A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Guest Column: The Boys Of Summer (Offseason Review)

Nathan Skytta takes some time from his busy summer schedule to take a look at the NHL offseason and its many twists and turns. Note: Article written Aug. 14.

Just over two months ago, fans of the NHL witnessed the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Philadelphia Flyers to win their first Stanley Cup since the 1960-61 season.  Now, with the countdown just over fifty days away from the drop of the puck in Helsinki, Finland, the Blackhawks have dismantled their championship team, the most prized free agent is still unsigned and those are just the beginning of the highlights that have made this summer so interesting for the fans of the NHL.

The Kovalchuk Puzzle

If anyone predicted this for Kovalchuk, please tell me my future.

The highlight of the offseason was the signing, or so we thought, of Ilya Kovalchuk by the New Jersey Devils. The agreement was for 17 years and over 100 million dollars, but as soon as it was signed, the NHL rejected it. The arbitrator assigned to the dispute upheld the NHL’s ruling that the contract went against salary cap regulations and therefore was illegal. We are now in the middle of August, and the most heralded free agent on the market this offseason, remains just that.

Nixing Niemi

Getting back to the Hawks, Antti Niemi, who was in net when the Hawks won the cup, won an arbitration hearing and was awarded a 2.75-million dollar salary. Because they are so close to the cap, the Hawks had no choice but to let Niemi, 26, become a free agent. The Hawks had a plan in place just in case they were forced to let Niemi go. The Hawks turned around and signed veteran goaltender Marty Turco. Turco, a three time all-star, had been let go by the Dallas Stars earlier this summer and was looking for a new home. Niemi remains unsigned and there’s no word on where he may end up.

Anybody want a Stanley Cup winning goalie?

Clipping more Hawks wings

Along with Niemi, the Hawks parted way with players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Kris Versteeg, and Andrew Ladd. When the Hawks raise the banner on opening night against rival Detroit, they will have a roster that has many people wondering if they will be able to repeat.

More Interesting Moves

Some other highlights of the offseason include former San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov signing to play in the KHL (Russia), Mike Modano, a Michigan native, heading home to play for the Detroit Red Wings after signing a one-year deal, the Philadelphia Flyers either acquiring or signing every free agent defenseman on the market—not really but at one time they had 10 defenseman on their roster—and Steve Yzerman taking over the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning, in hopes of bringing another championship team back to the Sunshine State.

A New Season Emerges

In the last 65 days since Patrick Kane snuck the championship-clinching shot between the legs of Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, teams have been revamped, players have changed addresses, and some big names remain on the market. Along with the aforementioned Kovalchuk, players like Paul Kariya, Miroslav Satan, and Lee Stempniak remain unsigned.

In the next few weeks, teams will begin reporting to camp and start writing the script on what they hope is a championship season of hockey. With two outdoor games scheduled this season, a new roster for the Blackhawks, and many teams making changes to their rosters, anything can happen. So fans, get the jerseys out, the hockey packages ordered on your cable network, and get your vocal cords ready for what’s going to be another fantastic season of NHL hockey.

-Nathan

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August 27, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And It’s Over…

Chicago is the better team and proved it in the series.

Now look for the Sharks to start building a team to beat Chicago (Sharks spent the last four years building a team to beat Detroit).

Just a few last gripes to get in now, though.

–The Chicago fanbase is second behind Pittsburgh as the most UNdeserving. So many bandwagon fans, and I hope they get swept in the Finals.

–Niemi is not that great. He is your run-of-the-mill Cam Ward. Success in his rookie year before fading into mediocrity. Sorry. I just don’t see anything special in him. He had a lot of luck this series.

–Byfuglien is getting hyped beyond belief, and he is awful. By next year, he will be as overrated as Tomas Holmstrom.

–Who the heck is this Dave Bolland? He earns the mosquito award for being the biggest pest.

–Hopefully NBC can find some new commentators to do playoff games. There’s no excuse to have a Blackhawks analyst in the booth. That’s clear bias. Not to mention all you ever hear about is Chicago. They’re the Pittsburgh of the West.

The rest of Chicago is good, although I think Toews is incredibly arrogant. There’s no way they can keep all those players after this season.

As for the Sharks, it’s time to find a new goaltender. Nabokov does not have what it takes to get it done. The Sharks need to start stockpiling draft picks because that’s how it seems championships are won these days. Suck for ten years and get first overall picks.

Maybe this will somehow help the Sharks. They did finally realize how to get out of the second round. Coming back against Colorado and destroying Detroit will always be remembered for me.

Thanks, Sharks!

–Ray

May 23, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Column: NHL First-Round Predictions

Nathan Skytta is back again — this time with predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs.

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Detroit Red Wings will not start their run towards the Stanley Cup at home in front of the fans at Joe Louis Arena. In a season that was plagued with injuries, featured a rookie between the pipes, and contained league diversity with no real powerhouse, the Wings struggled out of the gates.

Led by gold medal winning head coach Mike Babcock and a plethora of skill and determination, the Wings overcame their injuries and got their lineup back together. Oh and that rookie in net? Well, he turned out to be a possible rookie of the year finalist.

The Wings finished fifth in the conference and are going to take on the fourth-seeded Phoenix Coyotes, in the first round of the playoffs. The Coyotes will put up a challenge for the Wings, but after finishing the season as one of the hottest teams in the league, the Wings should be favored in advance.

RED WINGS IN SIX.

In another matchup in the Western Conference, it’s the No. 1 San Jose Sharks versus No. 8 Colorado Avalanche — a matchup that will be worth watching. The Sharks barely missed having to face Detroit, but the road to the second round didn’t get any easier when they were paired up against the Avs. The Sharks need to be on their ‘A’ game in order to have any chance of advancing.

SHARKS IN SIX.

The No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks will take on the No. 7 Nashville Predators. This may be the highest scoring series out of the eight first round playoffs because each team has struggling goaltenders and stars that can put up big numbers when given the chance.

PREDATORS IN SIX.

In the last Western series, it will be the No. 3 Vancouver Canucks facing off against one of the scariest teams in the league, the No. 6 Los Angeles Kings. Both of these teams have great goaltending, but it will be the matchup of the Kings defense against the all-star duo of the Sedin twins that determines who comes out victorious.

The Kings are the Cinderella team of the NHL this season and are unpredictable, so this series is one worth watching.

KINGS IN SEVEN.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals versus the Montreal Canadiens. This matchup pits Capitals starting goaltender Jose Theodore against his former mates from Montreal.  The Capitals have too much firepower for the Canadiens and should win this series convincingly.

CAPITALS IN FIVE.

Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur will lead his No. 2 New Jersey Devils against the No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers, in hopes of clinching another Stanley Cup title. This is the time of year where Brodeur seems to always step up his game — just what any team wants to hear when facing the goaltender with the most wins in NHL history.

DEVILS IN FIVE.

Silver medal-winning goaltender Ryan Miller and his Buffalo Sabres face the Boston Bruins and their rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Bruins are going to have a challenge beating Miller and his teammates, so the Sabres should easily win this series, but at this time of year, anything is possible.

SABRES IN SEVEN.

Last but not least, it’s the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins versus the No. 5 Ottawa Senators. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins should advance. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should lead the charge against the Senators, who lost their star Alex Kovalev to a torn anterior cruciate ligament this past week. The Senators have a challenge ahead of them, but hopefully they can make it an interesting series.

PENGUINS IN FIVE.

Anything can happen in the first round of the NHL playoffs, so tune in and see some of the exciting hockey that the last 16 teams in the league have to offer. Versus and NBC will have all the coverage starting Wed., April 14.

–Nathan

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My NHL Playoffs Preview

It’s that time of year again for 16 teams to lace up the skates and compete for the most coveted trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup. No postseason compares to the NHL playoffs — the speed, the excitement, the will to win it all.

The Eastern Conference features a lot of the same faces this time around like Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Washington. The Western Conference showcases some fresh faces with Phoenix, Los Angeles and Colorado. Pittsburgh and Detroit have faced off in the Finals the last two years, and a three-peat isn’t quite out of the question. Series by series, here are the matchups and predictions.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Washington vs. No. 8 Montreal

The Capitals put up 121 points and 54 wins this season and are bulldozing through their opponents. If Alexander Ovechkin didn’t miss time from injuries and suspensions, he would probably have won the races for goals and total points. But this team is going to need a goalie to lead them to the promise land. On the heels of a stellar comeback-type season, goalie Jose Theodore will get an easy first matchup against Montreal. Montreal will wish they had never made the playoffs.

WASHINGTON IN FOUR.

No. 2 New Jersey vs. No. 7 Philadelphia

Has there been a more confusing team this year than the Flyers? Pegged by many to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, they’ve been in disarray throughout the season. Starting goalie Ray Emery didn’t pan out and ended up injured and out for the season. Captain Mike Richards is going to need to put the team on his shoulders once again. And it’s no surprise the Devils are here. Last season, the Devils were ousted by an upstart Carolina team, but it’s hard to see that happening again. It will be a tough series, though.

NEW JERSEY IN SEVEN.

No. 3 Buffalo vs. No. 6 Boston

It’s hard to believe it was just last year when Boston made it to the Conference Finals. Since then, they traded Phil Kessel and lost Marc Savard to injury, which put their offense in a serious grind. It didn’t help goalie Tim Thomas struggled mightily, but now they have 23-year-old Tuukka Rask who suffocated opponents with a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. The goalie on the other side is no slouch either — USA starter Ryan Miller. This series comes down to whom can put the puck in the net. Buffalo has 12 players with 10 goals or more, and Boston’s leading goal-scorer has just 22.

BUFFALO IN SIX.

No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Ottawa

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins find themselves facing a somewhat surprising Ottawa team. With all the talent Pittsburgh has, it’s a mystery as to why they never compete for a top seed. But the regular season doesn’t matter anymore, of course. This is where the Penguins excel having been to the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row. The Senators were already overmatched, and now after losing Alexei Kovalev for the year from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Sens are the dead horse preparing to be beaten.

PITTSBURGH IN FIVE.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 8 Colorado

If there’s any NHL topic that’s been exhausted, it’s the playoff woes of the Sharks. They dodged a bullet in not having to face a red-hot Detroit team. The Sharks shouldn’t have any problem taking out the Avalanche early. The Avs haven’t played well since the Olympic break, goalie Craig Anderson’s massive workload has caught up to him, and key players Peter Mueller and Matt Duchene are recovering from injuries. With that being said, the Sharks still don’t have the confidence to sweep a team in the playoffs or beat them in five games. San Jose will take the series, but not without shooting themselves in the foot a couple times.

SAN JOSE IN SIX.

No. 2 Chicago vs. No. 7 Nashville

This could get ugly really fast. Chicago must be disappointed with blowing a golden opportunity in the last game of the season against Detroit. If they won, it would have meant a number one seed and home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. That puts Nashville right in the crosshairs of an angry team led by seemingly-always disgruntled coach Joel Quenneville. The Predators have heart, though, and they never quit. Despite the high probability of being skinned alive, Nashville will give it all they have.

CHICAGO IN FIVE.

No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 Los Angeles

Of the eight Western Conference playoff teams, only Vancouver has a losing record away from their building. This gives the Kings a chance to pull off maybe the only upset of the first round. Los Angeles has a young core of players similar to what Chicago has. The Kings have players like Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar that can keep them a playoff threat for many years to come. For Vancouver, it’s all about goalie Roberto Luongo and twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. If you stop the Sedins, you’ll win. It’s a simple concept, but few teams can accomplish it.

LOS ANGELES IN SEVEN.

No. 4 Phoenix vs. No. 5 Detroit

Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a typo. The Coyotes really are in the playoffs and a fourth seed no less. They shocked the hockey world after being in fire and brimstone the last several years. Ownership questions, gambling scandals and relocation considerations bogged down this franchise. But with new coach Dave Tippett, Phoenix got revitalized and finished with 50 wins and 107 points. Their reward? The hottest team since the Olympic break. Near the midpoint of the season, the Red Wings were out of the playoffs dealing with a stockpile of injuries. But they’re back to Stanley Cup form and are once again dangerous. The Western Conference can only hope Phoenix can pull a miracle and oust Detroit. But let’s be real. This is Detroit and these are the playoffs.

DETROIT IN SIX.

–Ray

April 14, 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. 39

Quite the milk-it-for-all-its-worth game for the Sharks as they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2. The Sharks were outshot 47-14 and still came out on top.

Through two periods the Sharks had a whopping seven shots on net. Dan Boyle mentioned after the game how pitiful that was and he’s right. Even in the second game of a back-to-back, you’re just asking to lose with those numbers.

So when you look at those numbers and still see a ‘W’ in the column, you know it was the goalie’s doing. Evgeni Nabokov was outstanding tonight. His 45 saves were no doubt the difference. Chicago’s 47 shots weren’t just the 2008-Sharks type either. They were screened, rebounds, and deflection. Nabby plays better the more work he has, and with all this time off recently, he needed to get back in a rhythm.

Come on man, I didn't even punch you this time. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Another Shark who played one of his best games of the season was Jason Demers. San Jose is now 3-0 since Demers was recalled, and that’s no coincidence. Demers scored his second goal of the year off a clean wrist shot past Cristobal Huet. Demers made some key defensive plays — clearing out loose pucks in the crease, blocking shots — and provided solid breakouts to create most of the offense. It’s too bad coach Todd McClellan wouldn’t reveal the changes he wanted Demers to make.

Special teams were a big story tonight. The Sharks talked about not taking penalties, which they did plenty of against Dallas, but they came out and took four penalties in the first. They’d take five more penalties, but the penalty kill stepped up and stopped all seven power-plays (they did allow a four-on-four goal).

One of the Sharks goals came shorthanded as Joe Thornton received a perfect Joe Pavelski pass, and beat Huet up high — where he’s well-known to be beat.

Fight!

Frazer McLaren beat down Bryan Bickell in the second period. Absolute demolition.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 15  CHI 18; No player had more than two.

The Sharks now take a Christmas break and resume play Saturday against this season’s whipping pole, Anaheim Ducks.

–Ray

December 23, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 28

DISCLAIMER: Minor language. Proceed with caution.

Quite the piss poor, I-feel-like-disowning-you “performance” by the Sharks in their 7-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks should have just stayed home in their cribs and choked on their pacifiers rather than “play” tonight.

Joe Thornton: Hey guys, let’s step on the ice.

*SILENCE*

Team: …and do what Jumbo? Are you going to finish that thought?

Thornton: Ya know, step on the ice and succeed with good ol’ fashioned California chillin’.

Team: OMFG, you iz brilliant Jumbo! Why didnt us think of that?! LOLZ.

Give me a damn break. This was disgusting. Absolutely putrid. Um, helllllooooo? Um, hi? You little children play professional hockey. Sounds kinda cool when you think about it. How about you actually play the game. And try. Just try.

What the hell happened during this long layoff to make the Sharks play like a beer league team? They allowed three, THREE shorthanded goals. Two of them were on the same power play!

Nobody wanted to play, everyone played with jocks on their heads. Turnover after turnover, fail after fail. If there was any doubt left about our defense, those were put to rest. From now on, if anyone tells you the Sharks defense is good, go ahead and tell them to remove their secret Ducks jersey or to go watch the NBA.

What a joke. Jason Demers played his worst game of his career. Dan Boyle felt like playing with an injured foot because this was a big game. He did end up scoring very late in the game, but it’s refreshing to know he waited 56 minutes to do something with his life. He finished with a -4 rating.

Also joining Pimple — I mean Boyle — with a -4 rating were Thornton and Dany Heatley. For all the great stuff they’ve done recently, this game shat all over it. Good gracious, it was atrocious. They must be stunned to know you have to play defense too. What a concept!

Manny Malhotra does his best pylon impression (From NHL.com)

With five minutes left to go in the second period, the shots were 26-7 Chicago. What in the blue hell is that about? Seven shots after 35 minutes? I could get eight shots on net by doing cartwheels the whole time.

At that time it was 4-0 and after the fourth, Ryane Clowe took it upon his messed-up-nose self to take a penalty. Brilliant. What a smart hockey player. Take a penalty and you show those bad guys you can beat them even with a man down. Ryane Clown. Blow me up a balloon while you make a joke of yourself.

Let’s go ahead and give credit to Chicago. They came in with an exceptional gameplan and their coach Joel Quenneville and perfected it. Sharks coach Todd McClellan was lost in the Tao of Joel’s stache.

This is the Blackhawks’ eighth win in a row and they’re no signs of slowing down.

LOL WUT?

Frazer McLaren managed a +1 for the Sharks. Ha ha ha ha.

AHL

Five AHL players were in the lineup: Jamie McGinn, Benn Ferriero, McLaren, Steven Zalewski and Derek Joslin. Certainly looked like Worcester was playing.

Kent friggin’ Huskins…

…was on the power play. Yes. On the power play and caused the turnover that led to a Chicago goal. Don’t EVER put that guy on the PP again.

Optimism Corner

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 26  CHI 17

Faceoff Percentage: SJ 56%  CHI 44%

The game ended.

Other Dreadful Notes

The Sharks’ injuries are plaguing them so badly now. Rob Blake, Devin Setoguchi, Jody Shelley, Brad Staubitz, Torrey Mitchell need to come back.

Per NHL rules, the Sharks are required to play again. They play Edmonton in Edmonton, Friday.

–Ray

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment