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.

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