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. 11

Quite the about-time performance for the Sharks in their 7-3 win against the New York Rangers. The game marked the second time the Sharks have won two games in a row, and the third time they have scored 4+ goals in a row. With the win, the Rangers seven-game win streak came to an end.

Once again the Sharks started out slow and dug themselves an 0-2 hole. At that point the best player for San Jose was — gasp — Manny Malhotra! He looked like a hockey player tonight and actually showed speed and intelligence.

It was a night for the hard workers, though, and deservedly so. Brad Staubitz got on the board first with a Joe-Pavelski-like wrister past Ranger goalie Stephen Valiquette.

Not to be outdone by a tough guy, Dany Heatley showcased some eye-foot coordination kicking the puck to himself while skating between to Ranger defenseman. He finished it off with a backhand to the top corner.

From then on, it was what I’ve been waiting to see — hard work and net presence. The Sharks finally learned that easy goals come when you stand in front of the opposing goalie. Jed Ortmeyer got a rebound goal when Kent Huskins wristed the puck to the net.

Devin Setoguchi scored when he and Joe Thornton camped out in front of the net, while Patrick Marleau shot the puck at them. Seto pocketed the rebound underneath the crossbar.

Joe Thornton flies over a Ranger defenseman (From SJSHARKS.com)

Joe Thornton flies over a Ranger defenseman (From SJSHARKS.com)

Seto wasn’t done though. He and Marleau continued some really nice chemistry when Marleau streaked down the left side and passed to Seto in the right slot. Easy pickings for Seto.

And my boy Ryan Vesce scored in his second game up with San Jose. This kid is awesome. Heatley was on a breakaway, shot it, a juicy rebound found its way to Vesce’s stick for an easy goal. I told you. Sharks players: pay attention to Vesce. He goes to the net and gets goals; simple as that. Keep doing what he’s doing.

Marleau got on the board near the end. Jason Demers fed him a nice pass, and with Ryane Clowe in front of the net, the puck went in. I sincerely hope coach Todd McClellan drives this point home because it works.

Now we get to see if the Sharks can reach three wins in a row. One doesn’t mean anything, two is a trend and three is a hot streak.

Power Play

Sharks extended their multi-power-play goal streak as they once again scored two on the man advantage.

MVL

Most Valuable Line was the fourth line. They sparked the goals and sparked the entire team. Ortmeyer, Nichol, Vesce, Staubitz, Shelley and Malhotra did their job. We need the secondary scoring badly.

Other Notes

Hit-o-meter: SJ 33  NYR 22 (Ortmeyer and Vesce led the team with 5 and 4 hits respectively.)

The Sharks travel to Tampa Bay next, and if there was any time to begin a win streak, now is the time. After Tampa is Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Colorado. We shall see, but until I see consistency, I won’t believe.

–Ray

October 20, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 10

Quite the flashes-of-competence performance by the Sharks in their 4-1 win over the New York Islanders. It was the Sharks’ third 4-1 game of the year already; they’ve won two of three. The game wasn’t very pretty — the good play was spotty, but when they did play well, they scored.

The whole first period looked like the Washington game. San Jose looked lost and uninterested. Perhaps getting dominated by the Islanders (who haven’t won a game yet) woke them up during intermission. Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, playing in his 500th game, played amazing in the first. He was the sole reason the Sharks were still in the game and he deserves a lot of credit for his stellar play so far.

The second period allowed Sharks fans to see more sustained pressure and a better forecheck. There were less one-and-done forechecks, as analyst Drew Remenda put it. That’s been the main problem I’ve noticed — the Sharks take a shot but can’t find the rebound or keep the pressure.

The power play looked solid as the Sharks pocketed two goals on the man-advantage. Patrick Marleau got on the board with a nifty backhand shot from the slot past goalie Martin Biron. Guess who scored next?

Ryan Vesce (#53) celebrates his first NHL goal (From SJSHARKS.com)

Ryan Vesce (#53) celebrates his first NHL goal (From SJSHARKS.com)

Ryan Vesce! The man I suggested the Sharks call up, and while I obviously had nothing to do with it, it was nice to see my suggestion come up and score — not to mention it was his first NHL goal. Congratulations to Vesce. He’s such a hard worker and a lot of Sharks veterans could learn from him. I hope he stays up for a long time.

The third period showcased the Sharks best play. Joe Thornton actually took a shot and it went in. I guess he wanted more than the two assists he already had so far.

Devin Setoguchi scored late in the game on a nice solo effort from down low. Seto might have been the hardest working Shark of the night. He was flying around on the ice. Why? He was demoted to the second line, consisting of Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau. Maybe that sparked something.

Ryane Clowe

Clowe notched his first point of the year, finally, on Seto’s goal. Clowe also fought Tim Jackman: Clowe took care of him fairly easily. I think Clowe needs to be demoted to the third line. It worked for Seto; it might work for Clowe. Putting him with Scott Nichol and Benn Ferriero/Jed Ortmeyer could help his work ethic. Those guys never quit and don’t get down on themselves. Clowe is struggling mentally and needs a change of scenery.

Other Notes

Hit-o-meter: SJ 19  NYI 14

The Islanders outshot the Sharks 32-29, but the Islanders blocked 24 shots. New York also got a majority of their shots in the first period when they had 19.

The Sharks now face the Rangers, Monday. San Jose has only won two in a row once this year, so I’ll be expecting another bad performance. That’s the Sharks — win-loss-win-loss. Very annoying. But, here’s to change.

–Ray

October 19, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NHL Power Rankings

1. San Jose Sharks 13-3-0
Entering Nov. 11, the Sharks boast the NHL’s loan undefeated record at home (9-0). The “Shark Tank” as fans call it, has been a dead zone for opposing teams as well as an imminent loss. Under the new coaching regime, the Sharks offense is reaching is potential, with the most goals for in the league. The defense has stepped up with the offseason acquisitions of Rob Blake and Dan Boyle, providing leadership and guidance for the Sharks fairly young defense. Most importantly, San Jose has shown character in being able to come back in games in which they trail, something absent the last few years.

2. Detroit Red Wings 9-2-2
The defending Stanley Cup Champs find themselves at number two in the power rankings. Marian Hossa has been exactly what they expected, netting 8 goals and adding 9 assists, in only 13 games played. Detroit is still playing as advertised, with a tough defense led by Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Goalie Chris Osgood has split time with backup with Ty Conklin and neither has put up stellar numbers, making it difficult on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings offensive juggernauts. Both carry the Wings offense again this year, although Datsyuk has only put in 3 goals. With right-winger Johan Franzen coming off injury, Detroit is going to start spreading the wealth.

3. New York Rangers 11-5-2
After 18 games played, no one would think that youngster Nikolai Zherdev would lead the team in points, but that is just the case with 5 goals and 9 assists. Markus Naslund, a big free agent signee, has been doing his part with 5 goals and 8 assists. With the exception of a hat trick last week, center Chris Drury has been struggling. Scott Gomez has had problems with finding the net, only scoring 3 goals thus far. Drury and Gomez are key to the team’s success. They have to improve, but with a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist and his 1.99 goals against average, the Rangers will be in every game.

4. Montreal Canadiens 8-2-2
Left wing Alex Tanguay leads the team in points with 14, along with defenseman Andrei Markov. Montreal is fourth in the league in the goals per game category with 3.42. With the combination of that offense and goalie Carey Price, the Canadiens are a very dangerous team. Price has a 2.61 GAA and .917 save percentage, keeping games close. The problem the Canadiens have is on defense. With the exception of Markov, not many defenseman are contributing. Roman Hamrlik has 5 points, but the rest have 2 points or less. The offense will not be able to carry the team the whole season. The defense must get involved if Montreal expects to win the tough Northeast division.

5. Boston Bruins 8-3-3
Archrival Montreal got the nod over Boston because of their head-to-head matchup earlier in the season, a shootout victory for the Canadiens. Boston has been a very formidable opponent and the record shows that. On average, the Bruins get outshot every game, but goalie Tim Thomas has been exceptional, boasting a 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. For the offense, Marc Savard is the unquestioned leader of the team with 16 points. The next best offenseman has only 9 points. Savard is also second on the team in penalty minutes, putting added pressure on the penalty kill unit. With Savard being off the ice constantly, more players have to step up if the Bruins are to legitimately challenge Montreal.

6. Buffalo Sabres 8-3-3
Buffalo has one of the best penalty kill units in the game, which helps them cover their own mistakes. Along with doing that, goalie Ryan Miller has a GAA just over 2. Buffalo is a team that just gets it done and they score when they have to. Their records at home and away are virtually identical making them a team to bet on every night.

7. Washington Capitals 8-4-2
It’s been a breakout year for Alexander Semin so far, leading the league in points with 22 (11G 11A). Alex Ovechkin has been an assist man this year, with 7 helpers and only 3 goals. It’s safe to say an Alex is going to score every night the Caps play.

8. Chicago Blackhawks 7-3-3
Captain Jonathan Toews has been having a tough time lately, with only 1 goal in 13 games played. Patrick Kane has picked up the slack, however, leading the team with 18 points (7G 11A). The problem for Chicago is goaltending. Nikolai Khabibulin has started seven games and Cristobal Huet has started six. Rumors are swirling that Khabibulin could be traded at any time, but with a 7-3-3 record, it doesn’t look like it is much of a distraction.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins 8-4-2
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin only have a combined 7 goals, yet lead the team in points. How is that possible? Both have a staggering number of assists. Malkin has 18 assists on the year, and Crosby has 13. As good as it is to see both helping their teammates, Malkin and Crosby need to start being more selfish and put the puck in the net if Pittsburgh wants to get better.

10. Anaheim Ducks 9-7-1
After such a terrible start, Anaheim has climbed back into the hunt for the Pacific division and the Western Conference. Over the last ten games, the Ducks are 7-2-1, making them one of the hottest teams in the league right now. A troubling stat, though, is they have more goals against, then for. They better get that straightened out quickly.

November 11, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NHL 2008-2009 Predicted Final Division Standings

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Atlantic Division

Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Southeast Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Central Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Northwest Division
Ray Nimmo Nathan Skytta
Pacific Division

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lace ’em up: The 2008 NHL season begins Saturday

Lace up your skates and hit the ice — it’s hockey time.

Ron Cortes/MCTPittsburg Penguins’ Sidney Crosby celebrates a goal by Ryan Malone during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The NHL season starts Saturday in Prague, Czech Republic, with the New York Rangers taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning. This season begins after numerous offseason signings and trades that are sure to shake up the standings. Will the Detroit Red Wings repeat? How will the local teams, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, do? Which team is the dark horse? Which team will tumble into the depths of last place? Those questions will all be answered.

Following their Stanley Cup Finals victory, the Red Wings decided it would be best to sign another sniper — Marian Hossa. Surely, this will keep Detroit in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but things will not be as easy this year. Goalie Dominik Hasek finally retired and defenseman Nick Lidstrom is one year older, as is Chris Chelios. Age has always been a factor for Detroit but they are winners in Hockeytown. However, the Central division, which Detroit is a part of, has been retooled and looks very formidable for the defending champs.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the team to watch in this division, and in the whole NHL. With their two young stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (both could be sophomores or juniors with us here at Virginia Tech), Chicago could easily challenge Detroit for the division crown. Its defense has been bolstered with offseason acquisition Brian Campbell, bringing offense to their blueline. The question mark for Chicago is its goaltender, Cristobal Huet. If he can match his second half of last season with Washington, Chicago will be in tremendous shape.

Let’s head back east and take a look at the defending Eastern Conference champions — the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens lost quite a few players in the offseason, namely Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone and, of course, Marian Hossa. This is going to hurt them this year. They are in one of the most difficult divisions in hockey, the Atlantic.

Philadelphia is the main opponent for the Pens. There was not much movement by the Flyers except a huge contract extension for young franchise man Mike Richards. The past year allowed Richards and Briere to gel, and let Braydon Coburn break out into a top defenseman.

The Rangers lost a lot with Jaromir Jagr going to Russia. All of that experience and scoring is now halfway around the world. The pressure now solely rests with centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, both entering their second year in Madison Square Garden. The Rangers front office did help the loss of Jagr by bringing in Markus Naslund and blueliner Wade Redden. It will be a three-team race for the Atlantic title, but all three will end up in the playoffs. That means the Devils are out.

We will stay in the Eastern Conference and look at the Southeast division, won last year by Washington. Alexander Ovechkin proved again why he is one of the best players in the game, every bit as good as Sidney Crosby. There is a problem for the Capitals, though — the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa yanked Barry Melrose away from ESPN to be head coach, and with a slew of signees things look bright for the Lightning. This is the dark horse for the NHL. It would not be surprising for them to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, if they can sure up the goaltending.

Wrapping up the east is the Northeast division. Montreal goalie Carey Price, said to be the second coming of Patrick Roy, proved his worth last year. The Canadians dumped some useless salary and are still attempting to bring in will-he-or-won’t-he free agent Mats Sundin, your Roger Clemens of hockey. They should finish first in the division.

Montreal’s archrival, Boston is going to turn some heads this year. Barring any more injuries, they will be contenders, along with Ottawa and Buffalo in the division. Ottawa is going backwards, and Buffalo is at a stalemate. Now is the time for Buffalo to make its move. Watch for a big trade deadline deal for the Bruins.

Back out west, we find the Northwest and Pacific divisions. In these two, you will find some of the best goaltending and defense in the NHL. It’s all about hardnosed hockey here, with the occasional sprinkling of offensive firepower in San Jose and Detroit. The Northwest division lost a lot of talent and players shifted around to teams in the same conference. Anybody can win the Northwest — it’s that simple. Every team has a solid defense backed by exceptional goaltending.

The Pacific division is home to a perennial regular season powerhouse, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks’ problems come in the playoffs, and that is why they fired their coach Ron Wilson last year and brought in one of Detroit’s assistant coaches, Todd McClellan, to give the team a new, winning attitude. This coupled with the addition of a revamped blueline — Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich — means the pieces are once again in place for a deep playoff run.

The Stars and Ducks are going to give the Sharks everything they can handle, though, especially with goalies like Marty Turco and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Anaheim did not make any huge moves in the offseason, and Dallas lost a few key players from their Conference Finals run. That will not stop them from competing though. Both teams have superior coaches.

With all of that said, this looks to be another fantastic hockey season. More and more fans are tuning in and attending games, bringing back the love for hockey in America. It is truly a great and exciting sport. There is nothing more emotional in sports than seeing players lift the Stanley Cup after a strenuous eight-month journey. That journey begins tomorrow.

– Ray

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment