Sharks Not Able to Make the Moves they Desperately Need

The Sharks bowed out of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs after their  Game 7 loss to the LA Kings in the second round, in a series were they couldn’t win on the road in Staples Center. They just couldn’t solve Jonathan Quick when it mattered. They seriously lacked depth at forward and their top players didn’t do enough. In fairness, the Rafi Torres suspension was an injustice for his hit on Jarrett Stoll and it forced San Jose to juggle previously clicking line combinations. That being said, it was clear the Sharks needed to do some revamping of the 3rd and 4th lines, get some more scoring on the wing, and possibly get a little younger. Not a rebuild, but a retool.

Sharks new winger, Tyler Kennedy

Sharks new winger, Tyler Kennedy

So far the Tyler Kennedy draft day acquisition has been the highlight of the Sharks off season. The Sharks gave up a 3rd Round pick to acquire the scrappy winger from Pittsburgh. They also traded a 3rd Round pick to Detroit in order swap first rounders with the Wings and move up 2 spots to draft Defenseman, Mirco Mueller. What’s curious is,  I think he would have been available at their original spot. The next two picks after Mueller were forwards and most draft analysts had him as a low 1st Rd to early 2nd Rd pick.  Doug Wilson has made some questionable deals during his GM tenure. The rent-a-player for a Cup run has backfired too many times and has seen good, young talent go elsewhere.

They also have Salary Cap issues, Joe Thornton (7 million), Patrick Marleau (6.9 million) and Dan Boyle (6.7 million) have huge salaries and are basically not able to be traded. Antii Niemi (4 million) has won a Cup with Chicago, but the past few postseasons he has allowed some ill-timed goals. Doug Wilson was able to get an extension done for future Captain, Logan Couture for 5 years at 30 million with an annual 6 million dollar Cap hit. Locking up Couture was a must and it’s clear Doug Wilson intends to build around him. But with these heavy salaries, signing free agents is nearly impossible.

The third and fourth lines are still a serious weak spot.  The resigning of James Sheppard is a curious choice. In 32 games in 2013 he had 1 goal, 3 assists and played at a minus 9. He followed that up with ZERO points in 11 playoff games. This guy shouldn’t be on anyone’s 4th line, much less a team “competing for a Cup”. Andrew Dejardins was also resigned for another year. He has shown some toughness but he has zero offensive talent and doesn’t possess the north and south game required in today’s NHL. The rest of the roster  will be filled by the likes of Bracken Kerns, Matt Pelch, Adam Burish, Sebastian Stalberg and Travis Oleksuk. None of these guys belong on an NHL roster besides Burish, and even his best days are behind him. Scott Gomez won’t be back, he gave the Sharks very little in his short stay in Teal.

Right now Brent Burns is going to remain at forward. That’s a very good thing since he seems to be comfortable playing on a line with Joe Thornton and has the size, skill and strength to be a dominate power forward. If Martin Havlat can stay healthy (a HUGE if, probably not going to happen), the top 9 forwards to comprise the top three lines look like this: Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Patty Marleau, Joe Pavelksi, Martin Havlat, Brent Burns, Tyler Kennedy, Raffi Torres & Tommy Wingels. If Wingels can come into his own as a reliable top nine forward, they can keep Pavelski as the third line center and spread out the scoring. That was the recipe for the Sharks strong finish last season and was the catalyst in sweeping the Canucks in Round 1. However, the 4th line will once again be a patchwork unit and the Sharks can expect to get little or no offense and not much to spark the rest of the team with big hits and tough play.

2014 could be the last shot for Patty and Joe

2014 could be the last shot for Patty and Joe

With the salary cap issues meaning their top players not able to be moved, the Sharks are basically going to give this core group one more shot at a Stanley Cup run. But after this season, things could change drastically in San Jose. Set for Unrestricted Free Agency in 2014 are Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Joe Pavelski and Marc Eduard-Vlasic. It’s not to say that one or all these guys couldn’t sign an extension this season, but I have the feeling the Sharks might want to try it another way if 2013-14 doesn’t result in a deep playoff run. Particularly with Boyle & Thornton. I have a sneaking suspicion they want Marleau to be a career Shark, regardless of whether he ever hoists Lord Stanley.

This could be the last shot for some long-tenured Sharks to bring a Title to San Jose. GM Doug Wilson has got to be feeling the pressure. 2013 was a nice bounce back after they got creamed in the 2012 postseason, but the window is closing rapidly for their star core. If they can convince someone to take Havlat and his $5 million cap hit, maybe they can spend that money on a more reliable scoring threat. But the oft-injured winger doesn’t have much value on the market. Doug Wilson’s poor signings and salary cap management in the past have totally hamstrung him this off season and has given him very little room to wiggle. Enjoy Tyler Kennedy and his gritty play on the third line Sharks fans because that’s about as much an upgrade as the Sharks probably have in store for 2013. But we know Doug Wilson always says, the team isn’t complete until the trading deadline. Yes Doug, we know how you like to mortgage the future for rent-a-players down the stretch.
So far 2013-14 is shaping up like this: Once again, we will see the Sharks qualify for the playoffs and once again come up short in the big for Lord Stanley’s prize.

Sharks currently on the outside of playoffs, looking in

13 games left in the season. The time for excuses is over. Entering the game vs Nashville, they sat in 10th place in the Western Conference. They have no margin for error, no time to “work on getting better”. They will either sharpen up down the stretch and rise to the occasion or miss the postseason for the first time since 2003. And to miss the playoffs, for a team with these type of expectations, would be considered nothing short of catastrophic.

The Sharks aren’t the only team with aspirations to break into the top eight. Calgary won last night to move ahead of San Jose into 9th place (for the moment). Colorado got another point in a shootout loss (did I mention I despise the shootout?) at New Jersey. The scoreboard watching isn’t going so well, so it’s time to concentrate on what you can control.

Martin Havlat returned last night and was immediately thrust into the action

Last night they opened up a 3 game homestand against the Nashville Predators, one of the best in the West. Nashville came into the game with 89 points, nipping at Detroit’s heels for 4th in the Conference. The Predators and particularly their keeper, Pekka Rinne have owned the Sharks lately. As you might suspect, they are good on the road. Coming in they were 18-13-2 away from Nashville on the season.

Things didn’t start according to plan. The Sharks penalty kill has ranked near the bottom of the league.– Michael Handzus, who was brought in to help shore up the PK has been so bad, he has been a healthy scratch for 3 straight games. Typically guys making 2.5 mill per don’t ride pine when they’re healthy. He is a current resident of the Todd McLellan dog house.– Back to the game… Ryane Clowe had an awful turnover that led to the Sharks taking a penalty. The Preds victimized a porous Sharks PK with  Patric Hornqvist burying a chance with just 6 seconds left on the penalty. Douglass Murray and Patrick Marleau were both guilty of letting Hornqvist roam free in the zone untouched. The Sharks did out shoot Nashville in the 1st period, but legit scoring chances were few and far between.

That trend continued in the second period. Both teams traded a few chances, and the physical play definitely picked up. The Sharks just couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne and after 40 minutes it was still 1-0. Late in the 2nd period the Predators took a penalty. So the Sharks would open the 3rd on the powerplay.

Just :55 seconds into the 3rd period, they capitalized on the powerplay chance. Joe Thornton buried a rebound from out in front and it was all tied at 1-1. The Predators had the better of the chances down the stretch and by the time regulation ended the Sharks had just a 32-30 edge in shots on goal. Both goalies played solid in regulation. Niemi stopped a mini-breakaway with about 6 minutes left to preserve the tie.

In overtime, the Sharks had a good chance to score early but couldn’t cash in. The 4-4 situation in overtime creates a bunch more room for players to operate. Typically overtimes are full of scoring chances and this one certainly had a few as well. But Niemi and Rinne were both up to the task. As OT wore on, the Predators had regained control of things and had a few chances to win it. In the closing seconds, Shea Weber was forced to take a penalty. Despite a quick flurry at the buzzer, the Sharks didn’t have enough time to mount a legitimate scoring chance.

So it was onto the shootout. Did I mention I hate the shootout? Because I do, I really hate the shootout. It undermines the effort of the players for 65 minutes. Hockey is the ultimate team game and it gets decided on an impromptu, individual skills session. Who is better at best of 3 breakaways gets the extra point. Doesn’t that just sound ridiculous? That’s because it is ridiculous.

Lately shootouts involving San Jose involve a lot of participants with little scoring. Last night nobody scored for either side through the first two rounds. Havlat and Pavelski both couldn’t solve Rinne. At 6’5″, Pekka Rinne is an imposing force in the net. He was at his best last night swallowing everything the Sharks threw his way and seldom did he allow a sniff of a rebound. On the Sharks third attempt, Ryane Clowe solved Rinne to put the Sharks up. Niemi then did his part stopping the final attempt for the Predators and the Sharks had a 2-1 shootout victory and a MUCH needed 2 points.

The crowd was good last night, but there was a prevalent sense of trepidation. These are truly anxious times in San Jose. And with every goal Jaime McGinn scores for Colorado, the worse it gets. So with the win, the Sharks have 80 points. They trail McGinn and the Avs by 1 point for the last playoff spot, but they have 3 games in hand. Calgary also has 80 points and the Kings are right behind with 78. Things are tight in the West to say the least.

Martin Havlat returned to action last night. Although he was clearly not up to game speed yet, he was able to use his great hockey sense and still be an impact on the game. He is the piece to round out the Sharks top 6 forwards and get everyone back into their natural role. Havlat is going to be relied upon heavily down the stretch to provide much needed offense.

The Sharks next opponent is Detroit, this Saturday. They are already in town as I saw their Head Coach, Mike Babcock in the press box last night. They have faint hopes to catch St Louis now as the Wings have struggled and the Blues have continued to light the league on fire. They also have Nashville only 1 point behind them in the Central Division.

The Sharks struggles are partially self-imposed, granted. But I also feel the overall talent of the players has risen, teams are just better then they were even 3 or 4 years ago. It’s time for the Sharks to adapt again. The Western Conference is stacked this year. The Sharks now have 12 games to decide their fate. The nice win they picked up against the Predators is certainly something to build on. Even if it came in a shootout. Did I mention I hate the shootout?

 

Trade dealine is past, time for Sharks to man up

The NHL’s trade deadline is now behind us and again this year the Sharks were active participants.
They sent young winger Jaime McGinn to Colorado for Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi
I don’t fullly understand the logic behind this deal.
Galiardi is a downgrade offensively for what Mcginn was providing.
Winnik is a decent penalty killing grinder who plays a very gritty game.
But it seems to me between Handzus, Mitchell , Wingels, Ferriero, Winchester, and oh yeah, Jaime McGinn, the Sharks already had plenty of guys who can grind and bang the body.
McGinn is having far and away his best year in the NHL on both ends of the rink and I looked at him as a possible wild card factor in the playoffs.
It just seems like GM Doug Wilson made a trade just to “shake things up”.
But what this team desperately needed was another winger who can play on the top two lines.
I did however like the acquisition of Dominic Moore from Tampa however and once he gets healthy, he should fit in nicely.
And clearly that is what Doug Wilson is counting on from Martin Havlat who has resumed skating. the hope is that he can return to the lineup by the postseason and fill out the 2nd line.
That is if they make it that far.
Monday night they were back home and ready to turn the page from the 9 game roadie. They came into the tilt with the Flyers having lost 6 of 7.
And through it all, they made a Ryane Clowe goal 90 seconds into the game stand up for a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Getting a win and getting the team back on track was the ONLY thing that mattered last night.
It turned out to be even more critical when the Coyotes won again, extending their lead temporarily in the pacific Division to 4 points. Phoenix absolutely refuses to lose lately. But usually once a streak like that ends, a team will hit the wall for a bit. The Sharks can only hope the Coyotes have that in their future. The Kings and even the Stars will also be nipping at heels for a playoff spot down the stretch. The Sharks more than have their work cut out for them to win the Pacific.
And winning the Pacific is probably the difference between a #3 seed hosting a #6 seed or having to play at Vancouver or Detroit in Round 1. Which do you think sounds better? Yeah, go Sharks, go get that Pacific Title!
A few nice things to take from the Flyers game:
They did it without Todd McLellan who was still out after being hit in the head with a stick in Minnesota and was still experiencing concussion-like symptoms.
. And they did it without All Star forward, Logan Couture who is day to day with a lower body injury.
But they did it with defense and spectacular goaltending. Lately those two facets of their game have been lacking mightily.
Down the stretch last night the Sharks and the Flyers battled it out. Both teams had great chances to score, both teams were physical and both goaltenders made some spectacular plays.
Oh yeah, Anti Niemi was fantabulous. His 5th shutout of the year couldn’t have come at a better time. You could tell everyone was happy for him. Doug Wilson believes in Niemi, after all he won it all with Chitown in 2010.
Newcomers Galiardi and Winnik played decent, I saw some good sides of both of their games. But neither player has ever demonstrated they are more than 3rd and 4th line wingers as their most natural role. Only time will tell, but right now I am confused why those two are an upgrade over Jaime McGinn and whoever else got bumped from the lineup to make room for them both. Sharks back home tonight. I won’t bother calling this one a big game. Let’s face it, they are all big from here on out. If Nemo can get hot and the team can get healthy, they should have the group to at the very least win the Pacific Division. This is where the NHL gets fun!

Let the march to Lord Stanley commence

The NHL’s trade deadline, and the usual flurry of deals that comes with it, is just a few short weeks away. After that, the Sharks roster that will try and bring the Stanley Cup to Northern California will be set in stone. The Sharks kicked off the second half of the season by punishing the Columbus Blue Jackets, 6-0 in their first outing, post All-Star break. They beat the hapless Jackets up and down the ice. But the Blue Jackets are the dregs of the League. Things get a little tougher the rest of the way. Most noteworthy from that tilt other than the goals was Anti Niemi posted his second straight shutout. He was brilliant in the game making several spectacular stops. But the best thing I saw was the way the team, to a man, stands up for each other.  Early in the 1st period, Jared Boll took a shot at Thornton. It was dirty and designed to get Jumbo out of his comfort zone. It backfired as Thornton scored twice and Jim Vandermeer got the gloves off with Boll a few shifts later and took care of business.

Tonight they hosted the Dallas Stars. The Stars came into the game trailing the Sharks in the Pacific Division standings by 8 points, 62-54.  With the huge 9 game road trip looming later in the month, getting some points at home beforehand is vital. Despite not allowing a goal the past 2 starts, Antii Niemi was a scratch in the game, his shoulder has some soreness. He is listed as day to day. So in stepped back-up goalie, Thomas Greiss into the net.

The Sharks jumped all over the Stars with a couple of tip in goals in the first period. Michael Handzus started things off with a nice tip of a Brent Burns slapper. Later on a Sharks power play, the puck made its way to the point and Thornton directed it towards the net. Joe Pavelski was screening in front and got a stick on it to deflect it home for a 2-0 first period Sharks lead.Things were chippy in period one, what you might expect from Stars @ Sharks. The Sharks current stretch has them playing their best defensive hockey of the season.

In the second, Dallas grinder Steve Ott cut the lead to 2-1. That goal ended the Sharks shutout streak. But not before they had established a new franchise record without allowing a goal for 190 minutes, 51 seconds. But that was as close as the Stars would get on this night. By the end of the second, Logan Couture made it 3-1 with a powerplay strike. Just 1 minute and 44 seconds later,  Thornton made it 4-1 with the easiest, left alone, tap in, nobody is even near me, goal of his life. After two periods, a few things are clear. The Sharks are playing some fantastic hockey right now. The second period marked  the 5th consecutive period in which the Sharks scored 2 goals.

In the 3rd, the Stars showed some signs of life. At 6:22, Jaime Benn converted for Dallas to make it 4-2. But Ryane Clowe cashed in on a Logan Couture rebound to make it 5-2 Sharks. That was the final score.  It was Clowe’s first game back since his injury and he didn’t show any signs that the layoff affected him. Another recent return from injury was Brent Burns, playing just his second game back. He was a huge factor on the ice all night with 3 assists and some quality work in his own end. It looks like both these guys are good to go.

Nice, quality win over a division rival tonight for San Jose. It’s always a plus when your #1 netminder can take the night off and you still pick up two points. Pavelski and Thornton both finished with a goal and an assist on the night. Marleau had 2 assists and Thomas Greiss picked up 19 saves for his 7th win of the season. The Sharks now have 64 points in 49 games played. They lead the Pacific Division by 4 points over the Kings with 2 games in hand.
Next up for the Sharks, they play at Phoenix this Saturday night at 5 pm.

Second half of the season is now underway and the Sharks looking every bit like the Cup contender they expect to be..

3 Stars- #3 Brent Burns, #2 Logan Couture, #1 Joe Pavelski

Sharks back near top of NHL food chain

82 games is a grind and a half. Especially this Sharks team that has played an additional 15 and 18 postseason games in 2010 and 2011 respectively.  Plus many Sharks participated in the 2010 Winter Olympics as well. This team has played a lot of hockey in the past 2 1/2 years. They understand about high’s and low’s. They hit the wall about 10 days ago after their shootout loss in Colorado sent them to their 7th loss in 9 games. But after a shootout WIN last night over Darryl Sutter’s LA Kings, they have now won 4 straight. It will be a Merry Christmas in Teal Land.

Antii Niemi and Jonathan Quick dueled it out last night to a 1-1 draw after 65 minutes of hockey. It took Ryane Clowe’s shootout winner and some sparkling goaltending by Niemi to secure the teams 4th straight victory. The Sharks outshot the Kings 35-29 in a game that had terrific pace and intensity. Even though the teams only scored a goal each, this game did not lack excitement.

Jonathan Quick stops Patty Marleau in the 3rd period

Logan Couture scored on a nice one-timer in the 2nd period. He puts himself in great positions to score. It can be something as subtle as moving a few inches to one side or another. It’s almost subconscious the way he goes about it. Its a sixth sense that truly gifted goal scorers like “Cooch” possess. They just know where to go at the right time to get a prime scoring chance. Guys like Teemu Selanne, Brett Hull or Luc Robitaille. Just pure snipers with a nose for the net. I’m not saying Logan Couture is there yet, but he has that same type of “sniper sixth sense”.

Aside from Logan’s offense, the Sharks generated a bunch of chances that went for naught. It seems like every time the Sharks turn around they are facing a hot goalie. I think two things: 1. Goalies are getting better than ever and there are very few slouches as starters in the NHL. In spite of all the changes to the game to promote offense, scoring goals is a monumental task. 2. The Sharks attack typically stays on the perimeter. They don’t attack the prime real estate right out in front of the net enough. Too many shots from the point hoping for a tip instead of working the puck down low and trying to crash the net. They need to implement the “Ryane Clowe” offensive philosophy. Take everything to the net and hope to take someone out or score a goal.

Clowe is pumped after scoring go-ahead goal in the shootout

The most important thing now for the Sharks is to take these new good habits into 2012. The penalty kill has a long way to go (Kings only goal was a powerplay tally last night), but it has shown signs of improvement lately. They are now 4-0 in the six game homestand and can feel good about themselves heading into the Christmas break. And speaking of that, I’m about to do the same. They renew their vows to hate Anaheim on Monday night at the Tank as the Sharks go for 5 straight. Ducks have struggled mightily this year, but are 2-0 thus far versus San Jose. Should be a good one on “boxing day”.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Sharks floundering through first half

Check out my latest “Feeding Frenzy” update as heard today on the Damon Bruce Show, KNBR 1050..

Sharks back home tonight to start a 6 game homestand. They will try and avenge their shootout loss to Colorado on Monday as they complete a home and home with the Avalanche. Other than Jaime McGinn, nobody is scoring consistently for team teal right now. Only 21 goals in the past 10 games. Not good.

Thanks for listening to The Feeding Frenzy!

Just click HERE: http://chirb.it/hMMz15

Sharks playing uninspiring brand of hockey

I was sitting here trying to think of a creative, clever & witty way to say this. But my head hurts now so instead, I will just say it: The Sharks are playing like crap lately.. They were shut out in LA last night by Jonathan Quick and the Kings in a “we showed up physically but not mentally” type of effort from the boys. This came following two shaky home outings. They beat the Blackhawks 1-0 at home last Wednesday thanks to Antii Niemi’s brilliance and little else. The Sharks may have won the game but they didn’t look cohesive in the slightest. The Blackhawks routinely generated scoring chances and kept the Sharks on their fin heels all night.

Jonathan Quick shuts out Martin Havlat and the Sharks

Saturday night was supposed to be the big measuring stick. The Vancouver Canucks, who last May vaulted up the “teams Sharks fans hate with a passion” list, were in town for what was supposed to be some payback for the playoff ousting. It didn’t happen as the Canucks won 3-1. The Sharks played a little better than they did against the Blackhawks as they did generate some scoring chances, but Niemi wasn’t sharp and Cory Schneider was. Schneider has outplayed Roberto Luongo this year and with Luongo banged up, Schneider is the starter.. for the time being. The Canucks haven’t fully recovered from losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals at home last year. But they are still a playoff team and when it comes down to it, they will have a say in how the West is won.

This recent stretch of poor play for the Sharks followed a very solid 15 game run which they accumulated 25 of 30 possible points. To put that in perspective, they would finish the year with 137 points if they got 25 of every 30 points available over the 82 game season. Not too shabby. So lets not take this 2 game losing streak too far. They don’t need to peak right now, far from it. In April and May, it won’t really matter what happened in November and December. But what WILL carry over is habits. Both good and bad. They need to develop a habit of going for the jugular more often. They are a ridiculously talented group and Sharks fans know it. Expectations are high. This team has shown the entire NHL they are capable of being the very best. But that requires being at your very best at the very right time. That time is still several months away, but its time to develop better habits right now.

Antii Niemi lets a Manny Malhotra shot sneak under him

As I have stated many times before, the NHL season is a grind. There will be ups and downs. They went on a really nice run for a few weeks and now they hit the wall a bit. Its time for the coaching staff to get creative. Lately the Sharks attack is looking very average. McLellan continues to tinker with the lines, but this team was built with very specific line combinations in mind. I assure you McLellan doesn’t want to see Torrey Mitchell skating with Joe Thornton, unless they are killing a penalty. And Martin Havlat was not acquired in the offseason to skate on the 3rd line. When you see these things happening, its because the original plan has ceased to work, for now.

On defense, Justin Braun (who was re-assigned to Worcester) is not ready for regular NHL minutes. This is not breaking news. He had a brutal giveaway last night to Ethan Moreau that led to a soft goal on Niemi. Dan Boyle had a nightmare game vs Chicago and overall his season has been a disappointment thus far. At 35, clearly his best years are behind him. But he is the Sharks highest paid defenseman and typically logs the most minutes. If the Sharks are going to win a Stanley Cup, Dan Boyle will need to be a very large part of that. So much of the attack starts with the transition from the defensive end to the ice. They look to Boyle to spark the rush by sending quality passes out of the defensive zone or by just carrying the puck himself. His numbers have dropped off this year and quite simply the Sharks need more from him.

Next chance for the Sharks to get back on track is at home to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. Even though the Canadiens rarely play in the Bay Area, Habs at Sharks has created some classic games over the years. That is the kickoff to a 4 game homestand that will see the upstart Florida Panthers, “Nostalgia Night” with the  Minnesota Wild and then the  Sharks BFF, the Dallas Stars. Should make for some compelling hockey games. Oh it just came to me! The Sharks have been playing as ugly as Logan Couture’s mustache lately! Better late than never, story of my life…

Antii Niemi brilliant in blanking of Blackhawks

The Blackhawks played like a desperate team tonight. They had several odd-man rushes and scoring chances galore. They out shot the Sharks 34-21. But they couldn’t solve Antii Niemi who played easily his best game of the year, turning back the frustrated Hawks on several occasions. I was at the Tank tonight and his spectacular save in the 3rd period created quite a buzz in the Arena. Nemo is totally locked in right now. If I may be so bold, I declare that if the Sharks regularly get this type of play from Niemi, they will be in contention for the top seed in the Western Conference.  Yep, life on the limb, its tough. I further proclaim if the Sharks manage 16 wins in the playoffs, they will be Stanley Cup champions. You can’t find this type of analysis anywhere else.

The Sharks are Thankful to be 1-0 winners

The Sharks may not have generated a ton of scoring chances but that doesn’t mean they didn’t do some things very well. They out-hit the Hawks, won more faceoffs, blocked more shots and killed more penalties. They showed the Hawks that they don’t need to play their very best game in order to beat them. A hot goalie trumps all.

Even though the Hawks didn’t break through tonight, I was very impressed with how dangerous they are. Between Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Viktor Stalberg, Duncan Keith, and now the young phenom, Nick Leddy, this squad is uber-talented. Corey Crawford has settled in as the clear cut #1 in net, something the Blackhawks have really lacked since arguably Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour (Every Sharks fans favorite). Even when Niemi backstoppedthe Hawks to the Stanley Cup, he came in at midseason, led them on the Cup run, and wasn’t resigned in the offseason.

Jason Demers scoring the game winner vs the Hawks

Jason Demers scored the only goal of the game on a powerplay with under 3 minutes left in the 2nd period. The game-winner was his first of the year. The Sharks have high hopes for Demers and he had spent the past 2 seasons securing his spot in the top 6. But now he needs to keep getting better in order to hold on to it. He is typically on the 3rd unit, but Justin Braun is nipping at his skate heels. Competition is a good thing however, and depth on defense is something the Sharks have lacked for the past few seasons. Currently they have Boyle, Burns, Braun, Murray, Vlasic, Demers, White, & Vandermeer. All are either young and talented or established veteran. McLellan has to pick 2 guys in that group not to even suit up for the game. It’s a good problem to have and if the young guys can play quality minutes, the group should be reasonably fresh come postseason.

“Barometer week” continues on Saturday night when the Canucks come to town. These two teams are not fond of one another to say the least. Joe Thornton and Ryan Kesler get along about as well as Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. What this game does represent is another potential Western Conference Finals preview. Roberto Luongo is off to another slow start in net for Vancouver. There was bound to be some type of a letdown for the Canucks after losing the Stanley Cup Finals in 7 games to the Boston Bruins. But the Canucks are still plenty in the thick of things in the West, and anyone who plans on winning the Conference will probably have to deal with Vancouver along the way.

The Sharks have a chance to make it 5 straight wins Saturday night. They now have 15 of 18 possible points in the month of November. They are currently in their most consistent stretch of the year. The Blackhawks may have given the Sharks forwards fits all game long, but the Sharks did what good teams do, find a way to win, regardless of the situation.

Big ups to the people in Section 202 at the Tank, great fans! My sis and I had a blast!

 

 

 

 

San Jose Sharks Thankful to lead Pacific Division

Life is good in Shark land these days. Team Teal has accumulated 13 of a possible 16 points in the month of November. They are now perched atop the Pacific Division, the same Pacific they have won the previous 4 years. Yes the Sharks are the class of Division, that much is for sure. But the rest of the Western Conference isn’t such a slam dunk. The Chicago Blackhawks, who the Sharks face tonight at 7:30 from the Tank, are the leaders of the Central Division. Many have picked them to skate the Stanley Cup for the 2nd time in 3 seasons. They unceremoniously eliminated the Sharks in the 2010 Western Conference Finals en route to their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

The Hawks, who are led by their Captain Jonathan Toews, have an impressive, all-star lineup. Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane are two of the top snipers in the game. They also have one of the deepest blue lines in the league with Norris Finalist, Duncan Keith, shutdown specialist Brent Seabrook and young phenom Nick Leddy who has 15 points in 21 games. They come in a grumpy group however. They have lost their past two outings by a combined score of 14-4. They got humiliated by the upstart Edmonton Oilers 9-2 on Sunday and lost 5-2 to Calgary before that. Before that, they had won 4 straight. This is a dangerous team and i suspect they will be up for this one.

Jonathan Toews & The Blackhawks skating the Stanley Cup in 2010

The hope around the Sharks camp is the best is yet to come. Sure the penalty kill is abysmal but other than that, this team is clicking on all cylinders. They have finally got a 4th line together with Andrew Murray, Andrew Dejardins and Brad Winchester. They have been dropping the gloves, great on the forecheck and even contributing offensively. The third line has seen Martin Havlat and Torrey Mitchell interchanging on the wing with Michael Handzus and Jaime McGinn. McLellan occasionally likes to use Mitchell’s speed on the 2nd line with Couture and Clowe. GM Doug Wilson would be a happy camper if McGinn pans out on the 3rd line. That was a glaring weakness last year and coming into this season as well.

And yes, the defense has been great. Thanks in large part to the elevated play of Marc-Eduard Vlasic. He has 7 points in his past 3 games and ranks 4th among NHL defensmen with a +11 rating. His partner Brent Burns has found his sea legs as well and has been playing a very physical brand of hockey the past 10 days. Dan Boyle is having more of a positive impact night in and night out as well. Overall this is a great defensive unit, they just need to keeping progressing.

By way of backup goalie Thomas Greiss’s terrific performance in Colorado on Sunday, that Sharks have two locked in goalies. I expect Niemi to start both tonight against his former team and Saturday against the rival Vancouver Canucks. McLellan used the back to back situation from Dallas to Colorado to get Greiss back in net fairly quickly after his 3-0 loss vs the Coyotes at home on 11/12. It worked and now the Sharks can move forward with confidence in whoever plays in net that game.

Captain Joe Thornton congratulates Antii Niemi after a Sharks win

With Western Finals rematches tonight versus Chicago and Saturday versus Vancouver, this is going to be a great barometer to see how the Sharks stack up with the NHL’s elite. These are two teams the Sharks may need to get through in April and May to achieve their ultimate goal. There should be a decent amount of animosity, particularly on Saturday vs Vancouver. Joe Thornton and Ryan Kesler don’t exactly get along. The Sharks have come up short against both these teams in the playoffs recently.  Until the day comes that they do win the West, they will always be another contender, and not a champion.