Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Teal Progress

I couldn't be much happier with the Sharks right now. I just wanted to put that out there.

The team is playing really well right now, that much is obvious. What needs a reminder, however, is that we all truly knew the team could do it. Goaltending and defense were everyone's deficit du jour at the beginning of the season, but a commitment to team ideals has significantly improved.

I have always imagined that Dany Heatley was selfish with the puck (since I didn't see him play very often), but I have been wrong about him. He's shown time and time again that he's willing to give up on a shot attempt if the pass is the better play. He's also been backchecking like crazy all season long. Sure, he gets burned occasionally, but no one is perfect.

Joe Thornton has been a revelation this year, too. He's still dishing the puck to every recipient he can find, willing and not, but it's not all been from the half-boards. He used to set up behind the goal, like he was pretending to be Gretzky, but now those passes are from everywhere on the ice. Need a puck taken out of the d-zone? Look out, here comes Jumbo. Wanna hit a stretch pass to expose the pinching defensemen? Joe's already halfway to the goalie. The only complaint about Joe is that he's not usually the one bringing the puck into the offensive zone. He can steal the puck in the corner, rush it up ice, but then he crosses the blue line and laterally passes to a winger. I'd like to see him bring that right in on the goalie. Dealing with what's been happening already, though, he should be dishing off and then parking in front of the net. Unfortunately, he typically skates by the net and sets up behind, waiting to begin the cycle.

I'm sure he's not making that decision entirely on his own. I understand the philosophy of Todd McLellan, but sometimes it would be nice to apply direct pressure on the goalie instead of cycling around, playing the perimeter game, and trying to sneak shots through from the point. It's been working lately, but the direct method mixed in there, too, would make us a much more dangerous team.

Tonight we face Calgary. Beating them in regulation would more or less end their season. I think that's a fair trade-off for the 2007 playoffs. All right, Sharks, go get them!

Analysis of Sweater Numbers, by Position

[Originally posted on Fear The Fin on 3/20/2011

I've been thinking about this for a while: which jersey numbers are most common in the NHL? Is number 20 really a "goalie number?" Which is most common for a forward? What about defensemen? Of course, some numbers have been retired by some teams, and one number has been retired by the league. I'll include those numbers as I find them.

Players who only played a few games will be ignored, and I'll put that cutoff at 10 games for skaters and 3 games for goalies, as of 3/19/2011. Also, teams will be listed in order alphabetically, except Winnipeg will be listed as PHX and be between PHI and PIT.

All right, found a slight problem. The official pages for teams who made trades during the season have already deleted contributions from their trade partner. Seriously, go look it up. I couldn't find Ben Eager 's old number. I couldn't find Ian White 's old number. I couldn't even find Dan Ellis' old number, even though I knew it to be 22 (because he was too, too rich ha!). All you'll get is numbers for new teams. If you're disappointed in this news, get over it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Defending the Team

I only have time for a quick update (and it's been a long time anyway).

In the Bay Area lately, there have been several seismic events. Occurences that registered 4.1, 4.5, and 4.0 on the Richter scale, respectively. If you felt one of them, you already know that they haven't been earthquakes. Nay. These seismic events are the combined masses of former fans jumping off of the bandwagon.

If you'd like to shit on the team, you should know two things.

1. It's only a game. In our NHL, only one team is allowed to win.
2. When the team starts winning again (and they will!), it will gladly have you back as a fan. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be embarrassed and return with your tail between your legs.

Have a great night, all, and enjoy tonight's slant against the Oilers!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Season Thoughts - 4/9/2010 edition

It feels like forever since I've been able to sit down and watch an entire Sharks game. I've been amped for the playoffs to begin since the Olympic Break ended. Last night we all got to see what the Sharks have in their arsenal going forward. Pavelski was all wheels, Thornton skated all over the place, Boyle was playing good defense, Nabby was on fire, and Clowe has been the freight train this team was waiting for since, well, since they signed him. It was a really entertaining game to watch.

I don't watch a lot of Vancouver games, but this was the first time I walked away with the name of Aaron Rome in my mind. You could see he was trying to be a pest in the Steve Ott kind of way, but he wasn't very good at it. Also, in all the highlights shown in the post-game, his weak coverage of a Sharks forward kept leading to Sharks goals. Thanks, Aaron Rome, you are...the weakest link!

Player highlights

Evgeni Nabokov = From the first save of the game, Sharks fans could tell he was on. Not only had he come WAY out to challenge the shooter, but that second save where he came halfway back to the net and kicked his left leg out was unbelievable. Some poor Canuck probably had nightmares about it last night. He offered to carry the game for the first 50 minutes. I firmly believe he could have had a shutout if the middle of the third period (really? 73 penalty minutes?) hadn't briefly unfocused the Sharks players. It's a little hard to stay fresh when there are almost more players in the penalty box than left on the bench, especially when it is after sending Nic Wallin to the dressing room.

Logan Couture = Wow. He's been lighting it up since he was recalled from Worcester, and Wow. He is a pure talent and I'm glad he's getting some action now and likely in the playoffs. He makes me worry much less about the future of the Sharks. I can remember being leery of a time when we'd have to rely on AHL call-ups for the next season. Knowing that he, Jason Demers, and Jamie McGinn have already come up this year is reassuring. Remembering that that still leaves Ryan Vesce, Frazer McLaren, Steve Zalewski, Mike Moore, and Benn Ferriero waiting in the wings is a warm feeling not unlike the last day before Spring Break. How timely! That's today!

Dan Boyle = During the Sharks' post-Olympic slump, it was widely publicized that Dan called out the team and tried to carry them for a while. Then, he kind of disappeared off the radar. At least my radar. I wondered if that meant he was injured or sick. What I've now realized is that he's been practicing two important details to his game, both of which were evident in last nights slant. 1. He's trying not to hold onto the puck so long. He used to be seen as puck hog, now he's making his same great outlet passes and then moving into position. 2. He's reteaching himself to play defense. I kept seeing him try to make the slick move, but now he's focusing on the best move. And honestly, I couldn't be happier that he fell off the radar.

Although I wasn't able to be at the game in person (see you Saturday!), I had a great time watching from my seat on the couch. It was a great game, even if it ran 20 minutes over because of the fights in the third period. Next time, Nabby, the team promises to stay focused and will help you blank the opposition!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Season Thoughts - 3/27/2010 edition

We were lucky enough to be in attendance for the 3/25 game against Dallas. Not only was it Nabokov's 50th career shutout, but the rest of the team got back on track. That awful six game winless streak behind them, they have now won two in a row while Nabby only allowed one goal total. It's quite a turnaround and a welcome one, to boot!

Player highlights.

Torrey Mitchell = I know that going into the boards hard on icing calls is scary. It is his job, though. After he broke Kurtis Foster's leg by riding him into the endboards, it was obvious to everyone that he was letting up a bit. Then, the injury to his own leg when he crashed into the net during preseason 2008 kept him out of the entire season. What I'm trying to say is that it's completely understandable for him to be a bit hesitant about doing it. However, the kid is a champ and there is no more holding him back! He came in hard and hit the boards two or three times during the Dallas game. It's nice to see him build up his confidence again.

What's also been noticeable is the change in his game plan. Maybe it's because of the new coach or the new players, but he's not the default third line center any longer. He now has to work for his ice time and the even-younger guys on the team are his competition. I really like watching him play, but he's got to stop taking penalties. Two seasons ago, he was a PK specialist with great legs. He's still getting PK time, but not when he's the one in the box.

Patrick Marleau = Still one of the smoothest skaters on the Sharks, but it's clear that he is struggling a bit at all the changing roles he's been handed. He knows what to do on the PK, probably because he's out there on almost every kill. When he's out there with Jumbo, however, he's not getting his butt in the goalie's face. His 41 goals are deceiving, so he's got to stop trying to be the sniper on the team. Is it noticeable to other fans that his goals dried up a while back? Remember when he was the league leader in the category? I'm amazed that he's in 4th still. He's scored three in the last 17 games and none in the last seven.

Herein lies the problem. He seems to have lost the knack for being the playmaker. I can clearly remember three times in the game against Dallas that he came down the wing, slowed up to let players settle in front of him and pushed a weak pass right onto an opposing player's stick. I want to see him drive the net and pull the coverage with him. Then he can dish off to an open man. Maybe not all the players need to have consistent line mates, but I think he's one that does.

Niclas Wallin = It was my first time seeing him play in person, so it was a nice treat to see him take his job seriously. He was touted in the trade rumors and media writeups as a 3rd pairing D-man, and nothing more. I didn't see anything differently than what I read, but I saw some really refreshing flashes of blue-collar work there. He didn't make big mistakes and didn't incessantly feel the need to jump into the play. He can read the play and cut down the odds better than Leach or Huskins. If he had a booming shot, he might be a Blake 2.0 except he seems to have his emotions under control a bit better. Now that Vlasic is back, I see why Leach sat in the press box.

All in all, the game was great. There were a few spots in the game where the doldrums set in, but Dallas wasn't good enough to take advantage. I expected the chippiness to continue at the end of the game, but everyone seemed to calm down when Steve Ott got the boot. I wonder if the league has ever considered an additional bench minor to a team that takes more than one boarding call in the same game, like they didn't learn the lesson? That was on my mind after Couture was crushed from behind, but Marleau and the rest of the team got Ott to take his own extra minor anyway.

Signing off for today. I'm going to try to get these updates up after every game I watch in entirety. I'll also try to highlight three different players with each post.

Go Sharks!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

5 things I love about hockey!

[Editor's Note - This was originally published on Fear The Fin on 9/13/2009]

I have been pumped and primed for the season to start since last Tuesday, September 8th, when my group sat down to draft out the tickets for the upcoming season. Due to luck of the draw, I missed out on a couple of potentially great games like Boston and Pittsburgh, but I am in love with hockey so much that I'm already really excited for next Saturday's preseason game against Phoenix! Bring 'em on! First game with a Michalek in the building, right!?!

I suppose I'm stealing this idea from Puck Daddy, but I'm not ashamed to admit that he introduced me to hockey blogging a couple of years ago. I can't stand to even read his comments or half of his stories now, but I would bet I'm not the only one. His unabashed homerism for the Capitals and Devils while still reviling others for their shameless ways taught me that there's nothing above loyalty to the hometown team.

Without further ado, the top 5 things I love about hockey.

5. Unplanned Fights

I'm a little torn about this one, due to the fact that I cringe and get a knot in my stomach when commercials for MMA or UFC get flashed on Spike or Versus. I have no interest in watching violence for the sake of violence. I have truly had to force my legs to move me toward a fight at work, to break it up. However, when the emotions of a game are running high and the players are jawing at each other, I'll stand up and yell all sorts of unpleasantries at the rink when the gloves come off.

I think it helps that I know the refs are near by to keep anyone from really getting hurt (except Jordin Tootoo, that fart). If someone really starts bleeding, fight's over. If one player effectively stops throwing punches, they're both done. Players have even learned to throw the other guy to the ice if he wants to be done. Thanks to Sidney Crosby for a reminder of that last fact.

I don't really enjoy the pre-planned, first faceoff fights, but it does speak to the hatred some teams have for others. I'm also a little tired of fights after clean hits, but if your guy smashes my guy's face into the boards from behind, someone's going to pay.

4. A Team Relentless on the Puck

Casual hockey fans probably enjoy a great save or a great goal scored in the game. I am a fan of everything else. Most people know how awful it feels to have their team beaten up on a nightly basis, what it feels like to have your five skaters play like four guys. The opposite is a great feeling!

Imagine: Your favorite team has the puck and is taking shot after shot on the opposing goalie. The goalie is doing an amazing job of keeping it out of the net, but can't seem to pick up the puck. The defense finally gets a hold of the play and knocks it down the ice, just in time for your goalie to pass it back up the ice to your team who goes at it again with five new players. Defense grabs the puck a couple of time, but each time they do, they are bowled over by your forwards, who start the cycle again! Maybe it all ends with a goal, maybe not, but you realize your face hurts because you've been grinning and shouting for the past four minutes! That's hockey, baby!

3. Walking to the Local Rink and Lacing Up the Skates

Growing up in Minnesota, there was nothing quite like grabbing beat up skates and a stick, putting a pair of long-johns under your jeans, and meeting your friends at the outdoor rink on a Saturday morning. The great people at the parks and recreation department planned for your arrival when they built the park years ago by burying the water pipes deep underground so they wouldn't freeze in the Winter cold. They made sure there were plenty of benches with cubbies underneath inside the "warming house". They covered the sidewalk with thick rubber mats that were shoveled clean every morning. They paid some local teenager a few bucks extra to watch over the place, shovel any newly fallen snow off the ice, and break up any fights that might occur. If you were really lucky, there was at least a half-sized rink (boards and all) within walking distance. Otherwise, there was only a flat surface roughly in the shape of a rink and the warming house was locked (Thanks, Groveland Park!).

Kids would start showing up before 9 am and there would be usually two games going by 10. The games would use the same ice, alternating every 20-30 minutes when enough of the other guys had their faces on the boards yelling, "Come on, it's our turn now!"

Any kid that dared bring a composite stick or aluminum shaft with interchangeable blades was going to be pissed when he left because it had broken. Teams were chosen when an even number of kids threw their WOODEN sticks into a pile and someone took turns tossing the sticks into two separate piles. The fattest or slowest kid always played goalie if there wasn't a volunteer (yeah right!) and the game stopped when too many kids had left because his parents had picked him up. Me? I stayed until dark because there were no stadium lights and it got really cold after the warming house locked up at 5 pm.

2. Miracle and Every Other Underdog Story

I was too young to have remembered watching it live, but playing just one game at a time versus any given opponent means you have to be at your best all the time. The best teams in history will never win every game and the worst teams will never lose every game.

What "Miracle" taught me was that teamwork worked. The team didn't have anyone that could match the individual strengths of the Russians. The game because a genius plan of strategy. The Americans couldn't outmuscle the Russians, and their individual efforts would only get squashed, but as a team, nay, as a SMART team, they were able to overcome.

Geez, the team doesn't even have to win to be a great story. Look at "Mystery, Alaska". I love that movie and *spoiler alert* the team loses in the end.

1. Hockey in Minnesota

I live in downtown San Jose, but when I tell people where I am from, they almost always ask me if I'm a Vikings fan. I could not care less about the Vikings or the NFL. What people should know about Minnesota is that the people there aren't all hockey-mad, but a lot are. Most every high school has its own team, on top of the regional or "traveling" teams. That's a lot of hockey, but that's not even the end of it. In the spring every year, there is a tournament just for the high school teams to determine the state champs, just like in football or whatever. The difference is that this tournament is on television non-stop for several days. If you attend a school that is in the tourney, or even a school that feeds the school in the tourney, or even live in the same community as a team in the tourney, you basically get those days off. That's not an official decree, but in my experience, schools will be very lax on their truancy rules for the couple of days of tournament play. The results of the games are not only discussed in length in the newspaper, but on the news at 5 pm, 6 pm and 10 pm.

This all happened while I was living in the suburbs north of St. Paul, Minnesota. I wasn't born there, though; I hail from Grand Rapids, Minnesota - home of such notables as Pat White (now a Sharks prospect, gained in the Ehrhoff dump), Alex Goligoski (set to be a sophomore on the Penguins blue-line), Jon Casey (former NORTHStars netminder), Bill Baker (member of the Miracle on Ice), and some lady named Frances Gumm (probably better known as Judy Garland). If the state of Minnesota is hockey-mad, then Grand Rapids is hockey-f**king-bat-sh*t-insane.

Due to a bad economy that eventually led the NORTHStars out of Minnesota, my father lost his job and we were forced to move away from Grand Rapids after I finished the first grade. However, in two years of public schooling, I already knew that hometown pride was weighted on their high school hockey standing at the end of the season. Other sports didn't matter. Even in the first grade, we could get some skating practice during recess, as the elementary school was adjacent to a lake that froze over for most of the Winter, and Winter lasted most of the school year.

Yeah, some of these things happened to me instead of me searching them out, but I consider myself to be really fortunate to have seen all the things I have seen. Well, everything except the formation of the Dallas Stars.