A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Sharks name Joe Thornton captain. A look at the pros and cons.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan named Joe Thornton captain today — a minor surprise for Sharks fans. A lot of fans, including myself, expected Dan Boyle to be named the 11th captain in Sharks history. Turns out Boyle will be a permanent alternate captain, with Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe alternating the second ‘A’ for home and road games.

 

What the Sharks need from Thornton every night — A beatdown of Getzlaf

 

Probably the immediate reaction from most hockey fans is that we’ve seen Thornton be a captain before — in Boston — and how it failed miserably.

Thornton, 31,  says he’s much more mature now being a father and having more experience as a person and hockey player. While you can’t deny that, he still is very much the same type of person he’s always been. A laid-back, glass half-full type of guy. With that said, let’s take a look at a few of the pros and cons of his captaincy.

Pros

  • He’s positive. Jumbo Joe will never panic; that word is not in his vocabulary. After every game, he’ll give some version of the phrase, “We’ll be fine,” either after a win or a loss. What’s intriguing about this is Boyle is the opposite. Boyle wears his heart on his sleeve, giving the Sharks a nice dynamic in leadership.
  • He’s the face of the franchise. This doesn’t pertain much to play on the ice, I know, but it could be a good marketing tool for the Sharks in reaching out to potential NHL fans. Hockey fan or not, a lot of people know the name “Joe Thornton.” Now they can ID him more easily with the team in San Jose and as a captain.
  • Regular season prowess. In order to win the Stanley Cup, you have to make the playoffs. While the Sharks have claimed the top spot the last two years, Thornton’s point totals have fell to the upper 80’s. Having the captaincy could make him step his game up in the 82-game audition for the playoffs.
  • It’s a contract year. This could change in the first month of the season, with rumors of an extension going on for some time now. But if GM Doug Wilson chooses to let the season play out, it could be even better play from Thornton, who will be looking to cash in. I think the captaincy also puts to rest the trade speculation, but you never know with Wilson. But in all honesty, I see an extension for Thornton by December.

Cons

  • He’s positive. Yep, this is exactly the same thing as the “pro” above. Having a captain who is always looking at the bright side of things isn’t always good. Thornton mentioned he likes to keep things light and fun off the ice and serious on it. Sometimes you need someone to step up in the locker room, off the ice, and tell the players what needs to change. When it comes to speeches, I’ve always thought of Joe up in front of the players cracking jokes while trying to convey a serious point.
  • Inconsistent passion. Contrary to how Joe says he is extremely passionate about the game, he fails to bring it all every night. You can find him coasting around the ice on some nights, not really caring, and committing atrocious turnovers from lazy passes. That is not captain material.
  • Postseason pressure. Joe answered most critics this past postseason playing his heart out. It was amazing to watch, but can he keep it up? Rumor has it McLellan tried to get Thornton to play a rougher style (Only what fans have been screaming for forever) and it worked. Hopefully, Thornton still knows how to flip the switch a notch higher come April, May and June, and this will turn into a “pro.”
  • Distractions. The weakest “con” of them all, Thornton did just have a baby and a lot of attention must be given to “Mini Joe.” One of Thornton’s quotes was something like, “I already look after one guy, now I have to look over 22.” It was a quip, but if you’d like to overanalyze, it kind of sounded like looking over 22 players is a burden,

Bottom line: The jury’s still out on Thornton being captain, but no doubt the majority of NHL fans are laughing at the Sharks right now. I’m very weary of the move and would have preferred Boyle be captain with Joe Pavelski getting an ‘A.’ But I’m not a coach or see the inner-workings of the locker room, so for now it’s just about supporting the decision and cheering for the Sharks.

–Ray

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October 7, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Column: It’s a Goony World Out There

Nathan Skytta graces us with his presence yet again! This time, he talks about the importance of “goons” in the hockey world and presents us with a list of some of the best.

Whether you support it or not, fighting is part of hockey, and it is going to be part of hockey for seasons to come.

Fighting in hockey is on the decline and has been since the mid-1980’s. Fans today see less than one fight a game, partly because of the two-minute minor for instigating which can be assessed to the player who starts the fight. Fighting is not the same as it was during the “Gretzky Era,” but it is still around and is much needed to protect the stars of the league.

Now, what non-hockey fans don’t understand is that it’s not the stars of the league that fight (with a few exceptions of course). There are players today who get paid to protect their star teammates and get paid to stand up against the other teams “antagonists.”

Yes, some players do let their emotions get out of control, but if you have ever attended a hockey game where a fight has broken out, you’d see the fans jump out of their seats and cheer on their players.

Tiger Williams was a surgeon of fisticuffs.

Even the players on the bench of the teams support their teammate — usually with a simple tap of their stick on the side of the bench. The “goons” gain the respect of their teammates and fans by being the protector of the star athletes.

They give it their all to prove to the other team that if they want to attack the star players, then they are going to have to mess with the tough guys. The goons in the NHL have earned a spot in the sport, and that’s what makes the NHL different than any other sport.

From the 1950’s when fighting in hockey included stick swinging and bench-clearing brawls, to nowadays, goons have earned their right in the history of hockey. Players like Tie Domi and Tiger Williams made their money not by leading the leagues in goals or assists, but by punishing the other team with strength.

They made sure others did not attack the smaller players of the league. Here’s a top ten list of goons:

10. Red Horner

9. Donald Brashear

8. Tie Domi/Marty McSorley

7. Stu Grimson

6. Gordie Howe

5. Clark Gillies

4. Terry O’Reilly

3. Joey Kocur

2. Dave Schultz

1. Tiger Williams.

This list is just a basic idea of how the times have changed. Ever since the lockout in the NHL in 2004, the NHL has required more speed and more skill than ever before.

For the first time in hockey history, the bigger the player, the less likely they are to get big contracts. Players such as Patrick Kane and Pavel Datsyuk will flourish for years to come because they are fast and have more puck-handling skills than players such as Brashear and Todd Bertuzzi.

Tie Domi legitimized the old saying, "It's the size of the fight in the dog."

The goons in the league have had to improve their skill with the puck instead of sitting on the bench and waiting for the chance to start a fight.

There are players in the league that have a mixed combination of both size and agility, though. Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are two stars that have brought their teams from the bottom to the top of the league.

They’ve done so by using their force and strength but also by flying past their opponents and putting the puck in the back of the net. The more skills a player has and the faster they are, the more ice time they will get.

Hockey nowadays requires speed and skilled hands, but power and strength will always be a necessity in the sport of hockey. So, for those who think goons have lost their place in hockey, you have lost your mind. Hockey would not be the hockey it is today if it wasn’t for those goons who spent their careers doing their best to protect and preserve the star players.

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 81

Quite the rough-and-tumble game for the Sharks as they held on to all but eliminate the Calgary Flames from the playoffs, winning 2-1. No Jarome Iginla in the playoffs, no worries.

Most impressive was the Sharks ability to withstand and neutralize any sort of Calgary onslaught at the beginning of the game.

It wouldn’t have come as a shock to see an early Flames 2-0 lead. Sharks coach Todd McLellan may have been right, before the game, when he said they were well aware the Flames would be desperate.

Pardon me for questioning the Sharks psyche. It’s not like I’ve had any reason to.

Part of the solution was Evgeni Nabokov. Nabby played great tonight, and it’s slowly becoming realized that he’s getting into a rhythm. Perfect timing.

Even more fantastic is the Sharks secondary scoring is hot. Jamie McGinn scored in the second period for his second consecutive game with a goal. McLellan’s been on his case to pick up the pace and it’s working.

"Goalie's gotta biiigg butt!" (From SJSHARKS.com)

Logan Couture played well again also. One thing I notice about him is that he takes the shot — always. It doesn’t matter where he’s at, he will take it. He does it more than Dany Heatley does. Great things are coming from Logan in the playoffs.

Ryane Clowe continued his scorching pace with yet another assist.

After that forgettable debacle in Dallas, Jason Demers returned to the lineup and added an assist.

The planets may be aligning folks — and now that I said that, watch the Sharks lose 8-0 to Vancouver next game.

None of the big three registered a point or a +/- rating. That might be alarming to some but not for me right now. What was alarming was the laziness of Patrick Marleau defensively. He may have caught the Jumbo-shrimp syndrome; he coasted around the defensive zone not pressuring anyone.

Patty’s played well enough all year that I’ll let the last few games slide so long as it ends in the coming days.

A big criticism tonight was the third period. San Jose couldn’t generate any consistent forecheck, which kept Nabby on his toes. Luckily he obliged, but the Sharks have to learn to push back in situations like those.

In the meantime, I’ll rejoice for another Pacific Division title — until next week.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 11  CGY 22; Four players had two.

For those wondering, Rob Blake scored the first goal. No suspension for that hit on Mueller, and there should not have been.

All away games are done with for the regular season. San Jose returns home for the last two games. Vancouver is in town Thursday.

–Ray

April 7, 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. 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. 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