continues.

Hey Zack, how does it feel being on an awful team and being a goon? Double whammy. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Other goal-scorers were Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton — the more traditional players. It was Marleau’s 32nd and Thornton’s 13th. Marleau scored a career-high 38 goals last season, so he’s going to destroy that.

Thomas Greiss did indeed get the call after Evgeni Nabokov played four games in six nights. Greiss played solid, with a few of his trademark flailing saves outside the crease. Players covered for him though in those situations as they would collapse and all play goalie.

Not much criticism to give tonight. The Sharks did allow a shorthanded goal, but sometimes that happens. Edmonton is 0-5-1 against San Jose in their last six games. It’s always a great day when the Sharks beat the Oilers and to see the boys manhandle the Oilers was amazing.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 19  EDM 26; Scott Nichol led with six.

Malhotra was a perfect 12-0 in the faceoff circle, and the Sharks won the faceoff battle 70%-30%.

The Sharks took just one penalty tonight, and it looks like they figured out taking penalties hampers you immensely.

Another Northwest opponent awaits on Monday when the Calgary Flames visit the Shark Tank.

–Ray

January 17, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment