A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Reviewing the Sharks Offseason Thus Far

It’s been a while since the last hockey game of the 2009-10 season, and the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (bleh) are being dismantled.

Sharks public enemy No. 1 Dustin Byfuglien was traded to Atlanta, and a slew of other bottom-half forwards left Chicago.

San Jose has gotten in on the fun by signing Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (RFA) to an offer sheet.  Four years, $3.5 million per year.

Not bad, Doug Wilson. Not bad.

Hjalmarsson would be an excellent pickup for the Sharks, whose defense is the weak link of the team. Behind the incredibly bizarre resigning of Niclas Wallin for $2.5 million per year, and Jay Leach being resigned, Sharks fans have been left wondering if DW is really leaving the defense for dead.

There is hope that Douglas Murray or Devin Setoguchi could be traded for Toronto d-man Tomas Kaberle. If DW could somehow maneuver around the cap to sign Hjalmarsson and Kaberle, the defense would be a definite upgrade.

Boyle-Hjalmarsson

Kaberle-Vlasic

Huskins-Wallin

Whether they trade for Kaberle or not, another top-4 defenseman must be added. Former goalie Evgeni Nabokov was not resigned and will now play in the KHL in Russia. DW decided to sign Antero Niitymaki, which again left Sharks fans puzzled.

I’ve always seen Niity as a viable goaltender and hard to beat. Of course, now that he’s on the team, I’m worried about him — especially considering there were other options such as Chris Mason and Marty Turco who have better resumes.

That leaves the offense. Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski were signed for what looks like hometown discounts. The top four players seem to be set in stone. Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi have long been trade bait to fans including this one. If one were traded for a defenseman, that would leave a fairly significant hole to be filled by a youngster.

I’d rather sign another winger as the Sharks have way too many centers to go around. Logan Couture, Torrey Mitchell, Scott Nichol, and now-rumored Mike Modano would be fighting for two center spots on the bottom lines.

Owen Nolan or Arron Asham are options at wing but salary would be the biggest question there.

Either way, I expect one or two trades to clear some space and a few more free agents to be signed.

Hopefully, this new roster will be enough to win the Cup.

–Ray

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July 9, 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. 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. 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. 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