A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 81

Quite the rough-and-tumble game for the Sharks as they held on to all but eliminate the Calgary Flames from the playoffs, winning 2-1. No Jarome Iginla in the playoffs, no worries.

Most impressive was the Sharks ability to withstand and neutralize any sort of Calgary onslaught at the beginning of the game.

It wouldn’t have come as a shock to see an early Flames 2-0 lead. Sharks coach Todd McLellan may have been right, before the game, when he said they were well aware the Flames would be desperate.

Pardon me for questioning the Sharks psyche. It’s not like I’ve had any reason to.

Part of the solution was Evgeni Nabokov. Nabby played great tonight, and it’s slowly becoming realized that he’s getting into a rhythm. Perfect timing.

Even more fantastic is the Sharks secondary scoring is hot. Jamie McGinn scored in the second period for his second consecutive game with a goal. McLellan’s been on his case to pick up the pace and it’s working.

"Goalie's gotta biiigg butt!" (From SJSHARKS.com)

Logan Couture played well again also. One thing I notice about him is that he takes the shot — always. It doesn’t matter where he’s at, he will take it. He does it more than Dany Heatley does. Great things are coming from Logan in the playoffs.

Ryane Clowe continued his scorching pace with yet another assist.

After that forgettable debacle in Dallas, Jason Demers returned to the lineup and added an assist.

The planets may be aligning folks — and now that I said that, watch the Sharks lose 8-0 to Vancouver next game.

None of the big three registered a point or a +/- rating. That might be alarming to some but not for me right now. What was alarming was the laziness of Patrick Marleau defensively. He may have caught the Jumbo-shrimp syndrome; he coasted around the defensive zone not pressuring anyone.

Patty’s played well enough all year that I’ll let the last few games slide so long as it ends in the coming days.

A big criticism tonight was the third period. San Jose couldn’t generate any consistent forecheck, which kept Nabby on his toes. Luckily he obliged, but the Sharks have to learn to push back in situations like those.

In the meantime, I’ll rejoice for another Pacific Division title — until next week.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 11  CGY 22; Four players had two.

For those wondering, Rob Blake scored the first goal. No suspension for that hit on Mueller, and there should not have been.

All away games are done with for the regular season. San Jose returns home for the last two games. Vancouver is in town Thursday.

–Ray

Advertisements

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 77

Quite the HA HA! game for the Sharks as they beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2. That’s a little Gus Johnson reference for all you March Madness fans.

After taking out two bottom feeders in Minnesota and Dallas, the Sharks proved that they may very well be regaining old form by beating Vancouver. It wasn’t a full 60 minute game, but San Jose wasn’t built in a day.

Vancouver won the first period with a constant forecheck and a goal by the annoying Sedin line. Add the twins to my giant list of people who I can’t stand. That’s all you hear about with the Canucks — Sedin this, Sedin that. They’d be nothing without them. I’m sick of it.

But alas, it wasn’t to be the Swedish meatballs’ night. The Sharks dominated the second period as they do all the time. Three goals came to fruition with Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski netting them.

Heatley shot a wrister on the power play to tie the game, 1-1. Marleau scored on a breakaway after deking Roberto Luongo. No “Luuu” chants here. Patty had a more explosive reaction than usual, which was awesome to see. It’s his 42nd goal. He also recorded three assists for a four-point night.

The San Jose heartbeat stops as Jumbo goes down. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Pavelski took notes from the nearby San Francisco Giants and batted the puck into the net after an initial shot deflected into the air.

Then — PANIC. Joe Thornton rammed awkwardly into the boards and went down in a heap. Jumbo needed extra help to get to the locker room. Any ripping of Thornton can cease now. If there is one positive, it’s that he hasn’t missed a game in a Shark uniform (I’m fairly certain of that).

He’s getting a bit more energetic while working with Ryane Clowe and Torrey Mitchell on the third line. It looked to be his left knee that was injured. But we all know what we’ll hear tomorrow morning: “Lower body injury.” That’s Top-5 worst things about hockey — the crappy injury reports.

I hope he’s all right.

The Sharks sunk back into old play again and struggled in the third period. Vancouver barraged them with wave after wave, but somehow San Jose withstood it. They did allow one Canuck goal, but Clowe sealed it in the final seconds with an empty netter.

So, while I’d like the headline to be “Sharks continue winning ways,” it’s going to be “Thornton leaves game injured, return questionable.”

Raining Blood

Manny Malhotra was struck in the face by a puck late in the game, and blood poured out of his face. Not sure where exactly it hit, but the blood wasn’t stopping. Stitches will probably seal that right up, though. I can’t fathom being hit by a frozen puck in the face.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 39  VAN 24; Clowe led with seven.

Scott Nichol returned from injury after missing two games. Rob Blake was back on the ice tonight as well after missing almost all of the third period versus Dallas. Blake had two assists on the night to continue his hot streak.

It’s another back-to-back for the Sharks as the Avalanche will be at the Shark Tank, Sunday.

–Ray

March 28, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 69

Quite the reversal game for the Sharks as they lost to the Florida Panthers 3-2 in overtime. The gameplay was completely flipped from last game against Nashville.

In the last three games, San Jose trailed going into the third, but each time they came back to win. That was an NHL record. Coach Todd McLellan was all but pleased with the effort of the Sharks though. It’s been tough to find a full 60-minute effort this season.

The Sharks got the message — for the first 20 minutes — and kept pressure on the Panthers throughout the first frame. Things were looking really good; the Sharks scored two goals and held the Panthers off the scoresheet after one.

All downhill from there.

Florida turned the heat up for the remainder of the game, and with Tomas Vokoun making stops at key times, the Panthers were able to tie the game up in the third at 2-2. It seems the Sharks forgot what it was like to have a lead so late in the game.

The Sharks actually attempted to score in overtime, coming as a shock to me. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the back of the net. A shot from the point doomed San Jose, and they leave HP Pavilion with one point.

It’s like McLellan is a one-period coach. He sure can get the guys ready to play and spark them for one period, but after that, it’s disgusting. That’s not on the coach though. He can turn the key to the ignition, but the players have to step on the gas and keep the pedal down.

I’m just glad this string of crappy play is happening now and not at the very end of the season. That occurred last year and we all know what went down in the playoffs.

Fight!

Brad Staubitz finally decided to appear, in his first scrap since Jody Shelley was traded. He took on Nick Tarnasky, and it was an uneventful affair. The two swung each other in circles before falling to the ice.

Manny Malhotra took it upon himself to defend Joe Pavelski in the third period. Jason Garrison slammed Pavs’ head into the boards, which sent Malhotra off. The two tussled, but it also was dull. Malhotra received an instigator and 10-minute misconduct for it.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 32  FLA 36; Scott Nichol and Dany Heatley both had six.

No photos were posted for the game. Odd.

The Sharks travel to Anaheim tomorrow to take on the Ducks.

–Ray

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 68

Quite the Jack-in-the-Box game for the Sharks as they exploded in the third period and beat the Nashville Predators 8-5. Yes, there really were 13 goals scored tonight.

It was great watching Nashville practice for 40 minutes; we were all treated to an inter-squad scrimmage. Oh wait, hold on. My sources are telling me the Sharks were actually on the ice for those first 40 minutes. Who knew?

Nashville outshot the Sharks 15-0 in the first 14 minutes of play and outscored 1-0. This crappy play needs to stop. We’ll obviously get to the outstanding third period in a minute, but zoinks this was bad. Preds goalie Dan Ellis vacationed in Cancun, Mexico for a majority of that first frame.

Lo and behold Dany Heatley scored on the Sharks’ first shot of the game.

That didn’t do much for momentum, however, as the Sharks continued popping out rotten eggs like Jon and Kate, in the second period. Nashville increased their lead to 4-2 heading into the final period.

With the music finally exhausted, the weasel popped and jack thrust himself into the world. A six-goal period propelled San Jose to victory. I wonder what coach Todd McLellan said to the guys. Cap that stuff in a bottle and save it for the playoffs, buddy.

Joe Pavelski became a one-man demolition sqaud with four points in twenty minutes (two goals, two assists). Heatley scored his second, Manny Malhotra, Patrick Marleau and Jay Leach tallied goals as well.

It’s the Sharks’ 22nd come-from-behind win, which is now first in the NHL.

Torrey Mitchell received additional playing time, playing alongside Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau at different points in the game. He earned an assist tonight.

I really couldn’t believe that third period. I was chomping at the bit to rip the team for their sorry performances the last seven games or so. They need to finish this homestand off with another win before heading out on a six-game road trip. A winning streak is in the future for this team. I think this is the victory that will spark it.

Nichol/Superman returned to whip his old team again (From SJSHARKS.com)

Who’s Your Nabby?

So I read this article the other day from a Sharks fan about how Nabby’s increased playing time is hurting the Sharks in the playoffs. The horse is not dead yet apparently. The article came complete with pretty-colored line graphs! Oh how I love the visuals. Unfortunately, the stats presented are meaningless. I absolutely love stats, but I know how much they can be manipulated to make any argument. I’ll now try to show stats that cover both sides of the argument, but ultimately I do have a distinct opinion on the matter.

People need to shut their mouths about Nabby’s starts. Seriously. Shut. Up. I love how people will contend Nabby’s play goes down in the playoffs? Really now? Here’s some stats you might want to consider:

In the regular season Nabby has averaged a .913 save percentage and a 2.37 goals against average. Not great, not bad either.

In the playoffs, Nabby has averaged a .915 save percentage and a 2.23 GAA. WHAT?!! Ray, you mean Nabby has better numbers in the playoffs than the regular season? Blasphemy!

Yes, my friends, he does play better in the playoffs. At least, that’s what stats say. Now the eye test is different. Goalies must be able to elevate their play in the postseason or their teams will be doomed. If the Sharks want to win the Stanley Cup, Nabby must elevate his game higher than what he’s been doing. No question.

I just want to rid the world of these ridiculous “Nabby plays too much,” hollow arguments. I’ve seen a few people suggest we let Nabby go and sign goalies like Martin Biron or Dan Ellis. Some of these Sharks “fans” need to check their drinking water. Let’s get rid of a perennial Vezina candidate in favor of Dan flipping Ellis.

I should probably mention that this whole ‘letting Nabby go’ thing is because the Sharks have no cap space to resign all of their free agents this offseason. Nabby commands  a big contract (5.375 mil this year), and Marleau, Pavelski and potentially Blake need to be resigned. Nabby’s contract runs out after this season too, and someone is going to be left out.

San Jose should never have been in this position in the first place. They overpay players like Ryane Clowe (3.625 mil a year) and went out and got Heatley (7.5 mil a year). Trades must happen, regardless if the Sharks win the Cup this year or not. They’re stuck between Douglas Murray and a hard place.

I don’t think letting Nabby go is the right decision. Finding a great goalie is so difficult (just ask Philly), and I’m not ready to rely on Thomas Greiss full time. There are a couple interesting prospects in the system in Alex Stalock and Tyson Sexsmith, but there a long way away from being NHL-ready.

I suggest Thornton or Heatley be traded. Keep Marleau. Thornton will always produce points, but his lack of emotion destroys the team in the playoffs. Heatley is undeniably an elite sniper, but Marleau is better than him defensively and in lighting the lamp (this year).

I’d love to keep this team together, but this money situation sucks. But I’ve digressed.

Here’s an intriguing slew of stats to consider about goalie GAA in the playoffs:

Goalie A: 1.98

Goalie B: 2.09

Goalie C: 2.23

Goalie D: 2.30

Goalie E: 2.45

Obviously, you know which goalie Nabby is (C). The others? A is Brodeur, B is Osgood, D is Roy and E is Fleury. Nabby finds himself in the middle of four Cup winners. I think he’s done just fine; he needs more offensive support to win these games (along with the aforementioned elevation of play).

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 26  NSH 25; Niclas Wallin and Brad Staubitz led with four.

Florida visits the tank on Saturday.

–Ray

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 67

Quite the persistence pays off game for the Sharks as they finally solved Steve Mason and defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1. It was looking bad early on, but Mason finally cracked.

I’ve definitely been a part of these games before — while playing video games of course — especially against Roberto Luongo. I try all different button combinations to set up the perfect pass and still get stoned by the goalie. That’s probably how the real players felt tonight against Mason.

It had been over seven periods since the Sharks last scored on Mason. Columbus shut out the Sharks right before the break, but the Sharks looked awful that night. This time around, San Jose swarmed the Blue Jackets and put on unrelenting pressure.

The team reacts to Jumbo saying he'll keep his shirt on for interviews (From SJSHARKS.com)

I really hope these types of games stay in the Sharks’ minds. When playoff time comes, you’re going to be down — no question. They may be just regular season games, but knowing you can come back against a hot goalie could pay huge dividends.

Dany Heatley scored the first goal, which came in the third period on the power play. A gigantic sigh exited HP Pavilion. Joe Pavelski skated around the back of the net and scored to take the lead.

A few timely saves by Evgeni Nabokov, specifically in the final seconds, sealed the victory.

Nichol Update

Scott Nichol, who was cheap-shotted last game, will be out 7-10 days with a shoulder injury. Ryan Vesce was called up to take his place. Vesce played seven minutes and amassed three hits.

Maxim Lapierre was suspended four games for the hit.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 36  CBJ 32; Douglas Murray led with six.

The Sharks’ next game is Thursday against Nashville, at home.

–Ray

March 7, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 66

Quite the Price-is-wrong-B—- game for the Sharks as they beat the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2. If you can tell me where that quote is from, you get 200,000 points.

Montreal goalie Carey Price made it his mission to tick off the Sharks and their fans by flaunting every single save he made. It was sickening seeing him do Statue of Liberty after Statue of Liberty. I’m guessing Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov took notice because he did a few himself.

Last game against New Jersey, the Sharks could only muster 20 shots, and coach Todd McLellan worked on getting more shots and second chance opportunities in practice. It worked. The Sharks attempted 85 shots on goal — 40 hit the net, 26 were blocked and 19 were missed.

Montreal would score first in the first period and would take the lead again 2-1 in the second period.

In between that, Patrick Marleau scored the Sharks’ eighth shorthanded goal of the year off a beautiful deflection. Plenty of other Sharks chances ensued only to be denied by the post. Dan Boyle found iron on a penalty shot during the second frame as well.

Persistence paid off. Dany Heatley and Manny Malhotra put the Sharks ahead for good in the third period. Heatley was in a bit of a scoring drought, and it was good to see Torrey Mitchell assist on a goal (Malhotra’s).

Hey Brad, come take a whiff of this new scent I'm wearing: "Lousy Canadien" (From SJSHARKS.com)

One thing that needs to be mentioned is the absolutely cheap cross check by Maxim Lapierre on Scott Nichol in the third (Nichol never returned). I believe it was Ray Ferraro, the analyst for the game, call it complete garbage. Well put. Nice name by the way.

Unfortunately, no Sharks noticed immediately who did it and nobody ever fully paid Lapierre back. Maybe McLellan made a point to stay disciplined, but come on now. When something like that happens, somebody needs to send a message to that clown Lapierre. Punch him in the face. Lapierre was laughing on the bench! This is where I miss Jody Shelley.

New Paint Job

This is the third different helmet Nabby has had this year. I’m not sure if it’s permanent or not. He’s worn his regular skull/fishhead helmet, a black one and now a Neptune one. Not a big fan of the Neptune one. Something about a topless old man turns me off.

Staying the Same

I should mention the Sharks made no deadline deals, and that they were content with adding Niclas Wallin and trading Shelley. Obviously, they like their talent pool from Worcester, and I can’t say I blame them. During the playoffs, there’s usually one really young guy who breaks out for successful teams. Last year, Bobby Ryan of Anaheim comes to mind. I’m looking for Logan Couture, who’s been killing it in the AHL, to come up playoff time and contribute.

I was kind of hoping the Sharks would add Ray Whitney, former Shark, for scoring depth, but then one of the current players would have had to have gone.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 33  MTL 20; Nichol and Heatley led with five.

Saturday, the Sharks will battle Columbus — a team that shut them out right before the Olympic break.

–Ray

March 5, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 61

Quite the Whac-A-Mole game for the Sharks has they pounded the Toronto Maple Leafs back into the the NHL cellar with a 3-2 win. It wasn’t pretty, but the Sharks did enough to withstand the newly energized Leafs.

The game felt like a Western Conference game. It’s always nice to watch the Sharks play Eastern Conference teams since we never see those players. But with the Leafs’ additions of Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, along with Francois Beauchemin, it was like facing the Ducks or Flames.

Astonishingly, Giguere recorded two shutouts in his first two games as a Maple Leaf. After the first period, the streak was still in tact. Toronto led 1-0 at the first break after completely controlling most of the period. Phanuef was throwing his weight around on Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. The Leafs were skating and made the Sharks look very lethargic.

Jody Shelley tried his best to get some emotions going. He dropped the gloves with Toronto tough guy Colton Orr, and Shelley KO’d him with a right. You don’t see that too often — Orr getting dropped or Shelley KO’ing someone. So you might want to favorite that video on YouTube.

Right after was when Toronto notched their first goal. Rob Blake turned the puck over behind the net, and a cross-crease pass found Tyler Bozak’s stick.

The Leafs continued the pressure briefly in the second before the Sharks whacked their first mole. Dan Boyle shot a wrist shot change-up to beat Giguere. Yep, Boyle’s back.

Two minutes later Joe Pavelski wristed one past Giggy, and yet another mole was whacked to oblivion.

All right, Colton. This is going to be a one-shot KO. Jersey Shore Ronnie style. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Brad Staubitz sought redemption against Garnet Exelby for a knee-to-knee hit earlier in the game. The two danced, and it was a close fight. Both fighters landed some punches, and Staubitz claimed the takedown.

The Leafs would score in the last minute of the second to tie the game back up. Curse those relentless moles for popping up.

Remember last game when I gave you the statistic which read the Sharks are 10-0 in games with multiple fights. Well, make that 11-0. Ryane Clowe buried the puck with seven minutes left to give the good guys the win.

Nab-credible

Once again, Mr. Evgeni Nabokov did his best brick wall impersonation, making key save after key save. You just can’t say enough about how great he’s been this year. We’ll have to wait until April to see if he gives the Sharks the real bang for their buck, but if this season is any indication, the Sharks will be living well come postseason.

Welcome Wallin and Helminen!

Newly acquired Niclas Wallin made his debut in the #7 sweater tonight and played as advertised. He didn’t make any mistakes and finished with a +1 rating in 17:03 of ice time. He also recorded one shot, one blocked shot and one hit.

Dwight Helminen was called up for the first time as a Shark. I didn’t hear his name called much, though. He put in nine minutes of work and struggled in the faceoff circle going 1-4.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 26  TOR 34; Scott Nichol led with four.

The Sharks visit the reeling Blue Jackets on Wednesday. It’s the front end of a back-to-back — Columbus and Detroit.

–Ray

February 9, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment