Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Teal Thursdays special Edition, 4/30

I’m doing an abbreviated teal Thursday this week, and I’m posting a day early for a number of reasons, mainly because I want it to go up before game four. It is abbreviated for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I really don’t feel like re-living games 1-3 of the Dallas series. I’ll go through a quick recap of the series in one section (not game by game as I have been doing), give a few thoughts on what needs to happen, and end it with a quick story.
Although I doubt anyone relies exclusively on this blog for updates on the Sharks, in case anyone does, as you may have been able to gather from the tone, things are looking grim in San Jose. The Sharks dropped game 3 in overtime last night, falling in a 3-0 hole to the Dallas Stars in the second round of the playoffs. The Sharks have not played horribly, and with just a few bounces could have won any of the three games. Games one and three went to overtime, and the Sharks took a 2-1 lead into the third period of game 2. Having been able to watch games one and two, I felt confident, even down 2-0 in the series. The Sharks had outplayed the Stars badly for 40 minutes in game 2, but a dismal third period effort lead to a 4 goal period for the Stars, and a 5-2 loss. Game one was similarly frustrating, as the Sharks seemed to have the upper edge, even if they didn’t lead on the scoreboard, but ended up falling in overtime.
One theme has been clear over the first three games of this series, and that is this; the Sharks lack a killer instinct. It could easily be argued that the Sharks are only three timely goals away from being up 3-0, rather than down 3-0. In games one and 3, obviously OT winners would have done the trick, but particularly in game one, if the Sharks had scored one more in a first period that they dominated, the Stars likely would not have been able to respond. In game 2, the Sharks dominated the first two periods, but had only a 2-1 lead to show for it. An insurance tally late in the second would have allowed the Sharks to go into the dump and protect game they play so well, but instead a single bounce tied the game early in the third. Three times, the Sharks have been controlling the play, and had a chance to bury the Stars. Three times, they have been unable to.
The second thing I want to touch on is something that I take no pleasure in doing. I am a Ron Wilson fan, and was never comfortable with the notion that his job should have been in jeopardy following last year’s playoff exit. I sincerely wish that I could support the way that he has handled this series, mainly because he has (I believe) yet to make a serious error as head coach of the Sharks, yet I cannot. First of all, as I wrote in the “Just a Thought” column, Jeremy Roenick has absolutely no business on the first powerplay unit, and having him there cost the Sharks game one. In the first period, Patrick Marleau made a phenomenal pass to Roenick in front of the net. Roenick re-directed the puck, but couldn’t bury it. Did Turco make a phenomenal save? Yes. Would the majority NHL goal scorers have made the same play? Probably. Can I even blame JR? Probably not, but Jonathan Cheechoo would have scored. He would have put that pass home ten times out of ten, but he was sitting on the bench. This was the most glaring and costly, but not the only instance of the Sharks PP being hurt by not having #14 on the first unit, and that one falls squarely on Ron’s shoulders.
The second problem I have with what Ron has done came in game three. Down 2-0, Wilson was looking to wake his team up, which he should have been, except for two things. First of all, the Sharks hadn’t lost 3 games in a row since mid February. This team had proven that it doesn’t need wake up calls to get back on track. On top of that, the Sharks had outplayed Dallas for all but the last twenty minutes of the first two games. Unfortunately, Ron panicked, and stuck Alexi “the pylon” Seminov on the blue line. Unless it comes out that Carl was injured, this is inexplicable. Carl had been playing well since being put back into the lineup, and Seminov has consistently proven himself incapable. Sure enough, Seminov took a key penalty that lead to the tying goal. Inserting Plihal for Rissmiller is somewhat less egregious, but Plihal appears unprepared for playoff hockey, and Grier’s game suffered considerably without Rissmiller in the lineup. Both of these moves reeked of desperation from a coach who did not need to be desperate quite yet.
I have two more quick thoughts before I wrap it up. First of all, Joe Thornton was non-existent like never before on Tuesday night. Listening to the game on the radio, I barely heard his name mentioned the entire night. Needless to say, Thornton is probably the best player in the NHL when he is on, and the Sharks need him to be on to climb out of this hole. Lastly, there are plenty of "what ifs" that are relevant to the first few games of this series. I'm going to refrain from touching on those, until the time that they become necessary to address. Here's hoping that time is never.

I want to finish with a story. It has nothing to do with the Sharks, but it seems relevant to the present situation. In October of 2004, the morning after the Sox had dropped game 3 of the ALCS 19-8 to fall into a 3-0 hole to the hated Yankees, I passed my friend Taylor Donner on the boardwalk. Still disappointed from the night before, and sure that the series was over, all I could do was shake my head, giving a feeble “It doesn’t look good.”
After pausing, as if to think of something else to say, all Taylor could muster was a “no.”
A few seconds later though, he finally said “but I mean, if we can win tonight, we have Pedro going tomorrow.”
“And Shilling after that in game six.” I replied, still morbidly, but beginning to cheer up.
“And then game seven, anything can happen there, all we have to do is win tonight”
“You never know.” Was all I could say, as if the notion that hope still existed was new to me, something I wasn’t quite ready to embrace.
“You never know.” He echoed, and we went our separate ways.
Sure enough, that night Dave Roberts stole second off of Rivera and the rest, as they say, was history. I don’t know if this story really has a point, except that of all the memories from the 2004 Red Sox Championship, this seemingly mundane conversation will always be one of my most vivid. It serves as a reminder that it really never is over, that it is never better just to give up hope. So when the puck deflected past Nabokov and the Sharks went down 3-0, I thought of Taylor, and I thought of 2004. Because if we win tomorrow, we go back to San Jose, and by game six we will be rolling, and anything can happen in game seven, all we have to do is win tomorrow. Because you never know.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Just A Thought

It’s the busiest time of the year on the sports calendar, so you would think finding a column out of this mess would be easy. There is certainly plenty going on, but when it comes down to it, nothing jumps out. Between the NFL Draft, MLB season, NBA and NHL Playoffs and everything else, you would think that there would be something that absolutely demands at least 1000 words, but nothing really jumps out. Take a look; the NBA and NHL playoffs haven’t developed a theme or even an intriguing story line (yet), the draft was sort of wild with all of the first round trades, but the class over all was pretty bland, and lets face it, April baseball is pretty damn boring. That isn’t to say that I don’t have any opinions I want to write, just nothing that I feel demands an entire column. So, since it is all that I have, here are a few random thoughts, opinions, facts, stats and downright lies that I have on my mind right now.

I’m not sure if this excites or scares the hell out of me. If pressed, I’m going with both.

Joe Pavelski is a gamer. So is Matt Carl. I wish I could say the same about Milan Michalek, but I’m not so convinced yet (an understatement).

I’m frustrated with Doug Wilson right now. On an unrelated note, let’s check out this Joe Thornton player card. Acquired: From Boston in exchange for Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm. Back to Wilson...I actually calmed down for some reason, moving on...

Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit. Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit. Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit. Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit. Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit. Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit. Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit. Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit. Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit. Jeremy Roenick deserves to be on the first PP unit.

After typing that ten times, I’m starting to believe it, I’m 90% sure Ron Wilson did the same thing.

I’m just kidding, I hit ctrl+c, ctrl+v, and I still don’t believe it. It is the first intermission of game 2 and Cheechoo would have had 2 goals if he was playing with Marleau and Thornton.

Niklas Hagman is a (expletive) who cherry picks and flies the zone when the other team has pulled the goalie IN A FREAKING PLAYOFF GAME. It doesn’t get any lower. Congrats on the 2 goal game all-star.

Out of 7, 2 Sharks first round games were on national TV. Out of the first 4, only 2 of the second round are scheduled to be. I hate Versus more than I hate Al Qaeda. This may be its own column...

I tried, I really did, but I can’t hate on the Campbell trade. Yet.

Screw it, we blew 2-0 leads the last two years, I’m sure the Sharks are just trying to reverse the trend in a nice, symmetric style.

Contrary to the content of this blog over the past few weeks, I am capable of non-Sharks-related thoughts. (I’ll even prove it, besides I need to save some thoughts for the Thursday column)

The Rangers were done (for the series, not the game) as soon as the Pens came back from the 3-0 deficit, even if it took a 5-4 OT loss to drop game one.

Sidney Crosby is going to get better, and fast. Once he learns to keep his feet moving a little bit more, he is going to be unstoppable as he already skates through checks as well as anyone in the NHL. Once he learns to turn the corner and get to the net, he will be the best goal scorer in the NHL, as well as the best playmaker.

Read that sentence again, Rangers fans, and try not to quiver.

The Eastern Conference circa 2008 is no better than the NL circa 2007, I am convinced of it. The only way that an eastern team can win the cup is if the Western playoffs prove daunting enough that by the finals, the best team is completely worn down.
The best part about that theory is that it can never be proven wrong. No matter who wins the Cup, I will have been right.

I felt bad for Ovechkin, but really, I was just happy that the Philly-Washington game ended in time for the Sharks game to start on TV.

I don’t know, I just can’t get excited for the baseball season while the NBA and NHL Playoffs are going on. Call me in July.

Brandon Webb and Danny Haran are the best 1-2 punch in the Majors. Haran’s trade went largely ignored, but if Derek Jeter tells the media that he got an e-mail from A-rod but didn’t respond it is front page news. How am I supposed to believe that there is no east coast media bias?

Brad Wilkerson is hitting .189, Frank Thomas is hitting .164, Jason Botts has played 14 games in left field for the Rangers despite hitting .147, Barry Bonds can’t find work and this isn’t collusion. Yeah, ok.

The Rays just swept the Red Sox to move into a tie atop the east. I wrote it before, this isn’t a fluke, the Rays are for real.

I can’t decide who I’m more excited about, Tim Lincecum or Clay Buchholz.

I’ll shut up if it is just me (I am a Warriors fan, after all), but shouldn’t the Nuggets have thrown their last few games if they didn’t want to be in the playoffs? At least for the good of the NBA, I mean come on.

Note to Gilbert Arenas: just be quiet next time. (on second thought, don’t, for humor’s sake, keep talking)

Everyone seems to be taking sides on the wild MVP race, so I may as well throw my opinion out there. Wait, I watched about 5 NBA games this year, so I’m gonna go with Michael Jordan.

Isiah Thomas is being forced out of the Knicks organization right now. He better work out a severance package before his entire reign is remembered as an embarrassment.

I’m worried about Isiah, it is gonna be tough for him to get a job after failing so miserably in New York, but I’m even more worried about Bill Simmons. He isn’t going to have anything to write about.

The NFL Draft passed this weekend. It was as hyped as ever (naturally), but once it started there were only two players I could really get excited about.
If in 5 years, Matt Ryan is better than Glen Dorsey and Darren McFadden, I will sink all of my money into Home Depot stock (that is a bet, Mr. Blank).

The above statement has nothing to do with my rejection from Boston College, I swear.

The National Clever Sports Headline Writers Guild would like to thank Chris Long, Jake Long, the Miami Dolphins and the St. Louis Rams for their easiest day of work ever.

The NCSHWG? Really? Conan O’Brian read that and went “come on, that’s a streatch.”
I don’t care what anyone says, I like Pacman Jones.

If you have questions for Mel Keiper Jr. or Todd McShay in the next 4 months, please send them care of the Waikiki Sheraton, Honolulu, HI.

Going to Pizza Garden, coming back and writing a column while watching the Sharks game isn’t better than going to prom, but it isn’t $300 worse.

One last thing, an apology... Couples of Kent School, I am sorry for walking in on / third wheeling you guys, I really am, it’s just that I really wanted to watch that game.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Teal Thursdays 2- April 24, 2008

Well, it took a bit longer than Sharks fans probably expected, and definitely a bit longer than they would have liked, but the Sharks ultimately got the job done. Team teal capped a 4-3 series win with a dominating 5-3 performance in game seven. The victory means the Sharks will move on to face the Dallas Stars in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Game five on Friday night proved to be a wild affair. The Sharks entered the third period with a 2-1 lead on the strength of a beautiful Patrick Marleau wrist shot and an acrobatic save by Evgeni Nabokov, on which he was initially beat, but dove back to swipe the puck away as it trickled towards the goal line. The Sharks appeared poised to run away with the contest when Jonathan Cheechoo scored two goals in the first half of the third period giving the Sharks a 4-1 lead; but the Flames came roaring back, cutting the score to 4-3. Despite a late flurry, the Flames attack ultimately fell just short thanks to 33 saves from Evgeni Nabokov.

The Sharks then took their act to the Pengrowth Saddle Dome, where they hoped to close out the series in game six. Any excitement from the Sharks end was quickly stifled, however. The Sharks came out flat, managing only 21 shots on goal, and handing Mikka Kiprusoff his only shutout of the post-season. Ex-captain Owen Nolan notched the game winner just 11 minutes into what proved to be the Sharks weakest performance of the post season so far.

Six games having settled nothing, the teams traveled back to Silicone Valley, where 60 minutes of playoff hockey would determine who would move on, and who would hit the links. While the Sharks lacked a killer instinct in game six, the threat of another early playoff threat having become imminent, the Pacific division champs came out flying for game seven. After tinkering with the lines for much of the series, Coach Ron Wilson went back to lines that closely resembled those of the 18-0-2 streak. The Cheechoo-Thornton Michalek and Rissmiller-Grier-Mitchell lines were restored, while Jody Shelly was scratched, giving a spot to Devin Setoguchi on the fourth line (alongside Goc and Roenick) and keeping the red hot Clowe-Marleau-Pavelski line in tact. On the blueline, the only change from the regular season was a sidelined Kyle McLaren giving way to Matt Carl, who had stepped in and played a phenomenal series for the Sharks.

Once play began, superstars Joe Thornton and Jarome Iginla traded powerplay goals sending the teams into the first intermission tied at 1, despite a decided 14-5 advantage in shots for the Sharks. Despite the great start, early in the second period the Sharks appeared to be in trouble. Just 3 minutes into the second period, Brian Campbell was caught out of position, and the hero of the Sharks last game seven victory, Owen Nolan turned a questionable Douglas Murray pinch into a flukey breakaway goal on which Nabokov made the initial save, but the rebound caromed off of Nolan’s shin pad and into the net for a 2-1 Calgary lead.

Last year, veteran leadership had proven the Sharks Achilles heel in a second round playoff exit. With game seven in jeopardy, they got just that, as 38 year old Jeremy Roenick took over. JR knotted the game at 2 on a Setoguchi screen and a seeing-eye wrister that snuck through Mikka Kiprusoff. Just 3 minutes later, Roenick put home his own rebound and gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead, capping it off with one of the greatest goofy/awkward celebrations in playoff history.

The Sharks didn’t stop there though, as minutes later the pride of Plover, Wisconsin Joe Pavelski put a rebound top shelf, chasing Kiprusoff, and giving the Sharks a 4-2 lead. Devin Setoguchi then scored his first playoff goal, giving the Sharks a 5-2 lead and capping a 4 goal, 21 shot second period on the first shot seen by Curtis Joseph. Another former Shark, Wayne Primeau scored the only goal of the third, and 20 after 25 minutes of lock down hockey, the Sharks had secured a birth in the second round.

Looking back now, in last week’s post, I said that there were five keys to beating the Flames. Here they are again, but with a recap and a grade of how the Sharks fared in these areas for the first round

1. Get Big Joe Going- Thornton finished the series with two goals and five assists. These aren’t spectacular numbers, but they are pretty good, certainly a bit better than the last few years. Thornton also had a presence outside of the score sheet, playing physically and doing lots of little things. Score- 8/10

2. Get to the Net- Simply by watching highlights, it is easy to see that the Sharks did this exceptionally well this series. Kipper was constantly screened, and when he did kick out rebounds, he paid the price. Score- 9.5/10

3. Limit Iginla- 9 points in 7 games is hardly shutting someone down. Iginla was a force for the entire series, showing why he is one of the elite superstars in all of hockey. However, I said to limit, not stop Iginla, and he was a -1 on the series. Score- 5/10

4. Attack- For 5.5 of 7 games, the Sharks were on the attack. In game six, they inexplicably played not to lose, and after going up 3-0 in game 4, they sat back and let Calgary take it to them. Other than those two games though, a pretty good job here. Score- 6/10

5. Get the puck out- I couldn’t possibly handicap this for the entire series, having watched only game seven in its entirety, but Grier and Mitchell were both pluses on their +/-, and in game seven the Sharks did an excellent job, so I will give them a tentative 8. Score- 8/10

Finally, before I move on and look ahead to the Dallas series, here are the three stars of round one. Before I get to the Sharks, two Flames stood out to me, and deserve to be mentioned. Jarome Iginla showed that he is one of the best players in the game. As I said, he scored 9 points and was terrifying every time he touched the puck. The second was a surprise, but I think that Owen Nolan showed that he has a little bit left in the tank.

Firstly a couple of Sharks deserve honorable mention. Joe Thornton, as mentioned above, was very good. He is capable of a little bit more, I think, but certainly didn’t disappoint in round one. Jeremy Roenick also deserves mention, mainly for a clutch performance in game seven. Roenick may have saved the Sharks season with his two goals, but won’t quite crack the top three because they were his only two of the series. Lastly, Matt Carl stepped in after an absence from the lineup after Matt Carl was acquired and was outstanding. Carl may have been the Sharks best defenseman at times. Carl’s game still has some holes (albeit ones that should will disappear with experience), but he confirmed in this series what most Sharks fans already know; when Matt Carl is well rested, he is an outstanding defenseman.

The third star for the Sharks was Jonathan Cheechoo. Cheech scored three of the biggest goals of the series. His spectacular shot from a bad angle that saved game 4 may have been the biggest play in swinging momentum to the Sharks side in the series. Cheechoo appeared to step it up down the stretch after a lackluster start and was able to carry his momentum into the first round of the playoffs.

Ryan Clowe returned from ACL surgery, stepping right in on the second line and onto the score sheet for San Jose. Clowe was one of only a few Sharks that put in seven solid efforts this series, and was rewarded for it, notching 4 goals in the first four games. Clowie’s gritty performance goes to show just how valuable being well rested can prove this time of year.

Finally, keeping with a theme of resurgence, you have Patrick Marleau, the first star of the 2008 Western Conference Quarter Finals for the San Jose Sharks. As good as Clowie was, much of his production came off of superb efforts from Marleau. Marleau brought outstanding energy. As long as he has been in the league, there has been a simple way to tell if he has been on his game. When Marleau is going, opposing defensemen usually are backing up on every rush when #12 is on the ice, giving the Sharks ample time to maneuver and create opportunities off of breaks. Calgary has an excellent crew on the blue line, headlined by Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich and Dion Phaneuf, but Pavelski, Marleau and Clowe had tons of space to work with, which they turned into 9 goals in 7 games.

So it took a little bit longer than expected, but Calgary is out of the way. After a lackluster first round performance by the Quack Squad, the Stars have aligned for the Sharks to face off with Dallas in round 2. Believe it or not, this is the first time that the pacific division rivals have squared off in the post season. As I did last round (albeit a little bit late), I will leave you with 5 keys to success in round two.

  1. STEP UP- The Sharks need their defensemen to be on their game in round two. This means that Brian Campbell must return to the form that he saw at the end of the regular season, not the semi-trance that he appeared to be in for much of the first round. Behind Campbell, the Sharks need Vlasic, Rivet, Erhoff, Carl, McLaren and Murray to have a good series. Against Calgary, one or two guys could carry the load. Dallas has much better secondary scoring, so all of the Sharks D-men have got to bring their A-game in round two.
  2. WAKE UP- First of all, Brian Campbell. While Greason is convinced that he is a poor defender, I still believe (based on watching him for a couple of weeks shortly after the deadline) that he is capable in his own zone. He will need to be, but also will need to regain the magic he had in the regular season with the puck on his stick. Milan Michalek also needs to find another gear. He was invisible for much of the first round. Milan is one of the Sharks top 5 forwards, without a doubt, and he needs to be for the offense to be in gear.
  3. GET UP- For every game that is. In the first round, the Sharks came out flat for two of the seven games, and collapsed in a third. The Sharks may be able to sneak by Dallas in similar fashion, but I wouldn’t count on it. The goal needs to be to come out flying every night this time.
  4. BANG UP- Last round I said that the Sharks needed to drive the net in order to put pucks away against one of the best goalies in the league, Kiprusoff. The task doesn’t get any easier this round, as the boys go up against Marty Turco. Once again, getting traffic in front will be key.
  5. SHUT DOWN- Brad Richards was the Stars biggest addition and has been getting most of the attention in big D, but Mike Modano is quite simply a Shark killer. He is, and has been for quite a while, our kryptonite. My recommendation for shutting him down would be to take a 2x4 to his knees in the parking lot. I nominate Jamie Baker, Brian Marchment, Alexi Seminov or SJ Sharkie for the job. Failing that, the Sharks D need to play aggressive, getting in Modano’s face and taking away his time and space.

Friday, April 18, 2008

YT Clip of the Week 1: Sharks Comeback

As I mentioned, I am going to start some weekly segments, and for Friday, I am going to do a YouTube clip of the week.
This first one is an awesome clip of the two goals making up the comeback in game 4 that kept the Sharks alive. This is worth watching just for Hahn's call on Thornton's game winner, which actually garnered some regional media attention itself. No one can say that Hahn doesn't care about this team, and it is great to have an announcer who feels like a fan.
As for the video itself, first of all if your a Sharks fan and this doesn't pump you up, you need to make sure you still have a pulse. I love Cheechoo's goal, off his back foot, falling away from the net, Cheechoo probably shot that puck 85-90 MPH. With no angle, either, what a shot. Thornton's is best for the celebration, the genuine mix of joy, excitement and relief from the players is great, and Hahn does a great job adding to it.
This is a must see for Sharks fans, but still entertaining if your not for Cheechoo's shot and Hahn's call.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Teal Thursdays 1- April 17, 2008

This is the first Instalment of Teal Thursdays. This space will be devoted to a weekly round up of all things San Jose Sharks. I will write these on Wednesday nights and Thursday mornings, posting by noon on Thursday. These will vary in length, depending on how busy I am and how much is going on with the Sharks, but I should post every Thursday, year round. Also, look for more weekly or bi-weekly features coming in the next few weeks to Obstructed View Sports.

First things first, I need to get something out of the way, both as a disclaimer and as a vent. I haven’t been able to watch any Sharks games in their entirety while at school. I watched most of the first period of game 1, but it is difficult here at Kent, especially with the common room closed as it currently is, and it is impossible when the games aren’t on Versus, as games 2 and 4 were not. Suffice to say I’m missing Greason’s (and his NHL Center Ice package’s) presence in North Dorm this playoff season.

So how have I managed to keep up? I listen to NHL Game Radio (online), read The Feeder boards, and periodically check stat pages to keep me updated during games until 11:30 (usually around midway through the second period). Once the internet shuts off (Temperantia, Fiducia, Constantia, baby!), I have someone text me updates (usually my sister) after goals and at the end of periods. This way I at least know if I need to be angry or not when I fall asleep.

All in all this is a dismal way to follow a game, but it really is the best that I can manage (sopcast and TVU are blocked, and it is impossible to find a reliable Windows Media Player feed). To fill myself in, the next morning I watch highlights online, scan and for insight, read the AP recap and box score, stalk for news and listen to the postgame podcast, a recap with radio highlights and analysis done by Dan Rusanowsky and Jamie Baker. So All in all, even though I can’t watch the game, by lunch the next day I feel like I have a good idea what’s going on.

The main thing that I lack is an unfiltered perspective of who played well and who didn’t, beyond the score sheet and highlights. Owing to that, unless my game day routine gets an improvement, guys like Vlasic, Brown, Rissmiller or even Rivet, who’s contributions go unnoticed in highlights and score sheets aren’t likely to get the credit they deserve here.

So, obviously, any off the ice action right now is greatly overshadowed by the playoffs right now. The Sharks are locked in battle with the Calgary Flames in round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Going into the playoffs, there were several keys for the Sharks. Here they are:

  1. Get Big Joe going- never a problem during the regular season, Thornton has struggled at times in the post-season. The Sharks offense relies on Thornton and they need him going at full speed in order to handle the Flames like they should.
  2. Get to the Net- Kiprusoff, a former Vezina trophy winner, is going to make a lot of first saves. Pretty goals are going to be few and far between, especially with Phaneuf patrolling the blue line. The focus needs to be on getting the puck on net and banging in the garbage. The Sharks are a big, fast team, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
  3. Limit Iginla- It is unrealistic to expect to completely shutdown such a talented player, but for the Flames to have a chance, their captain is going to need to have an outstanding series, as Calgary’s secondary scoring is limited. If Iginla can be kept in check, Calgary shouldn’t be a problem for San Jose.
  4. Attack- The Sharks have to be the aggressor in this series. As the saying goes, if you play not to lose, you will. This comes down to intensity, look for Marleau to set the tone on this.
  5. Get the puck out- I’m looking at you, Rissmiller-Greir-Mitchell. If the Sharks don’t give the Flames second opportunities on turnovers and uncontrolled rebounds, Nabokov will shit the flames completely down.

To me, it seems that if the Sharks can do any three of these five things, Calgary should not be an issue. Next week I’ll come back to these and see how well they were executed (and also how important they turned out to be) in the series.

Ok, time to get down to it, and asses how the boys have played against Calgary so far.

Game 1 was, frankly, upsetting. I for one expected the Sharks, who had been on a nearly 2 month tear, to feed off of a rocking HP Pavilion, come out flying and crush an inferior Flames team. I for one was disappointed.

Inexplicably, the Sharks looked awful. They came out completely flat, and they looked as if they were unaware that the playoffs had begun. By the time they realized it, it was too late. The first goal was questionable, but after that, the Sharks turtled, and it was no surprise when the Flames added a second shortly their after. That was as much as I could take in the student center, so the rest of the game was followed as if it wasn’t on TV. The Sharks did bounce back a little bit, but they eventually fell 3-2.

There were two main bright spots in game one. First, obviously, was Ryan Clowe. TO be honest, I was a bit skeptical at first of Clowe’s return. It wasn’t anything against Clowie, a good player, but the lines had been clicking in his absence, highlighted by an 18-0-2 run down the stretch that certainly took a bit of luck, but didn’t happen by accident. Clowe has proved me wrong and then some, first by netting two in game 1, but also by being arguably the Sharks best player in the first 4.

Secondly, I couldn’t help but notice that the Sharks came out and played as badly as I have seen them play, certainly in the last 3 months. Despite this, Calgary was unable to put them away, and the Sharks still made it a one goal game. As mad as I was that we had dropped game one, I was encouraged that we had held with them after coming out without our A-game, or even our B-game.

Game 2, the next night in San Jose, was the Evgeni Nabokov show. Nabby stopped everything he saw, including an incredible sprawling glove save on former Shark Owen Nolan. Kiprusoff was tough in net for the Flames, although he would probably like to have Joe Pavelski’s turn-around wrist shot that was the first goal of the game. That combined with a tap-in by Tory Mitchell, lifting the Sharks to a 2-0 victory and a split at home. Nabokov was clearly the player of the game for the Sharks, but it was a team effort that could have been even more dominating were it not for stellar play by Mikka Kiprusoff.

Game 3 in Calgary saw the Sharks carry their game 2 momentum across the border, notching an early 3-0 lead just 3:33 into the first period. From there, the wheels came off. The Sharks fell back on their heels, giving up 4 unanswered goals and falling 4-3. The turning point was clearly and forcefully brought about by Cory Sarich. With the Sharks up 3-0 and controlling the play, with the Saddle Dome crowd out of the game, Sarich laid into a turning Patrick Marleau, bloodying the Sharks captain. When the Sharks responded, the flames somehow, inexplicably ended up with a powerplay, which they used to cut the lead to 3-1 and take back the momentum. For the next 75 minuets, this appeared to sway the entire series.

The Sharks were widely criticized for not responding to the hit on Marleau. In fact, Matt Carl clearly responded to the hit. This response, coupled with a little bit (or more) of questionable officiating, actually lead to the goal that swung the game. However, Carl should be given credit, not only for sticking up for his captain, but for stepping in and playing well after seeing limited (like, none) ice time after the acquisition of Brian Campbell. Carl even played well enough that when Erhoff (for whom he was filling in), returned from injury, Wilson was compelled to keep him in the lineup, going with 7 defensemen and 11 forwards.

The only bright spot in the last 56 minuets of game 3 was Patrick Marleau. Patty has been playing well the entire series, but still managed to step up his game after being crushed by Sarich. It has bothered me when Marleau had been labeled a bad playoff performer over the past year. Yes, Marleau played dismally against Detroit last year, but for the rest of his career, he has been nothing less than stellar in the post-season. It is great to see Marleau play up to the reputation he should have earned, rather the one he has been unfairly labeled with.

For Sharks fans, game 3 was positively tantalizing. Memories from the last three years of playoff disappointments could not help but crop up for Sharks fans. Game 3 was looking more and more like game 3 of the Detroit series last year, or the Edmonton series the year before. The question loomed, is it happening again.

For the first 30 minuets of game four, it appeared that it was. It appeared that the Sarich hit was going to be the defining moment of the series. An early Iginla goal put the Flames up 1-0, and the Sharks had no answer for Mikka Kiprusoff or the Flames’ defense. With time running down under 10 minutes in the second period of game 4, the series seemed to be slipping away, which is why I’m sure that I wasn’t the only Sharks fan who not only breathed a sigh of relief, but gave a fist pump Jonathan Cheechoo would be proud of when Ryan Clowe tipped a Patrick Marleau wrister past Kipper to even the score at 1-1.

The Sharks still had plenty of work to do, however. Once again they appeared in trouble when the Flames made it 2-1 early in the third. With just under 5 minuets remaining in the game, it was still 2-1, when Cheechoo walked out of the corner and sent a wild wrist shot over Kiprusoff’s left shoulder, knotting it at 2 and silencing the Saddle Dome sellout.

The Sharks pressured in the last minuet, but the Flames seemed poised to force OT, when Doug Murray sent a shot along the ice that looked like an easy save, but a streaking Joe Thornton (who ironically had underachieved in Boston when he was told he needed to go to the net more), jumped in front of Kiprusoff, tipping the puck past him, and sparking life in to the pride of Silicone Valley.

As much of a roller coaster as the first four games of the series have been, the bottom line is this: It is now a 3 game series, and the Sharks have home ice. Historically the Flames have enjoyed playing at the Tank, but I don’t think it is any secret that the Sharks will take their home crowd any day of the week.

A week ago, Sharks fans may not have been excited to hear that the Pacific Division Champs split the first two, but the Sharks deserve no better, having put forth uninspired efforts for most of game 1 and the last 55 minuets of game 3. I’ll refrain from making a prediction (it takes considerable effort), but I will say this, the Sharks have proven what they should have known going in, that they are the better team. Unfortunately Calgary has proven that the Sharks are going to have to earn it. They are guaranteed two more games, and there is a good chance they will play a third this series. If the Sharks can put in a solid effort in two of those three, they shouldn’t have any problems. It should be great hockey.

I just hope I can find a place to watch it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Own March Madness

note: a modified version of this column appears in the April 2008 Kent News

Ten days can feel like a long time. It has been three months since I submitted my last college application, and since then all that I have had to do is wait. While the entire waiting period has been stressful, the ten days since spring break have been almost unbearable. Coming back to Kent I had hoped to find decisions waiting for me, or at least to come in the next couple of days, but almost two weeks later I am still waiting for that last (extremely relevant) decision. Even with an acceptance in hand, three rejections have done nothing for my peace of mind, and by now I am a complete wreck.

Every time I go near the mail center, hear mention of colleges or even think about my pending decisions (right now for instance) I feel like a recovering addict; my pulse skyrockets and my stomach is in knots. I know I’m not the only one, even if it is little comfort. Everyone from the class of ’08 seems a little bit on edge right now. Being a senior in early March is something that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

So Why is this relevant? Where is the sports column usually appearing in this space?

Seven times, over the last four days I have sat down to write the NCAA Basketball tournament column I promised my editors. I’m just not up to it. It simply isn’t going to happen. My original premise was to write about tournament brackets and how ridiculous it is that everyone thinks theirs is awful because they didn’t have the 10 seed in the elite eight or the thirteen seed from the WCC beating the four seed from the Big East.

I liked the idea but it isn’t going to work for a number of reasons. First of all the concept became a little bit iffy when all four one seeds ended up winning their regions for the most predictable final four in NCAA tournament history. Secondly, and more importantly, I can’t sit still for more than 30 seconds without deciding that I need to check my mail, getting up and realizing that it is 11:15 P.M. The bottom line is that there is really only one thing that I can concentrate on long enough to write a (semi-) coherent column about, so I’m giving in.

Even if I have decided that an NCAA tournament column would be impossible at the moment because of my own personal “March madness,” I haven’t given up on following sports, quite the opposite in fact. At the best of times sports can be a nice escape from a stressful day to day life. Very seldom has an escape been more welcome than over the past couple of weeks. While a Sharks’ win or a good day for my bracket may not make up for a rejection from Dartmouth or Northwestern, they certainly don’t hurt to take my mind off of it for a while.

Luckily for me, the late March/early April period may be the best of the year for sports fans. The aforementioned NCAA tournament provides some of the most enthralling dates on the calendar in the first couple of rounds. Very few sports fans don’t enjoy sitting in front of their TVs or computers checking their brackets and rooting for 15 seeds (even if they don’t even know where Belmont is). The NBA and NHL are entering their stretch runs, providing a steady stream of excitement and drama as teams duke it out for the last couple of playoff spots. On top of all that Baseball’s season is under way and the NFL draft, one of my favorite events of the year, is just around the corner.

These are just the distractions I need right now. So thank god for an endless stream of NFL mock drafts (even if one letter changed Matt Ryan from my favorite player in the draft not named Ryan Clady or Darren McFadden to my least favorite), thank god for the Red Sox starting up (even though it is ridiculous that they have to do so in Japan four days before the rest of the league), for deadline acquisition/blueline god Brian Campbell pushing the Sharks on a 18-0-2 run and for the Warriors trying to street ball their way into the playoffs. Without those things I could be going insane.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I need to go check my mail.