A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Fishing for Fins: Sharks add Niemi

Sharks fans everywhere scoffed at acquiring Antti Niemi throughout the summer and they all were forced to eat crow Sept. 2 when the Sharks officially announced the signing of the Finnish goalie.

San Jose now boasts a goaltending tandem of also Fin, Antero Niittymaki and Niemi as opposed to last year’s twosome of Evgeni Nabokov and Thomas Greiss.

But you won’t see any partying in the streets. Reaction everywhere on Sharks forums is negative and pessimistic. Of course, being a Sharks fan, the only thing you know is bad luck and seeing the glass half empty.

Niemi signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Sharks

Playoff Proven

The addition of a Stanley Cup-winning goalie is an upgrade over Niittymaki first and foremost. You can argue technique and positioning all day, but Niemi has shown he can make the big saves when called upon.

Niittymaki has only played in two NHL playoff games and looked awful (.828 save percentage, five goals against in 73 minutes). That isn’t a big enough sample size to judge him on playoff play, but it puts him in the same boat as Thomas Greiss.

Previous all-star Nabokov was an OK playoff performer (.907 save %, 2.56 GAA), but couldn’t steal enough games by himself to bring his team to the promise land. Some fans have even dared to bring up how good he is in the regular season. Are you kidding me? Every Sharks fan should know by now how much the regular season means.

But didn’t Niemi have a great defense?

The biggest argument against Niemi and his Stanley Cup ring is that he had a spectacular defense in front of him. That’s very true, and playing for the Sharks will be a completely different experience.

However, we don’t truly know how that defense affected Niemi’s psyche. Maybe knowing he had a defense in front of him, he didn’t play up to his potential and relied on the defense to clear out his gigantic rebounds. Now backstopping an average defense in San Jose could spark him to step up his game to higher level.

Pure speculation but it’s something to think about.

Lame Argument

Niittymaki supporters like to mention that “when he’s on, he’s unstoppable.” This is an argument I love to hate. When any goalie is “on” they can be unstoppable. And if you have to use that argument at all in the first place, it means the goalie is inconsistent.

I wonder if Niitty is "on" in this picture.

The puzzle is still incomplete

One odd reaction to the Niemi addition is that people seem to think this is the roster the Sharks will enter the season with — three NHL starting goalies on one team with another star prospect (Alex Stalock) in the minors.

There is no way this team stays the way it is now. I think some trade will happen before the season starts — probably involving Greiss — to acquire a defenseman.

Ryane Clowe is a name that’s been thrown around numerous times for a package deal to bring in a top-4 defenseman. Something does have to be done about the defense, it doesn’t matter if Patrick Roy were the Sharks goalie, the defense has to improve.

San Jose lacks a shutdown pair, and unfortunately, Huskins-Wallin just won’t cut it (haha).

I’m not a fan of the Dan Boyle-Douglas Murray pair, just because I’m not a Murray fan. I think he’s a pylon who’s only good for one big hit a game. He was terrible in the playoffs, always being a step behind the play and leaving a man open.

There’s been rumors of the Sharks trading Greiss + other assets to Philadelphia for Braydon Coburn, and other whisperings of a potential offer sheet for Rangers restricted free agent Marc Staal.

"Jesus" Greiss' days may be numbered in San Jose

Either would be an upgrade over Murray, but those may be forever pipe dreams.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson must know the defense needs an upgrade, so I wouldn’t fret about the Sharks defense as it is now. It will change — hopefully sooner than later.

-Ray

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September 4, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 64

Quite the oh well game tonight as the Sharks lost to the Buffalo Sabres 3-1. The Olympics are going on already, and the game just seemed pretty worthless. The Sharks played like it too.

The defense was terrible tonight. Mistakes galore keying all three Sabres goals. Dan Boyle turned it over in his own zone a few times, and Rob Blake had some bad turnovers as well.

The Sharks power play was disgustingly bad, not getting much opportunities at all.

Heatley shows us a survival technique for games that don't matter. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Again, this game was just blah. Too many other things going on to really put a lot of emotion into this one. The Sharks watched the opening ceremonies last night, so I’m sure that made the apathy worse for tonight. I don’t blame them. Hockey shouldn’t be played right now — NHL-wise. It should have ended by Friday.

Kent Huskins was the lone Shark scorer. You know nobody cares when that happens.

That’s all I have to say about the game.

Traded

San Jose traded Jody Shelley to the Rangers for a 2011 conditional sixth round pick. I don’t see the point of this move. Well, I guess it’s to stop the Worcester shuttle. Shelley only made $725,000, so the moves are limited. But I was thinking maybe that was all that needed to be moved to make a bigger move after the Olympic break. Time will tell. I’ll miss Jody. He was a good guy and always had funny things to say.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 15  BUF 21; Niclas Wallin led with three.

It’s break time! Two weeks of Olympics. Good luck to all the Olympians. I’ll be taking a break as well. See you guys in a fortnight.

–Ray

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 63

Quite the weight-off-the-shoulders game for the Sharks as they finally defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout. Detroit still wins the series 3-0-1, but the importance of this victory can’t be overstated enough.

Let’s be honest here. Detroit is going to make the playoffs. Yes they’re ninth right now, but come on, it’s Detroit. They will slide into the playoffs and maybe even go on a tear to claim the fifth or sixth spot. Regardless, they are a potential first-round matchup for the Sharks, and losing all four games to Detroit would have been catastrophic. The team already lacks confidence against the Wings as is, and losing here would have surely meant a first-round sweep had they met.

The victory didn’t come without fierce battling and lots of physicality. Detroit didn’t want to give up his undefeated streak against the Sharks so easy. How about 52 shots peppered on Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Nabby stopped 50 of them. He’s the sole reason why the Sharks won this game. Sensing a trend lately?

Despite getting shutout last night, coach Todd McLellan decided to keep the same players on the ice for the game. Ryane Clowe was extra feisty tonight. Within the first five minutes, he was up in people’s grills looking for something. He found it in the third when he and Jonathan Ericsson decided to tango. Ericsson caught him early, but Clowe finished with some power hooks, an uppercut and a takedown.

The Sharks scored their only two goals in the first period. Joe Thornton got on the board 25 seconds after Detroit took a 1-0 lead. Niclas Wallin got his first point as a Shark on Thornton’s goal.

Dwight Helminen once again played extremely well. He notched his first goal as a Shark, NHL 10 style: Torrey Mitchell stopped behind the net, skated out, passed across ice for Helminen who one-timed it in the open net. It’s his second career goal, and here’s some food for thought: Wallin assisted on Helminen’s first goal when they were both in Carolina. That goal was way back on November 2, 2008.

Johan, I'm constipated. Punch me in the gut to force it out. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Detroit controlled the second period, and they controlled the third period by tying the game with seven minutes left in regulation.

So we head into overtime. Oh prevent offense, how I have missed thee. The Sharks took their prevent offense to another level by taking a penalty with two minutes to go. By some divine intervention they were able to kill it off.

In the shootout, Nabby stonewalled all three Detroit shooters. Patrick Marleau, the Sharks’ third shooter, won it.

How sweet it is. My health has deteriorated throughout today, so this was a great temporary remedy to the constant sniffing and overall feeling of crap.

Mickey Redmond – the worst analyst in hockey

If you’re unlucky enough to get a Detroit broadcast, listen to this guy talk. How many things can he get wrong? Let me count the ways:

1. Saying Jimmy Howard made save of the first period when clearly Nabby’s sprawling blocker was.

2. Calling for interference when there was nothing there.

3. Saying Thornton should continue playing with no emotion and should not play angry.

4. Stealing Darren Pang’s phrase, “Holy jumpin’!”

5. Called Kent Huskins, Huselius for five minutes.

6. Saying Rob Blake takes a lot of shootouts for the Sharks (I don’t think he’s taken one).

7. If he says “look out” one more time, I will go off.

Obviously he only has this job because of his past playing in a Red Wing uniform. Shame. Someone else agreed with me too. Check out the #22 comment on David Pollak’s blog.

Stat Pack

Nabby has the worst winning percentage against Detroit since 1980. With this win he’s now 8-17-0-2 against them. Terrible.

The Sharks lost the faceoff battle 51%-49%. I think they’ve lost it a couple times against Detroit. I don’t understand how they can be so dominant in the circle, but lose faceoffs to a team who isn’t that great at them time after time.

San Jose led in all four Detroit games, only garnering one win.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 26  DET 34; Scott Nichol led with five.

Thornton started getting angry at Detroit when Datsyuk and Cleary kept being annoying pests. He threw Cleary down with one arm, which was hilarious. Need to see more of that, but we won’t.

San Jose goes to Buffalo for a game with the Sabres on Saturday. It’s the last game before the Olympic break.

–Ray

February 12, 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. 48

Quite the grueling performance by both the Sharks and Kings, but it was the Sharks who earned a 2-1 victory, their first regulation victory over the Kings this season.

Coach Todd McLellan held a meaningful practice after the debacle against Detroit. More drills about competing and hard work. It helped the Sharks through the first two periods. They actually looked like a team that wanted to win.

The Sharks got on the board just four minutes into the game when Dan Boyle wristed a shot toward net; it went in after being deflected.

They took a couple penalties forcing the penalty kill unit to halt a fierce Kings power-play. Despite being pelted with pucks and fatigued from constant forechecking, the PK held its ground all game. The Kings finished 0-5 on the man advantage. Excellent work by the PK.

Once again the Sharks started a period on a good note — this time on the power-play when Dany Heatley batted his own rebound out of the air and into the net.

Perhaps not being used to a two-goal lead hampered San Jose a bit. Just one minute after Heatley’s goal, the Kings cashed in on a juicy rebound to keep the score tight.

You guys ever notice there's a unicorn in your rafters? (From SJSHARKS.com)

And then the Sharks showcased a problem that’s been bugging the team for two months: the lack of a killer instinct. San Jose has made a habit out of keeping opponents in games. The last time the Sharks beat a team by at least four goals was all the way back on Nov. 7 against Pittsburgh (5-0). Wow. It’s something I haven’t thought much of because of the recent winning streaks, but that’s intriguing. Does it mean much? Maybe. Maybe not. But it sure has been a long time since seeing the Sharks blow someone out of the water.

I mention all this because tonight in the third period, the Sharks reverted back to their Wings game. They were outshot 12-0 to start the final frame and couldn’t clear the puck. Kings goalie Erik Ersberg could have written a memoir before the Sharks tallied a shot.

Another difficulty the Sharks faced tonight was, surprisingly, in the faceoff circle. You don’t see this often, but the Sharks were beaten by the Kings in faceoff percentage. It wasn’t by much (51%-49%), but the Kings were winning the important draws on the power-play and in the offensive zone. I wouldn’t read too much into this, as I think it’s a one-game deal, but it’s worth noting.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 25  LA 44; Scott Nichol led with five.

I’d like to see Jay Leach get some ice time with Jason Demers in a game. Scratching Kent Huskins might go against the laws of McLellan, but it won’t be the apocalypse if you try it out. After all, Huskins almost scored on his own net tonight.

It’s a back-to-back for the Sharks. They travel to the desert to battle the Phoenix Coyotes tomorrow.

–Ray

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 43

Quite the end-with-a-bang game for the Sharks as they wrap up 2009 with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. The win snapped Phoenix’s 10-game home win streak and increased San Jose’s win streak to seven.

It also marked the third time these two teams have gone to shootouts out of four meetings. Phoenix is like that annoying sibling you have; you keep closing your door, but they keep opening it, peeking in and asking what you’re doing.

As much as people want to believe the Coyotes are a playoff team, they’re not. They will fizzle out as the season nears the end.

But they did dominate the first period, outshooting the Sharks 18-4. Thomas Greiss got the call to spell Evgeni Nabokov, and “Jesus Greiss” was spectacular. He is the reason the Sharks came out with two points.

Kent Huskins and Dan Boyle were the goal-scorers. Huskins scored on a seemingly harmless shot from the point, but Phoenix defenders screened the perennial thorn-in-the-side Ilya Bryzgalov. Boyle scored in the second period, and that goal was the 100th of his career. Congratulations to Boyle.

How in the world can I score on Jesus Greiss? (From SJSHARKS.com)

The big guys were quiet tonight. Joe Thornton didn’t score a point, which ends his 17-game road point-scoring streak.

One thing I’d like to address again is penalties. The Sharks scored first, followed by two Phoenix goals. After the Coyotes second goal, the Sharks took three penalties. They’ve done this to themselves more than they should lately, and the penalty kill managed to bail them out. I don’t know if it’s pressure or laziness, but if there’s any time not to take penalties, it’s after an opponent scores. Hopefully, this gets addressed.

Also, throughout the overtime period, the Sharks seemed content to go to a shootout. Nobody pressed forward; defensemen skated around in their own zone and didn’t pass. Now this has been an all-year thing. They seem more afraid of making a mistake than making the other team make them.

In the shootout, Greiss stopped everything in his first NHL shootout. It reminded me of Nolan Schaefer a few years back against Calgary, in the first year of shootouts. Ryane Clowe used his infamous backhand move to beat Bryzgalov and send the Sharks into 2010 on a high note.

Zamboni Fail

Before the shootout, the zamboni scrapes the ice in the middle. This time, the zamboni didn’t do a very good job on one side, which put the Sharks players up in arms. Was it intentional? We’ll never know, but it certainly makes you wonder how many teams subtly try to get advantages through the ice crews.

Stat Central

Even though Joe Pavelski missed his shootout opportunity, he is still 16-30 (53.3%) in shootouts.

The Sharks are no 16-1-3.

They haven’t allowed a first-period goal in eight straight games.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 21  PHX 21; Clowe led the team with five.

The Sharks welcome the Oilers to town on Saturday.

–Ray

January 1, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment