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

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

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

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

ITSC, Game 2 vs. Avalanche

WOW!

They finally smarted up and came to play — well, all except two players.

Everything was against the Sharks tonight; it’s like the Sharks are banned from winning and banned from getting in breaks in the playoffs.

Countless times, I hear dings from Sharks shots going off the posts, pucks fumbling away from Sharks players, pucks bouncing right toward opponents, bogus penalties on the Sharks when they aren’t called against opponents, the list continues….

But somehow, these men picked up their lunch pail and went to work. I’ve never seen a harder working Sharks game ever. Constant battles along the boards, players moving their feet and winning 50/50 battles.

There’s no doubt the Sharks deserved this win.

It took overtime to do it, though. 6-5! That’s right, 6-5!

The two reasons why it wasn’t 5-1 or 6-1? Douglas Murray and Evgeni Nabokov. It’s quite possible they played some of their worst hockey in their lives.

They single-handedly were the cause of four goals. Murray blew coverage twice giving Nabby no chance to stop shots. Then on two others Nabby had brain farts and couldn’t make simple stops.

San Jose annihilated Colorado in every aspect of the game besides those plays. The Sharks are too big and on this night, too determined.

I haven’t even mentioned how bad the referees were. There were so many holding, hooking and interference penalties on the Sharks that went uncalled. But then of course when Rob Blake lowers the boom on a precious Av, it’s a penalty.

Ovvverrr Nine Thousssaaannndddddddd!!!! (From SJSHARKS.com)

In the overtime, the exact same play Rob Blake did happened to Ryane Clowe; an Av came in a decked him into the boards, and it was a clear interference call. Nope, not called.

Luckily, the refs smarted up for one play when Adam Foote bolted Jed Ortmeyer into the net, which was called a penalty.

Devin Setoguchi cashed in on that power play by deflecting a shot and sending the Sharks to Colorado with a 1-1 series tie.

Fantastic work by every forward. I can’t state that enough. I’d like to single out Scott Nichol. That man has some engine in his body. I think he was the reason the rest of the Sharks worked as hard as they did. And guess what? Nichol was rewarded with a goal in the game.

Craig Anderson is not that great. A random thought, but I need to say it. Guarantee he will go back to being a nobody, average goalie next year. One-hit wonder.

One can only hope the Sharks can bottle this energy up and unleash it again in Colorado. This could be an organization-changer.

You know those NHL commercials where they show old highlights in reverse saying “What if so and so didn’t happen?

There could be one in 10 years showing Setoguchi’s overtime goal.

Hard work needs to be rewarded, and thankfully it was tonight.

–Ray

April 17, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 80

Quite the frustrating game for the Sharks as they fell to the Colorado Avalanche, 5-4 in overtime. The Avs are still battling for a playoff berth and showed that in their intensity throughout the game.

It’s really hard to describe the Sharks. I don’t think they played badly, but they weren’t very good either.

Things were looking up for San Jose when they scored two goals in the first to take a 2-0 lead. In his first game back from injury, Joe Thornton assisted on the first goal, so there’s no worries about a slump.

Colorado got lucky when Kyle Quincey stormed out of the penalty box on a breakaway and beat Evgeni Nabokov, which made it 2-1 Sharks.

It was all Avalanche in the second frame. For the second game in a row, the Sharks blew a two-goal lead, and even worse this time was they allowed four straight goals. Joe Sakic-lookalike Peter Mueller scored twice. He’s become one of my more hated players so quickly.

Logan's got his playoff face on. Show me yours. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Patrick Marleau scored his first goal in 14 road games, and Joe Pavelski knotted it up with five minutes left.

I was worried about a letdown after the score was 4-2, and for a moment, the Sharks looked like they gave up. But Marleau’s goal re-energized everyone briefly.

Ryane Clowe, who looked like a slightly perturbed bulldog tonight, took a penalty at the very end of regulation to put Colorado on the power play in overtime.

That basically did the Sharks in. Even after the power play, Colorado kept the pressure in the offensive zone. They scored to win the game and put themselves two points ahead of Calgary.

These last few games are great for the Sharks because they’re all against playoff teams (one potentially)– Calgary, Vancouver and Phoenix. Last year, the Sharks had to sift through bottom dwellers, which got them in the lazy, coasting mood.

I do like seeing the goals spread out as of late. Tonight, Douglas Murray and Jamie McGinn had goals along with Marleau and Pavelski. That’s what has to happen come playoff time.

Speaking of, the playoffs start in ten days! It’s time to start getting excited and canceling all your late night plans— well maybe gather your friends in front of a TV, hockey fans or not. The Stanley Cup playoffs are the most exciting postseason in sports. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 16  COL 26; Murray led with five.

Colorado outshot the Sharks 40-22.

Calgary players won’t be too happy the Sharks lost tonight. The Flames have their chance at San Jose on Tuesday, in Calgary.

–Ray

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 79

Quite the Hello! McFly! game for the Sharks as nobody was home, and Dallas beat them handily again 5-1. Adding insult to injury was the mega-terd Steve Ott with a hat trick — yes, a hat trick.

How do you let a goon like that score so much? Oh I know, don’t cover him. Just let him frolic to the front of the net and let him receive passes right in front of Nabokov.

It’s what the defense did all night. Just when you think they turn a corner, whammo! You get hit with this ginormous piece of garbage.

Jason Demers played his worst game as a pro tonight. Pairing him with Niclas Wallin was a dumb decision. They teamed up to show us the worst tandem in NHL history — kudos to you guys.

Every other defenseman was a turnover machine. It was like watching an infinite loop; you’d see a Shark flail his arms around at the blueline trying to turn around while a Star skated in the other direction. Time after time. No Cyndi Lauper here.

If there’s any retired NHL defenseman out there, I’d like to ask how hard is it to mark your man? Is it really that difficult to be between the goal and your man? Actually, don’t bother because I know the answer. It’s about as hard as blinking.

The boneheadedness wasn’t limited to the blueliners either. Patrick Marleau caught the syndrome and boy was it ugly. Twice he tried through-the-legs passes and both times they ended up on a Dallas stick on a breakaway. Once led directly to a goal.

Scott Nichol was kind enough to show us what this game was with one image. (From SJSHARKS.com)

These turnovers weren’t just coming on 5-on-5’s. Shockingly, they came on power plays. I probably shouldn’t even say shockingly because that would be giving the Sharks credit. How they are third in power play percentage is beyond me. I can tell you they are first in “whoops!” percentage.

I wonder what Joe Thornton thought of his teammates — he was sidelined again with his lower body injury. One can only hope he thought to himself, “Ooohhhh so that’s what I look like.”

STEVE FREAKIN’ OTT! Sorry, I just can’t get over this. After the stunt he pulled on Marleau in the last meeting, he was supposed to get payback. Nah, just rewards.

Whatever happened to the away-ice advantage in this series? San Jose always won in Dallas and vice versa. That’s gone down the crapper.

Let me guess… Interference!

All the refs ever wanted to call was interference. Seven interference penalties were called. Apparently, the “officials” don’t know what finishing your check is.

What’s the point?

Demers dropped the gloves with Mark Fistric in the closing seconds. It was a hugfest.

Hockey is for Everyone ads

I’ve been meaning to mention this, and since I’m already in a bad mood, it’s the perfect timing. Gamecenter and the NHL network really need to stop running these ads. NHLnet already runs the same commercials over and over again, but these ones are so incredibly annoying. It’s hilarious these commercials run on channels and internet software that must be paid for. I think the “everyone” part the NHL is looking for is not going to have enough money to pay to see the ads.

Then we get Wayne Simmonds in the ads who looks completely miserable. If you see the ad again, pay attention. Simmonds looks like he just wants to get the hell out of dodge. Great face for this campaign, huh?

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 31  DAL 40; Douglas Murray led with six.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn’t play tonight after re-injuring his leg. Ryane Clowe didn’t return after the first period. Thomas Greiss started the third period.

Perhaps it’s a good thing the Sharks play Minnesota on Friday, since they were the team that got the Sharks out of their previous slump.

–Ray

April 1, 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. 73/74

Quite the flatline game for the Sharks are they show no signs of life and lose to the Edmonton Oilers, 5-0. This comes after a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames, so as if two losses weren’t bad enough, they were to Alberta.

It’s the sixth straight loss, and the loss helps propel the Phoenix Coyotes to first in the Pacific Division. You can say that as many times as you want, but I will never comprehend Phoenix at the top of the standings. They have no great players. It’s that stupid trap system.

I’ll go ahead and mention one thing from the Calgary game since I didn’t blog about it. Ryane Clowe decided to fight a “top player” in Jarome Iginla and it was a pretty even match. Other than that, nothing.

What makes the loss to Edmonton so mind-boggling is that it was to a goalie, Devan Dubnyk, who was 1-8-2 in the NHL, with a 3.96 GAA and .874 save percentage. The guy had a shutout until three minutes left in the game! Horrific.

Unlike in previous games where the Sharks played well for 10-20 minutes, this game had no effort to speak of. Despite Marc-Edouard Vlasic returning from injury after 17 games, and three fights, San Jose failed to come up with good play.

Zack! Don't punch me, bro! (From SJSHARKS.com)

The three fights were all Edmonton victories as well. Brad Staubitz, who has dropped off faster than Mount Roraima, Douglas Murray and Scott Nichol all got pounded. I’ve heard so much hype about Murray and his fighting, but Zack Stortini just annihilated him. Everyone can shut up about him now. He’s a bona fide pylon.

Nichol tried his best against Hilary Duff’s beau Mike Comrie, but ultimately got one-punch-KO’d. Staubitz is just a jester now.

There needs to be one of those movie moments where the coach does something drastic and outlandish to get the team to understand their predicament. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening.

The Sharks will win again this season, but it’s looking like it will be all for not.

Unbelievable Nerve

The first goal of the game came when Joe Thornton turned it over into an Edmonton breakaway. Once the Edmonton guy had the puck, Thornton didn’t bother to chase him; he just peeked back and skated to the bench nonchalantly. Wow. That does it for me. I can’t wait to see him off the team. Worthless.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 30  EDM 19; Staubitz led with five.

Next game is Tuesday at Minnesota.

–Ray

March 22, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment