A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 82

Quite the rip-roaring game for the Sharks as they kept their hot streak alive with a 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Things got nasty in the third period and there ended up being 96 penalty minutes.

Gotta love it.

This was a great game for the Sharks all around. They showcased their offense, defense and some heart, giving Sharks fans everywhere hope heading into the playoffs.

It was a playoff atmosphere. The pace started off fast and Vancouver was pressing hard, but the Sharks pushed back and struck first on a Joe Pavelski goal. That goal was all thanks to Ryane Clowe’s boardwork and deking. Clowe’s ripping opponents to pieces on the scoresheet, and he also fought Aaron Rome tonight.

Clowe is what we like to call a prototypical hockey player.

San Jose kept the gas pedal down by exploding for three goals in the second period. Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Manny Malhotra tallied the markers.

Torrey Mitchell assisted on Couture’s and Malhotra’s goals, which gave him his first multi-point game of his career. Torrey is officially back.

The third period is where things got scrappy. The Sharks took three penalties in quick succession to put Vancouver on a decade-long power play. And guess what? The Sharks killed it all off behind spectacular goaltending by Evgeni Nabokov.

After Jamie McGinn skated out of the penalty box, he had an altercation with one of the Sedins, and McGinn received a ten-minute misconduct for some odd reason. That’s what sparked everything.

Devin, we're back in first in the West. Show me your "O" face! (From SJSHARKS.com)

Scott Nichol cross-checked Mikael Samuelsson in the back, who dived like a little punk. When Samuelsson came back, he tried to stir the pot with Rob Blake, and Blake proceeded to punch him right in the face.

Samuelsson is a wuss. I’ve never liked him — to me he was never a Shark — which stems from his Red Wing days. He’s just an annoying pest who can’t take physicality. Much like the entire Canuck team and his former Detroit team.

Joe Thornton was getting into it with a Sedin, still talking trash for some reason. These Sedins really need to shut their mouths before they get hurt. Yap yap yap all you want twins, but someone is going to wreck you with a giant hip check one day.

Sensing that his meatball-less teammates were in trouble, Alexandre Burrows blatantly interfered with Thornton. That started a pile up, with Thornton in the middle throwing punches and ripping the helmet off a Sedin (as you can tell, I don’t know which twin but it really doesn’t matter).

Niclas Wallin and Ryan Kesler actually dropped the gloves, but it was a nice, cozy bearhug.

After all of this, the Canucks finally got on the board and ended Nabby’s shutout. Vancouver scored again soon after to actually make it a game.

Knowing that it wasn’t over, the Sharks calmed down and locked the game down for good.

This is the kind of game I’ve been wanting to see for a while now. I mentioned a while back how I wanted to see a brawl and the team needed it. Well, this was close enough and when you see Thornton getting in the mix, it always bodes well.

It would have been a good last regular season game, but there’s still one more.

Three teams in the West are tied with 98 points, so it’s still a mystery as to who the Sharks will play. The Kings, Predators or Avalanche are fine, but not Detroit. I hear some talk of “you shouldn’t be afraid of Detroit and to face them early.”

Yea, about that. I’ll take the easiest road possible to the Stanley Cup, thanks. While there would be no doubt of an explosion of optimism if the Sharks could beat the Wings in the first round, I don’t want to take chances. I’m sure people were saying similar things about the Ducks last year — anybody but Anaheim. Look what happened there.

Seto’s effort

This is worth mentioning: in the third period, Devin Setoguchi blocked a shot, took it and skated all the way down the ice, and put a shot on goal. That block had to have hurt, but he sucked it up and started a dangerous forecheck. That counts as a point in my book.

Right Wing Jason Demers?

Coach Todd McLellan is experimenting with Demers up front with Nichol and McGinn. It’s not permanent as he does play some defense during the game, but I like the concept. It’s like a mini Dan Boyle playing forward.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 22  VAN 16; Setoguchi and Pavelski both had three.

The Sharks finish the regular season with a home game against Phoenix, Saturday.

–Ray

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 78

Quite the bouncy game for the Sharks as they muddled through some rugged play to defeat the Colorado Avalanche, 4-3. You won’t see many more deflection goals in a game than this one.

San Jose needed to step up with the absence of some key players, and the best way to do it is to get some dirty goals. That they did.

Joe Thornton missed his first game as a Shark with a lower body injured. He’s listed as day-to-day, but we all know how that has gone in the past (Vlasic missing 17 games).

Rob Blake didn’t play tonight either. A curious move, but coach Todd McLellan loves to use those “maintenance days.” Jason Demers was called up from Worcester to take his spot.

If that wasn’t enough, goalie Thomas Greiss got the call in nets, so essentially the Sharks sent out their B team.

When you beat a potential playoff team with mainly secondary players, it says something. Maybe this can, at least temporarily, put to rest questions about the Sharks’ depth. Sure Marleau, Heatley and Thornton are the main contributers, but to argue against the talent of Setoguchi, Pavelski and Clowe is futile.

Devin Setoguchi grabbed the role of top performer tonight with two goals — both deflections. His first goal came in the first period in the midst of an Avalanche assault. Colorado pounded the rubber on Greiss tonight with 45 shots.

Pavs watched Karate Kid earlier. Adam Foote stands in amazement. (From NHL.com)

San Jose survived the first period and took a 1-0 lead into intermission.

Colorado continued to shoot the puck in the second, even taking a 2-1 lead. Douglas Murray did not play well for the Sharks tonight. He’s been making some very questionable decisions lately and turning it over. Opponents are capitalizing on it. You won’t see it in the score sheet, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Enough was enough though. The Sharks counterpunched in the third period. With blazing speed and a new-found realization of throwing the puck to the net, Dan Boyle and Setoguchi notched goals to give the Sharks the win.

“Jesus” Greiss walked on ice in the closing minutes to seal the deal. He had trouble with rebounds all night but came up big when called on.

It’s McLellan’s 100th regular season win; it only took two seasons to do that. Great job, Todd. Now convert that into playoff success, please. Kthxbai.

Roughing?

In the first, Brad Staubitz and Matt Hendricks did the tango. However, they were both called roughing penalties. Bitz received four minutes and Hendricks two. Clearly I have no understanding of the rules because both dropped the gloves and fought. I’ve seen fighting majors dished out for one second of punching. This one just baffled me.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 27  COL 29; Murray led with six.

Manny Malhotra suffered a broken nose last game after a puck clocked him right in the face. He was all stitched up and back on the ice tonight. No problems.

San Jose sweeps the short, three-game homestand, and will now travel to Dallas for a game, Wednesday.

–Ray

March 29, 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. 75

Quite the golf clap game for the Sharks as they finally managed to end their six-game losing streak and defeat the Minnesota Wild 4-1. That streak lasted an eternity.

It wasn’t the typical, early season type victory, but it works. Coach Todd McLellan said he wanted his team to win a 2-1 game before a 5-4 one. He pretty much got his wish. Finally some defensive stability along with solid goaltending brought the Sharks to the promiseland.

Neither team recorded 20 shots. Clearly the entire focus was defense and taking offensive opportunities when you have them. Dan Boyle and the rest of the defensemen didn’t pinch nearly as much as usual allowing them to focus on what they make their money for. The only d-man to put a shot on net was Rob Blake.

Nice jersey, Cam...FOR ME TO POOP ON! (From SJSHARKS.com)

Blake recorded three assists, blocked two shots and most importantly did not spend any time in the penalty box. See guys? The keys to success are really simple.

Another shocking statistic was the Sharks had only nine hits. That might be a season low. No time for bodies flying around when you’re playing like cow manure. They focused on their game, and it worked.

McLellan spread the big three over three lines tonight. I actually liked some of the line combinations.

Clowe-Thornton-Mitchell

Malhotra-Marleau-Pavelski

Heatley-Couture-Setoguchi

Of course those changed throughout, but the concept is a good one. Put the stars with hard workers and let the Mitchell’s and Malhotra’s of the world rub off on you.

Torrey Mitchell scored his second goal of the season tonight too! One of my favorite Sharks, it never gets tiring seeing him be successful. The kid deserves it with all he’s been through.

Obviously, this game is a transition game and could mean nothing. The next game is against a Dallas team who obliterated the Sharks a week ago. It’s at home and a tough retaliation is in order. Hopefully, McLellan sticks with the defensive mindset moving forward — at least until San Jose is fully back on its feet.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 9  MIN 15; Niclas Wallin and Mitchell had two.

Scott Nichol didn’t play tonight as he is hurt again with an upper body injury.

The Stars come to the Shark Tank, Thursday.

–Ray

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 72

Quite the truth-is-out-there game for the Sharks as they showed some effort but ultimately lost to the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2. The “truth” stands for the Sharks’ actual true potential, and it was featured in the third period.

Before that, the effort was spotty.

After such a nauseating loss and an unplanned practice, you’d think the Sharks would at least come out fierce — nah, too much to ask. Continuing their horrible play against Dallas, the Sharks allowed Vancouver to score twice in the opening frame.

Listen guys, you’re not giving yourselves chances with these bonehead penalties in the first periods of games. This time you took three penalties — that’s 30% of the period in the penalty box. And Vancouver scored on two of those power plays. It’s sickening.

Ryane Clowe scored on a nice finesse play, skating down the right side and crossing the crease for a wide open net. Good thing Clowe scored; I was prepared to rip him some more for his comments the other day. I’ll mention them anyway. In the game against Dallas, Brenden Morrow said he wanted to fight Clowe, and as we all know that didn’t happen. Here’s his quote, taken from David Pollak’s blog:

Dude! Kent, is that a puck? I'm not sure what to do with it. Me either Manny, let's just watch it. (From SJSHARKS.com)

“I told him I wasn’t going to fight him, that I’d fight Barch,” said Clowe. ”I probably should have fought him (Morrow), but I have a hard time fighting guys who are the top players on other teams. I don’t know.”

Well Clowey, I know. You have a major malfunction in your brain. Stop being a wuss. I realize you don’t want to be perceived as a goon a la Matt Cooke, but you’re supposed to be a top player for San Jose too. And I do recall Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf fighting in the playoffs. With a nose that size, you should be able to fight the world. Next time you face the Stars, I better see you and Morrow tango.

Back to the game we go, and the third period showed us what the Sharks can do when they start skating. Relentless forechecking led to a Joe Pavelski goal late in the game. Goalie Roberto Luongo saved the game for the Canucks, literally. A few breaks the other way and this game could be a Sharks victory. But when it rains, it pours. And boy is it coming down. Four straight losses for the men in teal.

Logan and Torrey

Playing on a line with Manny Malhotra, these two sped around the ice with authority. I’d say these were the two best Sharks on the ice. Couture got called up for the game finally after tearing up the AHL. He probably won’t be here too long, but I’ll say it again: put him on a line with Joe Thornton! I want to see if they have any chemistry. Of course Thornton isn’t playing great so maybe it’s for the best they stay apart.

Shut the Lu Up

I’m so sick of hearing “Luuuu” after every save Luongo makes. So annoying. If he isn’t even looking and the puck hits him, the fans will chant it. Enough. Seriously.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ14  VAN 17; Jamie McGinn and Douglas Murray led with three.

San Jose is back on the ice tomorrow for the second game of the back-to-back. It’ll be against the Flames at Calgary.

–Ray

March 19, 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