Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Max Giese: Worcester Sharks Scouting Reports

With once prominent NHLers Claude Lemieux and Kyle McLaren in their line-up, the young prospects on the Worcester Sharks often get overlooked for their impact on the team this season. Sophomore defenseman Derek Joslin as emerged as the teams go-to-guy on the back-end and winger Jamie McGinn is fast tracking his way to the NHL by already compiling 2 goals and 3 points in 11 games with San Jose.

Taylor Dakers (SJ), G, Worcester Sharks
After struggling as a rookie last season in the AHL and being sent down to Phoenix of the ECHL, Dakers has been rock solid between the pipes for the Worcester Sharks this season and has stolen play time away from Thomas Greiss .. does a good job maintaining his height when down in the butterfly by keeping his shoulders upright .. calm and economical in approach while pushing off to challenge shooters appropriately .. his square positioning and net coverage allows him to take up a lot of the net while down in the butterfly .. guilty at times of collapsing too early and tends to stay down while being in no rush to recover back to his stance if the puck is near his crease .. has quick step lateral crease movement .. likes to advertise the five-hole to shooters before taking it away swiftly .. often makes the first save, however his rebound control requires improvement and this leads to him struggling if the play breaks down around him .. actively plays the puck, however he must improve on his puck-handling skills .. has regained his stock as a prospect in the Sharks organization.

Jason Demers (SJ), D, Worcester Sharks
Rookie offensive defenseman that is benefiting from the tutelage of Kyle McLaren, whom he is often partnered with .. confident in himself and remains poised while making shrewd plays under pressure .. boasts lively hands and sees the ice well which allows him to emerge as an accurate passer and a creative play-maker from the point .. not afraid to take his time breaking the puck out of his own end and will wait until the last possible second before he moves it, drawing opponents to him and away from his teammates in the process .. quick skater that is fast on his feet, although he’s remains very raw in terms of defensive tactics and is overly reliant on his mobility to break up plays .. tries to play physical, but he mostly bounces off opponents because he lacks strength .. showcases some character by sticking up for his teammates and entering a scrap even though he can’t fight .. has a shot at playing in the NHL if his defensive game catches up to his offensive abilities.

Mike Moore (SJ), D, Worcester Sharks
Robust two-way defenseman that has developed a reputation in the AHL as a devastating open-ice hitter .. strong skater that is swift out of his turns and pivots .. not a crafty player with the puck and could use more finesse, although he sees the ice well enough and can put a hard pass on his teammates tape .. often more successful carrying the puck himself rather than passing it and he wisely plays within his limits to prevent any costly errors .. if he does cough up the puck, he displays enough speed to recover .. receiving time on the power-play because of his heavy shot that he gets through traffic and on net .. defends with a purpose and doesn’t get caught running around .. takes good angles to opponent puck-carriers and can lock them onto the boards with his skating and physicality .. this tough Princeton grad was the last defenseman cut from the San Jose Sharks’ training-camp and is close to being NHL ready.

Derek Joslin (SJ), D, Worcester Sharks
Polished two-way defender that may be NHL ready, although he continues to benefit in the AHL while receiving loads of ice time in all-situations .. the number one defenseman in Worcester and anchors both special team units .. an all-compass skater with deceptive mobility because of his long and relaxed strides that eat up the ice .. his influential first step allows him to escape away with the puck from oncoming pressure .. confidently lugs the puck up ice and his rangy puck skills enable him to make opponents miss in the open ice .. astutely picks his spots when he jumps into the rush, as he exploits holes and supports the puck-carrier to create odd man opportunities .. his shot from the point is very effective and he commits smart plays with the puck while under fire .. not a mean or physically imposing defender, but he’s sturdy in the trenches .. does a fine job at ceiling puck carriers to the outside .. effectively angles off opponents before activating his stick to take away time and space .. boasts uncanny hockey sense and defensive reads allow him to recover for others mistakes and break up last minute plays .. if injuries cripple San Jose’s blue-line, the Sharks will call upon Joslin with confidence.

Jamie McGinn (SJ), LW, Worcester Sharks
Tenacious two-way winger with a burgeoning power game .. has emerged as a reliable grinder in the NHL already as a rookie this season, but has also flashed his offensive upside in Worcester to become more down the road .. skating was deemed a weakness of his coming out of the draft, however he has worked hard to quicken his feet and strengthen his stride since, and now possesses above-average speed .. strong taking the puck to the net, controls the puck well, and his sudden release allows him to burry his chances in tight .. makes his presence known in front of the opponents net every game and is difficult for defenders to handle within 15-feet of the goal and along the wall .. valued at the NHL level already for his gritty and smart work on the forecheck as well as his supportive defensive positions that clog opponents outlet passes .. teammates and management love his character and he could be in the NHL full-time as soon as next season.

Lukas Kaspar (SJ), LW, Worcester Sharks
After making the San Jose Sharks out of training-camp and playing in their first six games of the season, Kaspar initially sulked and played poorly when he arrived back in Worcester .. he rediscovered his game in December and earned a three-game recall before being sent back to Worcester where so far he has played the best hockey of his professional career .. swift skater for a player of his size that gets really low in his stride with a forward lean .. difficult to budge off balance because of his low center of gravity .. can tease you with highly skilled plays in all three zones, but he’s also prone to committing critical mistakes that lead to goals in his own net instead .. not aggressive enough physically but has shown signs of life in this capacity heading towards the new year .. kills penalties in the minors, but won’t in the NHL because he struggles to get to the oppositions points in time to block shooting lanes .. an NHL caliber athletic package that is beginning to come around and it’s too early to give up on him.

Mike Morris (SJ), RW, Worcester Sharks
The Sharks’ first-round pick in 2002, Morris is a promising prospect that continues to be derailed by injuries .. was one of the Worcester Sharks’ best players during the first-quarter of the season after a strong training-camp in San Jose, however he is now out indefinitely with yet another concussion .. boasts quick feet and acceleration that provide him with a good burst of speed out of the gate .. such a smart player with good timing to the net and is always aware of his developing surroundings ..has great hockey sense and is always quick into open space before taking that one last step to open further shooting and passing lanes .. creative play maker that sees the ice well and can execute any type of pass .. also owns a nippy shot but he’s definitely a pass first shoot later type of player .. covers for pinching defenseman and will remain the third man high in the offensive zone if necessary .. likely would’ve made his NHL debut this season if he wasn’t injured.

Steven Zalewski (SJ), C, Worcester Sharks
Comparable to current San Jose Shark center Joe Pavelski, Steven Zalewski is a play-making center that can execute from both side of his stick while providing a heady defensive presence down the middle .. valued penalty-killer in the Worcester line-up and is often the first man over the boards to kill a five-on-three .. lacks prototypical size but his strong wrists stimulate his crisp passing game and hard wrist shot .. this Clarkson grad’s skating continues to get stronger and he remains a key prospect in the Sharks organization.

Frazer McLaren (SJ), LW, Worcester Sharks
Standing at 6-foot-5 228 pounds, McLaren knows his role and has done a good job serving as the enforcer in the Worcester Sharks’ line-up .. overall a fluid skater for his size, although he is still working on improving his quickness and overall coordination .. the physical presence he provides with bone rattling hits and the ability to throw his fists makes him a regular in the line-up .. might have some untapped offensive upside because he loves to go to the net at every opportunity and was a decent scorer in the WHL .. boasts a long reach and makes himself a rangy roadblock for opponents to get around in his own zone by opening up his body and stick.

Darryl Hunt: WorSharks Down Pirates 3-2

The Worcester Sharks, a little more than 24 hours after suffering one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history, took the back half of a home and home against the Portland Pirates with a 3-2 victory Monday night at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts in front of 3,119 fans.

After a 7-1 thrashing in Maine Sunday night fans were wondering how well the WorSharks would bounce back, and it was obvious right from the opening face off that Worcester had revenge on their minds. It took just 91 seconds for the WorSharks to light the lamp when Lukas Kaspar blasted a one-timer from the slot and beat Portland netminder Jhonas Enroth for the 1-0 lead. Ryan Vesce had the primary assist; a perfect diagonal pass from the near corner. Matt Fornataro, playing his first game on the WorSharks top line, had the second helper.

Despite out shooting Portland 16-6 in the fist period, and at one point holding a 15-1 advantage, Worcester could not get another one past Enroth in the stanza.

Portland would knot the game 1-1 with just 24 seconds left in the second period while skating with a two man advantage. Kaspar had gotten into a shoving match in front of the Worcester bench while going off for a line change, and eventually slashed one of the Portland forwards. While that was going on, Kaspar's replacement jumped on to the ice and into the play. Referee Terry Koharski called both Kaspar for the slash and Worcester for too many men, leading to the five on three.

WorSharks goaltender Taylor Dakers would make several nice saves during the penalty kill, but numbers eventually got the best of Worcester when Marc-Andre Gragnani beat Dakers to the far post with a blast from the slot. Mark Mancari and former Worcester Shark Mathieu Darche had the assists.

Worcester would grab the lead for good just 1:24 into the final period on the power play when Vesce beat Enroth with a bad angle shot. The WorSharks used some nice passing surrounding the net to set up the goal, with T.J. Fox hitting Kaspar from behind the net that Kaspar fired through the crease to Vesce standing all alone on the goal line about ten feet from the near post.

Worcester would make it 3-1 on a very similar goal. With Kaspar streaking down the left side and ignoring a slash by Portland defenseman Paul Baier, Vesce headed for the net. Kaspar wheeled the net and fired another cross crease pass that banked off Fornataro's shin and stick, and right on the tape of Vesce's stick as he stood at the far post. Vesce flipped it over Enroth's outstretched leg and into the net at 8:05.

Portland would not fold, and just 80 seconds later would make it 3-2 when Marek Zagrapan fought off a Mike Moore hip check against the boards and skated in alone on Dakers. Dakers went for the poke check, but Zagrapan held his ground and pushed it around Dakers' legs and into the open net.

Dakers would redeem himself over the games final two minutes as Portland peppered the net with shots trying to get the tying tally. With Moore in the box for tripping, giving Portland its ninth power play opportunity, and the Pirates pulling Enroth for a six on four advantage, Worcester came up big with two big blocked shots and some nice timely goaltending by Dakers for the 3-2 final.

Worcester's scratches were Kyle McLaren (hand), Mike Morris (concussion), and Cory Larose (banged up). Claude Lemieux was not eligible for the game as he needs to clear waivers again after upgrading his AHL contract with Worcester to a two-way deal with San Jose. His waivers expire Tuesday afternoon.

Injuries and call-ups are a part of life in the AHL, but Portland is in a league of their own. There are nearly a dozen players that started the season in Portland out of their line-up for various reasons, and things didn't get better for them Monday after defenseman Zach Tarkir blocked a shot during the first period and didn't return. Like Worcester, Portland is in the middle of a six games in nine days stretch.

Despite not being involved in any of the scoring, the player that may have had the biggest impact on the game was Riley Armstrong. Armstrong spent lots of time annoying Pirates right wing Mark Mancari, far and away Portland's best player, including spending all two minutes of their matching unsportsmanlike minors chirping at the Portland star.

Monday's game was a rescheduling of the game between the two teams postponed because of a snowstorm on December 19. It's the second game this season that had to be rescheduled, the other being the power failure against Springfield on November 15. Those two postponements double the number of occurrences Worcester has had in the previous 13 years of AHL hockey in the city. The Worcester IceCats had a single postponement in their 11 seasons here, a game against Manchester on January 23, 2005.

The three stars of the game were:
1. Vesce (2g,a)
2. Kaspar (g,2a)
3. Gragnani (g,a)
That was my ballot. Honorable mentions need to go to Fornataro (2a) and Armstrong (overall play).

Even strength lines

Wilson rotated through the pairings

Penalty Kill lines


Power Play lines


Face offs (offense/neutral/defense = total) (unofficial)
Even strength
Zalewski 2-4/4-1/3-2 = 9-7
Vesce 4-3/4-4/4-2 = 12-9
Desjardins 3-1/4-0/4-0 = 11-1
Fox 0-1/0-0/0-0 = 1-0

Penalty Kill
Vesce 0-0/1-3/2-1 = 3-4
Zalewski 0-0/0-0/3-0 = 3-0

Power play
Zalewski 2-0/0-0/0-0 = 2-0
Armstrong 1-0/0-0/0-0 = 1-0
Vesce 1-1/1-0/0-0 = 2-1
Fornataro waived out of offense face off

POR 0 1 1 - 2
WOR 1 0 2 - 3

1st Period
Scoring - 1. Worcester, L. Kaspar (6) (M. Fornataro, R. Vesce) 1:31
Penalties - M. Mancari Por (unsportsmanlike conduct) 4:02, R. Armstrong Wor (unsportsmanlike conduct) 4:02, M. Jones Wor (hooking) 8:20, P. Baier Por (tripping) 10:55, M. Fornataro Wor (slashing) 12:20, B. Buckley Wor (interference) 19:29

2nd Period
Scoring - 2. Portland, M. Gragnani (3) (M. Mancari, M. Darche) 19:36 PP
Penalties - B. Buckley Wor (cross-checking) 5:16, Served by M. Fornataro Wor (bench minor - too many men) 18:25, L. Kaspar Wor (slashing) 18:25

3rd Period
Scoring - 3. Worcester, R. Vesce (9) (T. Fox, L. Kaspar) 1:24 PP, 4. Worcester, R. Vesce (10) (L. Kaspar, M. Fornataro) 8:05, 5. Portland, M. Zagrapan (8) (M. Gragnani) 9:25
Penalties - F. Schutz Por (roughing) 0:04, A. Desjardins Wor (slashing) 1:47, M. Mancari Por (hooking) 2:55, D. Hunter Por (roughing) 14:25, M. Moore Wor (tripping) 17:47

POR Shots: 6 8 10 TOTAL: 24
WOR Shots: 16 11 7 TOTAL: 34

Power Play Conversion
Portland Pirates 1-8. Worcester Sharks 1-4.

Portland Pirates
Enroth 11-6-2 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 58:54 SV: 31 GA: 3 [L]

Worcester Sharks
Dakers 7-3-0 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 60:00 SV: 22 GA: 2 [W]

Attendance : 3119. Referee: Terry Koharski (10). Linesmen: Ed Boyle (81), Hans Baker (67)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Darryl Hunt: WorSharks Lose In A Shootout, 3-2

The Worcester Sharks came back twice from one goal deficits but couldn't connect in overtime, and lost a 3-2 shootout decision against the Providence Bruins Friday night at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts in front of 4,755 fans.

Providence would connect just 15 seconds into their first power play. With Brad Staubitz off for hooking, Worcester would win the ensuing face off and clear the puck down the length of the ice. Johnny Boychuck would end up with the puck in the Bruins zone, and sent winger Peter Schaefer down the left side. Schaefer threw the puck into the slot and on to the stick of Martins Karsums, who beat WorSharks netminder Thomas Greiss with a quick wrister at 6:42 of the opening period.

Worcester would have numerous chances in the opening stanza while out shooting the Baby-Bs 15-4. Providence goaltender Tuukka Rask was equal to the task, and held the WorSharks scoreless.

Worcester would finally beat Rask during the second period while skating with a two man advantage, and with penalty killer Wacey Rabbit playing without a stick. The WorSharks would have several good looks that Rask turned aside, but sheer numbers finally paid off when Derek Joslin fired a low slapshot from in close that beat the screened Rask to knot the game 1-1.

Providence would retake the lead at 8:13 of the third period when Rabbit skated down the right side and beat Greiss over the high stick side, with the puck banking in off the corner to light the lamp.

Worcester continued to pound the puck at Rask, who continued to make big save after big save. The WorSharks would manage to tie it on a great no look, backhand pass from Steven Zalewski. Zalewski, standing in the high slot and his back to the net, fished a loose puck out of a scrum and fired that pass to Lukas Kaspar. Kaspar, who was standing all alone to the left of Rask, wasted no time and fired a laser that Rask had no chance on to knot the game 2-2.

Both teams would have great opportunities to win the game in overtime, but Rask continued his stellar play while Greiss rose to the challenge. Mikko Lehtonen and Karsums would beat Greiss, while only Ryan Vesce could solve Rask as Providence grabbed the extra point in the 3-2 final despite being outshot by Worcester 48-21.

Worcester's healthy scratches were Matt Fornataro and Michael Wilson. Kyle McLaren (hand) and Mike Morris (concussion) remain on the injury list.

Worcester had a goal called back with 3:22 remaining in the game when Tuukka Rask had the puck covered up and before referee Terry Koharski could blow the whistle, Claude Lemieux jammed the puck into the net. In one of the lesser known rules of hockey, the play isn't dead when the whistle blows, but instead the play is dead when the referee intends to blow the whistle. It's rule 32.2 for those wanting to look it up, and video shows the puck clearly covered by Rask and Koharski in the act of blowing the whistle.

With Martins Karsums already in the box for the Bruins, Johnny Boychuk was called for hooking to give Worcester a two man advantage. Head Coach Roy Sommer called his timeout to rest his first line power play, drawing a fairly loud mock cheer from the DCU Center faithful.

The Providence game starts a run of seven games in ten days, all at home except for Sunday's game in Portland. The WorSharks return to the DCU Center for a rare Monday game, which is a make-up of December 19th's postponement due to snow.

The three stars of the game were:
1. Rask (46 saves)
2. Karsums (g,a, shootout goal)
3. Zalewski (a)
My ballot was Rask, Karsums, and Joslin (g). An honorable mention need to go to Kaspar (g, 7sog), who also had a great game away from the puck.

Even strength lines


Penalty Kill


Power play


Face-offs (offense/neutral/defense = total) (unofficial)
Even strength
Zalewski 3-2/5-3/4-1 = 11-6
Fox 1-1/1-0/2-1 = 4-2
Desjardins 3-1/2-0/1-2 = 6-3
Vesce 2-1/4-0/1-1 = 7-2
Larose 0-1/0-0/1-0 = 1-1
Fenton 0-0/0-0/1-0 = 1-0

Penalty Kill
Larose 0-1/0-0/1-0 = 1-1
Zalewski 0-0/0-0/0-1 = 0-1
Vesce 0-0/0-0/0-1 = 0-1

Power play
Larose 4-1/0-0/0-0 = 4-1
Vesce 1-0/1-0/1-0 = 3-0
Zalewski 0-1/2-0/0-0 = 2-1

W: Larose: shoot low glove, save
P: Lehtonen: shoot high glove, GOAL
W: Vesce: deke low glove, GOAL
P: Rabbit: poke checked, save
W: Zalewski: shoot low stick, save
P: Karsums: deke five hole, GOAL
W: Armstrong: backhand high stick, save
P: Schaefer: shoot five hole, save
W: Joslin: deke low glove, save
Providence wins shootout 2-1

PRO 1 0 1 0 1 - 3
WOR 0 1 1 0 0 - 2

1st Period
Scoring - 1. Providence, M. Karsums (13) (P. Schaefer, J. Boychuk) 6:42 PP
Penalties - B. Staubitz Wor (tripping) 6:26, Z. Hamill Pro (interference) 12:25, R. Stokes Pro (slashing) 14:12, M. Jones Wor (holding) 17:37

2nd Period
Scoring - 2. Worcester, D. Joslin (7) (P. Traverse, C. Larose) 12:07 PP
Penalties - J. Tremblay Pro (slashing) 6:42, M. Karsums Pro (holding) 10:26, J. Boychuk Pro (hooking) 11:25

3rd Period
Scoring - 3. Providence, W. Rabbit (5) (M. Karsums, J. Penner) 8:13, 4. Worcester, L. Kaspar (5) (S. Zalewski, M. Moore) 15:44
Penalties - P. Schaefer Pro (roughing) 5:57, M. Moore Wor (interference) 11:42

OT Period
Scoring - No Scoring
Penalties - No Penalties

PRO Shots: 4 6 6 4 1 TOTAL: 21
WOR Shots: 15 17 12 4 0 TOTAL: 48

Power Play Conversion
Providence Bruins 1-3. Worcester Sharks 1-6.

Providence Bruins
Rask 14-10-0 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 64:56 SV: 46 GA: 2 [W]

Worcester Sharks
Greiss 9-8-1 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 64:15 SV: 18 GA: 2 [SOL]

Attendance : 4755. Referee: Terry Koharski (10). Linemen: Mark Messier (12), Bob Paquette (18)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Sharkspage. Rangers Santa, keep your head up when you visit Long Island.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sharks blitz Vancouver 5-0, home point streak extended to 20 games

Evgeni Nabokov San Jose Sharks goaltender NHL photo
San Jose Sharks vs Vancouver Canucks hockey photo
Marcel Goc faceoff Pavol Demitra photo

The story of the Sharks 5-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks was written early in the first period Tuesday night at HP Pavilion. The Canucks were coming off a grueling 4-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday with a combined 66 total penalty minutes and 26 power plays. Against the Sharks, Vancouver looked as is they took the ice for a pregame skate instead of an NHL hockey game.

The fact that the Northwest Division leading Canucks were weary heading into HP Pavilion was no surprise. This season 6 teams will play the first night of a back-to-back in Anaheim before traveling the next day to face the NHL-leading San Jose Sharks. To date those teams, including Vancouver, are 2-1-1 on the first leg against Anaheim and 0-3-1 against San Jose on the second night. The "meat tenderizer" effect should continue with Los Angeles (2/18 @ANA, 2/19 @SJ) and Nashville (3/18 @ANA, 3/19 @SJ).

On Tuesday night if you blinked, you missed the most competitive part of the game early in the first period. The Sharks opened the scoring at 4:22 as Ryane Clowe circled behind the net. After a give and go with Blake on the point, Clowe hit Cheechoo in the slot for a quick shot on net. Rob Blake buried the rebound for his 6th goal of the season. The Canucks are an agressive team, shades of late 90's Vancouver clubs, and they lead the league in penalties taken (687, 20.2 per game, 1st). That worked against them as they took a string of 5 straight penalties in the first period, effectively digging themselves a hole they could not overcome.

After Henrik Sedin took a roughing call at 5:38, Patrick Marleau beat a Canuck to a rebound, circled around behind the net and roofed one top corner over Cory Schneider. 2-0 Sharks. Marleau was on the other end of the Sharks second power play goal. With Sharkspage favorite Mattias Ohlund in the box, the Sharks captain fed sophmore Devin Setoguchi in the high slot. Seto one-timed a quick shot that beat Schneider 5-hole. 3-0 Sharks. Schneider would finish out the period, but he was pulled 43 seconds into the second period after giving up goals to Joe Thornton and Tomas Plihal. Scheider finished with 10 saves on 15 shots against.

The Sharks also had two extended 5-on-3 power plays in the first period. Neither were effective as they generated 6 total shots, only 2 of which were on goal. San Jose finished 3-7 with the man advantage, dropping one spot in the NHL rankings with a season average of 22.9% (tied for 6th with the Minnesota Wild).

There was no letdown by San Jose in the second period. Rolling 4 lines, head coach Todd McLellan gave ample time to the fourth line of Shelley-Cavanagh-Shelley. Each saw between 11-12+ minutes of ice time, double their usual average, and they even took a shift with the man advantage. Vancouver tightened up in the second period. Relief goaltender Curtis Sanford was called out of the bullpen and he was forced to make quality stops on Patrick Marleau, a Jonathan Cheechoo deflection in front, a point blank opportunity by Ryane Clowe, and a shorthanded 2-on-1 with Marleau and Grier. Sanford finished with 16 saves on 16 shots against. The Canucks also stayed out of the penalty box, trying to work their way back in the game with 2 unsuccessful second period powerplays.

The Sharks played consecutive games against Stanley Cup Finalists in October, handling Pittsburgh and a road weary Detroit without many problems. After a disheartening recent loss at Detroit, the Sharks had the opportunity to answer with consecutive home games against Atlantic Division leading New York and Northwest Division leading Vancouver. Both teams were also finalists for the lengthy Mats Sundin derby. The Sharks eeked out a win over the Rangers, holding on despite being caught deep in their own zone at the end of shifts twice.

Against Vancouver in the third period there was no holding on neccessary. At times it looked as if the Canucks dropped four players at their own blueline or in the neutral zone, with one lone forechecker trying to pressure the Sharks puck carrier. It was more of a prevent offense instead of a defensive system. A strong Canucks forecheck at about the 12 minute mark hemmed the Sharks in their own zone. As San Jose had trouble clearing the play, Vancouver clogged up the front of the crease and peppered Nabokov with shots from the point. They outshot San Jose 13-5 in the third period, 33-31 for the game.

Across the board, Tuesday night was evidence of strong, intelligent play on both sides of the ice from San Jose. The ice time was spread around, which with 3 days off will help with an upcoming 3-games-in-4-nights road trip. All 3 defensive pairs were communicating effectively on the ice, Dan Boyle telling Lukowich he had time to play the puck behind the net, Christian Ehrhoff was telling Douglas Murray of an impending forecheck, Rob Blake was vocal with Marc-Edouard Vlasic while manning the point during a power play. The communication among defenseman and goaltenders gives players an extra split second, which is valuable.

Also evidence of an intelligent, well-coached team was how effectively linemates were skating off the puck. On the fourth line before one wing works the puck around the boards, Jody Shelley is already driving towards the far point to clear the defensive zone. Before dumping the puck far corner on the forecheck, another forward is already moving to that area of the ice. The coaching staff, head coach Todd McLellan and assistants Trent Yawney and Todd Richards, are saying the right things to the media and during in-game interviews with CSNBA's Scott Reiss, but you see evidence of those plans on the ice. Teams are no longer trying to physically challenge the Sharks to knock them off their game, instead they are forced to withstand waves of offense while trying to stay out of the penalty box.

The Sharks have a top 6 defensive corps that can take the puck end-to-end on any play, and a goalie that can bail them out of pressure situations. It is honestly hard to find a weakness on this San Jose Sharks team right now, and it will get worse when players start returning en masse from injuries. According to head coach Todd McLellan after the game, a walking wounded line of Jeremey Roenick (shoulder surgery), Milan Michalek (upper body) and Torrey Mitchell (broken leg) participated in the morning skate.

A photo gallery from the game is available here. Video highlights from the game are available here.

[Update] Post-game comments from San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan:

"It was a good way to end the first half. I thought the guys buckled down early and the power play was going. Obviously after the 5-0 lead the game deteriorated a little bit, sloppy both ways. We'll take the win. (We finished) the first two power plays. We had a hunger at that point. 5-on-3 we had some fairly good looks at the net, but missed the net and that is not a good thing 5-on-3. The power plays later in the game were approached a little differently by us as a staff, giving other players an opportunity to play in that situation. They are foot soldiers who do a lot of work, they deserve that chance."

"We talked about that (the schedule balancing out). How we felt physically and how well Detroit played to shut us down. We wanted to match that here tonight. It is hard to play 3 games in 4 nights and travel. We will be on the back end of that again. We know how that feels, and hopefully we will have a little more success than we did last week".

"We didn't want to give them too many opportunities on the power play. I thought we worked hard enough early in the game to create our own power play chances, with a tired team that is always a tough thing to do. The (Sharks) came out of the gate early. Winning the opening faceoff, handling their pressure early, putting a lot of pressure on their defenseman was something we wanted to do."

"The (crowd) goes home happy, the players go home happy. We can enjoy the 2 days. A lot of times we talk as a team about carrying a game with us for 2, 3 or 4 days when we have time off. At least now we can enjoy our time with our families, it is a real short period but we can get back to work after that. Everyone goes home happy, even the reporters."

"Torrey (Mitchell) did. Everyone was giddy. There was an excitement, Torrey, Milan and J.R. were on an impromtu line, but they created a lot of energy at the morning skate. Torrey is immersing himself now with the team. He is with the team for the pregame meal, he is in all the meetings. He is a Shark and that is the way we want it to be".

Post-game comments from Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault:

"I think for us to come in against the best NHL team three things have to happen. First of all you can't turn the puck over against a team that has that much offensive skill and we turned it over from the start and got in trouble. The second thing that had to happen was we had to stay out of penalty trouble, we got into that right off the bat and that's something we couldn't do and we did. Obviously the third thing we need was a couple of saves early, Cory was challenged, and they were good goals on their part, but sometimes you need a couple of saves and that wasn't the case. In my mind, turnovers and penalties led to their big lead. We made two mistakes on turnovers right off the hop in the second and they made us pay.

[Update2] Jason Botchford previewed the game with Vancouver by stating that it is almost impossible to beat the Sharks at home this season. The Sharks are undefeated in regulation after 20 games, losing 5-4 in overtime despite piling 57 shots on goal against Dan Ellis (Nashville) and losing in overtime to longtime nemisis and anti-SJ crusader Dwayne Roloson (Edmonton). In the post-game recap, Gordon McIntyre called the 5-0 blow out a Nightmare Before Christmas. McIntyre notes the Canucks arrived at their San Jose hotels at 3AM, and offered a quote by defenseman Kevin Bieksa "It was a bad game by us all around". The Vancouver Province was the first newspaper to link to this blog back in 1999.

Sharks like Sundin addition, Veterans Roenick, Blake speak highly of newest Canuck - Vancouver Province.

Iain MacIntyre writes in the Vancouver Sun that All the Canucks want for Christmas is to forget about this game. The Sun also posted a photo gallery by well known photographer Robert Galbraith.

Canucks Nation headline: Sharks feed on Cory. Schneider was on the other side of the ice from me in the first period, but on the two successive goals 43 seconds into the middle period he looked shellshocked. It took a while for Curtis Sanford to get his equipment together and take his place in the crease, it took a few minutes while Sharks fans heckled an empty net. The Canucks Nation blog notes that this is San Jose's 5th straight win over Vancouver. San Jose radio analyst Jamie Baker commented on Darcy Hordichuk challenging Sharks enforcer Jody Shelley in the second period. "Why" Jamie asked. He went on to say the game was well out of hand and there was no reason even to fight him there. Also of note, longtime Canucks blogger Alanah McGinley was featured along with another Vancouver fans in a We Are All Canucks ad campaign. More on the campaign from nowpublic.com. Thanks to Yahoo's Greg Wyshynski for the links.

[Update3] Photo Gallery Sharks vs. Canucks - David Migdal for Insidehockey.com.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Uniwatch ranks Sharks Blackarmor alternate jersey last among 19 newly released NHL alternate jerseys, Sports Illustrated 9th, Icethetics 11th

Evgeni Nabokov Seagate Blackarmor alternate third San Jose Sharks jersey

Uniwatch.com's Phil Hecken ranked all 19 NHL third jerseys and hammered the Sharks by placing the Seagate Blackarmor alternate jersey in dead last. A blog dedicated to the aesthetics of athletic uniforms, Uniwatch's biggest problem with the Sharks alternate sweater was the heavy sponsorship by hard drive manufacturer Seagate and the spartan design.

The full body Shark and secondary fin logo were initially introduced along with a new Sharks crest and several alternate word marks in July 2007. The retooling of the Sharks logo took advantage of the league wide introduction of the new RBK Edge jersey system. The Sharks used the full body version of the redesigned logo and created a spartan black third jersey with input from the players. Creating another black themed alternate jersey was a near automatic decision given its popularity with the local fan base.

A stripe along the hem to break up the lower and upper body would be an improvement, but the intent was to create a blue collar intimidating alternate jersey. Mission accomplished. The Sharks are undefeated in regulation with a 17-0-2 record at HP Pavilion this season, and are 5-0 in the new Blackarmor jerseys. There will be 7 more Blackarmor Thursdays at home (1/15 CAL, 1/29 PHO, 2/5 CAR, 2/19 LA, 3/5 MIN, 3/19 NAS, 4/9 PHO), and two Blackarmor road games January 27th at Colorado and April 5th at Anaheim.

The comparisons of the Blackarmor jersey to European hockey jerseys covered in sponsor logos is over the top. There is no large Seagate emblazoned on the jersey, and the fact that the Sharks included a major technology company in the jersey launch is more of a positive than a negative in Silicon Valley. Generating sponsorship from the tech sector in difficult economic times should be encouraged.

It is difficult to believe anyone could rank a matter-of-fact Sharks black third jersey below the maroon and white Atlanta Thrashers alternate, this Ottawa Senators concoction, or other alternates from Los Angeles, Carolina or Phoenix. Sports Illustrated ranks the powder blue Pittsburgh Penguins alternate first, followed by the throwback feel of the new St Louis Blues alternate, and the pumpkin orange Philadelphia Flyers third jersey. The Sharks Blackarmor jersey was ranked 9th by SI, with Sarah Kwak adding "The BlackArmor thing, while gimmicky, still gets points because it actually achieves what it set out to do: intimidate."

Another blog dedicated to hockey jersey design, Icethetics, also ranked the Pittsburgh Penguins alternate first overall. "Easily the most beautiful jersey currently seeing action in the NHL, the Penguins' alternate epitomizes the hockey sweater" according to Icethetics. The Sharks Blackarmor alternate is ranked 11th noting the "clean" and "uncluttered" look and the impressive full body Sharks logo. He would also drop the number on the front, lose the SJ and blow up the fin shoulder patch, and add a modest stripe along the bottom.

The feedback inside HP Pavilion to the new jersey has been almost completely positive, helped by a quality Blackarmor jersey-shirt giveaway the first game it was used. Many fans have expressed an interest in a stripe being added along the waist, but many have also said it is a "lean and mean" model representative of the team on the ice.

[Update] Third jerseys are back in black - Sports Illustrated.

The NHL introduced its third jersey program in 1995, when five teams brought fresh looks to the their closets. Since then,hockey fans have seen the good, the bad and plenty of the ugly. And after a year without them -- the league-wide uniform switch to Reebok last season meant no thirds for 2007-08 -- they're back.

In black.

Seven of the 19 clubs sporting thirds this season have chosen to go with a predominantly black jersey. I know hockey players like their AC/DC, but come on. That's more black than a Fashion Week runway. It's said that a dark jersey intimidates opponents (foes of the the NFL's Oakland Raiders may beg), but with so many black jerseys in the NHL, the collection of this season's thirds is somehwat bland.

[Update2] Sharkspage third jersey rankings:

1. Pittsbrugh Penguins
2. Buffalo Sabres
3. St Louis Blues
4. Montreal Canadiens
5. Edmonton Oilers
6. Vancouver Canucks
7. NY Islanders
8. Philadelphia Flyers
9. Boston Bruins
10. San Jose Sharks
11. Chicago Blackhawks
12. Dallas Stars
13. Toronto Maple Leafs
14. Carolina Hurricanes
15. Phoenix Coyotes
16. Tampa Bay Lightning
17. Ottawa Senators
18. Los Angeles Kings
19. Atlanta Thrashers

[Update3] NHL steps up marketing - Sports Media Watch.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fresno Falcons ECHL team ceases operations, fans of the Chicago Blackhawks minor league affiliate call for a "Hockey Bailout" from the city of Fresno

Fresno Bee cover Fresno Falcons cease operations December 23rd 2008

Fresno's local CBS affiliate posted an online video on today's closure of the Fresno Falcons ECHL franchise. Several dozen fans and season ticket holders took to the streets to protest the action. There was a 5PM deadline today for a new owner to be found, for the league to assume control of the franchise, or for the city of Fresno to assume control of the franchise. Apparently none of the above took place, and the league's Pacific Division leading franchise had their membership in the ECHL terminated.

A press release issued by the ECHL:

Fresno Falcons Cease Operations

PRINCETON, N.J. - The ECHL announced Monday that the Board of Governors had voted unanimously to terminate the Membership of the Fresno Falcons, effective immediately. The termination of the Membership comes as a result of the Fresno ownership group notifying the ECHL that they are unable to continue to operate the Membership for financial reasons. Failure to ice a team for play is grounds for automatic termination under the ECHL Bylaws.

"We are very disappointed for our fans, league partners and the other member teams," said ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna. "The ECHL would like to thank the Fresno fans for their support of the Falcons."

Fresno players will immediately become unrestricted free agents. Bakersfield is working on an exhibition game for Saturday to replace the game scheduled against Fresno and will announce details as soon as they become available. Fresno's games against Ontario on Sunday and Victoria on Monday have been cancelled. The league said that work has begun on a revised version of the playing schedule which will be released as soon as possible.

[Update] The Fresno Bee offers a timeline of the actions taken today:

12:29PM - Fresno Falcons shut down operations, "It is with sadness and regret that we announce the shutdown of the Fresno Falcons. We have operated the Falcons since February of 2006, accumulating significant losses. These losses have been beyond our expectations. The horrific economy and the resulting decrease in revenue from season tickets, corporate sponsorships and overall attendance has created a situation this year which is not sustainable and we simply can not continue to operate." Managing General Partner Chris Cummings said.

12:32PM - The Fresno Falcon's ownership, Fresno Hockey Club LLC, will shut down operations at 5PM if new ownership is not found.

1:21PM - Fresno Falcons CEO John Tull told the Bee that the club is "folding for the season, maybe forever. Nobody could find a viable solution to make it work". Tull suggested that the ECHL may hold a dispersal draft for the Fresno Falcons players.

1:45PM - The ECHL board of governors voted to terminate Fresno's membership in the ECHL. All the players are now free agents and can sign with any ECHL team.

The Fresno Falcons were playing in their 6th ECHL season, qualifying for the Kelly Cup playoffs on three previous occasions and winning a Pacific Division Championship in 2006. In 8 West Coast Hockey League seasons, the Falcons earned a WCHL Taylor Cup Championship in 2002. The Fresno Falcons franchise was originally founded in 1946 as a charter member of the Pacific Coast Hockey League. After a minor league affiliation with the San Jose Sharks from 2003-07, Fresno became the ECHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason. The club moved from the Save Mart Center at Fresno State (2003-08) back to their original home rink at Selland Arena prior to the start of the 2008-09 season.

The Fresno Bee's George Hostetter and Ken Robison believe that the future of the Fresno Falcons franchise is cloudy. They note that the Falcons have 10 days to inform the ECHL of their plans for next season, that the January 21st board of governors meeting during the All Star Game may entail talks on relocation or suspension, and that the home attendance in Fresno was down 30% this season to an average of only 3,435 fans for mid-December. Two other California ECHL franchises, Stockton and Bakersfield, are first and second in average league attendance. Stockton was league attendance champion for its first three seasons.

[Update2] In an interview with KSEE-24, Fresno Falcons head coach Matt Thomas said opposing teams were already recruiting his players "like vultures". After 60 years in the central valley, Thomas said the ECHL was losing a first place team and a team with the most fighting majors. "Now that has been taken away from us". He also said he learned of the shutdown not through official team channels, but through other coaches in the league that had already heard from their owners. Thomas believed the franchise was struggling financially, but he told the reporter he thought there was a commitment from the Falcons to finish the season.

[Update3] The Fresno Falcons are the second ECHL franchise to shut down operations this season. The Augusta Lynx, a previous affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks and the Tampa Bay Lightning, closed down earlier in December.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

HP Pavilion Bowl: San Jose rebounds with tight 3-2 win over the New York Rangers, home point streak at 19 games

New York Rangers Marc Staal Chris Drury Henrik Lundqvist NHL hockey photo
San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov
San Jose Sharks vs New York Rangers NHL hockey photo

The NHL bowl season started early for San Jose with a tightly contested 3-2 win over the Atlantic division leading New York Rangers. Evgeni Nabokov made 32 saves on 34 shots, and the Sharks defense battled fatigue as well as a hard charging Rangers squad in the final minutes of the third period. The much needed win after an epic loss to the Detroit Red Wings extended the Sharks home point streak to 19 games (17-0-2).

"It was tough to come back, we had a lot of travel this week and I don't think too many of us had legs left" Joe Thornton told reporters. After 3 road games in 4 nights, the Sharks had less than a full day off before playing the Rangers Saturday night at HP Pavilion. It showed in the third period. The Rangers outshot San Jose 17-7 in the final 20 minutes, creating a number of scoring chances by driving the puck down low and forcing the defense to track them down.

Head coach Todd McLellan was intense behind the bench, trying to squeeze as much out of his lineup as he could to finish the game. He shortened the shifts late, and took a timeout midway through the third when he noticed several players resting their hands on their knees prior to a faceoff. "We were a determined team, and I say that with the last 15-18 minutes when we had nothing left, we were still determined and we found a way. That is the sign of a good team" McLellan said. Defenseman Dan Boyle responded with a spin-o-rama to his left to create room in the defensive zone, then a complete spin in the opposite direction to take the puck behind his own net. He finished driving deep into the offensive zone to wrist a puck on Henrik Lundqvist.

Rangers penalties opened the door for San Jose in the first period. After holding and hi-sticking minors on Paul Mara and Blair Betts, the Sharks had a 1:08 long 5-on-3 opportunity. With 5 seconds left on the two man advantage, Joe Thornton teed up Dan Boyle just outside the left faceoff circle. Boyle snapped a 6-game goal scoring drought with a bomb that beat Henrik Lundqvist from 44 feet out. Before the second penalty could expire, Boyle drove down the right side and took several whacks at the puck in front of the net along with center Joe Pavelski. An unchecked Ryane Clowe came charging in to bury a rebound for his 9th power play goal of the season, his 14th overall.

New York Rangers head coach Tom Renney called a timeout so his team could regain their composure. Interesting stats across the wire during the break in action, the Sharks were 9-1-1 with a 2-goal lead, 10-2-1 after the other team scores first, and 11-0-1 when leading after the first period. 4-on-4, Dan Boyle tried to pass the puck up the wall to Ryane Clowe but Nikolai Zherdev was there to intercept the play. He drove in on Nabokov on a 2-on-1 and beat Nabokov 5-hole. A Ranger got out of the penalty box on the play, so Zherdev was credited with a short handed goal.

Zherdev looks like a completely different player than when he was with Columbus. Always dynamic with the puck on his stick, he is moving well off the play and playing determined defense under Tom Renney. That being said, the Marleau-for-Zherdev trade rumors last year seemed to be pulled out of thin air. Marleau is a better player offensively and defensively, on faceoffs, and using his size in front of the net and in the corners. It was true last year when Marleau was struggling, and it is true as he is having a career season this year.

Patrick Marleau scored his 17th goal of the season 6:20 into the second period, the first even strength goal of the game. Marleau is tied for 9th in the NHL in scoring with 17 goals and 20 assists. He is tied with Jeff Carter, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf and Mike Richards. New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan scored twice in his last game at San Jose, 779 days ago. Callahan tested Nabokov's glove hand with a hard shot in the first period, but he beat him 9:56 into the second period for his 9th goal of the season (assist by Brandon Dubinsky).

Original owner George Gund III dropped the cerimonial first puck prior to the start of the game, without Gund there would be no San Jose franchise in the NHL. His contributions to hockey in Northern California and to the city of San Jose were capped by his recent entry into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame. Tomas Plihal left the first period with an unspecified injury. His spot on the third line was taken by Jody Shelley and rookie Tom Cavanagh until he returned later in the game. Forward Lukas Kaspar was re-assigned to Worcester earlier Saturday. Milan Michalek and Alexei Semenov were scratches for San Jose along with Jeremy Roenick (shoulder surgery) and Torrey Mitchell (leg). Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Nabokov were finalists for the 2008 Vezina Trophy won by Martin Brodeur. The Sharks were dominate in the faceoff circle with a 38-24 edge. Marcel Goc (7-3), Patrick Marleau (5-3), Joe Thornton (14-7), and Ryane Clowe (10-6) lead the way. Joe Thornton faced off often againt Scott Gomez. Thornton had success exploding forward and almost skated through Gomez several times, Gomez had no answer for it.

Video highlights from the game are available here. A photo gallery from the game is available here.

[Update] Two years ago I posted a dispatch from the media capital of the NHL while staying with a brother in New York City. The New York contingent in the press box for Saturday night's game was decidedly sparse for the pre-holiday visit to San Jose. Did not see Steve Zipay, Larry Brooks, or any reporters from the NY Times (which filed an AP report from the game).

Longtime Ranger blog HockeyBird was also in vacation mode, but 80+ year old prolific blogger Mike Savino writes that the Rangers could not complete the California trifecta (appropriate several months after the close of Bay Meadows). The Rangers have let Savino down on 7 consecutive birthdays, and he notes with only the 10th best goals per game average in the league losing out on the Mats Sundin derby will hurt the team.

Hockeyrodent.com calls for a rematch after the San Jose Sharks hung on for a win in the third period against New York. As I noted elsewhere on the web, the Sharks looked like a car that had run out of gas and was coasting to the gas station. Getting a look at Henrik Lundqvist up close is revealing. Explosive side-to-side speed, very skilled at controlling rebounds and agressive against shooters. Unfortunately, Rodent gives the blueshirts a 50-50 shot against San Jose in a 7-game series.

The Sharks are without Torrey Mitchell, a catalyst early in the season last year, and one of the fastest defensive forwards on the team. The Sharks were also without second line power forward Milan Michalek, who has not impacted the scoresheet as much as he would like but who has been very effective using his 225+ pounds in the corner and speed down the wings. The Sharks were also without Jeremey Roenick, another catalyst on the 3rd/4th lines who head coach Todd McLellan would sub on the top line if they were not clicking. The reality was the Sharks had less than a full day off after a long road trip. Rested for a 7-game playoff series this would be a completely different team. I will second an email from a Rangers fan, defenseman Marc Staal is the real deal. Hard nosed, plants himself between players and the net, and battles hard in the corners. And he does it all with a sense of matter-of-factness that only the best defenseman exude.

Not a very good showing by the New York media for a game against the top team in the NHL.

Darryl Hunt: WorSharks Dethrone Monarchs, 3-1

The Worcester Sharks, behind three point nights by Cory Larose and captain Ryan Vesce, defeated the Manchester Monarchs 3-1 at the DCU Center in snowy Worcester, Massachusetts Saturday night in front of 2,841 hardy fans.

Manchester thought they had the games first goal at 5:12 of the first when David Meckler pushed the puck toward a wide open net with WorSharks netminder Thomas Greiss down and out. Greiss dove left across the crease and landed on the puck, with a portion of his body ending up in the net. Referee Ryan Frazier signaled goal and Manchester began celebrating, but the goal light did not go on.

After discussing it with the goal judge Frazier waved the goal off, much to the consternation of the Monarchs. The video replay shown on the scoreboard was not conclusive as the location of the puck could not be determined.

The WorSharks would officially get in the board first at 10:31 of the opening period with a shorthanded tally by Brendan Buckley. Buckley, a former captain of the Monarchs who has a love-hate relationship with the Manchester fans, followed a Cory Larose and Ryan Vesce break in and flipped a backhander toward the far post and under Manchester goaltender Jonathan Bernier for the 1-0 lead.

Worcester would make it 2-0 just over three minutes later when after a Derek Joslin rush, Cory Larose would corral a deflected rebound and glove it ahead to himself at the far point. His shot would be saved by Bernier, but Vesce swooped in to grab the rebound and roofed it over Bernier to light the lap.

The WorSharks would score the only goal of the second period when Bernier went behind his net to play the puck. Vesce stole the puck right off Bernier's stick and fed Larose in front of the yawning net for the 3-0 lead.

All that was left was Greiss holding on for a shutout, but Manchester would close the door on that on the power play when right winger Bud Holloway would beat Greiss at 10:43 of the third.

Manchester thought they had closed the gap to 3-2 when Paul Crosty flipped a lose puck into the net, but Referee Frazier had lost sight of the puck prior to the shot and blew the whistle.

The Monarchs would pull Bernier for an extra attacker, but other than a Larose attempt that went just wide of the open net there were no good scoring chances.

Worcester's scratches were P.J. Fenton and Michael Wilson (healthy). Kyle McLaren is out after hand surgery, and Mike Morris missed his 12th game with a concussion.

Riley Armstrong left the game prior to the start of the second period with juggled the Worcester lines. There was no immediate word as to why he left the game.

Matt Jones returned to the line-up wearing a football-style face mask to protect a jaw he broke in late October. He had played two games in Phoenix before being recalled earlier this week.

Friday night's snow storm postponed the Worcester Sharks/Portland Pirates game scheduled for that night. It has been rescheduled for Monday, December 29th. The Pirates and Worcester also play this Sunday in Portland, and with another snowstorm ready to hit the area the WorSharks left for Maine after the Monarchs game.

The Vesce assist on Larose's second period goal shouldn't come as a shock. Of Larose's 13 goals, Vesce has assisted on more than half of them. Larose's assist on Vesce's goal was their first combination in that direction.

The last three penalties of the game were all automatic delay of game penalties for flipping the puck directly into the stands from the defensive zone: Brett Westgarth at 10:15 of the second, Alec Martinez at 13:45 of the second, and Lukas Kaspar at 9:13 of the third. The only one that was even close to intentional was Kaspar's, and you could easily argue he was trying to clear it around the forward in front of him. Have I mentioned lately I dislike that rule intensely?

The three stars of the game were:
1. Vesce (gwg,2a)
2. Larose (g,2a)
3. Buckley (shg)
An honorable mention needs to go to Lukas Kaspar for a great game without getting on the scoring sheet, and Mike Moore for several bone crunching hits throughout the game.

Even strength lines (the lines are from before Armstrong left the game)


Power play lines


Penalty kill lines

Face-offs (offense/neutral/defense = total) (unofficial)
Even strength
Zalewski 2-1/1-2/5-1 = 8-4
Fornataro 2-3/0-1/0-1 = 2-5
Desjardins 2-2/0-2/5-1 = 7-5
Larose 0-0/0-1/1-0 = 1-1
Vesce 1-0/2-0/1-0 = 4-0

Power play
Larose 1-0/0-1/0-0 = 1-1
Zalewski 1-2/0-0/0-0 = 1-2
Vesce 1-0/0-0/0-0 = 1-0

Penalty kill
Vesce 0-0/0-0/0-1 = 0-1
Armstrong 1-0/0-0/0-1 = 1-1
Larose 0-0/0-0 1-2 = 1-2
Zalewski 0-0/0-1/0-1 = 0-1
Desjardins 0-0/1-0/1-0 = 2-0

MCH 0 0 1 - 1
WOR 2 1 0 - 3

1st Period
Scoring - 1. Worcester, B. Buckley (1) (R. Vesce, C. Larose) 10:31 SH, 2. Worcester, R. Vesce (8) (D. Joslin, C. Larose) 13:42
Penalties - K. Westgarth Mch (roughing) 3:11, S. Zalewski Wor (hooking) 5:18, B. Westgarth Wor (holding) 10:13

2nd Period
Scoring - 3. Worcester, C. Larose (13) (R. Vesce) 1:34
Penalties - P. Traverse Wor (interference) 2:03, B. Westgarth Wor (delay of game) 10:15, A. Martinez Mch (delay of game) 13:45

3rd Period
Scoring - 4. Manchester, B. Holloway (6) (T. Mosienko, J. Rheault) 10:43 PP
Penalties - L. Kaspar Wor (delay of game) 9:13

MCH Shots: 6 7 8 TOTAL: 21
WOR Shots: 8 11 8 TOTAL: 27

Power Play Conversion
Manchester Monarchs 1-5. Worcester Sharks 0-2.

Manchester Monarchs
Bernier 6-8-2 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 58:40 SV: 24 GA: 3 [L]

Worcester Sharks
Greiss 9-8-0 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 60:00 SV: 20 GA: 1 [W]

Attendance : 2841. Referee: Ryan Fraser (14). Linesmen: Bob Paquette (18), Chris Aughe (74)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A look back at the 6-0 blowout loss to Detroit, media reaction, back-to-back schedule and results, alltime win and winning percentage numbers

- In one of the most highly anticipated games of the year, the San Jose Sharks were blown out 6-0 Thursday night by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. One day after piling up 48 shots on goal en route to a 2-1 OT loss at Columbus, the Sharks had enough energy for half of the first period against Detroit in one of the most embarassing losses of the last 2 seasons.

The Sharks started strong, but it was Detroit who capitalized on their opportunities. Johan Franzen snapped what looked like an innocent shot beating Evgeni Nabokov high over the glove, and a Pavel Datsyuk wrist shot against the grain beat him under the glove 1:27 later in the first. It was a game where there were few, if any, bright spots for San Jose. Nabokov was not sharp early, and the rest of lineup fared even worse. Detroit carried the play into the Sharks zone almost at will, while San Jose had trouble breaking through the neutral zone. The game plan was to dump the puck deep, force the Detroit defense to turn, and at least make them skate 200 feet. It did not work. San Jose could not penentrate the neutral zone, could not dump the puck deep, and could not even ice the puck on more than one occasion.

The Detroit Red Wings continued to pile up goals throughout. Marian Hossa scored his 17th of the season in the second period, and Valtteri Filppula added his 5th to open the third. Coming off the bench, Pavel Datsyuk read a Marcel Goc cross-ice pass in the neutral zone, picking it off and sneaking a shot through Nabokov 5-hole. The Wings added the sixth and mercifully final goal from former San Jose Sharks 1998 first round draft pick Brad Stuart.

- Youtube video highlights from the game are available here. ESPN's video highlights are here, TSN's video highlights are available here. WXYZ.com and NHL.com video highlights and photo galleries from the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are available via George James Malik's Snap Shots blog.

- The media reaction to the humbling 6-0 loss was swift. The series of 3 straight days of mini-Sharks featurettes on ESPN's SportsCenter was over. Rookie head coach, and former Detroit Red Wings assistant coach, Todd McLellan told David Pollak of the Mercury News "We weren't better than them in any aspect of the game". Yahoo.com's Greg Wyshynski called the highly anticipated game a bust. One day after jumping on the Jaws-themed Teal Bandwagon, Deadspin.com opted out noting that the Sharks "swallowed the explosive oxygen canister". Someone named pj48 posted a series of disaster images on Battle of California. TSN called Detroit victorious in a Western Conference power struggle.

The most disappointing aspect of the game from the San Jose perspective was the lack of any message delivered when the game got out of hand. This was a statement game for the rest of the league and one for a possible playoff opponent. A 6-0 blowout loss is not the message you want to send. Other teams witnessed the Sharks being run over without much of a fight. In the minds of a lot of east coast and Canadian media, it will take a lot of work for the Sharks to regain their previous dominant image after this loss.

- The Sharks will play back-to-back games 14 times this season, with @Edmonton-@Vancouver Jan 9-10th, @Boston-@Pittsburgh Feb 10-11th, @Detroit-@Ottawa Feb 25-26th, LA-@Anaheim March 14-15th, Dallas-Colorado Mar 21-22nd, @Chicago-@Nashville Mar 25-26th, Anaheim-@Anaheim Apr 4-5th remaining on the schedule. San Jose's current record in back-to-back's after an overtime loss to Columbus and a regulation loss to Detroit is 9-4-1. The regulation loss to Detroit snapped a 15-game point streak, and dropped the NHL-best Sharks record to 25-4-3.

The Sharks have benefitted from the NHL schedule makers for once with a season long road trip of only 5 games in mid-February while the SAP Open tennis tournament holds court at HP Pavilion. The Sharks have also reaped the rewards of other teams playing back-to-back games with Anaheim or Los Angeles before traveling to San Jose. As teams have had to consolidate travel days to squeeze west coast swings into the schedule, 6 teams will play Anaheim this season before traveling the next day for a game in San Jose and 3 will play the night before in Los Angeles. To date, opponents have a 4-5-1 record after playing back-to-back games in LA or Anaheim before traveling to HP Pavilion (3-1 against LA).

Remaining on the schedule: Vancouver plays in Anaheim 12/22 before traveling to SJ on 12/23, Los Angeles plays at Anaheim 2/18 before traveling to SJ 2/19, Nashville plays at Anaheim 3/18 before traveling to SJ 3/19, Tampa Bay plays at Los Angeles 1/12 before traveling to SJ 1/13.

- From the 2009 Official NHL Guide and Record Book:

Most Points, One Season:
132 - Montreal Canadiens, 1976-77, 60-8-12, 80GP
131 - Detroit Red Wings, 1995-96, 62-13-7, 82GP
129 - Montreal Canadiens, 1977-78, 59-10-11, 80GP

Best Points Percentage, One Season:
.875 - Boston Bruins, 1929-30, 38-5-1 77PTS 44GP
.830 - Canadiens, 1943-44, 38-5-7 83PTS 50GP
.825 - Canadiens, 1976-77, 60-8-12 132PTS 80GP
.806 - Canadiens, 1977-78, 59-10-11 29PTS 80GP
.800 - Canadiens, 1944-45, 38-8-4 80PTS 50GP

Most Wins, One Season:
62 - Detroit Red Wings, 1995-96, 82GP
60 - Montreal Canadiens, 1976-77, 80GP
59 - Montreal Canadiens, 1977-78, 80GP

Most Home Wins, One Season:
36 - Philadelphia Flyers, 1975-76, 40GP
36 - Detroit Red Wings, 1995-96, 41GP

Most Road Wins, One Season:
31 - Detroit Red Wings, 2005-06, 41GP
28 - New Jersey Devils, 1998-99, 41GP
27 - San Jose Sharks, 2007-08, 41GP
27 - St Louis Blues, 1999-2000, 41GP
27 - Montreal Canadiens, 1976-77, 40GP
27 - Montreal Canadiens, 1977-78, 40GP

Most Losses, One Season:
71 - San Jose Sharks, 1992-93, 84GP
70 - Ottawa Senators, 1992-93, 84GP
67 - Washington Capitals, 1974-75, 80GP

Most Home Losses, One Season:
32 - San Jose Sharks, 1992-93, 41GP
29 - Pittsburgh Penguins, 1983-84, 40GP

The San Jose Sharks are currently 1st in the NHL and 1st in the Pacific Division with a 25-4-3 overall record (.781 winning percentage), 16-0-2 at home (undefeated in regulation, 18 game point streak, 34 projected wins), 9-4-1 on the road.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Darryl Hunt: Kyle McLaren out four to six weeks

Sharkspage has confirmed through non-organizational sources that Kyle McLaren underwent surgery earlier this week on his hand and will be sidelined for four to six weeks.

McLaren originally injured his hand when he was hit from behind by Steve Downie on November 19th. Downie was given a major for boarding, and was subsequently suspended for three games by the American Hockey League. Despite finishing the game, McLaren has played in just three games since the injury.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hockey Notes - December 18th

- The San Jose Sharks reached a dead spot in the 2008-09 schedule, with back-to-back non-televised games against Los Angeles and Columbus. An online stream of SJ-LA on Yahoo was also blacked out in a 50 mile radius of San Jose. After reading through a number of emails, fans are not happy. It is a direct contrast to the media attention that has exploded around this team after the best start after 30 games in NHL history.

Notes from the 2-1 loss to Columbus on Wednesday:

The Sharks earned 5-2 and 3-2 wins over Columbus earlier this season at HP Pavilion, but the Blue Jackets outshot and outworked San Jose. Late penalties and mistakes cost Columbus. Before the game on December 4th, head coach Ken Hitchcock said the Sharks are winning games by outworking other teams, every line on every shift. He mentioned that Columbus could hang with the best team in the NHL, but would collapse late in games and San Jose would pounce on opportunities.

Wednesday night Columbus played the San Jose Sharks to a 0-0 draw after 40 minutes. Both teams were pressing hard, goaltender Steve Mason was pulled for an extra attacker with 1.9 seconds left in the first period for an offensive zone draw. Christian Ehrhoff kept the puck in at the point in the second period, beat two players and snapped a shot off the post. 19 seconds into the third period, Steve Mason exploded to his left to make a spectacular point blank kick save on Joe Thornton.

Mason finished with 47 saves on 48 shots in what Columbus radio called his best performace of the season. It looked like that performance would be squandered after a quick San Jose transition up ice early in the third period. Setoguchi drived hard into the offensive zone, dropped the puck to Patrick Marleau and drove the net. Marleau fired a long cross ice pass to Rob Blake on the right side, and Blake put a pass on the stick of Setoguchi at the top of the crease. Goal Setoguchi, his 16th of the season. No chance from Mason on the tip. ESPN's SportsCenter freeze framed and highlighted Setoguchi's stick on the tip, an excellent tool to break down the NHL for casual fans.

Credit to the Blue Jackets as they were pressing the play trying to tie the game. Evgeni Nabokov also looked sharp shutting down Kristian "Juice" Huselius on a breakaway. After dealing with injury concerns that limited his play the last two seasons, Fredrik Modin has been an offensive spark for goal starved Columbus. Modin has scored 6 goals in his last 8 games, and Wednesday night he was buzzing around the San Jose net.

Defenseman Dan Boyle tried a hard clearing play around the boards out of his own zone, but Rick Nash was their at the point to intercept the puck. Nash fed Jakub Voracek, who in turned dropped a pass to Michael Peca with his stick on the ice on the right wing. Peca snapped a shot far side to tie the game at 1-1. A turnover in the offensive zone in overtime started a 2-on-1 breakout for Columbus. Kristian Huselius and former Flyer R.J. Umberger broke in on Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Vlasic took the shooter, and tried to block the pass across the slot with his stick on the ice, but a nice saucer pass by Huselius landed right on the blade of Umberger. Umberger shoveled home a 1-timer and was subsequently mobbed by the entire Columbus Blue Jackets team.

George Matthews, Blue Jackets radio play-by-play announcer noted on NHL Live today that Columbus challenged San Jose at HP Pavilion a couple of times earlier this season. He said the last 3-2 loss at San Jose was one of the top 2 or 3 road games the Blue Jackets have played in franchise history. Matthews said it was special beating a team that was 22 games over .500 with only 3 regulation losses. Sharks radio play by play broadcaster Jamie Baker said in the last game, Hitchcock was pressing hard for a win so he could use that performance as an example for the team the rest of the season. The hard fought win at home Wednesday night gives him that example. Matthews called Steve Mason a game breaking goaltender, and said that if he can continue to put up numbers he deserves rookie of the year consideration.

Kaspar-Michalek-Clowe formed a makeshift second line with Jonathan Cheechoo, Jeremey Roenick and Joe Pavelski sidelined with injuries. Using the excellent timeonice.com shift tracker, Worcester Sharks rookies Jamie McGinn and Tom Cavanagh logged most of their minutes on the 4th line with Jody Shelley. McGinn took Kaspar's place on the second line late in the game. San Jose finished 0-5 on the power play, Columbus finished 0-3. Columbus outhit the Sharks 44-24. Defenseman Rob Blake finished with 1 assist, 9 shots on goal and 2 PIMs.

A photo gallery from the Columbus Post-Dispatch is available online. Columbus beat writer Aaron Portzline writes that the emotional win for Columbus could be a springboard for the rest of the season. At 14-14-3, with a -8 goals for/against ration, the Blue Jackets are currently 4th in the Central division, 12th place in the Western Conference (1 point behind 8th place Minnesota).

San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak notes that the Sharks extended a streak of registering a point to 15 straight games. "We said from the start of the year, we're not going to judge the games on wins and losses, we're going to judge them on how we played, and I think we played well." Joe Thornton told Pollak. On his blog, Pollak asked head coach Todd McLellan why Boucher started against Los Angeles and not the first game of a back-to-back against Columbus. McLellan said that Boucher had previously played well against the Blue Jackets, and that the rest of the lineup would be prepared to play back-to-back nights and Nabokov could do the same.

Ken Hitchcock also echoed sentiments from this blog made after consecutive Sharks games against Pittsburgh and Detroit. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are skating with a nasty edge this season, as evidenced by how hard they are driving the net and how hard they are getting back on defense. Hitchcock said the Sharks have the look of a team that is sick of knocking on the playoff door and wants to push through.

- Notes from the 3-2 shootout win over Los Angeles on Monday:

This Monday night game was not broadcast on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area or on the NHL Network. The Fox Sports West feed streamed online at Yahoo.com also was blacked out. With Jeremey Roenick scheduled to miss 3 weeks after shoulder surgery, and possibly more, former Kings captain Rob Blake was the focus of ire for many Los Angeles fans. The Kings were on the board first after a point shot by defenseman Mike Green deflected off the skate of Lukas Kaspar changed direction and beat Boucher up high 4:55 into the first.

Anze Kopitar is starting to flash the offensive brilliance many in socal were expecting from the start of the season. Kopitar jumps on a loose puck and explodes up ice. He tries to split the d, and forces Vlasic to dive and poke the puck off his stick. Rob Blake is called for the first penalty of the game, a hooking penalty as he gets his stick up around the hands. Fans explode in applause, followed by "Sharks suck" chant to the Adams family theme song. Grier-Marleau are the first forward unit on the PK. Marleau has 3 short handed goals this year, Grier has 2 short handed assists. Grier would have more goals considering the amount of breakaways he generates with his speed and anticipation. Like Sturm or Mitchell, Grier needs to develop a good finishing move to make opposing power play units pay for mistakes. According to Behind the Net, Grier has drawn 7 penalties and taken 1 this season.

A soft play by the Sharks defense results in the second goal for Los Angeles. Christian Ehrhoff tries to pass to Douglas Murray behind the net but Teddy Purcell is there to eat him up on the play. Purcell glides in front of the net to the right of Boucher, waits as Boucher drops his stick on the ice to protect down low, and flicks a shot top shelf far side. 2-0 Kings. The Sharks also get on the board before the end of the first. Handzus drops down to block a point shot by Vlasic, Vlasic gets his own rebound and dishes to Dan Boyle on the left point. Boyle slides to his right to open up a shooting lane, but his point shot deflects off the end boards and out in front of the net. Clowe punches the puck home before being hammered to the ice by Denis Gauthier. An intermission feature by Fox Sports West shows Ryane Clowe giving a tour of a family crab boat in Newfoundland. Clowe said he "is just one of the guys" and that he is "just a guy trying to make it in the big leagues".

Jody Shelley and Raitis Ivanans open the second period with a heavyweight fight. Shelley has said several times this season that you have to take some punishment to inflict some punishment, and against Ivanans he landed a number of right hands and a rare uppercut. Los Angeles goaltender Erik Ersberg had to leave the game 6 minutes into the second period with a lower body injury. Ersberg looked like he tweaked his right leg making a save on a shot from the slot by Patrick Marleau with Devin Setoguchi on the doorstep. LaBarbera is a goaltender who rededicated himself to conditioning in the offseason, and the leaner build has improved his athleticism.

The Kings were controlling the pace of the game, but Patrick Marleau created a turnover shorthanded on the point and scored the equalizer on a quick snap shot over the shoulder of LaBarbera. Game tied 2-2, and the goal may have sucked some of the life out of the Staples Center but the Kings continued to pile up scoring chances in the third period. O'Sullivan split the Sharks defense, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic forced him wide and cut down the angle on the shot allowing an easier save for Boucher. This is not a good game for Ehrhoff on the right D, and the Kings appear to be going after him. Calder blows by him on the left wing, skates behind the net, and opens up room with several changes of direction. A second possesion the Kings also drive down low on the left side targeting Ehrhoff. Timeout called by Todd McLellan.

The Sharks were outskated by Los Angeles in overtime and outshot 5-0. The 5 minute OT period ends with the puck on Dan Boyle's stick as he can not get a shot off before the final buzzer. FSW interviews the cast of Chuck rinkside in one of the corners. The lead actor Zachary Levi says he has not been to a hockey game before because hockey is not a Southern California sport, ouch. Actor Adam Baldwin said he was a 25-year hockey fan, and he looks intense as the game is going to a shootout.

Right wing Wayne Simmonds takes the first shootout attempt for LA, never heard of him. Slow pace, backhand up high. Save Boucher. Next up is Dan Boyle for San Jose, who is roundly boo'd by the audience. LaBarbera backs in to the net as Boyle comes at him with speed, but flinches as Boyle breaks his wrists. Boyle easily tucks it under the glove of LaBarbera. 1-0 SJ. O'Sullivan chops at the puck back and forth several times before pulling it wide right over a prone Boucher. LaBarbera does not bite on an initial deke from Ryane Clowe, but Clowe pulls the puck hard to the right and beats him gloveside. 2-1 SJ. Purcell comes in hard on Boucher, but Boucher comes out of the net and surprises him with a poke check. "It is an all or nothing move you don't see very often" said television broadcaster Jim Fox. Sharks earn a 3-2 shootout win in Southern California.

Rich Hammond at Inside the Kings asked Jason LaBarbera about struggling with an 0-3 record in shootouts. "I would say it's a mental thing. I'm thinking about it too much. A lot of it is timing and I don't have my timing down now. I've been trying to be too patient and getting myself caught sometimes. It's one of those things where you over think it and screw yourself over." LaBarbera said. He went on to add "You play great for 65 minutes and then it goes to a skills competition. Don't get me wrong. As a fan, I love it. I love watching it on TV, or on the bench watching, it's exciting. But when you're in there... when you win it's exciting too, but when you lose it's a tough pill to swallow. Especially if you are a goalie. I kind of take it personally sometimes, and it is pretty frustrating". More post-game Kings notes here.

- Kings can't reel in the Sharks in 3-2 shootout loss - Helene Elliott for the Los Angeles Times.

- Happy Holidays from SVSE.

- The Sharks shootout win over Los Angeles was the second leading story on ESPN's SportsCenter nightly sports highlight television program in the U.S., trailing only another strong performance by the NBA's Boston Celtics. The Sharks have been the subject of mini-featurettes on ESPN's SportsCenter for 3 straight days, the first time I can ever remember that happening. In weekend highlights, Versus tabbed Patrick Marleau's "lost puck, backhand top shelf" goal against St Louis the 4th best goal of the week, the play was NHL On the Fly's 5th best play of the week.

- The Sharks quartet of puck moving defenseman is starting to be noticed in their entirety across the league. It is not just Dan Boyle and Rob Blake who are doing offensive damage on the blueline. Homegrown blueliners Christian Ehrhoff and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are also driving the offense from the back end. TSN's Scott Cullen ranked San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle (Rating: 89.72) as the top defenseman in the NHL, Rob Blake was 5th (82.00), Marc-Edouard Vlasic was 11th (79.27) and Christian Ehrhoff was 19th (76.71). Not to be overlooked are the hardened efforts brought to bear by Brad Lukowich and Douglas Murray, and the spot contributions by Alexei Semenov. Overall, Patrick Marleau (91.51) was ranked 6th one spot ahead of Dan Boyle in 7th place. Devin Setoguchi was also in the top 15, ranked 13th with a 87.87 player rating.

- Lidstrom looking up at Weber, Boyle in latest rankings - USA Today.

The Norris Trophy for best defenseman has nearly been synonymous with Nicklas Lidstrom during this century. He has won the last three awards and three in a row from 2001 to 2003. Before that, he was runner-up three years in a row. The only time he wasn't invited to the awards ceremony as a finalist was in 2003-04 when Scott Niedermayer captured it.

His run faces a challenge this season. In the latest vote of USA TODAY's NHL Power Rankings panel, he placed fifth, well behind front-runners Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators and Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks. Of the five panel members who vote for the Norris Trophy, one had him third, three had him fifth and one didn't have him in the top five. Four of those five are based in Central Division cities.

- The Sharks are keeping track of San Jose Sharks vote totals for the 2009 NHL Allstar Game. Voting can be done online until December 28th at fanballoting.nhl.com. Current vote totals are available here.

Joe Thornton (202,742) and Patrick Marleau (149,163) are ranked 8th and 9th among Western Conference forwards as of December 18th, Patrick Kane has rocketed to #1 with 374,095 votes. NHL leading defensive scorer Dan Boyle (220,831) and Rob Blake (174,029) are ranked 6th and 8th respectively among Western Conference blueliners. NHL win leader Evgeni Nabokov (206,128) trails Roberto Luongo and Anaheim's J.S. Giguere for Western Conference goalie voting. Get out and vote.

- Patrick Marleau wowing Sharks again - Contra Costa Times.

Saturday night, for example. He opened the scoring midway through the first period with a roaring slap shot from a few feet inside the blue line. With the game tied late in the third, he took a looping lead pass from Joe Thornton, tried to settle the puck as he entered the St. Louis zone just ahead of two defenders, and while coasting backward seemed to offer the puck to Blues goalie Chris Mason before pulling it back and flipping a backhand into the net...

He didn't just play offense. Earlier in the third period, just after the Sharks had killed a 5-on-3 power play, he picked the pocket of David Backes with an aggressive backcheck, then drew an interference penalty from the frustrated Backes. It was a big momentum-changer, if only briefly.

That made three Wow plays, which would have been a two-week supply last year at this time.

Four Wow plays, Gary Peterson did not include Patrick Marleau's drive down low which set up Devin Setoguchi's goal. Marleau hit Thornton in the slot, and Thornton set up Setoguchi for a goal. Peterson makes a comment about Marleau's lack of self promotion.

For a very informative interview with Patrick Marleau take a look at a February 2007 CBC After Hours program on Youtube: part 1, part 2, part 3. Search this blog for notes from the After Hours interview with GM Doug Wilson after last season's home win over Montreal. The same person on youtube also recently uploaded this two part video interview with Dan Boyle with San Jose Channel 11's Raj Mathai: part 1, part 2.

- The Los Angeles Kings are going to debut an interactive postgame talk show called Face Wash Saturday.

- Let Your Hair Down On Rod Blagojevich Night - Deadspin.com. That photo looks familiar, not the Rod Blagojevich one.

- An Interview with James Mirtle of the Globe & Mail - illegalcurve.com.

Illegal Curve: I agree. So far the progress I’ve seen at SBN has been terrific. Another aspect of the site that stood out to me, was the site’s ability to add a blog like Five For Howling which will give readers a blogger’s perspective on the Coyotes throughout the season. I say that because the Coyotes hardly get any web coverage, nevermind newspaper coverage (as they don’t have a beat writer with the team on the road). The addition of blogs that focus on teams with less of a cult following than say the Oilers and Capitals, etc., is just such a great idea to me. I wanted to get your thoughts on that.

Mirtle: Yeah, you know, with some teams, it was really easy to just talk to an established blogger and, boom, you’ve got a good presence there. But there are plenty of NHL teams that have hardly any presence in the blogosphere, and I consider that a big part of the challenge. Sure, you can have a successful blog in a place like Washington, where the team’s cultivating that, but how about Phoenix? Or Florida? There are some big gaps there in coverage that bloggers can hopefully help fill.

What it’s not going to do it makeup for the lack of a true beat writer following the team. For the most part, bloggers are hobbyists and just don’t have time to get on the phone and track down people for interviews. But it’s a start.

Sports Illustrated Claude Lemieux article

- Michael Farber covers the basics of Lemieux's time in Worcester for Sports Illustrated. Lemieux is playing for the love of the game, trying to fufill an internal passion for the sport. Farber needs to watch a little more hockey in San Jose, while it may be true that Scott Parker was a one dimensional enforcer in Teal Jody Shelley has contributed more than just pugilism to the Sharks roster this season. He plays the body hard along the boards and in the corners, and consistently becomes a problem for defenseman in front of the net.

Dan Hickling flushes out more of the particulars for Yahoo, Lemieux starts the long road back. The drive on display by Lemieux is evident, but he is also fufilling a character role on and off the ice that may not get as much attention. Sharks GM Doug Wilson said he offered Lemieux the AHL tryout as an opportunity to pursue the game. He may not be a reclamation project similar to Jeremey Roenick, Sandis Ozolinsh or even a Brian Boucher, but he gave a friend an opportunity to put his comeback attempt on display with the ALIH China Sharks and at a professional level with the AHL Worcester Sharks.

Hickling has more on Lemieux in the New England Hockey Journal.

Far and away the most informative piece on the return of Claude Lemieux was published by Perry Lefko for Sportsnet.ca: Claude Lemieux on comeback. The Q and A covers what lead to the comeback, what his family thought of the decision and what the reaction was from NHL teams when he made contact. Lemieux also offered details about playing 5 games for the Asia League Ice Hockey China Sharks:

[SN] As part of your comeback, you played in China. How did you end up there?

[CL] I was only there for eight days and I played for the China Stars, a team which belongs to the San Jose Sharks, in the Asia League. Before San Jose sort of agreed for me to come and play with their minor-league team, I hadn't played any competitive hockey (for five years) and they suggested it would be a good idea if I went to China and played on the team there and I could get to skate and see how I feel. One thing led to another and I said, "I like the idea, I have never been there, let's do it." I played three exhibition games and two regular-season games. It was fun. I had a great time. I got to see a new part of the world and got to meet some great people.

[SN] That seems as far as possible to restart a career?

[CL] Yeah, but also it was a great place. It was quiet. There was no media attention. Anywhere in North America I would have tried to go play into organized hockey would have been a media zoo. My first four days in Worcester, I did three, four interviews a day. It's just now slowing down a little bit, so that was perfect (in China) because it gave me a chance to just play and by the time the media caught on to it I was already coming back to North America, so it was good in that regard.

The hockey there is good. A lot of the games are on television and they get pretty good coverage. There are a lot of people living in these countries. There's one team in China, two in Korea and four in Japan. They get TV coverage and minor-league hockey attendance -- 3,000-4,000, sometimes less, sometimes more -- and they've got great buildings and anywhere from five to seven imports on the team and most of them played in North America, some played in the NHL, some played in the American League, and they get treated very well. It's very well structured.

Lemieux played 2 regular season games and 3 preseason games for the China Sharks, and noted a respectable 3-4000 attendance figure. Also on the team at the time were veteran NHL defenseman Steve McKenna and player/coach and former San Jose Sharks goaltender Wade Flaherty. If you have satellite or use sopcast, several of the games have been televised by Shanghai Sports in the middle of the night. I will work on an viewing update for that soon. Full China Sharks schedule here.

- More on hockey development in China and the Project Hope program came across the wire today from Adam Sherlip special to kuklaskorner.com: Making the World Better Through Hockey.

Sherlip was a former marketing and hockey development employee for the New York Islanders, a team that has been intimately involved in developing hockey in China. Sherlip talks about the Islanders youth hockey program called Project Hope, and how 3-time Team USA Olympic hockey medalist Angela Ruggiero volunteered to help. Ruggiero and Sherlip visited youth rinks and discussed what the culture of hockey is like in China. Sherlip created a new website called The Hockey Volunteer, and he is looking to raise money to create an outdoor rink in Ladakh, India. More power to him.

- I will just drop this in here, but during the lockout fans from 3 of the then 4 countries then in the ALIH (Korea, Japan, China, Russia) sent Sharkspage updates from games. That post with requisite Esa Tikkanen photos is available here. A few weeks later Mike Milbury posted an informative article on ESPN about an Islanders sponsored trip to help develop hockey in China. More on the China Sharks and a brief history of the league is available from this blog here.

[Update] Here is a Willie O'Ree video feature on his visit to Sharks Ice in San Jose to skate with Bay Area players and kids. More on O'Ree's visit to Oakland Ice is available here. It was his second visit to Oakland Ice in two years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Upcoming Puck Daddy roundtable for Sharks-Detroit Thursday night game, interview with Sharkspage

After downplaying the San Jose Sharks start as long as possible, Yahoo.com's Puck Daddy (aka Greg Wyshynski), is firmly planted on the Teal bandwagon. This week he posted 25 stunning factoids about the Sharks after 30 games, took a look at Jeremy Roenick's new blog and complaints of referee bias, and comments on Jeff Klein's NYT article critiquing the modern points system in the NHL.

The full court press will continue with a Puck Daddy round table taking a look at Todd McLellan and San Jose Sharks visit to Detroit on Thursday night. Below were the answers I gave to a few questions from Wyshynski:

[Q] The first game between Detroit and San Jose was a 4-2 Sharks win back on Oct. 30. What have you learned about your team since that game, both positive and negative?

[PJ] Detroit was playing the second game of a back-to-back after losing a very physical game to Anaheim 5-4 in OT the night before. Detroit played hard for two periods against San Jose, but in the third period I thought they were skating with blocks of cement instead of skates. Credit to the Sharks who said they wanted to push the pace early and try to capitalize on Red Wings mistakes and turnovers late. The Sharks played consecutive games against Stanley Cup Finalists, and held Pittsburgh to a franchise low 11 shots and handled Detroit 4-2 without many problems.

The Sharks were going to be an elite team this season without question, but with the additions of Boyle, Blake and Lukowich 50% of the defense had turned over in a few months. There was the unknown of how quickly they would gel. There was also the unknown of how rookie head coach Todd McLellan would best utilize the talent of this lineup. The Sharks were winning games while Boyle, Blake, Lukowich and Douglas Murray were all working into form on the defensive side. The speed and the size of the forward lines put a lot of pressure on opposing teams, and took a lot of pressure off the Sharks defense early.

Now, San Jose is still piling up wins but the defensive play is still not as tight or as consistent as head coach Todd McLellan or general manager Doug Wilson would like it to be. San Jose had a blazing finish to the 2007-08 regular season, registering an 11-game win streak and a 20 game point streak during the stretch run. That did not translate to postseason play. The Sharks have to be able to switch from offensive mode to defensive lock it down mode on command. Right now they have enough firepower to win in any situation, but they can still improve defensively in the corners and in front of their own net.

[Q] Sharks GM Doug Wilson has been rather candid about San Jose adopting the Red Wings’ style of play this season. How do you feel about that imitation or homage to the Stanley Cup champions’ game?

[PJ] Even Todd McLellan grew weary of the Detroit Red Wings comparisons, and he won a Stanley Cup with the franchise last season. In truth, this team plays a Doug Wilson style of hockey more than a Ron Wilson, Todd McLellan or Detroit Red Wings style. When Wilson came in as GM, he said he wanted to build a younger, faster, more up tempo style of team that would be entertaining for the fans. Mission accomplished. The Sharks still exhibit tendencies from the Ron Wilson regieme, the penalty kill and some elements of the neutral zone play are two examples, but for the most part when I see the Sharks I think of Doug Wilson.

Todd McLellan has tweaked the Sharks in a way that better suits them for a knock down, drag out 7-game playoff series in my opinion. They clog up space in front of the net, and pound shots on goal until one finds a way through. They also take better advatange of their speed and size, and dump-in the puck with a purpose. One observation about Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg I made last year was that they backchecked as hard on defense as they pressured to score a goal on offense. They lead by example, and the rest of the team followed them as a result. The same can be said this year of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, to an even greater degree given their size. Players like Devin Setoguchi, Milan Michalek, and Joe Pavelski have followed their lead, and they are not giving opposing forwards any room in the other direction. The one question that can not be answered until the postseason is how well this team will be prepared to play from the drop of the puck, and how well this team will respond to adversity. Stanley Cup veterans like Blake, Boyle and Lukowich were brought in for that purpose.

The Red Wings are a franchise that has carried themselves with class, and while most people were touting the big 4 Western Conference teams last year, the focus was directed more at San Jose, Dallas and Anaheim. Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock even said at one point in the season they were enjoying the fact that they felt like an underdog. The reality was that Detroit was in a class by themselves, and the disparity between the Eastern Conference and Western Conference came into full view last season.

[Q] In your eyes, has the Sharks’ historic start shifted the balance of power in the Western Conference at all? Why or why not?

[PJ] The Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks were 1 and 2 last season, if anything they may have simply reversed positions. Both are enjoying success this regular season, but both teams know the regular season is an 82 game marathon and the playoffs will be a completely different environment. Anaheim and Chicago are improving, Calgary is always going to be a tough defensive team. Minnesota, Phoenix and Los Angeles also have a few dark horse qualities and will make the battle for the final playoff spots interesting. The balance of power in the Western Conference may well be decided with the San Jose Sharks Detroit Red Wings regular season series, but both teams are relatively humble and that will be a declaration for the media to make.

[Q] Let’s say you have a chance to make a dream starting lineup comprised of players from these two teams – one center, two wingers, two defensemen and one goalie. What’s your starting six?

[PJ] After the Joe Thornton trade, I was one of the longest holdouts saying that Patrick Marleau was still the best player on this team. Despite the fact that I have followed the Boston Bruins for 25+ years despite having a family full of Red Wings fans, Marleau's blend of speed, skill and size is a rare one. During a practice with my head down looking at photos on my camera, someone asked me which player had just skated past. It was easy without even looking up, Marleau. No one on the team was that quick, and he has an effortless stride in direct contrast to someone like Milan Michalek who can fly but looks like a diesel locomotive on ice. Marleau is tied with Jarome Iginla for the second most playoff goals scored since the lockout, and the reality is that if he was playing in New York, Philadelphia or Toronto he would be a much more high profile player. Joe Thornton is an all world talent. He has the size and wingspan of a player like Chara or Boogaard, but how many of them can spin and let loose a 35-40 foot backhand pass directly on the stick of a player in front of the net. For weeks after the Thornton trade I head from disillusioned Bruins fans, and he eventually wore me down with the way he made his teammates better.

Everything about being a hockey traditionalist wants me to select Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk, but I would have to go with 6-foot-1, 210 pound right wing Marian Hossa. Imagine a line of Marleau (who has been playing left wing this season), Thornton and Hossa cycling the puck in an opponent's zone. First, how are you going to stop or slow them down. You can't. Against Anaheim and St Louis recently Marleau was cycling down low several times without a player within 5-7 feet. Hossa is just a mess to handle for defenseman. He has the size and the wide base to protect the puck with his body, but he also has the speed and the shifty moves to blow by you. Both Marleau and Hossa can bury the puck in close or with a slapshot from the point.

On defense it would be easy selecting a top pair, Dan Boyle and Niklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom is the 6-time Norris trophy winner, 9-time NHL allstar, and 4-time NHL champion. In a game at HP Pavilion last season, the Sharks hung tight with Detroit through a period and a half. Then the Red Wings started to release the hounds. Lindstrom fired a saucer pass through the neutral zone and hit Pavel Datsyuk on his stick in stride just inside the far blueline. At ice level on the play, I thought it was a circus pass. He can shut you down defensively or pressure hard when his team is behind.

The perfect compliment for Lidstrom would be this year's favorite for the Norris Trophy Dan Boyle. Boyle is more than a power play quarterback, he is a player that knows where everyone is on the ice and he tries to attack any opening available. He can skate end-to-end, transition the puck up ice with a quick first pass, he can man the point on the power play, he can basically do it all offensively on the blueline for San Jose. Defensively he can take an odd slashing call, but he does not give up on plays and he is willing to sacrifice his body. Boyle won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and was named to the NHL Allstar Game in 2007. Boyle leads Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber by 1 point in the NHL defensive scoring race.

Goalie, Evgeni Nabokov. Intelligent, athletic, quick, combative. He turned a corner and became a superstar when he starting using patience as a weapon in net. Opposing forwards have to question how he will play certain situations, and you never really know how he will. He has the reflexes and glove hand that allow him to challenge shooters and cut down angles, or he can sit back and let opponent's make the first move. On the shootout he can surprise you with a poke check.

Confident, sometimes borderline cocky, Nabokov is a big game goaltender who can bail his team out in pressure situations. He is in extremely good physical condition, and his puckhandling is very underrated. The one weakness I have seen is wraparounds, and he has worked hard to seal the post on those this season. You can use statistical analysis to rank goaltenders, but last year watching Nabokov in person it was his best season in the NHL by far. There were situations and plays that he handled that do not show up on score sheets. The way opposing teams tried to physically challenge the Sharks and Nabokov last year, he was my candidate for the Vezina. I like to use the Al Davis method of statistical analysis, "just win baby". For the second straight season, Evgeni Nabokov leads the NHL in wins.

Marleau-Thornton-Hossa-Lidstrom-Boyle-Nabokov is my starting six.

[Q] What was your reaction to the Sharks signing Claude Lemieux to a minor league deal?

[PJ] Initially I had no reaction. There was no way I thought he would be a fit on San Jose with checking line center Torrey Mitchell slated to return in January. Lemieux would have to knock a Marcel Goc, Tomas Plihal, or Jermey Roenick out of the lineup. This was a move made by Doug Wilson, who is a friend of Claude Lemieux's, to give him an opportunity to play at the professional level and see where the 43-year old's comeback attempt was at. I am not sure how well this went over initially with some of the players, but Lemieux has shocked me after watching a few of his games with Worcester. If he is not on the radar for a few NHL teams, he should be.

They have an opportunity to see if he can keep it up as the season progresses, and if he does he might be able to provide spot 4th line or checking duty down the stretch and in the playoffs. I would not even say using him as a depth forward in San Jose would be out of the question. Talking about dropping into the perfect situation, he would have a chance to win a Stanley Cup ring for the thumb. If Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan are impressed with his play moving forward, it is an option, albeit a longshot one. The fact that defenseman Kyle McLaren, who is playing in Worcester along with Lemieux, has not been picked up by another NHL team makes me question a few of the other NHL general managers or capologists.

[Q] Finally, your prediction for Thursday night’s game.

[PJ] I would be impressed if San Jose can shut down Detroit 1-0 or 2-1, but that is not they way they have been playing of late. The shoe is on the other foot for the Sharks, as they will playing at Columbus on Wednesday before meeting Detroit at the Joe on Thursday. Usually it is teams running a gauntlet of Anaheim or Los Angeles before they have to travel to HP Pavilion in San Jose. The schedule makers have also been kind without scheduling any long roadtrips for the Sharks save for a 5-game roadtrip in February while the SAP Open tennis tournament holds court in San Jose. Detroit will come out hard against the former Red Wing assistant coach Todd McLellan and the Sharks, but as they have all season San Jose will come from behind and eek out a win in a 5-4 shootout.

Also note that former San Jose Sharks event presentation coordinator Ayron Sequeria is now the Executive Producer of Event Entertainment for the Detroit Red Wings. When you watch the game on tv or from the stands, the person helping to create the game atmosphere also helped this blog to create a lot of content without stepping on any toes in San Jose.

I was also scheduled to do a DOH podcast last night, but had audio problems of failblog proportions. I was able to get the computer together in time to do a second podcast with a Canadian website. A link to that podcast will be posted as soon as it is online. A long batch of Hockey Notes will be posted next.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Worcester Sharks can not capitalize on 5 power plays, lose 2-1 to Hartford, notes on Claude Lemieux, Kyle McLaren and Patrick Rissmiller

Sharkspage lost contributor Darryl Hunt for a week due to a bad east coast ice storm, so I filled in on the AHL Worcester Sharks duties for their Sunday afternoon matchup with the Hartford Wolfpack. Hartford, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers, has not missed the Calder Cup playoffs in its 11 season history. Worcester will host the AHL Allstar Game January 25-26th at the DCU Center, and veteran NHLers Claude Lemeiux and Kyle McLaren have been drawing a lot of attention to the wSharks around the league.

Worcester was playing in their third city in three nights after losing at Hartford 4-1 on Friday and downing Lowell on the road 4-2 on Saturday. The Sharks started the season with 3 wins over Hartford in their first 10 games, but the trend would not continue with 2 losses to the Wolfpack this weekend. Former Colorado College netminder Matt Zaba stopped 34 of 35 shots for Hartford on Sunday, and the Worcester Sharks could not capitalize on 4 straight power plays en route to a 2-1 Hartford win at the DCU Center.

Forwards Lukas Kaspar, Tom Cavanagh and Jamie McGinn were called up to San Jose, and Mike Morris (concussion) and Kyle McLaren (hand) also were scratched Sunday. As a result, head coach Roy Sommer dressed 7 defenseman and only 11 forwards. Former San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Rissmiller opened the scoring with his 2nd AHL goal of the season 4:33 into the first period. The pace of the game was cautious early, as both teams were playing their 4th game in 5 nights, short shifts would be paramount.

Noticeable was the play of 5-foot-8 175-pound right wing Ryan Vesce. Vesce spent two seasons playing professionally in Sweden and Finland, sandwiched between two 50+ point campaigns in the AHL with Springfield and Binghamton. Worcester's leading scorer (7G, 17A, 28GP) was effective on both sides of the ice, creating with possession and pressuring opponents without it.

Hartford scored a second goal on a nice individual effort by Jordan Owens. He drove wide right around defenseman Patrick Traverse and punched the puck in front of the net. It deflected off the skate of Jason Demers by Thomas Greiss. The wSharks were down 2-0 after 20 minutes, but they would outshoot Hartford 27-10 and push the pace for the remainder of the game. Thomas Greiss would hold the Wolfpack off the boards for the duration, giving his team an opportunity to get back in the game. He was challenged early in the second on a point black shot by Justin Soryal. Worcester answered later in the period on a rush by Ryan Vesce and Cory Larose. Vesce isolated the Hartford defenseman creating a 2-on-1, then sent a nice feed to Larose who went forehand to backhand to beat Zaba up high.

It took me awhile to figure out Kyle McLaren was scratched on the internet feed, but it was easy to spot Rissmiller and Claude Lemieux when they were on the ice. Rissmiller takes much more advantage of his size in the AHL, and he is able to carry the play more in the offensive zone. Rissmiller needs to take the puck more to the net and start causing havoc. Used in more of a defensive role in San Jose, Rissmiller has power forward size but not the instincts. Veteran Claude Lemieux by no means looks out of place in the corners and in front of the net. He has a nose for where the puck is going to be, and at age 43 he still has the frame that makes him hard to move when he gets there. Lemieux has 2 goals and 3 assists in 10 AHL games played so far this season, and do not be shocked if an NHL team takes a chance on Lemieux for spot duty down the stretch and in the playoffs.

The San Jose Sharks downplayed any interest in Lemieux, they obviously do not want any distractions moving forward, but a 4th line of Shelley-Roenick-Lemieux could rival the best 4th line ever to suit up in Teal (Matteau-Sutter-Stern). My thoughts on Lemieux possibly playing with San Jose have moved from impossible, to remotely possible if McLellan and Wilson are impressed by his play in Worcester. Two questions, can Lemieux be effective with the speed of the modern NHL and will he hurt a team by taking penalties if he can not?

The fact that Kyle McLaren has not been picked up by another NHL team is mystifying. A big piece of the Sharks defensive puzzle last season, one source with an Eastern Conference team told me general managers might wait until the trade deadline to make a move on McLaren so he would not be as much of a cap hit. Several teams still in contention now might not be in contention then. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson recently said that he deserves to be in the NHL, and the former Norris trophy winner is an acute judge of talent on the blueline.

Another Worcester power play in the third period. Unfortunately, Claude Lemieux was not effective manning the point on the Worcester power play. Hartford started a parade to the penalty box in the second period, and it continued to start the third period. Lemieux was paired with Derek Joslin on the point, with Mike Moore and Jason Demers on the second unit. The Sharks had 4 straight power play opportunities, but they could not convert and had trouble generating sustained pressure. The 22nd ranked penalty kill in the AHL was unsuccessful on a 5th opportunity late in the game after an ill advised slashing penalty on defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti at the end boards of the Hartford offensive zone.

Defenseman Mike Moore, who impressed a lot of people at the San Jose Sharks training camp and in preseason, drilled Jordan Owens with a solid body check. Brad Staubitz followed with a big hit on Vladimir Denisov later in the period, but Riley Armstrong was called for a charging penalty after steamrolling Dale Weiss behind his own net. Thomas Gries was focused and in the game. Mike Oullette faked a slapshot inside the blueline, cut right and snapped a quick shot that bounced off the shoulder of Greiss. The puck deflected high in the air and bounced off the top of his mask, but not back into the net.

The wSharks pulled Greiss with 2:20 left in the game, giving them a 6-on-4 with Sanguinetti in the box. Riley Armstrong and Steve Zalewski combined for the best scoring opportunity on the final power play, but a late hooking call on Zalewski sank any comeback hopes in front of the home crowd.

Hartford-Worcester was one of several games featured on a free Sunday preview at AHLlive.com. Three stars of the game: Jared Nightingale, Matt Zaba, and Ryan Vesce.

Hartford Wolf Pack 2 at Worcester Sharks 1
Dec 14, 2008 - DCU Center

1st Period
Scoring - 1. Hartford, P. Rissmiller (2) (G. Moore, D. DiDiomete) 4:33 2. Hartford, J. Owens (4) (J. Nightingale, M. Ouellette) 14:14 Penalties - B. Buckley Wor (roughing) 9:15, D. Joslin Wor (holding) 18:35

2nd Period
Scoring - 3. Worcester, C. Larose (12) (R. Vesce) 4:41 Penalties - B. Sanguinetti Hfd (tripping) 10:44

3rd Period
Scoring - No Scoring Penalties - B. Dupont Hfd (roughing) 3:08, G. Moore Hfd (tripping) 5:55, J. Nightingale Hfd (delay of game) 7:50, R. Armstrong Wor (charging) 11:57, B. Sanguinetti Hfd (slashing) 16:50, S. Zalewski Wor (hooking) 19:06

HFD Shots: 9 7 3 TOTAL: 19
WOR Shots: 9 13 14 TOTAL: 36

Power Play Conversion
Hartford Wolf Pack 0-4. Worcester Sharks 0-5.

Hartford Wolf Pack
Zaba 4-3-0 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 60:00 SV: 35 GA: 1 [W]

Worcester Sharks
Greiss 8-8-0 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 58:21 SV: 17 GA: 2 [L]

Attendance : 2648

[Update] A difficult weekend for Sharks - Worcester Telegram and Gazette.

[Update2] Zaba Makes 35 Saves In Wolf Pack's 2-1 Win - Hartford Courant.

Rissmiller scored 4:33 into the game, backhanding the puck past Thomas Greiss on a feed by Greg Moore at the right-wing side of the net. Owens, coming off his first three-point game Saturday night against Springfield, made it 2-0 at 14:14. Owens' attempt at a backhanded, right-to-left pass across the slot hit Worcester defenseman Jason Demers' stick and deflected in.

The only goal of the second period came off the stick of former Wolf Pack player Cory Larose, and it was his team-best 12th of the season.

[Update3] Roenick Hits Ir; Mcginn Hits Airport - Dan Rusanowsky for the Seagate Broadcaster blog.

Meanwhile, I've been meaning to blog on the importance of what GM Doug Wilson and assistant GM Wayne Thomas have been doing when it comes to their AHL affiliate's roster. Through this season, the following Worcester Sharks players have been recalled to the big club: G Thomas Greiss, RW Riley Armstrong, LW Lukas Kaspar, LW Jamie McGinn, C Tom Cavanagh, and RW Brad Staubitz. All except Greiss have seen action this season, and Thomas was ready to go as Brian Boucher's backup during Evgeni Nabokov's seven-game absence.

What is the significance of this activity? First, it shows that the San Jose Sharks have more than just roster depth, they have organizational depth. In a long season, you have to know whether your prospects can help the NHL club in a time of need. These recalls have definitively shown that these players can definitely help, and that inspires a lot of organizational confidence as the season gets more heated.

Notre Dame Remains No. 1 on USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men's College Hockey Poll

The latest college hockey poll from USAhockey.com:

Notre Dame Remains No. 1 on USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men's College Hockey Poll

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The University of Notre Dame was selected No. 1 on this week's USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men’s College Hockey Poll, following two wins against Central Collegiate Hockey Association foe Bowling Green State University this past weekend. For the third straight week, the Fighting Irish topped the poll, accumulating 506 points and 30-of-34 first-place votes.

Miami (Ohio) University moved up the rankings for the sixth straight week to the No. 2 spot with 470 points and four first-place votes. Boston University (422) climbed to the No. 3 spot, while the University of Minnesota (409) fell two spots to No. 4 after a weekend split with No. 10 Colorado College. Meanwhile, the University of Denver (383) remained at No. 5.

USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men's College Hockey Poll - #12

(First-place votes in parentheses, Last Week's Ranking, 2008-09 Record, Weeks in Top 15)

1 U. of Notre Dame, 506 (30), 1, 14-3-2, 12
2 Miami (Ohio) U., 470 (4), 3, 12-3-3, 12
3 Boston U., 422, 4, 11-4-1, 12
4 U. of Minnesota, 409, 2, 8-3-5, 12
5 U. of Denver, 383, 5, 13-5-1, 12
6 Northeastern U., 337, 6, 11-3-2, 9
7 Boston College, 298, 8, 9-5-2, 12
8 Princeton U., 274, 7, 10-2-0, 11
9 Cornell U., 226, 9, 7-1-2, 6
10 Colorado College, 214, 10, 10-6-4, 12
11 U. of Michigan, 148, 12, 11-7-0, 12
12 U.S. Air Force Academy, 126, 13, 14-2-0, 7
13 U. of Vermont, 116, 11, 9-4-2, 7
14 U. of New Hampshire, 55, 15, 8-6-3, 11
15 U. of Nebraska Omaha, 33, NR, 11-4-3, 2

Others receiving votes: University of Wisconsin, 25; University of Maine, 9; University of Alaska, 6; Minnesota State University, 6; The Ohio State University, 6; University of North Dakota, 5; St. Cloud State University, 5; Dartmouth College, 1.

NOTES: A total of 23 teams received votes ... The USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men’s College Hockey Poll will resume Monday, Jan. 5, 2009, after a two-week hiatus for the holidays.

ABOUT THE POLL: The 14th annual USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men’s College Hockey Poll is conducted each week in conjunction with the American Hockey Coaches Association. The poll includes input from coaches and journalists representing each of the six NCAA Division I ice hockey conferences, as well as composite votes from officers of the AHCA and USA Hockey Magazine, the most widely distributed hockey magazine in the world.

[Update] UNH's van Riemsdyk, 12 other collegians highlight U.S. roster for World Junior Championship, UNH forward will play in third WJC in Ottawa - U.S. College Hockey Online.

In addition to van Riemsdyk, Boston University’s Colin Wilson, Boston College’s Jimmy Hayes, Michigan’s Aaron Palushaj and Matt Rust and Minnesota’s Mike Hoeffel and Jordan Schroeder all are listed as forwards on the team announced today by USA Hockey. Notre Dame’s Ian Cole and Teddy Ruth, Minnesota’s Cade Fairchild, Wisconsin’s Ryan McDonagh, Boston University’s Kevin Shattenkirk and New Hampshire’s Blake Kessel are all listed as defensemen and round out the 13 collegiate selections. Union head coach Nate Leaman will serve as an assistant coach under Team USA head coach Ron Rolston, who was an assistant coach at Boston College before joining the USA Hockey.

[Update2] San Jose Sharks goaltending prospect Tyson Sexsmith was among the final 16 cuts for Team Canada's WJC team.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Come from behind 5-4 win over St Louis extends Sharks home point streak to 18 games

San Jose Sharks St Louis Blues NHL hockey photo
Douglas Murray checks Yan Stastny in front of the net

There are certain teams that will give San Jose problems. This year, despite a phenomenal 16-0-2 record at home, the St Louis Blues appear to be able to push the Sharks to the brink. Early in November it took 2 third period goals and a decisive overtime shootout goal by Ryane Clowe to down St Louis and 6-foot-7 former University of Maine goaltender Ben Bishop in a 5-4 OT shootout. On Saturday night, the Blues stretched a 3-1 lead deep into the second period on the back of 3 unanswered goals by Brad Winchester (2) and B.J. Crombeen.

Checking line center Marcel Goc picked up a loose puck in the offensive zone with speed, and carried it behind the net to start the Sharks comeback. Goc set up Thomas Plihal for a one-timer in the slot, and Mike Grier deflected it past goaltender Chris Mason. After scoring a goal to open the game, Patrick Marleau beat 3 Blues to another loose puck down low. Marleau found Joe Thornton with his stick on the ice, and Thornton one timed a pass to Devin Setoguchi. Setoguchi hammered a quick shot by Mason to tie the game 3-3 early in the third period.

After a faceoff win in the offensive zone and a quick shot on net, Ryane Clowe pounded home a rebound to give the Sharks a 4-3 lead. The Sharks then killed off a 2 minute 5-on-3 power play for St Louis, and for all intents and purposes it looked as if the outcome of the game was certain. To their credit, the Blues battled back to tie the game at 4-4. Right wing David Backes tipped the puck around defenseman Dan Boyle with an outstretched left hand, then jumped around him on the right side and quickly got his stick back down on the ice. He snapped a backhand that somehow found an opening down low through Nabokov.

Patrick Marleau opened the scoring with a booming first period slapshot from 56 feet out, his 14th goal of the season. The Sharks captain would match that with a spectacular display of stickhandling late in the third period. Joe Thornton tried to lead Patrick Marleau with a long saucer pass that landed just inside the St Louis zone. Defenseman Jay McClement knocked the puck down with his stick, but Marleau tipped it up ice and exploded past him. Overskating the puck, Marleau spun and gathered it on his backhand while pulling it away from the poke check of Chris Mason. Marleau lifted a backhand up high for the game winning goal, his team leading 15th of the season (tied with Devin Setoguchi). The entire play from Sharks blueline to back of the St Louis goal took 4 seconds.

San Jose earned a hard fought 5-4 win, extending their home point streak to 18 games. The Sharks remain the only team unbeaten at home in regulation this season. Evgeni Nabokov earned his NHL leading 17th win of the season (t-Henrik Lundqvist), stopping 29 of 33 shots against. San Jose and St Louis each finished 1-5 on the power play. The Sharks outhit the Blues 28-20, won the battle of the faceoff circle 32-17, and outshot St Louis 38-33. Douglas "Crankshaft" Murray earned a standing ovation when he leveled Alex Steen and Dan Hinote on the same hit inside his own blueline in the first period. Prior to a late third period faceoff, Joe Thornton pointed at his defenseman then tried to sneak a hard shot off the draw. Center Joe Pavelski was injured late in the second period and did not return for the third.

Video highlights from the game are available here. A photo gallery from the game is available here.

[Update] During the game there was a consensus among several people that the seminal NHL On the Fly highlight show has been overlooking the San Jose Sharks for much of the season. The late West Coast starts are going to be a problem, but Saturday night Dan Pollard and hall-of-fame defenseman Larry Murphy each took a turn analyzing the Sharks 5-4 win over St Louis.

Murphy noted that the playoffs will be the ultimate test, but at this point in the season he called the San Jose Sharks the team to beat. He said that San Jose did not play a full 60 minute game against the Blues, but they have enough firepower to pull out a win. He also called this season a "career year" for Patrick Marleau, and said that this team has enough confidence to pull out a win no matter what problems they face. Pollard noted that the Boston Bruins have matched San Jose for the best record in the NHL in the months of November and December.

[Update2] St. Louis Blues let lead, game slip away in San Jose - St Louis Post-Dispatch.

San Jose's Milan Michalek and Ryane Clowe exited the penalty box with 12 minutes, 57 seconds remaining Saturday night against the Blues, and the roar of the crowd at HP Pavilion was deafening.

Clinging to a one-goal lead, after rallying earlier in the period, San Jose killed off a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play, and simultaneously the Blues' David Backes was whistled for an interference penalty.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

San Jose Sharks vs Anaheim Ducks Battle of California gamelog

San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton vs Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller photo
San Jose Sharks center Marcel Goc Anaheim Ducks photo
San Jose Sharks vs Anaheim Ducks hockey photo

A San Jose Sharks (22-3-2, 1st Pacific/NHL) vs Anaheim Ducks (16-10-3, 2nd Pacific) liveblog will begin from an obstructed view seat in the press box at HP Pavilion soon.

The Sharks began the preseason with a home-at-home split with the Ducks, but the real fireworks kicked off with a 4-1 win over Anaheim Ducks to open the 2008-09 NHL season October 9th at home. Jonathan Cheechoo scored 2 goals and took a pounding in front of the net, but the Sharks established a new philospohy under head coach Todd McLellan and a new offensive system from game 1. A 38-save shutout by Jean-Sebastien Giguere and goals by 4 different players handed the Sharks their first loss of the season in the rubber match October 17th in Anaheim. The revamped NHL schedule calls for only 6 intra-conference games this season. The Sharks will play Anaheim tonight in SJ, March 15th in Anaheim, and April 4th for California bragging rights.

The Sharks have had 4 days of rest and practice since a 3-2 overtime loss to Edmonton on Saturday. San Jose Mercury News beat reporter David Pollak posted an injury update in his latest Working the Corners blog post. Ryane Clowe missed 2 practices to heal undisclosed soreness, Jonathan Cheechoo is practicing after missing 10 days with an undisclosed upper body injury, Brad Lukowich is practicing after sustaining a groin injury against Columbus (but he is not expected to start against Anaheim), and Torrey Mitchell is skating solo and with the team trying to return from a leg injury suffered in training camp. The speedy second year checking center pegged January as a return date.

Anaheim is coming off a 4-2 home win last night over St. Louis. The Blues were outshot 14-5 in the first period, and goaltender Manny Legace left the game for Chris Mason after being kneed in the head, but like they did against the Sharks earlier in the season St Louis kept their legs moving and effectively outskated the Ducks at the end of the game. The Ducks capitalized on their chances late with Brendan Morrison scoring his first goal in 10 games. Chris Kunitz scored 2 goals and Teemu Selanne registered 2 assists, but Giguere (10-7-2, .912SV%, 2.91GAA, 2SO) was named first star of the game with 26 saves on 28 shots to earn his 10th win of the season. The Blues are establishing themselves as a dark horse team in the Western Conference, with solid defense, opportunistic scoring, and an ability to outwork opponents late in games.

A helmetless Teemu Selanne lead the Ducks onto the ice for the pregame skate and was promptly bood by the fans at the Tank. The status report for Anaheim notes that veteran left wing Brad May missed a second game against St Louis after slightly injuring a knee in practice. Forward Brian Sutherby is also "making progress" according to head coach Randy Carlyle. O.C. Register beat writer Al Balderas noted on his Ducks blog that George Parros was not involved in the 3 and a half fights against St Louis. Yan Stastny and Ryan Carter dropped the gloves, Steve Montador and B.J. Crombeen also went at it, and Corey Perry and Jay McClement fought as part of a group scuffle. Balderas called Travis Moen and Keith Tkachuk's scrape a half a fight. Tkachuk took a whack at Moen, who tried to draw a penalty but then flung Tkachuck over the top of him. Register writer Dan Wood notes that even though Ryan Carter's knee to the head of Legace was an accident, he sensed that the Blues would try to extract payback. Payback came in the form of an agressive fight with Yan Stastny.

The Sharks power play is 5th in the NHL at 23% (32-139), 18-84 at home. On the penalty kill San Jose is 17-105 overall (83.8%, 8th), 9-54 at home. The Ducks are 23-109 overall with the man advantage (21.1%, 9th), 29-157 on the penalty kill (81.5%, 16th). The San Jose Sharks are 13-2-1 when scoring first, and unbeaten in regulation for all 16 games played at HP Pavilion this season. Nabokov will start his 7th straight game for San Jose, Jonas Hiller will be in nets for Anaheim.

Less than 30 seconds into the first period and the Sharks take the opening penalty of the game. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff is called for holding Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf earlier had his hand on the shoulder of Ehrhoff as they were battling to get to a puck dumped behind the net. Getzlaf grappled around Ehrhoff and then flopped hard to the ice. The Ducks could not convert on the power play. San Jose fans, believing it was a bad call, bood Getzlaf every time he touched the puck. After the Sharks killed the penalty, a lone Sharks fan in the corner with a Duck whistle rallied the fans to the first "Ducks Suck" chant of the night.

Anaheim reciprocates on the other side of the ice. Marcel Goc takes a nice feed from fellow German Ehrhoff and snaps a hard shot from in front of the net. He got the shot off as Kent Huskins took him down to the ice. An end-to-end rush by Marc-Edouard Vlasic shows a new side of his game, Vlasic is playing with confidence on both sides of the ice. Devin Setoguchi spins and fires a hard backhand across the crease to a wide open Dan Boyle. Boyle can not get all of the puck and the Sharks can not convert on their first power play opportunity of the game.

Back to back penalties on Rob Blake (hooking 10:52) and Ryan Getzlaf (holding 11:04). Excellent shot from the slot by Anaheim, pulled the puck around a defender, glove save Nabokov up high. Defenseman Brett Festerling hammered Jeremy Roenick up against the end boards. Roenick needed assistance getting back to the bench holding his elbow. 4-on-2 rush by San Jose to break into the offensive zone. Ducks are able to tighten up in front of the net, and break the puck back up through the neutral zone. Anaheim has seen all of the San Jose end to end rushes and offensive flurries before. Tradionally they have tried to own the territory in front of their own net by any means possible, and force the Sharks to the perimeter. It remains to be seen if they will be able to do that this season.

Two quick Anaheim shots on Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov makes the second save on Pahlsson. Sharks goaltender is very quick side to side, and explosive going down and resetting in the standing position. Head coach Todd McLellan sprinkles Marleau and Thornton on other line combinations. Marleau on a line with Thornton and Roenick, later Thornton is on a line with rookie Tom Cavanagh and Jody Shelley. Cavanagh, Staubitz, Kaspar, McGinn, McLellan is getting a look at the top talent in AHL Worcester at the NHL level. This is key if he needs to make a late season substitute or a depth move, he will have a handle on which players will be best for certain situations. Breakaway by Teemu Selanne down the right wing. Selanne tries to slide the puck across the crease to Pahlsson, but the play is broken up in front of the net.

Goal Patrick Marleau at the 17 minute mark, assists by Mike Grier and Marcel Goc. Mike Grier took a pass at the point and hesitated, giving time for Marleau to slide out wide on the opposite side. Pass by Grier is hammered home by Marleau from far out. Samuel Pahlsson and 25 were inside of Marleau on the play looking towards the center of the ice. Marleau shot blazed wide of them and by a stunned Hiller. It took the Sharks captain 63 games to score 13 goals last season, this season 28. Marleau said during the first period radio intermission that it took the Sharks a little while in the first period to get their legs and get their forecheck going.

Shortly after the Sharks goal, Jody Shelley and George Parros drop the gloves for a heavyweight battle in front of the penalty box. Significant number of punches from both players, Shelley is measuring his shots better, Parros is throwing long looping shots from a distance. An uppercut by Parros, and a couple of hard right hands at the end of the fight may tilt it slightly in his favor. Huge applause by the crowd, and a "Shel-ley, Shel-ley" chant as Jody Shelley skates to the locker room with pieces of his shoulder pads hanging off him.

Jeremy Roenick is back on the bench to start the second period. Quick passing by Sharks defense starting the transition up ice with speed. Corey Perry drills Joe Pavelski behind the Ducks net, no penalty. Anaheim reverses play in the other direction, Chris Kunitz breaks into the zone and feeds Perry on the right side. Perry snaps a shot off the blocker, save Nabokov. The rebound in the far corner is controlled by San Jose.

Anaheim creates three successive scoring chances on seperate rushes up ice. Each time there is traffic in front, by Nabokov is there to make the save down low. Devin Setoguchi responds with a pair of point blank shots in front of Jonas Hiller. Ducks not very effective clearing the crease in front of the Swiss netminder. Two scrambles high in the Anaheim zone, second one ends with a Dan Boyle snap shot from inside the right point. Previously mentioned on this blog was Nabokov's conditioning, a very underrated aspect of his game. Another underrated aspect is his puck moving ability. With Pahlsson breaking in on Nabokov to a loose puck in the corner, Nabokov patiently plays it around the right boards and out of danger. A second clearing attempt by Nabokov is denied by the referee's skate.

Higher pace of action from both teams to start the second period. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff tried to snap a shot off the leg pads of Hiller but he gets it too high and it is gloved. Later in the game Ehrhoff tried a bank shot off the end boards, the puck rebounded perfectly in front of the the net. Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi get the puck deep in the Anaheim zone. Pahlsson takes down Setoguchi behind the net, no call. Thornton behind the net passes the puck out to Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the point. Shot by Vlasic through traffic to Marleau, then Setoguchi. Setoguchi spins and snaps a high shot that beats Hiller to his left before he can get over. The goal is his team leading 14th.

Roenick called 2 minutes for hooking at 11:21, arguing with the referee probably for the non-call on the Festerling hit in the first period Roenick draws an extra 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. In the penalty box, Roenick is verbally working over the NHL officials in the box next to him. Corey Perry bails the Shaks out taking an ill advised holding call on Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the Anaheim offensive zone. Sharks television broadcast interviews Western Michigan native and 49ers lineman Joe Staley, who says that he likes watching the games in person and not on TV. The Sharks broadcast takes a few good natured shots at Staley, saying he can attend games at HP Pavilion in January and February when the 49ers have time off. Staley, at the game with quarterback Shaun Hill, says the Shelley-Parros fight was his favorite part of the game so far. He says that fights would not work in the NFL because with so many 300+ pound guys someone might die in an NFL bare knuckles fight.

Sharks kill off the back end of the 4 minute penalty on Roenick, big cheer from the crowd and a lone fan with a duck whistle starts another "Ducks Suck" chant. On the best scoring chance of the period for Anaheim, Teemu Selanne takes a tripping penalty in front of Nabokov. Marleau wins a faceoff, and Thornton rings the first power play shot off the left post. Anaheim has one forward pressuring hard on the point, with 3 players in a tight triangle down low on the penalty kill. On this PK it is effective, with the Ducks outnumbering San Jose 3-to-1 or 3-to-2 in front of the net. Second PP unit, Pavelski-Michalek-Clowe can not get the puck deep until shortly before the power play expires. Two clutch saves by Nabokov on Chris Pronger at the end of the period.

A turnover in the neutral zone leads to the first quality scoring chance of the third period for the Kunitz-Getzlaf-Perry line. Nabokov blocks the shot down low, seals the post, and freezes the puck for a faceoff. Brendan Morrison battles Marc-Edouard Vlasic for a puck deep in the corner. Again and again, Ducks forwards are battling for body position while tracking down pucks down low. Getzlaf drew a penalty on an early battle with Ehrhoff, Perry and Selanne have also been actively using hands and arms to get inside of Sharks dman when playing a puck deep.

Patrick Marleau is flying on the top line with Setoguchi and Thornton. Seto holds the puck in on the point, and dumps deep to Marleau. The Sharks captian beats a defenseman to the puck, but a hard centering pass through the slot is lifted just over the stick of a charging Thornton. You do not even need to look at the numbers to see which player Marleau is on the ice, he is the fastest skater on the ice in both directions. Later in the period Marleau is subbed in on the end of a shift, or he takes shifts with the fourth line. At this point, you have to look at the bench and see if McLellan is double shifting Marleau as much as he can or if Marleau is hopping over the boards himself. Every shift he creates problems for the Anaheim defense, and he is backchecking hard leading the team by example.

The Sharks are starting to get the puck deep, making Anaheim skate 200 feet through traffic to get the puck up ice. One one rush, defenseman Rob Blake fired the puck behind the net 3 times before Anaheim could gain possession and start a transition. At intermission in the elevator, Sharks television analyst Drew Remenda mentioned the hits and fights were less than previous ANA-SJ matchups, but the physical play along the boards was the determining factor of the game.

With Getzlaf at the end of his shift, callup Tom Cavanagh picks the puck off him and breaks into the Ducks zone. With Roenick and Shelley, the fourth line creates a little commotion before Anaheim can clear the play. Cavanagh has great instincts. On this shift alone he created a turnover, jumped on a loose puck in the offensive zone to try to create a scoring chance, and he backchecked hard in front of Nabokov to move the puck up ice under pressure. Cavanagh registered only 6:41 of ice time, but you have to like what you see from him to this point.

Toe drag by Corey Perry as he carries the puck passed two Sharks, behind the net, and flicks a wraparound attempt that is stuffed by Nabokov. Nabokov also makes a second save on Kunitz. The Sharks third line checking center Marcel Goc may be playing his best game of the season. Goc creates a turnover in the offensive zone and snaps another quality shot on net with Mike Grier on the doorstep. Loud Prongggg-errr chants from the crowd. They are getting their moneys worth at this game, but negative props to the fan who threw a burrito onto the ice. Everyone laughed, players included, but it makes San Jose look bad.

Another great shift by Cavanagh-Shelley-Roenick. Cavanagh carries the puck to the front of the crease, Shelley and Cavanagh take several quick whacks at the puck before Anaheim can clear. Late hit by Festerling on Michalek after an offsides whistle, and Clowe comes in to regulate. George Parros is on the ice, and Parros and Clowe have a quick discussion. Faceoff moves to Sharks zone, but Pavelski and Grier combine to move it out of the zone.

Michalek hammers Chris Pronger in the offensive zone, then Perry comes charging at Michalek. Short punch by Michalek drops Perry (actually he was trying to draw a penalty), then Kunitz comes hard at Michalek. Pronger blindsides Pavelski, who is looking at the other side of the ice, with a cross check in front of the net. Then all 10 skaters converge behind Jonas Hiller. Kunitz came charging after Michalek for the hit on Pronger, Ehrhoff tried to rip Kunitz off Michalek. Perry was the fourth man in, with Ryane Clowe trying to pull Perry off. The day Corey Perry drops the gloves with Ryane Clowe is the day this blog turns purple and I post a video singing the Anaheim Ducks fight song. Never going to happen. Linesman #90 Andy McElman deserves third star of the game for wheathering the maelstrom. Michalek heads to the penalty box without a jersey, his Cooper pads showing as he garnered a 2 minute roughing penalty. Corey Perry gets a matching 2 minute minor for Anaheim. Someone has to skate to the penalty box to give him his jersey back as well. Joe Pavelski was initially directed to the penalty box, but the referees later asked him to go back to the Sharks bench. Loud Prong-ggger, Prong-ggger chant from the crowd again.

The Anaheim Ducks look like they are equal parts trying to tie the game, and equal parts trying to physically punish the Sharks for the final 3 minutes. Getzlaf is able to get a shot off at the top of the zone, but San Jose is continually moving the puck up ice or dumping it deep. Anaheim is forced to gather the puck behind their own net repeatedly. Montador takes the puck behind his net, all the way up the left wing and pulls up inside the blueline. They can not do anything with the play, and the Sharks clear it. Montador was impressive in the preseason, and he has been a solid addition to the Ducks this year. His biggest contributions will come during the playoffs.

Anaheim pulls Jonas Hiller, but Mike Grier is tied up before he can get a shot off on the open net. Ducks get the puck deep with an extra attacker, but San Jose again clears it off the wall. Anaheim breaks in again, Niedermayer gets a shot off from the slot, but Teemu Selanne misfires from the right side of the net. One-timer from Getzlaf on the point also wide, but a second Getzlaf one-timer is covered by Nabokov. At each stoppage of play, defenseman Chris Pronger is verbally working over the refs. They are smiling wryly at him, but he continues before and even after one faceoff in the Sharks zone.

Blake and Perry have been battling hard in front of Nabokov. Blake cross checks Perry several times from behind. Perry, one of the few true thugs in the NHL, hammers Blake with a cross check from behind of his own and then falls to the ice. A quick succession of players fall on top of Perry and Blake resulting in a huge pile of bodies on top of the Sharks goal. Hidden from me on the play, but Evgeni Nabokov turned and backed out just prior to the pileup. The Ducks are historically a dirty team, and creating a train wreck on top of Nabokov in the waning moments of a 2-0 loss exactly fits their way of doing business. Again it is linesman Andy McElman doing yoeman's work trying to pull players off of each other, but the anger swells up a second time. Scott Niedermayer took a swing at Michalek after he gets up from the pile. A helmetless Perry is taunting several Sharks with a ref between them. He is saying "what, what are you going to do about it, what". That does not sit with Rob Blake, and Blake comes flying at Perry up against the glass. Blake has his left hand cocked, but does not throw it with two referees hanging on to each player. Two more Sharks and two more Ducks come in to try to pull them off each other. Blake is given a 4 minute spearing major (not a 3 minute penalty as shown on the scoreboard), and Michalek is tagged with a 10 minute misconduct penalty. Corey Perry is given 2 minutes for cross checking with 17.4 seconds left, Scott Niedermayer is given a 10 minute misconduct.

Several of the Sharks-Ducks contests in the past have been hard hitting, end-to-end affairs. Several have devolved into fights or a series of punishing checks. The next meeting in this season's California series is one to circle on the calender. It should be one of the best games of the season. Maybe not for a hockey game, but it will be one of the best pseudo Rugby affairs on ice, with pads.

The official San Jose Sharks recap and post-game video interviews are available here. Youtube video highlights are available here. A photo gallery from the game is available from Sharkspage here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle conference call transcript

San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle conference call photo

San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle participated in a conference call with reporters this morning. Acquired by the Sharks along with Brad Lukowich in a July 4th trade with the Tampa Bay for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart and two draft picks, Boyle is on pace to surpass career highs in goals, assists and points this season. He leads all San Jose defenseman with 10 goals and 24 points, and is a point behind NHL defensive scoring leader Shea Weber (11G, 14A) with one game in hand. Boyle is 5th in NHL Allstar voting for Western Conference defenseman with 156,117 votes.

[Q] Your departure from Tampa Bay was probably a little bit unpleasant at the time. Any regrets now?

[DB] No, not anymore (laughter). Like you said, 'at the time.' I just signed a six-year extension, was planning to be there for a while. But certainly having seen the way some guys have been treated and what's gone on so far, and the way on top of it I've been treated here, I have no regrets whatsoever.

[Q] Why is San Jose better than Detroit this season?

[DB] Well, I mean, our records are pretty similar. I think we have the edge so far. Honestly, depth I think is probably the biggest key. We have four lines, we have six D. When our top goalie Nabby got hurt, our backup goalie came in and did a great job. We've been lucky as far as health-wise, we've been pretty injury-free. You know, we'll see. I mean, it's a long season. We'll see what happens. At the end of June, that's what matters.

[Q] There are a lot of Swedish players in Detroit. Which one of those do you value the most?

[DB] Which do I value the most?

[Q] Which is the best Swedish player in Detroit?

[DB] The best Swedish player in Detroit? I mean, wow, Zetterberg I played against during the lockout year. There's a lot of talk about Holmstrom, what he does in front of the net. I think Zetterberg to me is probably the best Swedish player out there.

[Q] You have Douglas Murray with you in San Jose. How is his season so far?

[DB] Yeah, Dougie does his job when he goes out there. He's a big hitter. He's an intimidating guy out there. He's been, you know, point-wise not a point guy maybe per se, but certainly maybe as far as the physical play, his defensive play has been great.

[Q] Which is the best Swede you have played with and against?

[DB] Oh, geez, man, a lot of Swedish questions. Best Swedish player I've ever played with? That's a very good question. You know what, I mean, I don't know about on the ice, but off the ice Marcus Nilson is a good friend of mine, who is no longer playing I think in the NHL. He was a good player before he got hurt. Had he not hurt his knees, I think he'd be one of the top guys I played with.

[Q] Doug Wilson said this time around he made a point of going out and getting guys who had won a Stanley Cup. You look at the years where San Jose came up short in the playoffs; felt like experience was one of the issues. As one of those guys, what have you done to kind of share what it takes to succeed at that level?

[DB] Yeah, I think that's going -- more of it's going to come when we get to the playoffs. You know, this has been a good team for years now during the regular season, so there's not really much to say so far because everybody's getting the job done. I think when we do get to the playoffs, maybe then we can share a little bit of our experiences and what we need to do. For me I think the most important part is just to be calm out there, just to show some poise. If I can be like that out there, hopefully that will reflect on some of the other guys. I think a lot of people panic in the playoffs, and for good reason. But I think you do need to have a calming aspect out there. Hopefully myself, Blake, and Brad Lukowich can bring that in.

[Q] You won the Cup with Tampa Bay. How does this team stack up?

[DB] You know what, I think this is a deeper team than we were in '04. I think depth-wise, this is definitely the best team I've been on.

You know, having said that, we're only a quarter of the way through. We have a long way to go. Playoff hockey, as we all know, is totally different. When it's all said and done, I'll be able to look back and maybe make comparisons. But we had a pretty good team in '04. We stepped it up to the next level in the playoffs. Until we get there, until we do that with the Sharks, it remains to be seen.

[Q] Any part of you, a tiny bit, have satisfaction? You look at the train wreck in Tampa.

[DB] I'm only human, right (laughter)? I definitely feel bad for some of the guys I played with. I'm sad for the fans because they had built that organization to what it was. Now to see what's happening out there, it's probably more sad than anything for me because I still think it's a great place to play and it's very unfortunate that all this stuff is going on.

[Q] What were your first impressions of San Jose when you arrived with the team, knowing that they had been eliminated in the conference semis the last three seasons? Did you sense there was a determination there?

[DB] Yeah, I mean, I had just signed for six years, so I knew I was going to be somewhere at least for a little while. Certainly didn't want to be somewhere, stuck somewhere where I was going to be in possibly a losing situation on most nights. So I knew I was coming to a good team. Certainly the talk is getting to the playoffs and getting on to the next round.

Again, we'll cross that bridge when we get there. But certainly there's a great mixture of guys here. There are some older guys that have been around. But, I mean, the up-and-coming guys, I mean, some of these 21-year-olds that we have out here are just going to be players to be reckoned with for years to come. Joe Thornton is in the prime of his career. To me he seems like he's only getting better.

It's certainly exciting for this year and for the years to come, too.

[Q] What impresses you most about coach Todd McLellan?

[DB] He's right on it. He's on the ball I guess is the expression. You know, we come out here, we practice every day. It's very crisp, it's very sharp, it's to the point. It's a system where, you know, for me as an offensive defenseman, I can't complain. He wants the defensemen up in the rush. I certainly love to hear that.

[Q] Can you talk a little bit about ice time and how you're able to sustain your play throughout the course of a game. Are there things you do on the bench to maintain that energy?

[DB] You know what, actually this year I'm playing a little bit less than I have in years past, and that's fine with me. I feel a little bit fresher, you know, down the stretch. Hopefully down the stretch, as far as the season goes, that will be a benefit.

I mean, honestly I go out there every shift as it's my last. Just go out there, try to make something happen, try to help this team win hockey games. There's nothing really different that I do from one shift to the next.

[Q] Are there any parts of your game you've had to adjust now that you're playing in the Western Conference after having played in the Eastern Conference your entire career?

[DB] No. I mean, there's so much talk about how the Western Conference was going to be more physical, this and that. It's still early yet, but I haven't noticed that big of a difference, to be honest with you. I think for me, it's probably just some names, some players out there I haven't played against, I just need to recognize who they are. So I may need to ask an older guy what's going on, what a guy's tendencies are. That's maybe the only thing, just the personnel, maybe not knowing guys as much. But as far as the style of play, I don't notice a difference at all.

Sweden was representing on the conference call. Interesting tools on quanthockey.com allow you to break down the production to date of Swedish players in the NHL. Vancouver's Daniel Sedin leads all Swedes in the NHL with 27 points, and is tied with Loui Eriksson and Henrik Zetterberg for the NHL Swedish goal scoring lead with 12. Rounding out the Top 5: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Nicklas Bäckström, Daniel Alfredsson and Henrik Zetterberg.

[Update] Offside Wednesday: Boyle rides above nuts and Bolts - Toronto Sun.

[Update2] Cheechoo takes part in first practice in 10 days, and a throne shows up in the locker room - David Pollak's Working the Corners blog.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Boston College vs. Boston University Prospects Report

Last weekend heated rivals Boston College and Boston University faced off against one another and the Sharks organization was well represented with three prospects playing key roles for their respective teams. Nick Petrecki, drafted 28th overall in 2007, was patrolling the back end for Boston College and was an intimidating physical presence. Nick Bonino, drafted 173rd overall in 2007, centered Boston University's second-line and played in all situations. John McCarthy, drafted 202nd overal in 2006, played along side Bonino on the second line and was on the penalty kill. Below are impressions from Sharkspage's Max Giese as he was able to take in the weekends contests.

Nick Petrecki, D, Boston College
Clearly ahead of his peers from a physical standpoint, as he's that rare combination of exceptional strength, size, and mobility on the back end .. what stands out most about Nick is his intensity and unrelenting mean streak .. the most physically intimidating player in College Hockey and can absolutely destroy opponents with his body checks .. powerful skater with striking buoyancy in all-directions .. hands appear softer this year and while his decision making with the puck requires further work, it is progressing .. has benefited from adopting a more patient approach defensively .. defensive positioning has improved and he's becoming an expert shot-blocker .. effectively kept Colin Wilson, Nashville's 8th overall pick in 2008, quiet all weekend and had his teammate Jason Lawrence hearing foot-steps every time he entered the neutral zone .. the top prospect in the Sharks system and didn't disappoint with this authoritative physical display .. Sharks should sign him after this season and stick him in the pro-game, as he's beginning to get penalized for simply being much stronger than his competition in the NCAA.

Nick Bonino, C, Boston University
A Joe Pavelski clone, Bonino is the next in line of late round steals by the Sharks scouting staff to become impact NHL players .. centering the Terriers' second line and plays in all situations, including key roles on both special team units .. his defensive game used to be a concern and now it is a strength, as his great hockey sense and anticipation allows him to conquer any of his skating issues and always be in supportive defensive positions .. still needs to add strength, but he competes hard and always gives that second effort to make the play .. valued penalty killer that is asked to win key defensive face-off's late in the game and check the opponents top lines .. despite all of this defensive responsibility, Bonino is still a highly productive offensive player with great imagination and a lively stick .. has some dangle, can really shoot the puck, and is a creative play-maker .. just needs to continue to add physical strength and more explosiveness to his skating stride .. a top prospect in the Sharks system.

John McCarthy, LW, Boston University
Has already surpassed his career high of 7 points in a season, only 15 games into this one by accumulating 11 points so far .. his strength remains his play on the defensive side of the puck, as he's a competitive and crafty two-way performer .. his skating is adequate, but he would benefit greatly if he had more explosiveness out of the gates .. not blessed with a high level of skill, however he intuitively makes high percentage plays with the puck and is willing to pay the price to score .. was a long shot to be signed heading into the season and now looks like a prospect worth keeping in the system and sending to Worcester at the end of the year .. is the Terriers' team captain and is a valued prospect because of his stingy defensive play and leadership.

Candid conversation with an NHL scout
Sharkspage scored an interview with an NHL scout who was in attendance for the weekends match up. In return he requested to remain completely anonymous. Below is the transcript.

Sharkspage: How did Nick Petrecki look?

NHL Scout: He's a man child. He should be playing in the pro's right now and might go straight into the NHL next year. You have to see this kid live to appreciate the power he has on the ice. He is so much stronger than everyone else and gets too many penalties because of it.

Sharkspage: Did he play against Boston University's top line, centered by Colin Wilson?

NHL Scout: Honestly I didn't pay much attention to that, but he must have because I remember him killing one of Wilson's linemates three times. He had that poor kid hearing foot steps all game.

NHL Sharkspage: How was Petrecki's decision making with the puck?

NHL Scout: It's obviously not his strength and he has to work on it. But, all kids at this level have weaknesses and his decision making isn't bad enough to hold him back going forward.

NHL Sharkspage: What are your thoughts on him not being named to Team USA's World Junior Championship team?

NHL Scout: It's mind boggling to be honest. If they are going to get where they want to go at that tournament, at some point they will have to go through Canada. Plus, on that smaller ice surface in Ottawa, you need and your guys want somone like Petrecki on the ice for those games.

Sharkspage: How about Nick Bonino?

NHL Scout: Bonino is legit. He plays in Wilson's shadow centering the second line, but he's a promising prospect. I remember you telling me he's a Joe Pavelski clone and that comparison is bang on. He's got size, he's smart, and skilled. On the second night he closed the game out with a diving effort to score on the empty net.

Sharkspage: What is his NHL projection?

NHL Scout: Two-way center. He can kill penalties and run the power-play. That's rare to find in a sophomore. He looks like a steal considering they got him in one of the later rounds. His intelligence makes up for his skating and then from there his skill takes over. He can play in all-situations.

Sharkspage: Lastly, what did you think of John McCarthy?

NHL Scout: I've never heard his name before and this was my first time seeing him. He's not all that skilled and needs to work on his feet. That said, he's their captain, key penalty killer, and is contributing on the second line. You can see that he's a hard-working and smart player.

Sharkspage: If he was your teams prospect, would you want him signed?

NHL Scout: I would want to see him more. I didn't see enough to sell me but also saw enough to keep me interested.

Winter Classic II commercial taps into Harry Carey and Wrigley Field nostalgia to promote outdoor game between Detroit and Chicago

This excellent commercial by the NHL captures some of the timeless appeal of Wrigley Field and late broadcaster Harry Carey and uses that to help promote the upcoming January 1st Winter Classic II game between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. It is the second commercial in a row that really connects with the foundation of the sport, following the Cup Raise slideshow used at the start of the 2007-08 NHL playoffs.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lewis Lazare mind bogglingly finds fault with the Young & Rubicam spot, calling it "ho-hum", full of "fairly dull imagery", and a "publicity stunt". Lazare believes more footage of last year's Winter Classic in Buffalo should have been used to provide context. Snapshot's George James Malik is a little more grounded in his response, noting that the league has cultivated an "exciting" brand of hockey in Chicago and Detroit lead by the play of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

Yahoo.com's Greg Wyshynski interviewed NHL EVP of Marketing Brian Jennings, who said the commercial is more focused on the venue this season, that it was hard not to be influenced by Harey Carey's legacy when visiting Wrigley Field, and that this could give the NHL a spot at the table "on a day formerly dominated by college football".

For me, this commerical evokes memories of visits to my great grandparents farm in southwest Michigan. Diehard Detroit Tigers fans that gave new meaning to the word diehard, a mention of the Cubs or Harry Carey would cast a pall on the house. Having Detroit and Chicago meet at Wrigley Field taps into a perfect storm of regional allegiances on a day when college football exploits them. Weather permitting, the Winter Classic II is going to suck in a lot of casual fans for this game. It is up to the players and the NHL to keep them.

Tell me again why many NHL arenas no longer have organ players?

[Update] Winter Classic a return to childhood for players, Blackhawks set to host Red Wings at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day - NBCsports.com.

[Update2] The Ice Sheet: The Bruins are Back, Thanks to the Thornton Trade - Eric McErlain for the AOL Fanhouse.

Darryl Hunt: WorSharks Sink Pirates 4-2

The Worcester Sharks, on the strength of Claude Lemieux's second goal of the season, defeated the first place Portland Pirates 4-2 in a battle of Atlantic Division rivals Sunday afternoon at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts in front of a crowd of 2,641 fans.

Worcester would get on the board on the power play at 3:59 of the first period when Ryan Vesce fed Cory Larose at the point to the left of Portland goaltender Adam Dennis. Larose spotted Derek Joslin standing all alone just outside the far post, and fired a hard pass along the ice that went through the legs of Lemieux in the high slot and right on the tape of Joslin's stick. Joslin buried it for a 1-0 lead.

The WorSharks would make it 2-0 at 11:03 of the first period when Joslin took a Matt Fornataro feed and rushed into the Pirates zone. Joslin then threw a diagonal pass through the slot to Jason Demers at the point. Demers teed it up and blasted a low laser for his first professional goal.

Portland would knot the game 2-2 with two goals during the middle of the second stanza. Lukas Kaspar would deflect a Mark Mancari blast, but the puck would continue on toward the net where Marek Zagrapan would tip it past Worcester netminder Thomas Greiss for the power play tally. The assist extended Mancari's point streak to 10 games.

Portland's second goal would also be on the power play. After a flurry in front of the net Greiss thought the puck was under him, but it bounced loose. Colton Fretter fought off an Andrew Desjardins check to poke it into the net.

Worcester would get the eventual game winner when Kaspar deflected a clearing attempt right on to the stick of Steven Zalewski. Zalewski then fed a streaking Lemieux in the Pirates zone, and after a head and shoulder deke against Dennis, flipped a backhand to make it 3-2 at 16:53 of the second period.

After Greiss made several big saves in the third period, Vesce would ice it in the games waining seconds with an empty net goal for the 4-2 final.

Worcester’s scratches were Mike Moore (hand), Matt Jones (jaw), Mike Morris (concussion), and Frazer McLaren (hand). Brendan Buckley is currently indefinitely suspended by the AHL after being penalized for leaving the bench to instigate a fight Friday night in Manchester. Buckley and the WorSharks contend that he was part of a line change. If the AHL doesn’t reverse the penalty league rules say Buckley’s suspension will be six games.

Portland fans received a scare Saturday night in Lowell when defenseman Michael Funk was boarded from behind by Anssi Salmela deep in the Pirates zone. Funk lay motionless on the ice for several minutes as the medical staffs of both teams and emergency personnel from the arena tended to Funk. Funk spent Saturday night in a Lowell hospital under observation. Salmela was given a major and a game misconduct, and the play will undoubtedly be reviewed by the AHL for additional discipline. Chris Roy of the Maine Hockey Journal is reporting Funk was released from the hospital Sunday with full movement of his extremities, and that this is the second time Funk has suffered a major concussion this season. Funk also missed the first month of the regular season after being injured in Buffalo during training camp

The WorSharks have had issues lately about getting off strong, but that was hardly the case Sunday as early during the games first shift with Riley Armstrong giving chase to a Pirates defenseman on the forecheck, Andrew Desjardins threw a monster open ice hit against the distracted defender that drew a huge cheer from the crowd, and set the tone for Worcester.

Worcester will take on Springfield Wednesday in a rescheduled game that was postponed when an electrical fire darkened the DCU Center on November 15. The WorSharks are having a couple of unique promotions running for the game…the first 500 fans will receive a free Worcester Sharks flashlight, and if the arena stays lit for the entire game fans will receive a voucher good for a free ticket to another game.

The three stars of the game were:
1. Lemieux (gwg)
2. Joslin (1g,2a)
3. Zagrapan (g)
My vote was Joslin, Vesce (g,a), and Demers (g,+2)

Even strength lines


Power play lines


Penalty kill lines


Faceoffs (offense/neutral/defense = total) (unofficial)
Even strength
Desjardins 2-2/1-3/1-1 = 4-6
Larose 2-2/2-1/1-1 = 5-4
Zalewski 5-2/3-3/1-1 = 9-6
Fornataro 2-0/0-2/1-1 = 3-3

Power play
Larose 1-1/0-0/0-0 = 1-1
Lemieux 1-0/0-0/0-0 = 1-0
Zalewski 1-0/1-0/0-0 = 2-0
Desjardins 0-0/0-0/1-0 = 1-0

Penalty Kill
Zalewski 0-0/0-0/4-4 = 4-4
Vesce 0-0/0-1/1-1 = 1-2
Desjardins 2-0/0-0/0-0 = 2-0

POR 0 2 0 - 2
WOR 2 1 1 - 4

1st Period
Scoring - 1. Worcester, D. Joslin (5) (C. Larose, R. Vesce) 3:59 PP, 2. Worcester, J. Demers (1) (D. Joslin, M. Fornataro) 11:03
Penalties - M. Ellis Por (interference) 3:35, B. Staubitz Wor (tripping) 5:20, F. Schutz Por (boarding) 13:37, B. Westgarth Wor (holding) 18:49

2nd Period
Scoring - 3. Portland, M. Zagrapan (5) (M. Mancari, T. Kennedy) 7:44 PP, 4. Portland, C. Fretter (8) (M. Ellis, M. Gragnani) 9:22 PP, 5. Worcester, C. Lemieux (2) (S. Zalewski, L. Kaspar) 16:53
Penalties - A. Slattengren Por (hooking) 2:22, M. Fornataro Wor (slashing) 6:52, M. Wilson Wor (holding) 8:20, P. Baier Por (tripping) 12:57, D. Joslin Wor (hooking) 17:14

3rd Period
Scoring - 6. Worcester, R. Vesce (5) (J. McGinn, D. Joslin) 19:55 EN
Penalties - B. Westgarth Wor (hooking) 15:04

POR Shots: 8 5 10 TOTAL: 23
WOR Shots: 12 10 8 TOTAL: 30

Power Play Conversion
Portland Pirates 2-6. Worcester Sharks 1-4.

Portland Pirates
Dennis 6-5-0 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 59:10 SV: 26 GA: 3 [L]

Worcester Sharks
Greiss 7-7-0 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 59:58 SV: 21 GA: 2 [W]

Attendance : 2641. Referee: Kyle Rehman (37). Linesmen: Chris Millea (33), Brian MacDonald (72)

Versus blog post, Penguins and Flyers ready to make a midseason push

San Jose Sharks Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Antero Niitymaki

Versus asked me to preview tonight's 4:30PM (PT) Buffalo at Pittsburgh matchup, and tommorow's 4PM (PT) New York Islanders at Philadelphia contest. My top down preview was posted here. The Denver Post's Adrian Dater previews the game through the vocal chords of Mellon Arena public address announcer John Barbaro.

Penguins and Flyers ready to make a midseason push
by Jon Swenson

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Eastern Conference, are poised to make a mid-season push in the standings. The Buffalo Sabres face down the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena on Versus Monday night and the New York Islanders travel to Philly to take on the Flyers in Versus’ match Tuesday.

Pittsburgh heated up in the month of November. The defending Eastern Conference champions registered a 9-2-1 record without the services of top offensive defenseman Sergei Gonchar (shoulder) or fellow blue liner Ryan Whitney (foot), who have been out since the start of the season. The Penguins generate the bulk of their offense up front, with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby combining for 83 points this season and running first and second in the NHL scoring race ahead of Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.

Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury went down November 15, and lanky 6-foot-4 200-pound backup Dany Sabourin has filled in admirably. Sabourin is one of the tallest netminders in the NHL, able to block a considerable amount of the net up high when he goes down. Solid positionally, Sabourin is playing confident in net and stabilizing the Penguins through an injury-riddled stretch that could have taken a significant chunk out of the season.

The Sabres are a team trending in the opposite direction. Buffalo snapped a three-game losing streak and a deflating 2-8 run with a 4-3 win over a last-place Tampa Bay Lightning team on Saturday. Center Derek Roy notched the game winner against the Lightning, but the Sabres were 0-for-6 on the power play and they were dominated in the face off circle, 32-18.

One bright spot is the Buffalo PKl, which has killed 22 straight and is third best in the league at 88.1 percent. Defenseman Craig Rivet returned from an undisclosed upper body injury Saturday, so his presence should keep the unit strong.

Keep an eye on Nathan Gerbe, who made his NHL debut against Tampa Bay. Gerbe, a Hobey Baker finalist at Boston College, registered 14 goals and a rookie-leading 24 points in 21 games for the Portland Pirates of the AHL. He recorded four shots on goal and a plus-2 in 15:09 of ice time against the Lightning.

The Flyers are also making a strong push in the standings registering an 8-1-2 record over the last 11 games. Philadelphia is piling up points with a balanced offense, a deep blue line, and the goaltending of Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki. Center Mike Richards is following up his breakout season of ’07-08 with 11 goals and 28 points in 26 games. Richards developed the killer instinct offensively this season, regularly lighting the lamp with highlight-reel goals. With Jeff Carter split on a second line with Scottie Upshall and Scott Hartnell, the Flyers have too many offensive weapons for opponents to shut down effectively. Carter enters play Monday with 19 goals, which is tied for the league lead with Buffalo's Thomas Vanek.

On defense, Randy Jones (hip) and newly-acquired Matt Carle (back) are expected to return to the lineup shortly with Ryan Parent expected to return later in the month. With a top three of Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and Osi Vaananen, the Flyers could have one of the best blue lines in the league when healthy. A goalie rotation will help keep Biron and Niittymaki fresh during a marathon 82-game regular season, but eventually one will emerge as the go-to netminder for what is expected to be a long playoff run. As far as this season is concerned, Biron has not yet grabbed the reigns, which he did last season.

The Islanders are another team slumping toward mediocrity. Joey MacDonald, starting in his 16th straight game against Atlanta on Saturday, regularly provides the third worst team in the NHL with a chance to win. The backup to injured Rick DiPietro has not received a lot of offensive support. The Islanders have been outscored 10-3 in their last two games, and only Trent Hunter (11) and Bill Guerin (10) have reached double digits in goals scored. Right wing Kyle Okposo (hand) and center Mike Comrie (hip) are two offensive options that are not expected to return to the lineup in the near future. The Islanders need a Mel Gibson "Braveheart" speech from Guerin soon before the season slips away.

[Update] A 4-part podcast of the blogger interview with Versus analyst Brian Engblom is now available online.

[Update2] Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Empty Netters blog previews the Buffalo Sabres and takes issue with Don Cherry's comments on Evegni Malkin. On the Buffalo Sabres, Rorabaugh notes Thomas Vanek's obvious hot start with 19 goals, that Ryan Miller and Dany Sabourin are the expected starters for tonight's game, and that Maxime Afinogenov has been bumped down to the 4th line. Afinogenov on the 4th line would create a lot of trade rumors if so many teams were not hard up against the salary cap.

Don Cherry slammed Evgeni Malkin while commenting on a Phil Kessel goal for Boston. Cherry praised Savard for setting up his teammate, and then said "not like Malkin". Rorabaugh posted video of Malkin passing up an empty net goal against St Louis to set up his teammate Jordan Staal, and posted a screen cap of the NHL assists leaderboard with Malkin at the top. Last week it was Cherry calling Joe Thornton the best player in the world, and assistant Sharks captain Mike Grier a cheap shot artist after his hit that knocked out Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Aaron Johnson. Thornton has picked up his offensive output with 19 points in his last 11 games, but it has been his responsible 2-way play along with Patrick Marleau that has impressed the most this season. While it was a borderline Grier hit on Johnson, I was in the photographer hole closest to the play, there are few more stand up players in the league than Mike Grier. After a discussion with the NHL, they agreed and did not suspend him.

It must be difficult for Don Cherry to raise his emotions for each broadcast, and difficult for him to watch all of the games, but it is his schtick and his genre. Watch and move on.

[Update3] Ed Moran: Flyers know you shouldn't believe the rumors - Philadelphia Inquirer.

With defenseman Randy Jones set to return to the Flyers' lineup, possibly tomorrow night against the Islanders, after missing the first quarter of the season recovering from extensive hip surgery, the rumor is that former coach Ken Hitchcock is trying to get Jones to play in Columbus.

The Flyers are right up against the salary cap, and losing $2.75 million with another defenseman, Ryan Parent (shoulder injury), also ready to come back apparently gives the rumor legs. Even with newly acquired Matt Carle having missed the last three games with back spasms, the Flyers are about to have a logjam at the position.

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock, rumored to be interested in Philly defenseman Randy Jones, and Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren both denied any trade rumors.

[Update4] For Sale sign on Sabres? - Globe and Mail.

The Buffalo Sabres were denying Monday morning a report coming out in a Buffalo-area hockey magazine this week says that Tom Golisano is seeking a buyer for the Buffalo Sabres. The report in Western New York Hockey magazine, which cites an unnamed source, says that talks are in the exploratory stage. It goes on to say that Golisano is listening to offers and prices are being discussed. The source claims that there is a group with NHL expertise involved in the discussions. In a statement released Monday, Sabres minority owner Larry Quinn said: “We are not in negotiations to sell the team and as we have stated in the past, we will never entertain discussions to move the team out of Buffalo." The December issue of WNY Hockey will be out Thursday, and the article reports that Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie has been approached by Quinn or an associate. The article says that a deal could be struck where the Sabres play part of a home schedule in Hamilton's Copps Coliseum.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hockey Notes - December 7th

Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson 2006 Western Conference Semifinals archive photo

- A brief recap of last night's Edmonton-SJ contest:

The Sharks were stymied by an old playoff nemesis as the Edmonton Oilers capitalized on 2 late power plays and used a stellar 41-save performance by Dwayne Rolson to hand San Jose a 3-2 overtime loss Saturday night at HP Pavilion. The loss snapped a 9-game winning streak, but the Sharks (22-3-2) remain unbeaten in regulation at home after 16 games and still have a 3 game cushion on the Detroit Red Wings (18-4-4) for the best record in the NHL.

The top line of Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi was swarming in the Edmonton zone early, but it was right wing Ales Hemsky who opened the scoring at 8:50. After a turnover in the neutral zone, former Anaheim Duck Dustin Penner fed Hemsky a pass just inside the blue line. Hemsky drew back the puck, used 3 Sharks and 1 Oiler as a screen, and snapped a shot over the shoulder of Evgeni Nabokov. San Jose continued to press the action with Dwayne Rolson scrambling to hold his ground as his team was outshot 16-1 in the first period. Dan Boyle flicked a hard angle backhand on net that deflected off traffic for his 10th goal of the season with 6 seconds left in the period. With 10 goals and 14 assists in 26 games played, Boyle trails Nasvhille's Shea Weber by 1 point for the scoring lead by defenseman.

The top offense in the NHL comes at opponents in waves. In the second period it was Joe Pavelski on the second line, and the grind line of Roenick-Shelley and rookie center Tom Cavanagh who created quality scoring chances early. Jody Shelley put his back to the crease and battled two Oilers to remain on his feet. A point shot by defenseman Alexei Semenov created a rebound in front, while Cavanagh and Roenick whacked at the rebound until they could put one past Roloson. Roenick scored his second goal in 2 games, 3 in his last 9 (tied for 35th alltime with Gilbert Perreault and Keith Tkachuk).

Dustin Penner came back to haunt the San Jose Sharks again. On the penalty kill, Milan Michalek breaks his stick on the point while trying to clear the puck. Defenseman Sheldon Souray launches a hard point shot, and Penner is set up net front to tip the puck passed Nabokov. Game tied 2-2. San Jose outshot Edmonton 31-10 after 40 minutes, and the trend would continue in the third.

Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi continued to create quality scoring chances. Marleau did not see a collision between Roloson and his own defenseman, snapping the puck on net after Rolson regained his feet. Thornton snapped a laser of a shot that deflected square off of Roloson's goalie mask. Thornton set up Boyle for a quick shot from the slot which resulted in 3 quick shots in succession. Roloson lost his mask on contact as he made the last save. The Edmonton goaltender was slipping into playoff battle mode, last seen at HP Pavilion in the 2006 playoffs.

After Patrick Marleau took a hooking penalty in overtime, Kyle Brodziak picked up the rebound of Shawn Horcoff's point shot and fired it on net. The puck deflected off of Christian Ehrhoff and beat Nabokov to give the Edmonton Oilers a 3-2 OT win. Dwayne Roloson made 41 saves on 43 shots to earn his 5th win of the season. Evgeni Nabokov made 14 saves on 17 shots against, but was unable to stop the lone Oilers shot in the first period.

Video highlights from the game are available here. The San Jose Sharks recap of the game is available here.

Sharks defenseman Brad Lukowich missed the game with a groin injury suffered against Columbus. Jonathan Cheechoo also missed the game with an undisclosed upper body injury. "We weren't disappointed with the effort, the results did not show up the way we wanted them to but... we got beat by a pretty good goaltender tonight." San Jose Sharks Todd McLellan said after the game. "Our two losses here at home have been almost identical, where we have had enough chances to score and end up losing in overtime... but we played the game we wanted to... At the end of the game they had one opportunity and we had one opportunity with the power play, they made good on theirs and we didn't" McLellan added.

Jim Matheson offers the requisite David vs Goliath, Roloson vs the World recap for the Edmonton Journal, unfortunatley the I am Wall nickname is taken. The Edmonton Sun posted pre-game features on a reborn Rob Blake and Taber Alberta native Devin Setoguchi. Rob Blake, along with defenseman Douglas Murray and Brad Lukowich, slowly worked themselves into form over the first quarter of the season while the team continued to pile up wins. Bad news for the rest of the NHL, Blake-Lukowich-Murray are getting better and hitting their stride as the season progresses. Joe Thornton is known for making his teammates better a la Cheechoo's Rocket Richard run a few years back, but Patrick Marleau also contributed to the breakout season on a line with rookie power forwards Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier. Setoguchi has the speed and heavy shot to take advantage of the opportunities Marleau and Thornton create, and he has also followed their lead playing a solid 2-way game for much of the season.

The Oilogosphere also chimed in on the Oilers 3-2 OT win. Lowetide previewed the game by reviewing the career of the oldest Californian to play in the NHL, left wing Mike Lampman. Lampman was drafted by St. Louis in 1970, and played parts of 4 seasons with St Louis, Vancouver and Washington. It is interesting to parallel Lampman with youth, minor and professional Californian hockey updates from California Rubber magazine. The influence of the Golden State is growing, and examples like first-time high school hockey leagues in Northern and Southern California is just one of many examples. Battle of Alberta noted the excellent even strength performance by Columbus in a 3-2 loss at HP Pavilion, and predicts they are going to trend upward as the season progresses. A lot of skill on Columbus comes from very young players. Young players are often inconsistent over an 82-game season, but Brassard and Voracek look like the real deal. Alexandre Picard may not fit the Ken Hitchcock mould perfectly, but Picard and Nikita Filatov provide some offensive depth in the system. Intesting graph of Oilers scoring chances even strength over the season at Irreverent Oiler Fans.

- Television ratings notes:

In a post detailing an impressive Washington Capitals 140% television ratings increase, Sports Media Watch also pointed to a 72% ratings increase for the Chicago Blackhawks and a 50% ratings jump for the San Jose Sharks. SMW quotes numbers posted by the Nielsen Wire blog showing an average 1.2 household rating in the SF-SJ-OAK television market, a 50% increase over last season.

John Ryan of the SJ Mercury News notes that 11 of 24 U.S. markets have seen television ratings increases this year, a figure which may or may not include online streaming and/or time-shifted viewing. The NHL has put a heavy emphasis on internet broadcasts in North America. Primetime television figures often include online streaming and a break down of broadcast numbers and broadcast + TS numbers. To my knowledge, quoted NHL television ratings do not. Sharks beat writer David Pollak also commented on the television numbers after the Sharks drew a 1.4 rating on election night and a 1.61 rating for a subsequent St Louis Blues game. Pollak noted that straight comparisons among Bay Area sports teams are hard to make with the Sharks playing a major factor in only 3 of 9 counties. Pollak believes winning hockey is driving disaffected Giants/A's/Raiders/Niners/Warriors fans to Sharks broadcasts.

Several readers have asked via email if the Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area's pre and post game Sharks television shows would be made available on bayarea.comcastsportsnet.com. Comcast SportsNet Bay Area Director of Marketing and Interactive Communications Jen Franklin said that league restrictions on NHL footage will not make that possible, but Comcast on Demand offers Comcast cable subscribers archived Sharks games for 24 hours and additional Sharks programming. Franklin also notes that Athletics Nation founder and one of the Bay Area's original sports bloggers Tyler Blezinsky will continue his "Straight A's by Blez" baseball blog on comcast in the spring, and that the CSNBA lineup of blogging talent that currently includes Sharks sideline reporter Kate Longworth and Warriors sideline reporter Jaymee Sire will continue to grow.

More on NHL television ratings in Canada from Puck the Media and the Globe and Mail's William Houston. Not to be lost in the shuffle, Versus NHL televison ratings are up 22% year to date over last season's numbers.

- Barry Melrose will return to ESPN as an analyst on January 1st, 2009, just in time for the Winter Classic outdoor game between Detroit and Chicago at Wrigley Field. Melrose was fired last month after registering a 5-7-4 record after 16 games as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Melrose will join former agitator Matthew Barnaby as a NHL analyst on ESPN and ESPNnews. Melrose previously worked for ESPN from 1996-2008.

- Will Sharks be a springtime success? - NHL.com.

Now that the San Jose Sharks have tied the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens' mark for the most points in the season's first 25 games, they're a lock for the Stanley Cup, right?

Well — not quite...

But even a start of historic proportions is no assurance of postseason success. Of the seven previous teams to earn more than 40 points after 25 games, only three — the 1943-44 Canadiens, 1984-85 Oilers and 2001-02 Red Wings — won the Stanley Cup. Two others (the 1980 Philadelphia Flyers and those '29-30 Bruins) lost in the Final; the others (Ottawa in 2005-06 and Buffalo in 2006-07) lost before the championship round.

There has been a mini-backlash on how much weight to put into the Sharks record breaking start to the season. NHL.com columnist John Kreiser tries to pour a little cold water on the Sharks with the usual "can't get it done in the playoffs" mantra. Yahoo.com's Greg Wyshynski always finds the positive, "Everybody just calm down about how good the San Jose Sharks are". Globe and Mail and SBN blogger James Mirtle hypes the San Jose start BUT notes how extra overtime points have decreased the impact of modern accomplishments. Very interesting discussion of WW2 and post-WW2 hockey in the comments.

Criticism aside, it does not change the fact that the Sharks often receive a score update or a brief mention and little else from NHL on the Fly, Hockey Night in Canada, or TSN. Late Pacific time zone starts offer only a partial explanation. The economy has taken a major chunk out of media budgets, as chronicled on this blog here, but the depth of coverage of the top team and top offense in the NHL from major print media sources has also been sparse. Last year Detroit played somewhat under the radar as several pundits predicted postseason success for Anaheim, San Jose and Dallas. If media coverage of San Jose starts gathering steam this season, they are going to find compelling players and storylines to keep them coming back for more.

- The Boston Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont posts an update on defenseman Kyle McLaren:

A way out of San Jose? Ex-Bruins defenseman Kyle McLaren remains in Worcester, earning some $2 million playing for the AHL Sharks, and is eager to resume his NHL career. "I wouldn't rule out being back in San Jose this year - but not next year, highly unlikely," said McLaren, who becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. "I'm only 31 years old and I feel like I've got at least a couple of years left. The main thing is staying healthy. I still love the game. If I didn't still love coming to the rink every day, then I'd be, 'OK, I'm done.' But I still love it." McLaren twice was put on waivers by San Jose this season, but none of the other 29 teams put in a claim. The Blackhawks had him on their radar, but, unable to move the pricey Nikolai Khabibulin ($6.75 million), they never put in a claim...

And finally, faithful reader Allan Steele, responding to a feature here about Claude Lemieux playing with the AHL Worcester Sharks, suggests, "Can we get [Cam ] Neely to suit up for Providence the next time Worcester plays there? A Neely/Lemieux reunion in the corner would be priceless. Maybe we can get pay-per-view deal, 'Extreme Bowling,' as Neely rolls Lemieux into the boards." Neely's response: "Make sure the Globe has signage in the corner." Now that's news sense.

- Next three hockey broadcasts on CSNBA's NHL Extra: Wednesday Dec-10 WAS vs. BOS 4:00PM, Thursday Dec-11 PHI vs. CAR 4:00PM, and Friday Dec-12 WAS vs. OTT 4:00PM. Next two Blackhawk broadcasts on WGN: Dec-16 EDM vs. CHI 5:30PM, and Dec-20 VAN vs. CHI 6:00PM.

- Stan Fischler, Dec 4th Fischler Report.

"Craig MacTavish has been taking some shots from the Edmonton media but not his captain Ethan Moreau: “None of that coaching controversy comes from within, it’s all created by talk outside of the team and in the media,” says Moreau. “It’s unfortunate. Nobody’s giving up on our coach, nobody’s giving up on our system. We’re going to play for him like we always have, hopefully we can win a few games and stop all the speculation, the trade talk and the coaching controversy, if there is one.” As for GM Steve Tambellini, he puts it this way: “We know there is a good skill set here. Are we surprised that we haven’t scored as much as we think we can? Yes. I think we have the potential to score more than we have, but it hasn’t happened at this point. But we’re confident that it’s going to pick itself up." - Stan Fischler, Dec 4th Fischler Report.

- An Interview with Al Iafrate - Matt Terranova for Pure Hockey Magazine.

- San Jose Magazine recently published a feature on San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan, Fire on Ice. The feature covers McLellan's Stanley Cup celebration after a successful playoff run as an assistant coach of the Detroit Red Wings last season, the job selection process under general manager Doug Wilson, his background growing up in Saskatchewan, how his coaching duties began as a player/coach in the Dutch Elite League, his 2003 Calder Cup winning season as a head coach of the Houston Aeros, and how McLellan expects to get the Sharks over the playoff hump. "I would describe the team as a family-type team, from ownership through management" McLellan told San Jose Magazine.

Thanks to Paul Kukla for the link.

- Registering a 32-21-7 record when starting goaltender Steve Shields went down with an injury, being named to the NHL All Rookie Team, and winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2001 did not bump Evgeni Nabokov into John Grigg's Top 10 best rookie goalie seasons on TheHockeyNews.com.

Nabokov was competitive and focused his first full year in the NHL, but there were hints of fatigue in the playoffs as the St. Louis Blues downed the Sharks 4-2 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Each year under late goaltending coach Warren Strelow and strength and conditioning coach Mike Potenza you could visibly see the impact of Nabokov's physical conditioning on his play. It is a very underrated aspect of his game, and it is one of the main reasons he can play 4561 minutes in 77 regular season games last year and still look sharp in 4 playoff overtime contests against Dallas.

- The latest DOH podcast went up this Tuesday and is available for download here. Mike Peattie and Doug Santana discuss the Sean Avery controversy, Ron Wilson and the Toronto Maple Leafs vs Todd McLellan and the San Jose Sharks, breakdown the recent schedule, the return of Claude Lemieux, and speculate about the future of Jonathan Cheechoo. Also catch Mike with Chetan Chaudhari every Saturday at 5PM on KDOW 1220AM. Archive broadcasts are available on chompboard.com here.

Spoke with Ryan Garner of Hockeybuzz.com at the Toronto game. His Sharks podcast will return in mid December.

- If the struggling economy has hit your hockey jersey budget hard, Bryan Justman posts a How to create a do it yourself hockey jersey article on Uniwatch.

- Ovechkin Nominated for SI's Sportsman of the Year - On Frozen Blog.

- The Sharks received bonus coverage Sunday from the New York Times online and in print. In a Slapshots print article, Jeff Klein and Stu Hackel point out that San Jose's 21-3-1 record after 25 games technically tied the record 43 points registered by the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens, but with the modern point for overtime the mark is not entirely equal. Also quoted was San Jose general manager Doug Wilson, who said this team is not taking anything for granted and is reaping the benefits from the offseason additions of Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich.

On the excellent Slapshots NYT hockey blog, Stu Hackel posts video highlights of Evgeni Nabokov's 29 save performance Thursday night against Columbus. Head coach Todd McLellan called Nabokov the first, second and third star of the game for San Jose. Hackel also notes that San Jose was the first team to reach the 100 goal plateau, albeit earning the 100th goal after winning a shootout 3-2.

Hackel also quoted Doug Wilson about the new offensive strategy under McLellan:

"We attack more offensively — we certainly generate more from the back end because we use the points more with the threat of a shot from Boyle and Blake," said Wilson, who was one of the great pointmen of his era with the Blackhawks.

"We play more of a puck possession game than before. When you’ve got skilled players; you want the puck on your stick instead of chasing and trying to retrieve it all the time. We do go from low to high, around the net down low and back to our point to create the offense from the back end. That is a tactical change from last year."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Oakland Raiders vs San Jose Sharks franchise head-to-head, which team has the bigger commitment to excellence?

The San Jose Sharks and Oakland Raiders went head-to-head on Thursday night. The Sharks filed onto the ice at HP Pavilion undefeated in their new Seagate Blackarmor third jerseys, the first of the regular Black Thursday's for the remainder of the season. The Sharks picked up their league leading 22nd NHL win with a 3-2 come from behind effort against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The silver and black Oakland Raiders sauntered onto the field at Qualcomm Stadium to face the San Diego Chargers, undefeated this season in their powder blue third jersey. Oakland's franchise quarterback JaMarcus Russell was knocked out of the game early in the second quarter, and the Raiders amassed an anemic 183 yards of total offense and 1 touchdown en route to a 34-7 blowout loss. The loss drops Oakland to 3-10 for the season.

It raises the question, which Bay Area franchise has the bigger commitment to excellence over the 18 years they have competed head-to-head? Which Bay Area team has best exemplified the Just win Baby mantra in the new millenium? Keep in mind the Sharks franchise started at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1991, and a lockout cancelled the entire 2004-05 NHL season.

San Jose Sharks vs Oakland Raiders 1991-2008 franchise head-to-head:

San Jose Sharks vs Oakland Raiders Bay Area franchise head to head

The Sharks have piled up four 40+ win seasons, Art Ross/Rocket Richard/Hart MVP trophies, 3 Pacific Divison championships in the most physical division in the NHL, and 9 playoff series appearances in the last 4 seasons. The Raiders lost a Super Bowl showdown with former head coach John Gruden in 2002, and were a party to a legendary missed call by officials in a loss to New England in 2001. The last NFL Championship for Oakland came over 25 years ago, while the franchise was playing its second season in Los Angeles. The Raiders have been a basement or a near-basement franchise for 6 straight seasons.

When you evaluate the Sharks and the Raiders over the last 18 years, the franchise output across the board is remarkably similar. When you examine the regular season and playoff performance since 2000, one franchise is rapidly trending downward while the other is knocking down regular season records as fast as sportswriters can look them up. As numerous NHL analysts have opined ad nauseum, the Sharks accomplishments will be judged on their playoff performance after 4 consecutive postseason false starts. San Jose can take direction from Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis on how to silence the critics, of which there are many among Bay Area opinion columnists, Just win Baby.

Note: The Oakland Raiders won NFL Super Bowl Championships over Minnesota in 1976, Philadelphia in 1980, and Washington in 1983, and lost Super Bowls to Green Bay in 1967, and Tampa Bay in 2002. 11 Oakland Raider players have been elected to the NFL Hall of Fame, only 2 during the 1991-2008 period measured here (Marcus Allen 82-92, Howie Long 81-93). Former Shark Igor Larionov was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame this year. Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon was named the NFL MVP by the PFWA in 2002, Joe Thornton won the Hart Memorial MVP Trophy in 2005. Oakland kicker Jeff Jaeger led the NFL in scoring with 132 total points in 1993, Joe Thornton lead the NHL with 125 total points in 2005-06.

Sharks overcome slow start to down Columbus 3-2, win streak at 9 games, home point streak at 15 games

The San Jose Sharks overcame an early blitz by the Columbus Blue Jackets, and used third period goals by Jeremy Roenick and Joe Thornton to down the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 Thursday night at HP Pavilion. The win extends the Sharks winning streak to 9 games and the home point streak to 15 games. The only team without a loss at home in regulation this season, San Jose has the best record after 26 games (22-3-1) than any other team in NHL history.

Prior to the start of the game, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock gave a succient but dead accurate assessment of the San Jose Sharks. Hitchcock said the team under rookie head coach Todd McLellan was the best team in the NHL at moving off the puck. He said that the Sharks routinely outwork the opposition on both sides of the ice, and thaty they use their size to effectively wear down opponents. In order to defeat San Jose, Hitchcock said the Blue Jackets were going to need to outwork them for 60 minutes and not break down late in the game.

The Blue Jackets, along with Chicago and Nashville, had an effective game plan coming into a game against the top team and the top offense in the NHL. While Nashville relied on Dan Ellis to put on a 54-save performance/magic show, and Chicago withstood a physical assault to stretch the Sharks deep with their team speed, the Blue Jackets were looking to grind out a win by capitalizing on mistakes and working hard. A Hitchcock blueprint for an NHL game.

Columbus was effective early. Skating with more energy, the Blue Jackets outshot the Sharks 14-4 after 20 minutes. Evgeni Nabokov made several critical saves early on former Flyer R.J. Umberger, Kristian "juice" Huselius, and a point shot by veteran defenseman Fedor Tyutin. Captain and NHL2K9 coverboy Rick Nash scored the lone first period goal. Nash beat several Sharks to a loose puck by the left faceoff dot, spun and fired a 22-foot shot that beat Nabokov through traffic.

The Sharks create opportunities and force opponents to take penalties by skating hard. In the second period the Blue Jackets took 5 minor penalties, including 2 over the glass delay of game penalties against Peca and Chimera. Chimera complained agressively to the referees as he was hammered to the ice by Douglas Murray on the play. The Sharks were able to convert the power play opportunity as captain Patrick Marleau scored at 14:57 on an offspeed backhanded chip shot that sailed over the shoulder of Chris Mason. The Sharks finished 2-6 with the man advantage, Columbus with the 30th ranked power play in the NHL finished 0-2. Mason pulled 2 pucks off the goal line in the second period, one as he fell straight back to freeze the puck, a second as he dived with his glove to clear a puck that trickled through on a shot from a hard angle. Mason finished with 19 saves on 22 shots against.

The third period turned into a back and forth shootout, not exactly matching the game plan for Hitchcock or McLellan. Less than a minute into the third period, a point shot by Marc-Edouard Vlasic was ripped home by Jeremey Roenick from in front of the net. Roenick pumped both of his fists as he celebrated only his second goal of the season. Veteran forward Fredrik Modin matched Roenick's clutch goal with one of his own at 3:45. Modin beat Jeremy Roenick off the wall with the puck, and stick handled hard around Rob Blake to score and tie the game at 2-2. The Sharks were skating with only 5 defenseman as Brad Lukowich left the game with a lower body injury.

Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi battled hard down low to create the game winning goal at 7:41. Thornton battled two Columbus Blue Jackets to keep the puck down low, and Devin Setoguchi gained possession and slashed towards the center of the ice. Setoguchi slid a pass by a diving forward, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic took possession, spun, and snapped a shot on Chris Mason from the mid-slot. With Marleau providing traffic in front, 2 Blue Jackets converged on him leaving Joe Thornton open on the right side. Thornton punched home his 8th goal of the season from less than 4 feet out. Sharks hang on to win the game 3-2, as Nabokov stoned the Blue Jackets on several late scoring opportunities. Nabokov finished with 29 saves on 31 shots to earn his 15th win of the season.

[Update] Sharks work hard for 9th straight win - SJ Mercury News.

[Update2] Sharks 3, Blue Jackets 2: Penalties undermine effort, Sharks take advantage of opportunities to hold off spirited Jackets - Aaron Portzline for the Columbus Post Dispatch.

Rick Nash and Fredrik Modin scored goals for the Blue Jackets, who haven't won in San Jose since Jan. 8, 2004. But this wasn't like most of the losses in the Shark Tank. It could be said that the Blue Jackets outplayed the Sharks for long stretches.

Ultimately, though, it was to no avail. The Sharks scored two power-play goals and another goal during a delayed penalty, keeping their claim as the only NHL club that hasn't lost at home in regulation. The Sharks are 14-0-1 at home this season.

Max Giese: Finnish goaltending prospect Harri Sateri

San Jose Sharks chief scout Tim Burke has gone to Finland before to find NHL-caliber goaltending. He struck gold at the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by selecting Vesa Toskala 90th overall and Miikka Kiprusoff 116th overall. Both goaltenders are small in stature but big in talent, and have become bonafide number one goaltenders in the NHL. Burke and the Sharks went back to the goaltending factory known as Finland at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, selecting another gem in Finnish netminder Harri Sateri. "He was very good as an underager, and he looked like a first rounder coming into the 2007-2008 season" says an NHL scout. "He played well during his draft year but not well enough to go in the first round" added the scout who thinks the Sharks got great value with the pick.

Drafted by the Sharks 106th overall, Sateri has already represented Finland at several international events. He is currently posting impressive numbers in the Finnish Elite League with a .923 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average. Sateri is projected to be Finland's number one goaltender at this years World Junior Championships in Ottawa. Sateri played for Finland at last year's tournament, eventually unseating Tampa Bay Lightning first rounder Riku Helenius for the number one goaltending position. However, he received mixed reviews from NHL scouts in attendance. "His performance there was disappointing, he showed too much inconsistency, and tended to let in the bad goal at the inopportune time". Still, the scout couldn't help but appreciate Sateri's attributes. "He has quick reflexes, uses the butterfly style, and is highly competitive" added the scout.

Sateri has been asked to work on several aspects of his game this season, and to his credit he has successfully done so. He used to take himself out of position overcompensating to make a save, but this year he has been in more control of his actions between the crease. Sateri still needs to work on puck-handling. and sharpening his mental focus. That said, you can not teach the athletic feet he possesses, and his technical game is near flawless.

With a style of play eerily similar to Toskala and Kipprusoff in their younger years, Sateri is a another promising goaltending prospect in the Sharks' stable of many. He is receiving great coaching back home in Finland, and will continue to receive the same in the coming years under San Jose Sharks goaltending coach Corey Schwab. Expect Sateri to shine at this years World Junior Championships, something he is already accomplising against elite talent back in the SM-Liiga.

Harri Sateri Scouting Report:
Boasts a polished technique and air-tight mechanics .. maximizes his net-coverage and maintains a proper stance by holding his gloves just above his leg pads and angling them towards the puck .. displays a wide five-hole, but takes it away quickly with a compact butterfly .. while in his butterfly, Sateri keeps his shoulders erect .. astutely hits one knee and clogs the net when shooters are coming in tight from a sharp angle, this also allows him to transition to T-Lateral movement instantly .. actively fights through traffic to see the puck .. anticipates developing plays well and gets square to the puck .. skates swiftly with quick lateral movement from both his stance and butterfly .. effortlessly recovers from his butterfly back to his stance with no wasted movement .. major chink in the armor is his weak glove hand, as he either whiffs at pucks or fails to vacuum them into his glove, leaving a bad rebound as result .. struggles handling the puck and is prone to allowing weak goals at inopportune times because he can lose focus .. no longer overzealous chasing the puck, Sateri appears more patient and in control of his movements this year.

Petrecki doesn't make Team USA
San Jose Sharks defensive prospect Nick Petrecki did not make Team USA's World Junior Championship roster. Petrecki, drafted 28th overall in 2007, has been a ferocious physical presence this year while registering 4 assists and 52PIMs in 13 games played for Boston College. While Petrecki told Sharkspage "no worries" about not being named to the team, the decision to leave the 6-foot-3 220-pound defenseman off of Team USA's WJC entry has left many scratching their heads.

USA Hockey is regarded as a political organization inside scouting circles, and that has no doubt played a role in this befuddling decision. It also needs to be taken into consideration the way Nick Petrecki plays the game, and how IIHF tournaments are officiated. Petrecki has overpowering strength even by NHL standards, and he marries that with an unrelenting mean streak. The World Junior Championships have historically been tightly and often questionably officiated, this means that Petrecki's tendency to straddle the line would have had him spending significant minutes in the penalty box.

Petrecki is a great NHL prospect, built for the pro game. In this case his style of play did not mesh with what Team USA needed and they decided to go in a differrent direction.

[Update] USA Hockey Jr. National Team roster announced - USAhockey.com.

Team USA 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship Schedule
Dec. 26-Jan. 5 - Ottawa, Ontario

Sun., Dec. 21 - Latvia, 4PM
Tue., Dec. 23 - Russia, 4PM
Fri., Dec. 26 - Germany, 12:30PM
Sun., Dec. 28 - Czech Republic, 4:30PM
Tue., Dec. 30 - Kazakhstan, 4:30PM
Wed.,Dec. 31 - Canada, 4:30PM

Fri., Jan. 2 - Quarterfinals, TBD
Sat., Jan. 3 - Semifinals, TBD
Mon., Jan. 5 - Bronze/Gold Medal Games, 3:30/7:30PM

* All times PT. All games but Latvia and Russia will be broadcast on the NHL Network.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

San Jose Sharks vs Toronto Maple Leafs gamelog

San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov photo Niklas Hagman
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala

More from the San Jose Sharks 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs will be posted soon. A small photo gallery from the game is available here. Youtube video highlights from the game are available here.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs San Jose Sharks period by period gamelog:

Coming soon.

Darryl Hunt: WorSharks At The Quarter Pole

The Worcester Sharks finally passed the quarter pole in their 2008-09 AHL schedule, and they find themselves in third place in the Atlantic Division with a 12-9-0-0 record after 21 games. With a solid mix of veterans and rookies, and now fully employing the offensive system of new San Jose Head Coach Todd McLellan, the WorSharks have put together an impressive run winning 7 of their last 9 games. Worcester had a rocky start to the season, losing 8 of its first 13 games, including being shutout twice.

While Worcester leads the AHL in shots on goal per game at almost 36 per game, during the beginning of the season they had issues getting quality scoring chances against teams that play a high tempo forechecking game. As the forwards become more acclimated to McLellan’s system, and the players become more comfortable with each other, the number of shots they take has actually dropped a little from earlier in the season, but the number of quality scoring chances has risen.

Defensively, the speed of Worcester forecheckers often causes issues for teams that like to pass the puck out of their zones, and the size and physicality of many of the WorSharks cause issues for teams that like to carry the puck out. It’s a one-two punch many AHL teams don’t have.

Worcester’s forwards have a long way to go to be considered near the top of the AHL, but based on the last eight games they are well on their way.

Riley Armstrong had made the transition from a raw, young talent to a bona fide AHL star on the brink of being an NHL regular. Armstrong has turned his game from being just a third line agitator to being a threat to score every time he had the puck. Despite a recent recall to San Jose, Armstrong is tied for the team lead in goals at 9, and his +5 is tied for second best on the team.

Tom Cavanagh is the definition of “steady”. While doing nothing flashy, Cavanagh simply gets the job done, be it killing penalties or playing all three forward positions on the power play or at even strength. Cavanagh is tied for the team lead in goals, power play goals, and points, and leads the team in shorthanded goals.

Needs Improvement:
T.J. Fox has just 2 points--a goal and an assist--in 20 games this season. Now obviously playing on the fourth line has resulted in less scoring opportunities, but Fox frequently loses one on one battles along the boards and in the corners which has caused numerous turnovers, resulting in even fewer scoring chances. With Ashton Rome and Matt Fornataro lighting up the ECHL, Fox could soon be the odd man out.

Forwards’ grade: B

The addition of Kyle McLaren to an already solid mix of rookies and veterans has helped the WorSharks lead the AHL in fewest shots allowed per game at 24. There were some growing pains early on as the rookies got used to the speed of the AHL game, but as a whole the defensive unit has performed well.

The defensive pairings that Worcester Head Coach Roy Sommer employs generally use one vet and one rookie--technically Brett Westgarth is not a rookie, but this is his first full professional season in the AHL--and those match-ups help the rookies play toward their strengths and to the strengths of their veteran partner.

Derek Joslin leads the WorSharks in shots on goal with 67, which also leads all AHL defenseman. His play on both ends of the ice would easily earn him that label of “number 1 defenseman” were it not for Kyle McLaren’s presence. The only thing preventing Joslin from being on San Jose’s roster is a spot to play in. The Sharks believe it’s better for him to play in the AHL than to sit in the press box in San Jose, and that’s a wise choice as he continues to hone his game waiting for his shot at the NHL.

Needs Improvement:
Jason Demers has all the tools to eventually play in the NHL, but none of those tools are at the AHL level yet. Like Joslin when he first arrived, Demers’ raw talent was good enough to make him a star in juniors, but they haven’t yet caught up to the skill level and speed needed to play in the AHL. But you can actually see him get better from game to game, and many times from shift to shift. If he follows Joslin’s example, the Sharks will have another strong defensive prospect in their arsenal.

Defensemen’s grade: B

No matter the level of play, a team is only as strong as its goaltending. Worcester was unfortunately shorthanded in the goaltending department before they even broke camp. With Taylor Dakers injured, Worcester was forced to rely on Thomas Greiss to play every game and use Kyle Jones, a free agent signee from NCAA Division III. Jones was simply not ready for the AHL, and when Greiss was recalled to San Jose was forced into action.

The tandem of Jones and Gerald Coleman did have a couple strong games, but all things being equal it was not the strongest of goaltending pairings. When Dakers returned to the line-up Jones was sent packing to Phoenix, and when Greiss returned from San Jose Coleman was released from his PTO.

Teams only go as far as their goaltending can carry them, and Dakers and Greiss are looking to carry this team back to the playoffs.

The grade is a little lower than it probably would be if it were just the Greiss/Dakers tandem being considered, but the grade is for the entire first quarter of the season.

Goaltending grade: C

If there has been a kink in the WorSharks armor, it has been special teams. Worcester’s power play is 16th out of 29 teams, connecting on just 16.2% of their opportunities. The WorSharks are one of the few AHL teams whose power play is better on the road (20%) than at home (12.3%). With all the offensive weapons Worcester possesses there is no reason why the power play should be performing so poorly.

The WorSharks penalty killing is also below the league average, killing penalties at just an 82.8% rate despite killing 38 of the last 43 chances. Worcester is better at home (86.4%) versus the road (78.9), but again, there is little reason why the penalty kill should be performing so poorly considering the talent on this team.

Hopefully Worcester can figure out their special teams issues, otherwise it will make what is already a difficult trek to the playoffs in the Atlantic Division a lot harder.

Special Teams grade: D

When you consider Worcester’s opening night line-up featured nine rookies and three other players that weren’t on the WorSharks roster last season, Roy Sommer has done a very good job leading this team to, at least so far, a winning record. Sommer, along with Assistant Head Coach David Cunniff, deserves kudos for implementing Todd McLellan’s offensive based system, which is completely different from the defensive systems Ron Wilson used.

Sommer’s timely mixing of both offensive and defensive lines has so far paid dividends every time, and his seamless integration of NHL stars Kyle McLaren and Claude Lemieux into his young line-up has help turn Worcester into a legitimate playoff contender.

Coaching grade: B

With 59 games remaining there is still a lot to be determined, but if Worcester continues to improve and can straighten out the issues on special teams there is no reason to think this team can’t make the AHL playoffs. From there, anything can happen.

Overall grade: B

Worcester's Leaders
Tom Cavanagh 9
Corey Larose 9
Riley Armstrong 9
Jamie McGinn 7
Mike Morris 5

Ryan Vesce 14
Steven Zalewski 11
Jason Demers 10
Tom Cavanagh 9
Derek Jolsin 8

Tom Cavanagh 18
Ryan Vesce 18
Cory Larose 16
Steven Zalewski 15
Riley Armstrong 14

Plus/Minus: Andrew Desjardins +7
Riley Armstrong +5
P.J. Fenton +5
Mike Moore +5

Penalty Minutes: Frazier McLaren 53
Brett Westgarth 52
Mike Moore 34
Andrew Desjardins 23

Power Play Goals:
Tom Cavanagh 4
Cory Larose 4
Riley Armstrong 3

Shorthanded Goals:
Tom Cavanagh 2
Steven Zalewski 1

[Update] Sharks, Dakers keep on rolling, Worcester 7-1 in last 8 games - Worcester and Gazette.

[Update2] Out of cold storage - Boston Globe.

These days, the 43-year-old Lemieux is attempting to satisfy a different appetite, one far more familiar and pleasing to his palate. More than five years after taking his most recent NHL shift, he is playing for the AHL's Worcester Sharks, which he hopes will be his last bit of prep work before returning to the NHL. He has been to China for a two-week tuneup with the China Sharks (San Jose's affiliate in the Asian Hockey League), and he has been to Providence (part of a three-games-in-three-nights test that is de rigueur in the AHL).

The results thus far, according to the old man who once wore Montreal's "CH" on his chest, have been positive, encouraging, to the point he believes he can get back to the show within a matter of weeks.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Max Giese: San Jose Sharks QMJHL Prospects Progress Report

The San Jose Sharks have two of their prospects playing in the QMJHL this season. Goaltender Timo Pielmeier, the 83rd overall selection of the 2007 draft, is spending his second season in North America playing for the Shawinigan Cataractes. Pielmeier is expected to be Germany's goaltender at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Ottawa and may be in the CHL's Memorial Cup, as Shawinigan is an early favorite to represent the QMJHL. Joining Pielmeier in the QMJHL is defenseman Samuel Groulx, the 94th overall selection of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Groulx is playing for the Quebec Remparts and is currently on pace to establish career highs. The following are scouting reports on the two promising prospects.

Timo Pielmeier, G, Shawinigan Cataractes, 6-foot-0 165 pounds.
At the 20 game mark, Pielmeier ranks fourth in the league with a 2.42 goals against average and second with a .930 save percentage .. arguably the best goaltender in the QMJHL, Pielmeier is an athletic butterfly goaltender with very strong lateral movement .. it's evident that the Sharks are polishing up another potential gem, as Pielmeier appears more economical in his movements since being drafted .. also, much more refined in his technique, this has lead to a more consistent output game in game out .. calm with traffic in front of him and admirably deciphers developing plays around his crease .. athletically gifted with quick feet, fast legs, and a lively glove hand .. especially difficult to beat down-low and utilizes his stick well to deflect rebounds into the corners .. like a tennis player, Pielmeier finds the middle of his crease and looks more patient between the pipes this year .. tracks the puck well, but is still guilty of allowing weak goals time to tome .. overzealous at times and will take himself out of position .. going toe to toe with Thomas Greiss as the top goaltending prospect in the Sharks system.

Samuel Groulx, D, Quebec Remparts, 6-foot-1 183 pounds.
At the 20 game mark, Groulx has not yet scored a goal, but has accumulated 10 assists .. fluid all-compass skater with a hunched over stride that boasts deceptive speed .. still needs to quicken his feet and add more strength to his stride, but his agility is swift .. receiving plenty of ice-time and is a fixture on the Remparts' power-play .. boasts soft hands and employees his gangly frame well to shield the puck away from opponents .. arguably his top attribute is his poise in possession, as he never panics when pressured and moves the puck efficiently .. sees the ice well, is mildly creative, and delivers a catchable pass .. savvy in the way he remains active away from the puck to support his teammate puck-carriers .. defends well in the open-ice with tight gaps and displays the ability to angle off his man to the boards .. utilizes his stick well as a defensive asset and he positions himself properly in coverage down-low .. not hesitant to play the body and has deceptive strength, although strengthening and maturing his frame are on top of his to do list.

U.S. newspaper coverage of the NHL adapts to difficult times, comments by NYT/LAT sports editors Tom Jolly and Randy Harvey, Ted Leonsis, John Ryan

Two years ago a perfect storm of negative newspaper news greeted the NHL prior to the start of its 89th anniversary season. Three of the largest U.S. newspapers, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, reduced the amount of hockey coverage appearing in print. The rising popularity of the NHL has transformed how newspapers cover the league, but a closer examination of the problems that lead to this transformation is neccessary to gauge where it might lead in the future.

In 2006, New York Times sports editor Tom Jolly said the reduced coverage of the NHL was a decision to "best allocate our resources". When Los Angeles Times sports editor Randy Harvey was asked about not sending beat writers to cover the Anaheim Ducks or LA Kings on the road, he described the NHL as a "niche sport" in his market. The Ducks would later march on to win the first Stanley Cup Championship for a Californian team. Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis complained on this blog about days his team was never mentioned in the Washington Post, stating that the "concept of an editor and a couple of reporters deciding what is news is kind of 19th Century".

The bad news continued prior to the start of the 2007-08 season. Both beat reporters covering the San Jose Sharks for the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News, Ross McKeon and Victor Chi, were bought out and laid off in the same week. This blog took a lot of criticism for calling it a Black Day for hockey coverage in the Bay Area, but the description of the moves as a "paradigm shift" for local sports reporting was a fairly accurate one. Earlier that year, Toronto Star deputy sports editor Chris Young said the newspaper business was at a crossroads because the physical newspaper model no longer applies.

At the start of the 2008-09 NHL season, like clockwork bad media news arrived. The Globe and Mail's veteran media analyst William Houston penned an article that carried the meme one step furthur, Economy bodychecks NHL coverage. Houston reported that the Palm Beach Post decided to discontinue coverage of the Florida Panthers as 40% of the newsroom staff was laid off. Houston also mentioned longtime Philadelphia Inquirer beat writer Tim Panaccio's departure to write online for Comcast and Hockeybuzz.com. In an interview with the popular 700 Level Philly Blog, Panaccio described Inquirer sports editor Jim Cohen telling him that the NHL was an "irrelevant sport", asking him to move to the Philadelphia Eagles beat. Panaccio declined, and he left the paper a few months later.

The onslaught of critical comments is a result of a struggling newspaper industry more than a performance or popularity issue regarding the NHL. According to the World Association of Newspapers World Press Trends 2008 Report, circulation sales for newspapers in North America are down 2.14% from last year. Advertising revenues increased everywhere but North America, where they dropped 2.77%. The WAN report noted that internet advertising revenue in North America is 20 times greater than those of Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa combined, but individual accounts such as this one by Gawker Media founder Nick Denton point to an even greater decline on the internet advertising horizon. Denton claims as much as a 40% drop in internet advertising revenue should be a contingency businesses plan for.

Both shoes have dropped on the newspaper business, and staffs have been slashed as managment tries to stem the financial bloodletting. Graphic designer Erica Smith, a St Louis Post Dispatch veteran, has been independently chronicling newspaper buyouts and layoffs with an interactive map on her PaperCuts website. Interactive maps detail over 13,748 newspaper jobs lost year to date in 2008, and over 2,185 newspaper jobs lost in 2007. Using her figures, she has seen a 276.26% increase in layoffs and buyouts from June 2007 to June 2008. The numbers are not comprehensive, but they paint a picture of how much the industry is struggling. To make matters worse, ContentNext founder and longtime analyst Rafat Ali said on Bloomberg TV last Friday that media layoffs will get worse in 2009.

After a series of accusations, counter-accusations, and failed meetings lead to the first cancellation of an NHL season since the 1918 Influenza epandemic, the league and the players union dug themselves a large hole with the 2004-05 lockout. Newspapers, television stations, and teams laid off employees and reduced staff to prepare for the year the league went dark. Traffic on this blog more than doubled as fans looked for hockey news they could follow online when there was nothing in their local paper or on their local team website. Fans in Sweden, Germany, France, Denmark, Russia, Japan, Korea, and Canada sent in enthusiastic reports and photos from teams they were following abroad. Many teams were icing NHL players for a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the best in the world play on their home rinks.

The NHL had its work cut out for them building back the trust of fans, but everything seemed to click with one major exception:

The bottom line is that the NHL far exceeded expectations after a brutal season-ending lockout. The 30-team lottery to determine Sidney Crosby's future, unprecedented free agent movement, new rules meant to open up the game, a television broadcast partner in the U.S. willing to try new ideas, two teammates winning the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies, five 50-goal scorers (Jonathan Cheechoo, Jaromir Jagr, Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley), another Canadian team in the Stanley Cup finals, all helped boost interest in the NHL last season. The NHL got it right. The question now is whether they will continue to innovate and build the fan base, or if last year was a creative anomaly.

The major exception was that the media coverage, including newspaper coverage, continued a slow decline. Yahoo.com's Greg Wyshynski noted the increasing numbers of informative and prolific hockey bloggers in markets that are struggling to provide old media coverage. Wyshynski points to the decentralization of the hockey media in the U.S., and notes that the coverage of the NHL is fundamentally changing. Many newspapers have taken a cue from the NHL and bloggers, and started using the medium to their advantage.

The coverage of the NHL at the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times has evolved in 2008. New York Times sports editor Tom Jolly recently answered a few questions about Ice Hockey Coverage at NYtimes.com:

[Q] How do you see The New York Times's coverage of the N.H.L. changing moving forward? With three teams in the immediate area, do you try to strike a balance between substantive features and beat reporting?

Stu Hackel and Jeff Klein have helped The Times's Slap Shot hockey blog quickly become one of the best media blogs covering the sport. What lead to the decision to create the hockey blog, and if cost was not an issue what is one thing you would like to see on Slap Shot or any of The Times’s sports blogs in the future? — Jon Swenson

[A] Thanks for the kind words about our Slap Shot blog. One of the great things about the Web is that it allows us the space to expand our coverage of sports that have a loyal and passionate following but get squeezed for space in the paper. We’re gratified that you and so many others are noticing the online coverage.

(As an aside, The Toronto Spectator made this observation about our coverage of last spring’s championships: In an item headlined “Yanks Trump Canucks on Bloggish Hockey Coverage,” it said, “O.K., this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news, but if you care at all about hockey in the frozen north, it’s a bit of a head scratcher. Throughout the International Ice Hockey Federation championship final on Sunday, it was The New York Times that offered the only live blog during the game.”

More broadly, our mission is probably unique among daily sports sections these days. With the expansion of our Web site and our integration with The International Herald Tribune, we’ve evolved into an international news organization. Obviously we’re based in New York and have a substantial readership here, but our national and international audience continues to grow and, in order to serve such a diverse group of readers, we’re focusing more on news and issues that go beyond individual teams. You’ve seen that in our Web coverage and in the way we’ve covered hockey in print. A few years ago, Chris Botta, who was then an Islanders’ public relations executive, posed a question on the team Web site that went something like: When did The New York Times turn into a daily Sports Illustrated? I don’t think he intended the remark as a compliment, but, as I later wrote to him, it accurately captures our larger purpose.

As I wrote to him in a note that was posted on his blog, “In an age when game recaps are so readily available via Web sites (including ours) and 24-hour sports networks, our aim is to give our readers coverage that goes beyond results.”

Don’t get me wrong. Game results are important. But if we are to give our readers coverage that is distinctive from other publications — coverage that matches the big-picture approach of the rest of the paper — we need to deploy our relatively small reporting staff differently from the way we did when we thought of ourselves as predominantly a New York newspaper.

Our coverage continues to evolve in all sports as we look for opportunities to do stories of interest to the most readers, including stories that transcend individual teams and games. In other words, we’re looking for news, features and enterprise stories that cover the breadth of individual leagues, the breadth of sports.

Tom Jolly's answers will not appease many New Jersey Devils, Rangers or Islanders fans who want increased coverage of their teams, but the approach of the paper to covering hockey is now clearly defined. With 6 brothers and 1 sister, you learn a little about negotiations. Accept the best offer, then the next day demand more. The Slapshots hockey blog is a terrific resource for international hockey news. Fans should demand more coverage of the Rangers, Islanders and Devils on the blog, then demand that some of that blog coverage make it into the paper.

Last week Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis answered a few questions from this blog about technology and the NHL, and media coverage of his team in the Washington Post.

[Q] A couple of years ago when I talked with you, you talked about the media coverage of the Capitals. What do you think of the Washington Post's coverage now with Dan Steinberg and Tarik El-Bashir?

[TL] We are fortunate that both Tarik and Dan are incredibly talented. They are young, they are web savvy. Their blogs are now actually more important to us than the actual paper itself. They blog 2, 3, 4 times a day. They have much more traffic online than they do in the paper itself. What I am most happy about is that they are part of a much expanded blogosphere. At one point there were like 2 outlets covering us. Now we probably have 100. Many of the bloggers like Japers Rink, On Frozen Blog, Offwing Opinion, they have huge reach and an unbelievably loyal following. They are very talented writers. Peerless Prognosticator is another I am reading a lot right now.

What I said would happen happened. We have to embrace the blogosphere. It is like oxygen, get used to it. It will be the best thing for us. There is no gatekeeper to the coverage. Some of the bloggers write bad things about us all the time, some of them are mad, some of them curse. Alright, that is what makes the internet. Our team is doing well, the business is very strong, the brand is being built. The more the merrier. It is a big tent, come on in.

Leonsis also mentioned that the NHL had to go through a "gut check" to get its financial house in order, and that the league proved you can take dramatic actions that result in a growing business. The Washington Capitals are on one end of the media relations spectrum, but they have opened the door to show NHL teams and media outlets what is possible. In a few short years, the franchise has helped create and develop a cadre of bloggers and reporters that have helped expand the market. The offbeat angles from Dan Steinberg on his "Sports Bog", Steinberg may have been the best reporter covering the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and the steady informative "just the facts" reporting from Tarik El-Bashir have had a significant impact on the resurgence of the Washington Capitals.

The San Jose Mercury News has had to endure several rounds of deep cuts and buyouts. A reader of the paper for over 30 years (I am 36), I was shocked to hear an East Coast reporter suggest that the Mercury News could be the first newspaper to move all online to mitigate financial losses. The suggestion was made again by another reporter at the 2007 Photo Plus Expo in New York. As it turns out, the 100-year old Christian Science Monitor was the first major newspaper to signal a move to go all online ("In 2009, the Monitor will become the first nationally circulated newspaper to replace its daily print edition with its website"), followed shortly thereafter by a statement from the third biggest newsweekly the U.S. World News and Report. Also signaling a move to online operations recently was PC Magazine, they will move to web-only coverage in January.

The San Jose Mercury News replaced beat writer Victor Chi with David Pollak, who was the longtime "fan in the stands" and enterprise business reporter covering the team. Pollak is the only beat writer traveling regularly with the San Jose Sharks, and he jumped into his coverage by essentially doubling his workload. He started his Working the Corners blog, which quickly became a must read for media and fans following the San Jose Sharks. Mercury News reporter John Ryan, author of the "Morning Buzz" notes column that appears on the inside cover of the sports page, said that recent moves have left his paper with a "monopoly" on Sharks coverage. With San Jose rocketing to the top of the NHL, and several other Bay Area teams struggling to keep their heads above water, the Mercury News is in a unique position to take full advantage of that monopoly.

The San Jose Sharks also deserve credit for being the first NHL team to launch a team website in 1995, for regularly being among the league leaders in online content, and for being the first team to credential a blogger (this blog in 2000). In a comment to Rick Chandler on Deadspin.com San Jose Sharks director of media relations Scott Emmert said that "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that newspapers are slowly going away". He continued, "Blogs are one of the venues that fans are going to, and we realize that... it is true that a pro franchise can make blogs work for them". He cited this blog and Ryan Garner of HockeyBuzz.com as two bloggers reporting online with "professional accountabilty". This offers an answer to many front offices who question how bloggers would be held accountable for what they report. Hold them individually accountable, and if there is a problem speak to them about it.

The positive or sideways trends at the New York Times, Washington Post and San Jose Mercury News have not been mirrored at the Los Angeles Times. After venerable Los Angeles Kings broadcaster Bob Miller reportedly criticized the paper for its lack of hockey coverage in late October, sports editor Randy Harvey responded on the LAT sports blog. Harvey writes that the entire sports page does not have as much space as it once did, and that his paper has had to cut back on some national hockey coverage. He points to occasional pieces by Hall of Fame hockey reporter Helene Elliott, and notes that they will be selective with which Ducks and Kings road games they cover. He quotes Miller saying there may not be as many hockey fans in Southern California as other sports, and quotes an anonymous colleague "There's not enough hockey in the Hockey News for hockey fans."

The straight truth about hockey coverage in Southern California is that the OC Register's Dan Wood and LA Daily News and Inside the Kings blogger Rich Hammond have eclipsed coverage by the Los Angeles Times. In an interview with this blog in 2007, Dan Wood said that the newspaper industry was in trouble with hockey coverage being the first thing to suffer in Southern California. He noted the bump in media attention after the Ducks Stanley Cup win, but TV crews that came out for the first practice did not return for future practices.

One small bright spot at the Los Angeles Times, according to Debbie Goffa NHL standings and game summaries will be featured more prominently beginning Dec. 1 with the regular college football season coming to a close. Two of my brothers live in Southern California and work in sports management. One called the LAT sports page of the 90's the best in the country. The other said it was a "can't miss read". Now one no longer reads the paper, and the other reads it only when he has the time.

It is interesting that in 4 of the major media markets discussed here, the oft-referenced "ravenous" hockey fan is almost looked down on instead of viewing them as revenue opportunities waiting to happen. Newspapers that can come up with innovative solutions quickly will remain an integral part of the local community despite a bleak media landscape. Many of those solutions may result in a resurgance of print coverage down the line.

The newspaper business is clearly in fiscal "gut check" mode. How newspaper coverage of the NHL will look 4-5 years from now may look vastly different from what you read in your paper today. Hopefully there will be more pie charts.

[Update] Times Shuts Down 'PLAY' Sports Magazine - NYTimes.com.

[Update2] NBA versus NHL. Again. - Sports Media Watch.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Versus blogger interview with television analyst Brian Engblom

Versus recently arranged for several hockey blogs to interview television analyst Brian Engblom. Engblom is a 10-year veteran of the National Hockey League, and has been an analyst for ABC sports, ESPN, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Versus.

Several blogs including Canes Country, Coyotes Hip Check, Two Minutes for Blogging, Team Sugar, Sidney Crosby Show and many others asked Engblom about marketing the game, the abundance of young talent breaking into the NHL, how he has changed his mind on the overtime shootout, his playing days feud with Dale Hunter, the current state of the Colorado Avalanche and Joe Sakic, how the NHLPA and not the NHL should intervene to protect players from hits to the head, and several other topics.

This blog asked Engblom about the hot start of the San Jose Sharks, and how he would compare the style of play under current head coach Todd McLellan vs that of the Sharks under former head coach Ron Wilson. A short transcript of his response is available below. Audio of future Versus blogger interviews will be made available via podcast here.

[Q] How would you describe the explosive start by the San Jose Sharks this season, and how would you compare the play of this team under rookie head coach Todd McLellan vs that of former head coach Ron Wilson?

[BE] "I have been impressed with San Jose. I have been impressed with San Jose for the last several years. They are an excellent team, their core players are very talented. Outstanding. The obvious situation with Ron Wilson was that they would have very strong regular seasons, and the expectations grow. They were supposed to get to the Stanley Cup Finals possibly, and they didn't. That's hockey, that is the way it works."

"The organization has done a terrific job. I have always been a fan of the San Jose Sharks from the very beginning just because of the way they operate, from the ownership down to those of us in the media that deal with them on a regular basis. They are really forthright, they work hard, and they are really good. It is always a pleasure dealing with the Sharks."

"The team on the ice, it is interesting this year to see the difference. Every coach will go through and have their favorite players and there are guys they sort of lose along the way. That just happens. One of the things that stands out with me about McLellan taking over for Ron Wilson is that Patrick Marleau is obviously having a resurgent season, there was much ado a few years ago in the playoffs when Wilson called out Marleau and that really backfired. That was a huge miscalculation for Wilson because not only did he seem to lose Marleau, but the team seemed to go downhill from there against Detroit. It carried through into last year, and it hurt Ron Wilson, it hurt the team. I think Doug Wilson, the general manager, did the right thing in making the coaching change. Patrick Marleau is an integral part of that team, and it seemed to be a devisive situation."

"So you bring in Todd McLellan who has been coaching for a long time. They brought in some interesting and important elements from the Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup team and their methodology. Mostly in getting pucks to the net, shoot the puck. It sounds silly, and every coach says it, but I think San Jose was guilty of making nice plays but everything went through Joe Thornton. Joe Thornton is one of the best in the game, I am a big fan of his, but they did not end up with enough things happening at the net. Detroit for all the talk of puck possession, yes that is true, but they shoot the puck. They go to the net and play a lot of really basic hockey. I think Todd McLellan has done a great job right from the start saying that the extra pass is no good, get it right to the net."

"Look at the shots on goal they have, it is amazing. 30 shots in a game is nothing for San Jose, they get 45 on some nights. I think that is them saying they are going to be different, they are getting the message. Patrick Marleau's resurgence, a new head coach, a new environment, different leaders are stepping up. I am a big Dan Boyle fan, I thought that was a gigantic move. Rob Blake is going to be a Hall of Famer. San Jose's defense is going to be very experienced and very solid. They have all the elements to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. That is where San Jose will be measured. Once the middle of April rolls around, that is when people will really start watching. Then you will see, you will hear the negative comments, you will read the negative articles in the newspaper 'San Jose had a real nice season this year, but can they win the Cup?'."

"That is the pressure you want. That is actually kind of a backhanded compliment, because they are saying you are an elite team. That is a big compliment, let's see if they can win now."

The Colorado Avalanche travel to Minnesota for a Monday night broadcast at 5PM (PT) live on Versus, with a 4PM (PT) broadcast of Tampa Bay at Philadelphia scheduled for Tuesday. Former SJ head coach Ron Wilson and goaltender Vesa Toskala return to HP Pavilion Tuesday night at 7:30PM (PT) live on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area.

[Update] The Toronto Maple Leafs visit to Los Angeles tonight at 7:30PM is available for free via online streaming at Yahoo Sports. Los Angeles is coming off of 2 wins against Edmonton and Calgary, possibly looking to work Jason LaBarbera into the goalie rotation along with Erik Ersberg. The Maple Leafs start a 2-game non-Anaheim California road trip against Los Angeles with brand new general manager Brian Burke. A 4-2 win over Philadelphia on Saturday snapped a 5-game losing streak for Toronto. Vesa Toskala (8-6-5, .851SV%, 3.95GAA) has been struggling behind a porous defense, and Curtis Joseph (0-3-1, .886SV%, 3.13GAA, 1SO) has not been effective off the bench.

Max Giese: Sharks Prospects Rankings - December

Sharks Prospect Rankings for December:

1. Nick Petrecki, D, Boston College (NCAA)
"He's like a cow-boy" says an Eastern Conference NHL Scout. "I really like him, he should be playing pro-hockey right now because he's getting too many penalties for being stronger than everyone else" the scout added.
2. Logan Couture, C, Ottawa 67s (OHL)
"Couture looks good to me" says an NHL Scout. "He scored two-goals and was the best player on the ice when I saw him play against Tavares and Oshawa" said the scout. Couture has used the ADT Russian Challenge to catapult his game recently and has began to produce offensively as expected. Ottawa recently acquired Anthony Nigro, a St. Louis Blues prospect that has some chemistry with Couture. Logan now leads the Ottawa 67s in scoring.
3. Jamie McGinn, LW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
4. Derek Joslin, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Has emerged as the Worcester Sharks' number one defenseman in only his second professional season. He is a multi-dimensional player that can contribute in all-situations. Expect him to be the first player recalled if injuries impact San Jose's defensive corps.
5. Steven Zalewski, C, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
6. Thomas Greiss, G, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
7. Timo Pielmeier, G, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Has effectively closed the gap on Thomas Greiss for the title of the top goaltending prospect in the Sharks development system. Pielmeier has been outstanding for Shawinigan this season, a team that is strong offensively, but weak defensively. Pielmeier is difficult to beat down low and has superb athleticism.
8. Mike Moore, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Has really made a name for himself in the AHL for his thunderous open-ice body checks.
9. Nick Bonino, LW, Boston University (NCAA)
10. Mike Morris, RW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
11. Lukas Kaspar, LW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Continues to be frustratingly enigmatic.
12. Tyson Sexsmith, G, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
13. Jason Demers, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Providing alot of offense in his rookie season for Worcester. Projecting him down the road, he could be a good NHL defenseman if his defense catches up.
14. Harri Sateri, G, Tappara Tampere (FIN)
15. Alex Stalock, G, Minnesota Duluth (NCAA)
16. Justin Daniels, C, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
17. Samuel Groulx, D, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
18. Justin Braun, D, University Massachusetts (NCAA)
19. Patrick Zackrisson, LW, Linkoping HC (SEL)
Has been a revelation in Sweden this year and would be ranked much higher if the Sharks had some security in getting him over to North America.
20. Riley Armstrong, RW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
21. Taylor Dakers, G, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
Dakers has really gotten his game back on track lately and is pushing Thomas Greiss for starts. Now let's see if he can do this consistently and eliminate the bad goals that he has been prone too.
22. Frazer McLaren, LW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
23. Brad Staubitz, RW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
24. Julien Demers, D, Ottawa 67s (OHL)
25. Tommy Wingels, C, Miami Ohio (NCAA)
26. John McCarthy, LW, Boston University (NCAA)
Senior captain, has elevated his game this season offensively and may get signed after all.
27. Matt Jones, RW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
28. Tony Lucia, C, Minnesota Gophers (NCAA)
29. Drew Daniels, RW, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
30. T.J. Fox, C, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
31. Will Colbert, D, St. Francis Xavier (CIS)
32. Carter Lee, RW, Lake Superior State (NCAA)
33. Ashton Rome, RW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
34. Christian Jensen, D, RPI (NCAA)

[Update] Red Line: Rising stars finally come out to play - Kyle Woodlief's Red Line Report for USA Today.