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

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. 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. 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. 68

Quite the Jack-in-the-Box game for the Sharks as they exploded in the third period and beat the Nashville Predators 8-5. Yes, there really were 13 goals scored tonight.

It was great watching Nashville practice for 40 minutes; we were all treated to an inter-squad scrimmage. Oh wait, hold on. My sources are telling me the Sharks were actually on the ice for those first 40 minutes. Who knew?

Nashville outshot the Sharks 15-0 in the first 14 minutes of play and outscored 1-0. This crappy play needs to stop. We’ll obviously get to the outstanding third period in a minute, but zoinks this was bad. Preds goalie Dan Ellis vacationed in Cancun, Mexico for a majority of that first frame.

Lo and behold Dany Heatley scored on the Sharks’ first shot of the game.

That didn’t do much for momentum, however, as the Sharks continued popping out rotten eggs like Jon and Kate, in the second period. Nashville increased their lead to 4-2 heading into the final period.

With the music finally exhausted, the weasel popped and jack thrust himself into the world. A six-goal period propelled San Jose to victory. I wonder what coach Todd McLellan said to the guys. Cap that stuff in a bottle and save it for the playoffs, buddy.

Joe Pavelski became a one-man demolition sqaud with four points in twenty minutes (two goals, two assists). Heatley scored his second, Manny Malhotra, Patrick Marleau and Jay Leach tallied goals as well.

It’s the Sharks’ 22nd come-from-behind win, which is now first in the NHL.

Torrey Mitchell received additional playing time, playing alongside Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau at different points in the game. He earned an assist tonight.

I really couldn’t believe that third period. I was chomping at the bit to rip the team for their sorry performances the last seven games or so. They need to finish this homestand off with another win before heading out on a six-game road trip. A winning streak is in the future for this team. I think this is the victory that will spark it.

Nichol/Superman returned to whip his old team again (From SJSHARKS.com)

Who’s Your Nabby?

So I read this article the other day from a Sharks fan about how Nabby’s increased playing time is hurting the Sharks in the playoffs. The horse is not dead yet apparently. The article came complete with pretty-colored line graphs! Oh how I love the visuals. Unfortunately, the stats presented are meaningless. I absolutely love stats, but I know how much they can be manipulated to make any argument. I’ll now try to show stats that cover both sides of the argument, but ultimately I do have a distinct opinion on the matter.

People need to shut their mouths about Nabby’s starts. Seriously. Shut. Up. I love how people will contend Nabby’s play goes down in the playoffs? Really now? Here’s some stats you might want to consider:

In the regular season Nabby has averaged a .913 save percentage and a 2.37 goals against average. Not great, not bad either.

In the playoffs, Nabby has averaged a .915 save percentage and a 2.23 GAA. WHAT?!! Ray, you mean Nabby has better numbers in the playoffs than the regular season? Blasphemy!

Yes, my friends, he does play better in the playoffs. At least, that’s what stats say. Now the eye test is different. Goalies must be able to elevate their play in the postseason or their teams will be doomed. If the Sharks want to win the Stanley Cup, Nabby must elevate his game higher than what he’s been doing. No question.

I just want to rid the world of these ridiculous “Nabby plays too much,” hollow arguments. I’ve seen a few people suggest we let Nabby go and sign goalies like Martin Biron or Dan Ellis. Some of these Sharks “fans” need to check their drinking water. Let’s get rid of a perennial Vezina candidate in favor of Dan flipping Ellis.

I should probably mention that this whole ‘letting Nabby go’ thing is because the Sharks have no cap space to resign all of their free agents this offseason. Nabby commands  a big contract (5.375 mil this year), and Marleau, Pavelski and potentially Blake need to be resigned. Nabby’s contract runs out after this season too, and someone is going to be left out.

San Jose should never have been in this position in the first place. They overpay players like Ryane Clowe (3.625 mil a year) and went out and got Heatley (7.5 mil a year). Trades must happen, regardless if the Sharks win the Cup this year or not. They’re stuck between Douglas Murray and a hard place.

I don’t think letting Nabby go is the right decision. Finding a great goalie is so difficult (just ask Philly), and I’m not ready to rely on Thomas Greiss full time. There are a couple interesting prospects in the system in Alex Stalock and Tyson Sexsmith, but there a long way away from being NHL-ready.

I suggest Thornton or Heatley be traded. Keep Marleau. Thornton will always produce points, but his lack of emotion destroys the team in the playoffs. Heatley is undeniably an elite sniper, but Marleau is better than him defensively and in lighting the lamp (this year).

I’d love to keep this team together, but this money situation sucks. But I’ve digressed.

Here’s an intriguing slew of stats to consider about goalie GAA in the playoffs:

Goalie A: 1.98

Goalie B: 2.09

Goalie C: 2.23

Goalie D: 2.30

Goalie E: 2.45

Obviously, you know which goalie Nabby is (C). The others? A is Brodeur, B is Osgood, D is Roy and E is Fleury. Nabby finds himself in the middle of four Cup winners. I think he’s done just fine; he needs more offensive support to win these games (along with the aforementioned elevation of play).

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 26  NSH 25; Niclas Wallin and Brad Staubitz led with four.

Florida visits the tank on Saturday.

–Ray

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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. 65

Quite the Olympic hangover for the Sharks as they lost to the New Jersey Devils 4-3. San Jose showed the national audience about three minutes of competence, which was surrounded by 57 minutes of Latvian play.

I don’t even know who I was watching for the first 48 minutes of the game — really. Obviously going from the Olympics to the NHL regular season is a ginormous step down in pressure, but wow. I had hope that the Olympics would be like ankle weights; take them off and absolutely fly. Nope. Thank you, come again.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan was like “W-T-F, man?!” Poor sell-out crowd. They waited two weeks after that Buffalo loss just to see another clunker.

The second period is when things really fell apart. Evgeni Nabokov was seeing Canada jerseys again (come on now, the Devils jersey do resemble them) and let in three soft goals. Bad, bad, bad. One goal dropped behind him, and while Nabby did his trademark “peek behind,” he couldn’t spot the puck.

Devils goal number two was a slapshot from the point that went in cleanly. No excuse for that. I don’t remember anyone being in front of Nabby directly.

Devils goal number three was a wrister from the point by fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk. Again, stoppable. Again, unaccetpable.

Douglas Murray shows us what to do once you've "grabbed the Devil by the horns" (From SJSHARKS.com)

Third period rolls around and Patrick Marleau tried being Captain Canada when he ignored Doulgas Murray’s pleas to defend Travis Zajac. Patty tried to steal the puck away from another Devil — fail. Wrister in the net from Zajac.

Oh, but wait. The Sharks transformed into a Zach Parise-Ryan Kesler hybrid at the 12-minute mark of the third period. You know — late-game heroics, energetic skating — the whole enchilada.

Devin Setoguchi struck twice in two minutes on Canada-reject Martin Brodeur (yes, I said it). Joe Pavelski buried a third goal a minute later, and the Shark Tank was a-rockin’.

Side note: Before that third goal, I actually saw Thornton skate the hardest I’ve seen in a long time for a loose puck. Those five seconds of brilliance were awesome.

But the Devils coach ruined all the fun with a timeout, and the Sharks couldn’t manage a fourth goal. They were just too stupid earlier in the game. Shame.

An unfortunate start to the homestretch, but at least the loss is to an Eastern Conference opponent. And Manny Malhotra was back tonight after missing some games before the break. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is still out, though. Lower-body injury is what they say.

No Calls

The Devils only took one penalty the whole game. Granted the Sharks did score on the power play, but you have to draw more penalties on a trap team like New Jersey. They’ll lull you to sleep, a la Phoenix.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 29  NJD 14; Niclas Wallin and Murray both had four.

Olympics thoughts: I don’t think there could have been a worse scenario than watching Crosby score that overtime goal. Now the Crosby worship will reach levels I could have never imagined. I cannot stand that guy. U-S-A, U-S-A!

The Canadiens come to town Thursday.

–Ray

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment