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

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 65

Quite the Olympic hangover for the Sharks as they lost to the New Jersey Devils 4-3. San Jose showed the national audience about three minutes of competence, which was surrounded by 57 minutes of Latvian play.

I don’t even know who I was watching for the first 48 minutes of the game — really. Obviously going from the Olympics to the NHL regular season is a ginormous step down in pressure, but wow. I had hope that the Olympics would be like ankle weights; take them off and absolutely fly. Nope. Thank you, come again.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan was like “W-T-F, man?!” Poor sell-out crowd. They waited two weeks after that Buffalo loss just to see another clunker.

The second period is when things really fell apart. Evgeni Nabokov was seeing Canada jerseys again (come on now, the Devils jersey do resemble them) and let in three soft goals. Bad, bad, bad. One goal dropped behind him, and while Nabby did his trademark “peek behind,” he couldn’t spot the puck.

Devils goal number two was a slapshot from the point that went in cleanly. No excuse for that. I don’t remember anyone being in front of Nabby directly.

Devils goal number three was a wrister from the point by fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk. Again, stoppable. Again, unaccetpable.

Douglas Murray shows us what to do once you've "grabbed the Devil by the horns" (From SJSHARKS.com)

Third period rolls around and Patrick Marleau tried being Captain Canada when he ignored Doulgas Murray’s pleas to defend Travis Zajac. Patty tried to steal the puck away from another Devil — fail. Wrister in the net from Zajac.

Oh, but wait. The Sharks transformed into a Zach Parise-Ryan Kesler hybrid at the 12-minute mark of the third period. You know — late-game heroics, energetic skating — the whole enchilada.

Devin Setoguchi struck twice in two minutes on Canada-reject Martin Brodeur (yes, I said it). Joe Pavelski buried a third goal a minute later, and the Shark Tank was a-rockin’.

Side note: Before that third goal, I actually saw Thornton skate the hardest I’ve seen in a long time for a loose puck. Those five seconds of brilliance were awesome.

But the Devils coach ruined all the fun with a timeout, and the Sharks couldn’t manage a fourth goal. They were just too stupid earlier in the game. Shame.

An unfortunate start to the homestretch, but at least the loss is to an Eastern Conference opponent. And Manny Malhotra was back tonight after missing some games before the break. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is still out, though. Lower-body injury is what they say.

No Calls

The Devils only took one penalty the whole game. Granted the Sharks did score on the power play, but you have to draw more penalties on a trap team like New Jersey. They’ll lull you to sleep, a la Phoenix.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 29  NJD 14; Niclas Wallin and Murray both had four.

Olympics thoughts: I don’t think there could have been a worse scenario than watching Crosby score that overtime goal. Now the Crosby worship will reach levels I could have never imagined. I cannot stand that guy. U-S-A, U-S-A!

The Canadiens come to town Thursday.

–Ray

March 3, 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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 41

Quite the felicitous win for the Sharks as they defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout. The story of Pacific Division goalies trying (and sometimes succeeding) to steal games grew old weeks ago. Leave it to Yotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to keep the story alive.

He was robbing people left and right, up and down.  He definitely made it known his placement on Team Russia is no joke. Sharks goaie Evgeni Nabokov stood taller on this night, however, and legitimized his starting role on Team Russia.

But I’ll stop the Olympics talk there.

This was a fabulous game to watch. It’s why hockey is the best sport in the world — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The game featured defensive struggles, monstrous hits, intricate strategies, fierce battles ending in a pressure-filled one-on-one war between skater and goalie.

Folks, this is hockey.

71 shots

50 hits

36 blocked shots

65 minutes

1 Victor

The Sharks wanted it more tonight, and they’ve been playing this way lately. Only good things come out of a mentality like this.

I'm going to pump -- you up! (From SJSHARKS.com)

Joe Pavelski played outstanding tonight, notching one shorthanded goal in regulation and the only goal of the shootout. That wrister of his is top-5 in the league.

Douglas Murray played his best game of the season tonight. He just found out the other day he was chosen for Team Sweden (whoops, more Olympics talk). No lapse from him. He crushed people and put on a defensive clinic. His stick was in the right place, his positioning was phenomenal, his intelligence showed. I can’t rag on him at all after tonight’s game.

But I do have to find some criticism. Devin Setoguchi finally scored to end his schnide over the past few weeks. However, he took two bad penalties — one in overtime of all places — that really put the team in a pinch. The Sharks penalty kill stepped up in that four-on-three overtime situation, though. Nabby saved it for the Sharks and for Seto’s job.

Throwing in the Towel

During the overtime period, Phoenix coach Dave Tippett threw a towel on the ice to ask for a timeout. Sharks analyst Drew Remenda (yes I finally got the Sharks feed for the first time in months!) scorned the refs for not calling a delay of game. I’m not sure what to make of the towel, but how hard is it to yell for a timeout like everyone else? I’m sure they’ll be a rule against towels tomorrow, though, knowing the league.

Stats to Chew On

The Sharks are now:

14-1-3 when scoring first.

4-2-5 after regulation (W-OTL-SOL)

4-0 against the Pacific Division after starting out 3-2-4 against divisional opponents.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 26  PHX 24; Murray led the team with five.

It was a tough game for Joe Thornton; he was slammed into the goal post from behind and was a -2; the lowest on the team.

The Sharks welcome the Capitals to town on Wednesday. The Caps dominated the Sharks in their first meeting, winning 4-1.

–Ray

December 29, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 8

Quite the humdrum performance by both teams in the Coyotes 1-0 shootout win over the Sharks. The Sharks were slapdash throughout the contest not stringing together two passes more often than not. The whole game was a giant hodge-podge. The Coyotes faired no better, and their style of play made for a top-5 contender for most boring game of the year. I really do hate Dave Tippet’s (Coyotes head coach) style of play. I can’t stand the trap — so dull; so monotonous. But Phoenix won with their tedious, mind-numbing play.

At least San Jose got a point.

The Sharks could have used to Drain-O to unclog the neutral zone, because that’s where all the Phoenix players were the entire game. San Jose tried to execute some dump-and-chase plays to get behind Phoenix, but they were always one step ahead of the Sharks.

I’d had to give the MVP to Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. He kept the game 0-0 and made so many spectacular saves — much more crucial saves than Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Phoenix’s shots were more potent and in open ice, while the Shark’s shots were just kind of “blah, here’s a shot, maybe something will happen.”

Scott Nichol and Jamie McGinn were the best players on the ice. They threw their body around and Nichol’s speed and determination were evident every time he stepped out on the ice. I thought the signing of Nichol was suspect, but he’s proven me wrong so far. Nichol had seven hits in the game and was 64% in the faceoff circle. Excellent stuff.

Once overtime hit triple zeroes, I knew the game would end in a Sharks loss. Nabby is so bad in breakaway situations — it’s nauseating. He’s now 13-16 in shootouts I believe. Yikes.

Sharks Goalie Evgeni Nabkov looks for the puck (From SJSHARKS.com)

Sharks Goalie Evgeni Nabkov looks for the puck (From SJSHARKS.com)

The Sharks could have really used Joe Pavelski’s amazing shootout skills, as well as Jeremy Roenick’s shootout prowess, but hey, at least they sent out Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Dan Boyle.

*Cue record scratching sound* Wait, what?

Heatley is awful in shootouts; Setoguchi has only scored one shootout goal; Boyle is 2 for 8. Why did you pick them Todd (McClellan)? Heatley shot the puck into Bryzgalov’s pads, Setoguchi shot it wide, but Boyle did make it. In fact, Boyle looked like an all-star forward with his forehand-backhand move.

The Sharks get a point, though, before heading out to their Eastern Conference road trip. They’re now 3-2-1.

Fight

Jody Shelley continued his punching bag status — this time getting beat up by Paul Bissonnette. It’s getting really old now. Shelley chooses the right time for a fight but doesn’t finish what he started.

Other Notes

Frazer McLaren was sent down to Worcester before the game and Steven Zalewski was called up. It was Zalewski’s first NHL game, but unfortunately for him, he only played five minutes.

The Sharks outhit the Coyotes 31-18 and and dominated the faceoff circle going 35-19.

Next game: At Washington, 7 ET. The Sharks better pick up the speed if they want to skate with the Caps and Alex Ovechkin.

–Ray

October 13, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment