Saturday, February 28, 2009

Darryl Hunt: WorSharks Stumble Against Pirates

The Worcester Sharks could not carry the momentum of Wednesday night's overtime win against Lowell into Friday night's contest against the Portland Pirates in a 2-1 defeat at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts in front of 3,603 clearly disappointed fans.

Worcester has lost eight of their eleven games in February, and while two of those losses were in overtime gaining themselves a point their two wins were also in the extra stanza so it works out to a wash in the division. Amazingly, despite gaining just seven out of a possible 22 points the WorSharks still find themselves in the middle of the playoff race.

But they won't be for long if they continue to have games like Friday night.

Portland got on the board first when WorSharks defenseman Jason Demers fell after "toe-picking" himself at the Pirates blue line reaching for a lose puck. Marek Zagrapan grabbed the lose puck and streaking in three zones on Worcester goaltender Thomas Greiss. Greiss made a right pad save on the break-away, but because Demers didn't skate hard to get back into the play Tim Kennedy was able to grab the lose rebound and put it past Greiss for the 1-0 Pirates lead at 13:47 of the first period.

Portland had a great opportunity to widen their lead to two goals while skating with a two man advantage. The Pirates worked the puck to Mark Mancari just inside the blue line, who fired an absolute laser that beat Greiss cleanly. The puck hit the post so square it sounding like a baseball hitting an aluminum bat. Greiss was able to dodge the rebounding puck and it bounded harmlessly away.

Worcester would knot the game 1-1 just 32 seconds into the third on a post shot of their own. Lukas Kaspar would streak down the left side and fire a blast the beat Portland netminder Kellen Briggs, but banked off the far post. Ryan Vesce was there to collect the rebound and fire it past Briggs. Mike Moore also assisted on the play.

Portland would get the game winner at 5:12 when Kennedy circles the zone and hit Nathan Gerbe with a perfect tape to tape pass at the far post. Greiss never stood a chance on the one-timer deflection.

Worcester would have several great opportunities, including several great chances while shorthanded late in the game, but couldn't get another past Briggs despite his giving up many long rebounds.

Worcester's injury list has grown in the last couple weeks, with Kyle McLaren (hand) and Mike Morris (concussion) being joined by Steven Zalewski (shoulder) and Riley Armstrong (concussion). The WorSharks had two healthy scratches, defenseman Micheal Wilson and goaltender Kyle Jones, who was recalled Friday morning from ECHL Phoenix.

Kellen Briggs is the eighth goaltender Portland has used this season. They have also used, in no particular order: Rob Lemelin, Bobby Goepfert, Jhonas Enroth, Adam Dennis, John DeCaro, Len DiCostanzo, and Ray Jean. Add to that list Jeff Jakaitis, who was signed to a PTO Friday but hasn't played yet, and you have three more goaltenders signed by the Pirates this season than Worcester has used in their three seasons of existence.

The three stars of the game were:
1. Briggs (28 saves)
2. Kennedy (g,a)
3. Greiss (25 saves)
Honorable mention should go to Kaspar for another great game.

Even strength lines


Power play lines


Penalty kill lines


Portland 1 0 1 - 2
Worcester 0 0 1 - 1

1st Period
Scoring: 1, Portland, Kennedy 13 (Zagrapan, Briggs), 13:47.
Penalties: Mancari Por (interference), 5:34; Bonneau Por (high-sticking), 8:07; Staubitz Wor (slashing, roughing), 8:07; Baier Por (elbowing), 11:49; Kaspar Wor (hooking), 13:25; Kennedy Por (roughing), 16:03.

2nd Period
No Scoring.
Penalties: Larose Wor (holding), 10:11; Moore Wor (cross-checking), 11:24; Mancari Por (hooking), 15:30; Cavanagh Wor (tripping), 16:55.

3rd Period
Scoring: 2, Worcester, Vesce 19 (Moore, Kaspar), 0:32. 3, Portland, Gerbe 22 (Kennedy, Darche), 5:12.
Penalties: Buckley Wor (cross-checking), 9:46; Macdonald Por (slashing), 13:48; Moore Wor (hooking), 16:25.

Shots on Goal
Portland 10-6-11-27
Worcester 13-8-8-29

Power-play opportunities: Portland 0 of 7; Worcester 0 of 5.
v Goaltenders
Portland, Briggs 1-1-0 (29 shots-28 saves).
Worcester, Greiss 19-17-2 (27 shots-25 saves).

A-3,603. Referee: Shaun Davis (31). Linesmen: Todd Whittemore (19), Bob Paquette (18)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hockey Notes - February 24th

- San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov stood his ground in net until the Sharks could get on the board in a 1-0 shutout win at Dallas on Monday night. The nationally televised game on Versus started slow for the top team in the NHL. The Stars outshot San Jose 19-13 after two periods, and head coach Todd McLellan said in an intermission interview "their will is outplaying our skill."

Excellent puck handling by Marty Turco forced the Sharks offense to skate deeper into the zone to make plays, neutralizing Marleau and Thornton early. At one point Turco had his stick on his ice calling for a pass from his defenseman, looking to move the puck quickly up ice. Head coach Todd McLellan responded by moving Ryane Clowe up to the top line with Thornton and Setoguchi. Another interesting comment came from Rob Blake on the Versus broadcast. tThe 19-year veteran Blake noted how much he has learned this season from the rookie coach McLellan, especially on special teams.

Dallas was in desperation mode early. Without Modano (flu), Morrow, Richards or Zubov, they were outskating the Sharks trying to build an early lead. San Jose gave up the first goal in 5 straight games on a recent season-long road trip. Evgeni Nabokov was spectacular in net, stopping all 29 shots he faced to earn his 5th shutout of the season. Early stops on Mark Parrish, Fabian Brunnstrom and James Neal, who was the fastest player on the ice, were surpassed by a desperation 3rd period glove save on defenseman Stephane Robidas. The puck tipped off of Nabokov's glove and deflected off the crossbar.

The offense was not clicking for San Jose, but the defense was performing well. In the second period Douglas Murray created a turnover, cleared the zone, and blocked a shot on 2 consecutive penalty kill sequences. During a lull in the 3rd period, Rob Blake and Dan Boyle each tried to spark their team. Blake hammered Brian Sutherby into the goal post after he tried to crash the net on Evgeni Nabokov, and Dan Boyle tried to take the puck end-to-end to set up a scoring chance for Jeremy Roenick. After a turnover, Boyle was on his horse to break up a play by Brunnstrom in front of his own net.

Ryane Clowe spotted Devin Setoguchi making a hard turn up ice, and he hit him with a leading pass in the neutral zone. A burst of speed by Setoguchi allowed him to split a pair of Stars, then take the puck down the right wing. A quick snap shot was labeled just inside the far post. Setoguchi, who leads all sophomores with 25 goals, said the Stars played like a desperate team and that Evgeni Nabokov was the difference in the game.

Defenseman Brad Lukowich returned to the lineup for the first time since January 6th after hernia surgery. Lukowich registered 13:38 of ice time. Ryane Clowe lead the team with 9 hits, and was called San Jose's "secret weapon" by Versus analyst Brian Engblom. Clowe was also compared to the Holmstrom/Franzen in front of the net role in Detroit, but Marleau, Michalek, and Thornton have spent an increased amount of time in front of the net this season. The Stars were 0-4 on the power play, dropping them to 1-17 for their last 5 games. Dallas has last all 4 games to the Sharks this season.

- Stars fall 1-0 to Sharks - Mark Stepneski for Andrew's Dallas Stars Page.

The Sharks got the only goal of the game 7:55 into the third period when Devin Setoguchi took a pass from Ryane Clowe, got past Stars defenseman Darryl Sydor, busted down the right wing and ripped a shot past Stars goalie Marty Turco from the faceoff circle.

"I saw [Sydor], he kind of stopped at the blue line," said Setoguchi. "I had to make a quick move, and once I did I could get by him. He could see one of my teammates coming, and that made him indecisive on the blue line."

Turco said he would have liked another crack at that shot. "Anytime you get a shot from outside the dots, you want to get it. Hindsight is always a beautiful thing, and I wish I could have that one back," said Turco. "Regardless, I'm proud of the guys and how they played. We are going to play like that to battle our way into the playoffs."

Mark also posted statistics from the game and audio from Dallas Stars head coach Dave Tippett.

- Friend of the blog Ryan Leong has also started covering the San Jose Sharks for His latest on the Sharks-Dallas game is available here. A permanent link to the Examiner's hockey coverage will be added on the sidebar shortly.

- The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch wrote this weekend that the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks were interested in Ottawa Suns physical right wing and potential UFA Chris Neal. Garrioch says that Neal wants $2 million a season, but the Senators are not going to move off of $1.5 million. He goes on to say that a 2nd round draft pick is expected in return.

George James Malik of the excellent Slap Shots Wings blog says that Darren Helm has filled the 3rd line checking role for Detroit head coach Mike Babcock. The rumor also makes no sense from a Sharks perspective, even after knock down drag out games against Edmonton and Los Angeles last week. Enforcer Jody Shelley plays on a line with agitator Claude Lemieux, and their linemate Jeremy Roenick lead the team in hits in his return against Atlanta. Tomas Plihal returned to center the third line with Jonathan Cheechoo and Mike Grier, and centers Marcel Goc and Torrey Mitchell are expected to return later in the season.

Notwithstanding the fact the Sharks have no cap room, and are the only NHL team without a first round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Neal does not fit into a firm lineup without making significant changes.

A rumor earlier this month surrounding veteran Tampa Bay Lightning center Jeff Halpern had a little more substance. Tampa Tribune beat writer Erik Erlendsson reported that Sharks scout John Ferguson had attended recent games to scout Halpern. Mercury News opinion columnist Mark Purdy notes several recent trade deadline moves by general manager Doug Wilson (Campbell 2008, Rivet/Guerin 2007, Nieminen 2006, Brown 2004), but says he should stay pat this time around.

Not often mentioned, but veteran defenseman Kyle McLaren is still on the shelf with the AHL Worcester Sharks due to a hand injury that required surgery. McLaren has missed 37 games to date, but if he is not moved at the trade deadline theoretically he would still be available to the organization if he could rehab his hand in time. With Alexei Semenov a more than capable 7th defenseman, and Derek Joslin a polished 8th alternative, the Sharks have blueline bodies available in an emergency situation.

- Sharkspage would like to offer condolences to the families of Brian Kubota, 38 of Morgan Hill, and Kelly Calabro, 41 of Alameda. Both recreational hockey players passed away two hours apart Sunday night while competing at the Sharks Ice facility in San Jose. Efforts to revive each player on the scene were unsuccessful. According to Elise Ackerman of the Mercury News, information about a memorial service for Kelly "Guiness" Calabro is available at his team website It will be held Saturday, Febrary 28th 7PM at Stanley's restaurant located above the rink.

If you have information about a memorial service for Brian Kubota, please send an email so I can incude it here.

- The Sharks and the Sharks Foundation were active with local and international charities in February. A $25,000 donation was made to the Role Model Program to empower at-risk youth in Santa Clara County.

Announced on the Versus SJ-Dal telecast was center Joe Thornton's participation in the Right to Play charity. Several NHL stars including Alexander Ovechkin, Zdeno Chara, Daniel Alfredsson and Thornton will make a donation based on minutes played in one of their team's games from Feb 27-Mar 1. Right to Play promotes youth sports and community training in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. The NHL and NHLPA also set up an online Ebay auction to support the charity.

San Jose State's excellent student paper, the Spartan Daily, published an article and posted video of SJ Sharkie, Claude Lemieux, Jeremy Roenick and play-by-play announcer Dan Rusanowsky donating to the local Second Harvest Food Bank last week. Along with generous support from Tyson Chicken, the donations will help local pantries and soup kitchens fight hunger locally.

- AT&T DSL has been out 4 days with the recent storm. Second extended outage in less than a month, thumbs down. Posting will be limited until it is up.

[Update] Rangers Fire Renney and Hire His Opposite (Tortorella) - NY Times.

Rangers General Manager Glen Sather said he believed his sliding team needed a tough new approach, so he fired Coach Tom Renney on Monday and replaced him with perhaps his polar opposite, the fiery former Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella. Sather swapped cool and dignified for supercharged and tempestuous, trying to save a season that had begun to look unsalvageable...

Sather remade the Rangers over the past two seasons, with the expensive signings of centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, forward Markus Naslund and defenseman Wade Redden. He let Jaromir Jagr, the cornerstone of the Rangers’ postlockout success, leave last summer to sign with a Russian team, and he did not re-sign forwards Sean Avery or Brendan Shanahan. He also traded for forward Nikolai Zherdev. The new mix started the season strong, leading the conference for much of the first two months with help from a favorable schedule. But the Rangers’ slide has been discouraging.

Renney fell back on his trademark defensive style, particularly when his team began to spring big defensive leaks. The Rangers are second to last in the N.H.L. in scoring with 2.33 goals a game, a statistic made more painful by their defensive failures. They have also given up a league-high 14 short-handed goals.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Max Giese: Sharks Top 20 Prospects

Logan Couture, the 9th overall pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, is the top prospect in the organization according to the Sharkspage February prospect rankings. A skillful play-maker with unparalleled vision of the ice, Couture has been a dominant 2-way performer of late, often the best player on the ice for the Ottawa 67's. He has learned how to intensify his game at key times, and learned to be a leader on the ice while team captain. The concerns about his play in traffic have disappeared, and his balance has improved. Couture's goal scoring ability has also progressed as he recently scored his career-high 27th goal of the year.

1. Logan Couture, C, Ottawa 67s (OHL)
2. Jamie McGinn, LW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
3. Derek Joslin, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
4. Nick Petrecki, D, Boston College (NCAA)
5. Nick Bonino, LW, Boston University (NCAA)
6. Lukas Kaspar, LW, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
7. Mike Moore, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
8. Steven Zalewski, C, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
9. Thomas Greiss, G, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
10. Timo Pielmeier, G, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
11. Jason Demers, D, Worcester Sharks (AHL)
12. Alex Stalock, G, Minnesota Duluth (NCAA)
13. Justin Braun, D, University Massachusetts (NCAA)
14. Tyson Sexsmith, G, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
15. Justin Daniels, C, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
16. Julien Demers, D, Ottawa 67s (OHL)
17. Harri Sateri, G, Tappara Tampere (FIN)
18. Samuel Groulx, D, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
19. Tommy Wingels, C, Miami Ohio (NCAA)
20. Patrick Zackrisson, LW, Linkoping HC (SEL)


Nick Bonino - Like Joe Pavelski, Bonino doesn't have great size or speed, but his hockey sense is elite and he has the high-end skill level to score in the NHL. He's emerged as a leader this year that can score the clutch goal and also make the big defensive play.

Justin Braun - Similar to Matt Carle when he was in school, Braun is a savvy, puck-moving defenseman with terrific poise and never sacrifices solid defensive play. He registers nearly 25 minutes a night, and his skill is beginning to take games over.

Alex Stalock - Might just be the best goalie in the NCAA, and would probably be more highly regarded if he was surrounded by a stronger supporting cast. Asked to make nearly 30 saves a night, Stalock's aggressiveness and skill handling the puck is equaled by his athleticism and unshakable confidence between the pipes.


Nick Petrecki - The most physically intimidating defenseman in the NCAA, Petrecki has become prone to taking ill-advised penalties and has seemingly outgrown the collegiate game. He needs to be playing in the AHL next season and begin to learn the pro game, while also learning how to control his temper.

Tyson Sexsmith - Scouts who have followed the Vancouver Giants recently have been disappointed with his performance. Not all of the goals against him have been his fault, but he needs to turn his play up a notch down the stretch and for the playoffs.

Thomas Greiss - A 3-year AHL veteran, Greiss has failed to live up to expectations this season. Worcester has a good team capable of making a playoff run, but Greiss is going to need to begin to steal the occasional game, and has to erase the bad goals that have plagued him.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jody Shelley fight sparks 3-1 win over Atlanta Thrashers, Roenick earns 700th assist in return

NHL hockey fight photo Jody Shelley vs Boris Valabik
Atlanta Thrashers Ilya Kovalchuk photo
San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov NHL hockey photo

The Saturday matinee at HP Pavilion was a tale of two teams. 18 points out of a playoff spot and battling for pride, the Atlanta Thrashers nevertheless dispatched Anaheim 8-4 and Los Angeles 7-6 while earning a point in an 8-round shootout loss to Phoenix. The San Jose Sharks were the top team in the Western Conference, fine tuning the lineup and the execution on ice in preperation for a long postseason. Both teams played to a draw after 30 minutes. A second period fight by left wing Jody Shelley and Atlanta defenseman Boris Valabik sparked the intensity level, and helped waken the Sharks juggernaut en route to a 3-1 win.

The Sharks received the much awaited return of Jermey Roenick, Tomas Plihal and Jody Shelley, which reunited Patrick Marleau on the top line with Devin Setoguchi and Joe Thornton. Neither team was agressively dictating play early. Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen had to make key saves on Pavelski and Thornton, but the first period settled into a grind it out 20 minutes. The Thrashers, outshot 7-5 in the first, struggled to get a clean shot on goal. Thorburn dribbled a shot on net, Ilya Kovalchuk's hit traffic, Todd White tipped a pristine scoring chance wide left.

The Thrashers give the impression of a team with very talented individual parts, but one that does not play as a cohesive whole on a consistent basis. The uncertainty starts at the top. Ilya Kovalchuk was named team captain in January under rookie head coach John Anderson, but his pending free agency in 2010-11 could force a rebuilding team to start over if not nailed down. Twelve Atlanta Thrashers are also unrestricted or restricted free agents next season. Players need to buy into the direction of Anderson, and the team needs to be given time to rebuild, but if the rebuild process is going to start over next season or the year after there is a loss of confidence and continuity on the ice. Atlanta deserves better.

The Sharks did not generate a quality scoring chance on their first power play opportunity early in the second period. Captain Patrick Marleau hammered a 1-timer from the high slot that was picked out of the air by Lehtonen's glove. According to an intermission interview with assistant coach Trent Yawney, the Sharks were not getting enough traffic or screens in front of the talented Thrashers netminder. He was going to stop any shot that he could see.

Then enforcer Jody Shelley dropped the gloves with garganimous 6-foot-7, 235-pound defenseman Boris Valabik. The fighters grappled for position, landing several jabs before finishing with long rights from outside. "He was doing styff with Milan, He took a penalty on Milan and I said 'Let's get something going in this building'," Shelley told reporters after the game. "It worked out well. He is a big guy, I'm glad he fought me."

"It was definitely a big motivator for us," Jeremy Roenick said. The fight illicited a large cheer from the sellout crowd, and it sparked a more physical and intense finish to the game. "I thought that was the turning point for us as a team, it created a bit of energy, a bit of enthusiasm," head coach Todd McLellan said of Shelley's fight. Devin Setoguchi responded by ripping a hard shot from the slot, followed later in the period by a second effort scoring chance from Ryane Clowe in close. The Sharks were turning up the dial, coming at the Thrashers in waves.

The Clowe-Pavelski-Michalek line, San Jose's hottest over the last few weeks, opened the scoring with a hard forecheck early in the third period. Clowe and Michalek pressured a turnover, and Pavelski tracked down a rebound in the corner. The end result of their hard work was Clowe scoring his 21st of the season on a rebound. Shorthanded, Atlanta center Rich Peverley came inches from tying the game as Nabokov was forced to stack the pads and kick a difficult shot into the corner. A third penalty by defenseman Boris Valabik gave the Sharks all the breathing room they would need. After a PP line change, Jeremy Roenick drove down the right wing and found a trailing Jonathan Cheechoo. A pattened Cheechoo quick and heavy release beat Lehtonen 5-hole. Cheechoo scored his 9th goal of the season, Roenick earned the 700th assist of his long NHL career.

Evgeni Nabokov's quest for a shutout was put to an end at 7:37 of the third. With Joe Thornton and Mike Grier in the penalty box, veteran Slava Koslov found a wide open Bryan Little through the crease for a 5-on-3 power play goal. Joe Thornton added another goal, giving the Sharks a 3-1 win and an NHL leading 26th home win. Dan Boyle's point shot deflected off a stick and pinballed through traffic. The puck dribbled to Thornton, and he put it home for goal #15 to a standing ovation from the crowd.

Evgeni Nabokov stopped 22 of 23 shots against to earn his 31st win. Kari Lehtonen stopped 28 of 31 shots against. Jeremy Roenick earned his 700th assist on a third period power play goal by Jonathan Cheechoo. Roenick is 9th among active players all-time in NHL assists, he lead all players Saturday with 6 hits. Joe Pavelski extended his point streak to 6 games (4G, 2A). Ilya Kovalchuk's 6 game goal scoring streak was snapped. San Jose's veteran 4th line of Shelley (456 GP) Roenick (1350 GP) and Lemieux (1210 GP) played together for the first time. Scouts from Boston, Tampa Bay and Columbus were in the press box for the game.

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

Post-game comments by San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan:

"Sometimes these games are a little bit predictable. The standings get in the way of your preperation. They're a pretty darn good hockey club offensively, they mowed their way through here out west, running through some good teams. We tried to have our guys prepared for that but the energy level wasn't where it needed to be early in the game. Obviously we came out in the third and played better."

"Well first of all (Roenick's return), it was nice to have him back. He injected some energy into our lineup. He was vocal. With him, you can tell he hasn't played for awhile. The other guys some of them are worn out and tired. But he's our energizer bunny, he's ready to go every shift. That will rub off on other players. But he also has to understand what these guys have been through. He did a real good job getting us going. There's a few details of the game that have to improve for him, but over all, a heck of a night for him."

Post-game comments by Atlanta Thrashers head coach John Anderson:

"I thought we did a good job for two periods. That team is so good, you make a couple of mistakes and they all end up in the net. (On the play of Bryan Little) He was struggling there for a bit, now all of a sudden he has found himself. He's getting in those little spots where people don't like to go because you get hacked at, but he is going to those spots and getting good chances."

"I was surprised how loud it was, it was my first time here (at HP Pavilion). They have real exciting fans, and they got rocking in here."

[Update] Sharks rally in final period to win - San Jose Mercury News.

[Update2] Kovalchuk’s goal-scoring streak ends - Atlanta Journal Constituion.

Nabokov still raved about Kovalchuk’s talent afterward and compared him favorably to another Russian, NHL goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin.

“His shot actually could be better than Ovechkin’s shot, the way he moves the puck,” Nabokov said. “He’s a great shooter, and he can shoot either side anytime. You have to keep your eye on him every single time. You have to know where he is. You don’t know when he’s going to release the puck. It could happen quickly, right away, or he can hold onto it and be patient. You just play and react.”

Sharkspage gave Mike Knobler of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution audio of Nabokov's thoughts on Kovalchuk, but unfortunately I blanked and did not ask Nabokov about fellow Russian Slava Koslov, one of the most underrated and underappreciated talents in the game. Knobler was also impressed with the crowd along with head coach John Anderson, and the huge HD video board over center ice introduced last year. A photo of Shelley's fight was also posted on

[Update3] Sharks Surge in Third for Third Straight Win - Ryan Garner for

Sharks vs Thrashers pre-game notes

San Jose Sharks vs Atlanta Thrashers pregame notes

Evgeni Nabokov (30-7-7, 2.53GAA, .907SV%) will start in net for San Jose, Kari Lehtonen (11-17-3, 3.16GAA, .908SV%) will take the reigns for Atlanta. There was speculation that backup goaltender Brian Boucher could see playing time on the 3-game homestand but Nabokov will register his 5th straight start.

Centers Tomas Plihal and Jeremy Roenick, and left wing Jody Shelley were all game time decisions after missing time with assorted injuries. All are in the starting lineup against Atlanta. Center Jim Slater is listed as day-to-day for the Thrashers, left wing Eric Boulton and defenseman Nathan Oystrick are scratches.

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Denis Gauthier was given a 2-game suspension by the NHL for running Patrick Marleau's head into the glass at HP Pavilion Thursday night. Gauthier earned a 5-game suspension earlier this season for a flagrant hit to the head of former San Jose Sharks and current Montreal Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges.

For more information on the Atlanta Thrashers, visit the best team blog in the NHL at the Blueland Blog.

[Update] Full NHL press release on Gauthier's suspension from Inside the Kings:

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Denis Gauthier has been suspended for two games, without pay, as a result of an incident during NHL Game #870, Feb. 19 against the San Jose Sharks, the National Hockey League announced.

Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and based on his average annual salary, Gauthier will forfeit $22,580.64. The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

Gauthier was assessed a minor for boarding after making contact with Sharks' forward Patrick Marleau on an icing play at 10:14 of the third period. There was no injury as a result of the play.

Gauthier will miss games against Phoenix on Feb. 21 and at Minnesota on Feb. 24. He will be eligible to return on Feb. 25 at Philadelphia.

[Update2] Video of Gauthier's hit is available here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Rink Podcast, now with more Sharkspage, and the mother of all West Coast hockey road trips

One of the hosts of the excellent Rink Podcast, James Gralain, made his way through San Jose as part of a very impressive 15-game West Coast NHL/ECHL/WHL/CHL hockey road trip. Episode 21.5 of the podcast recorded road interviews with Connie of the Kings World Podcast, San Jose's Jibble of Jibblescribbits on the Colorado Avalanche (as I drove home from the SJ-EDM game), and myself at Sharks Ice talking about the Sharks and hockey blogs during Wednesday's morning practice. It is available for download here.

Two corrections, the trade rumor for a veteran center I blanked on was Jeff Halpern, and this blog was started in 1998 not 1988. The two other websites I mentioned were Chuqui and LCS Hockey. James watched a recent Anaheim Ducks game with Earl Sleek of the Battle of California, and posted a recap of Armenian Heritage Night from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

James Gralain is chronicling his road trip on the blog Jerseys and Hockey Love. A full schedule of the road trip is below, subtract the now defunct Fresno Falcons games.

Feb 12: LA Kings vs Calgary Flames
Feb 14: Ontario Reign vs Las Vegas Wranglers
Feb 15: Anaheim Ducks vs Atlanta Thrashers
Feb 16: LA Kings vs Atlanta Thrashers
Feb 17: San Jose Sharks vs Edmonton Oilers
Feb 21: Bakersfield Condors vs Victoria Salmon Kings
Feb 22: Bakersfield Condors vs Victoria Salmon Kings
Feb 23: Fresno Falcons vs Alaska Aces
Feb 24: Fresno Falcons vs Alaska Aces
Feb 25: Stockton Thunder vs Las Vegas Wranglers
Feb 28: Everett Silvertips vs Vancouver Giants
Mar 1: Tri-City Americans vs Portland Winterhawks
Mar 3: Portland Winterhawks vs Everett Silvertips
Mar 6: Seattle Thunderbirds vs Tri-City Americans
Mar 7: Seattle Thunderbirds vs Tri-City Americans
Mar 11: Spokane Chiefs vs Everett Silvertips
Mar 13: Rapid City Rush vs Tulsa Oilers

James is scheduled to participate in the Bakersfield Condors Cancer Hockey-Thon beginning tonight. The 5th Annual Hockey-Thon has scheduled 41 straight hours of hockey to benefit the Links for Life breast cancer awareness charity. Condors alumni and a West Coast ECHL Allstar Alumni team will compete with amateur players of all ages. James is scheduled to play games at 1AM and 3:15AM tonight. More information is available at

Sharks down Los Angeles Kings 4-2 in penalty filled affair, Patrick Marleau scores 33rd goal of the season

Los Angeles Kings San Jose Sharks NHL hockey photo
Los Angeles Kings goaltender Erik Ersberg hockey photo
San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton NHL hockey photo

In the thick of a heated battle for playoff position, the Los Angeles Kings played like a desperate team in a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on Thursday. Playing their third game in four nights, Los Angeles clawed back to tie the game twice before fatigue and the physical pounding from a much larger Sharks squad began to take its toll.

The Kings had a limited window to gain a lead, and then lock it down for a clutch road win. The Sharks, playing their second game with 3 new forward line combinations, were instead looking to get their feet moving and eventually pull away from their Southern California neighbors. Former Los Angeles Kings captain Rob Blake noted before the game that teams have been sitting back against San Jose, trying to clog up the neutral zone. In that instance, Blake believes the Sharks can take advantage of their size down low and in front of the net. Radio analyst Jamie Baker said this is the perfect game to send a message to a division rival, "I would want them to hate playing us forever". Fans at HP Pavilion would agree, booing the Kings as they took the ice for the first time, and starting a "Beat LA, Beat LA" chant that echoed throughout the tank for the rest of the night.

It took all of 34 seconds for the Sharks to strike first on the scoresheet. The new first line of Kaspar-Thornton-Setoguchi is showing excellent chemistry, especially between Setoguchi and Kaspar. Kaspar dropped the puck down low to Setoguchi, drove the net, and flicked a backhand far side for his 2nd goal of the season. It is his second point in 2 games on the top line. A second Setoguchi-Kaspar connection was disrupted later in the period as defenseman Drew Doughty got just enough of Kaspar's stick to disrupt the play. Showcasing Kaspar with Thornton and Setoguchi may draw some interest in the 2004 first rounder before the March 4th trade deadline.

The Kings tied the game at 4:24 on a nice individual effort by Brad Richardson. After being checked by Marleau, Richarson beat him off the wall to the puck and drove low against the end boards. Drawing a player to him, Richardson slid the puck to Michal Handzus who tied it at 1-1 from point blank range. Later in the period, defenseman Denis Gauthier was hit in the head by a heavy Rob Blake point shot. He was able to shake it off and skate back to the bench.

Patrick Marleau scored his team leading 33rd goal of the season at the end of the first period. Goaltender Erik Ersberg was not able to freeze the rebound, and Drew Doughty was on his knees instead of moving Marleau out of the crease. Marleau chopped at the puck 3 times before lifting it over Ersberg to move into a 4th place tie in the race for the NHL goal scoring lead (behind Ovechkin, Parise and Carter).

Los Angeles earned the equalizer early in the second. A point shot by Kings captain Dustin Brown was deflected wide by Patrick O-Sullivan. Alexander Frolov dumped the puck in the open net to tie the game at 2-2 on the power play. Marc-Edouard Vlasic answered on a Sharks power play at 10:51. With seconds ticking down, Vlasic 1-timed a well placed point shot for the eventual game winning goal. Before his teammates could join him for a goal celebration, Sean O'Donnell wrestled with Joe Thornton at the side of the net. Both players earned roughing penalties.

Earlier in the game O'Donnel executed one of the worst dives of the season. Setoguchi attempted to skate around him to retrieve a dump-in, and O'Donnel started coasting waiting for the challenge. As soon as contact was made, O'Donnel kicked his legs up and flopped to the ice. Somehow, both O'Donnel and Setoguchi earned interference penalties. O'Donnel finished with 3 ill-advised penalties on the night. On the other side of the ice, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff had a much better performance. In the first he won a 1-on-1 battle for the puck, then beat 2 opponents to skate it out of the zone. In the second, he won a battle for position with Jack Johnson before Johnson threw an elbow to his head in frustration. Ehrhoff finished with 22:29 of ice time, 3 blocked shots, and looked simply dominating on several shifts with Dan Boyle. Boyle and Ehrhoff moving the puck up ice could be as devestating as Lidstrom and Rafalski in Detroit.

Falling to his knees, Joe Pavelski found Milan Michalek in front of the net for an insurance goal at 13:11. Pavelski has 5 points in his last 5 games (4G, 1A), and he finished Thursday with a team leading 4 blocked shots, a 14-3 peformance in the faceoff circle, and 8 total shots (4s, 4ms). The Sharks held tight during a very physical third period. Despite several big checks earlier in the game, Denis Gauthier's was the first to cross the line as he ran Marleau's head into the glass with his shoulder. Instead of taking themselves off the ice with a retaliation, San Jose let the penalties sort themselves out.

Evgeni Nabokov earned his 30th win of the season, stopping 30 of 32 shots against. Los Angeles Kings goaltender Erik Ersberg stopped 36 of 40 shots against. Center Claude Lemieux scored his first NHL point since a March 9th, 2003 game in Dallas against the San Jose Sharks.

Post-game comments by San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan:

We were all over the map. As a coach, I am not real happy with how the game went, from my own perspective. We didn't use enough players. We got into power play penalty kill situations in the second period. A lot of 4-on-4 play, I thought I could have done a better job of using more players, not taxing the top 9.

The one game that everyone reverts back to is Calgary. If you are watching there are a number of times during a game where we move people around. Patty ends up playing in the middle. We have experimented in different areas, maybe not permanently like we tried on that night. It is something we will consider, something we have available to us when the playoffs roll around. we are not going to waiver from that at all, we will experiment as the year goes on.

The biggest thing is getting players back into the lineup. The coach has to play 4 lines on a consistent basis vs playing 3. It will make a world of difference, for not only our top players but for our 4th line players. They will get in a groove, and feel a little better about themselves.

Everybody is close (to returning from injury). Brad Lukowich is basically cleared to play now. We need him to practice a little more so his game is polished before he gets in. J.R. is awfully close. Tommy Plihal is close. The only guy who will be a little longer is Mitch, he has been out a long time, and Marcel Goc. He will be out longer than the rest of them. We're working on it.

It's hockey, it's physical. I am not concerned at all about it. That's the way it is going to be played. We can stand our ground, hold our own. I have absolutely no concerns. we are a big hockey club and we can stick up for each other, that's it.

Claude (Lemieux) is a different player than Jody Shelley. We have to make that very clear. That is not his role. That is not what he is here for. Claude has provided a physical presence on the forecheck, he is a big man, tough to knock off the puck. Its been a lot of hockey here lately, and we have to make sure he and everyone else is fresh.

Post-game comments by Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray:

You’ve got two division teams really desperate to do things. We’re desperate to get into the playoffs. They’re looking to get first in the conference – first overall, home ice in the playoffs. That puts a little more focus on the playing of the game. I thought we, after playing last night, just didn’t come out the way we have in those [other road] games. We [usually] play very well on the road. We just didn’t match their intensity. They came at us pretty good. Yeah, it was close score-wise, but they were winning a lot of the board battles.

We only decided to do it in the third period – playing hard, playing heavy and competing. You gotta compete. You’re trying to be a good hockey club. You gotta push back, you gotta get your ice and hold your ice. We did not do that as well in the first two periods.

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

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Inside the Kings blogger and Daily News beat writer Rich Hammond posts in-depth interview with Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi

Los Angeles Kings goaltender Erik Ersberg NHL hockey photo

For several years, Inside the Kings has been the go-to source for breaking news and in-depth analysis of the Los Angeles Kings. The blog written by LA Daily News beat writer/deputy sports editor Rich Hammond recently featured an informative online interview with former San Jose Sharks and current Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi.

The interview covered a lot of ground, but was broken down into several short segments: part1, part2, part3, part4, part5, part6, part7, part8, part9, part10, part11, part12, part13.

On the upcoming March 4th NHL trade deadline, Lombardi discussed adding a rental player vs acquiring a player for the long term. "The problem with answering that is that there's no set formula," Lombardi told Hammond. The Kings GM weighed the cost of recent trades involving Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, and Ryan Smyth, and noted that the franchise is not yet in the position to deal a former first round draft pick or an upcoming first round selection in the Entry Draft for a short-term acquisition. "Once (your reserve list) is built, you're solid in your junior players and you've got a good team, you can afford to do what San Jose did every year and trade like that, and you don't miss a beat" Lombardi said.

The Kings (25-22-9, 4th Pacific) travel to San Jose (38-8-9, 1st Pacific) tonight tied for 10th place in the Western Conference, 3 points out of the final playoff position in the West. Lombardi tells Hammond that he does his "due diligence" by speaking to every NHL team leading up to the trade deadline, but says the reality is that talks will narrow down to 3 or 4 teams. He also asks teams a very important question, "Is there anything you're moving that I'm not aware of?". That might lead to unexpected players being available, or contribute to large scale 3-team deals.

Building the youth movement in LA has also narrowed the focus to players that can fill a need. Nearly half of the Kings roster is 24 years old or younger (G Jonathan Quick-23, D Drew Doughty-19, D Jack Johnson-22, D Kyle Quincey-23, Captain Dustin Brown-24, RW Oscar Moller-20, RW Wayne Simmonds-20, LW Patrick O'Sullivan-24, C Anze Kopitar-21, C Brian Boyle-24, C Brad Richardson-24). Lombadri answered a question from Hammond about how he will determine which players to keep long term.

Question: You've built up quite a stable of young talent, particularly on the back end, and a lot of draft picks. You know you're not going to be able to keep all of these guys forever. What's the process like of determining who your ``must-keep'' players are? Is most of it scouting? Is some of it just guess-work?

LOMBARDI: ``It's a lot more fun than being where I was 24 months ago, I can tell you that. It's a nice process to have. What's that process like? Again, you never know. You do the first part, and determine which boxes you need to fill and what you need. You're always evaluating. You have guys you talk about, who you know you won't trade.

``What good teams do when they make deals, and this is why you don't see a lot of deals right now, it's hard to fill a hole and not create a hole. That's why you don't see a lot of trades, because there are a lot of issues with the cap and cash. It still comes down to making a good deal, but not a lot of teams can do that.

``One thing that happens is, when a team trades a guy, and they know he has value as an established NHL player, they have a guy ready to go into that hole and fill that hole. They don't miss a beat. That would fit into our process. `OK, we move this guy, but we have a guy in Manchester who we know is ready.' That way, you improve your team without creating a hole. But to answer your question, do I know which guy (to trade)? No.''

The spectacular play of rookie goaltender Jon Quick (12-7-1, .914SV%, 2.47GAA, 2SO) has butressed a Kings goaltending situation that took a lot of heat from the media earlier in the season, including from this blog. The problems eventually forced the trade of Jason LaBarbera to Vancouver. Captain Dustin Brown recently cited Quick's confidence in goal for the team's upswing, noting "It's not just that he's making big saves, he's making big saves at the right time... That's something that I haven't seen in L.A. in a while."

Lombardi notes that Quick was "underestimated" around the league, and that Quick was actually higher on the depth chart than the highly touted Jonathan Bernier. "You didn't hear that from the hockey people," Lombardi notes. Actually, several scouts placed Bernier above Quick both from afar and in person at more than one Pacific Division rookie tournament, in addition to one goaltending coach. This blog placed Jason LaBarbera at the top of the food chain, and it was a bizarre waiver wire restriction that delayed his callup to the Kings. The problem was that although I have seen a lot of Bernier, Zatkoff, Taylor, LaBarbera, Ersberg, Garon and Fukifuji, Quick was one enigma not really seen by me, Max, or covered by Darryl at the AHL level.

At one point with LaBarbera struggling, Lombardi himself expressed frustration in an interview asking rhetorically who he could bring in. There were no magic bullets available, unless you looked within the Kings development organization.

"Nabokov, Kiprusoff and Toskala. I've said it before. Warren Strelow (former Sharks goalie coach) had those goalies. (He said,) `Don't evaluate them. Make them better every day.' Don't go around saying, `Bernier is going to be our No. 1,' because we don't know. I remember (Strelow) standing up...he had all that experience and we were sitting around in our goaltending meeting talking. He said, `It doesn't matter. Don't be making predictions. We don't know. We don't know how mentally tough they are. It's our job to make them better every day.' And we hit on all three of those guys.

``So, people ask me about Bernier or Quick. I don't know. It might be Zatkoff. Now, does it surprise me that Quick is ahead? No. He has done two years of college and a year and a half of minors. I would have preferred two, but he's more mature physically and he's a hell of an athlete. I've always said that he's our best athlete. Jon (Bernier) was our best technical goalie but very few people downstairs are as good athletically as Jon (Quick). And like I said, he has done the time in the minors that Bernier hasn't done yet. So is it totally surprising that he's here? No.''

That seems to be a philosophy that has continued in San Jose, stocking the development system with quality goaltending prospects that have upward mobility. During one high scoring game where we were interrupted by a number of goal horns, Strelow was overflowing with praise about a number of goalies coming up through the San Jose pipeline. He focused on each individual's strengths, and was confident that the team could work to help minimize their weaknesses.

Lombardi mentions that developing an NHL goaltender is a process, and that the phenomenon of instant stardom can work against a goalie's confidence. "This is the part about development, about the minor leagues, that people want to skip over. They want to make stars out of these young players before they've done a damn thing in the league. This is all a part of mental toughness," Lombardi told Hammond. The GM mentioned struggles that Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Steve Shields and Mike Vernon all had in San Jose. "(Nabokov) He was a week away from going back to Russia. We didn't allow it," Lombardi said.

Lombardi believes that the process of a goaltender developing mental toughness is one that takes time, and support throughout the organization. "Make them better every day". Noticeable in recent games attended by this blog is just how much mental focus is needed to succeed as an NHL goaltender. Viewing games through a zoom telephoto lens is like watching a goaltender through a telescope. Plays and scoring chances against develop so quickly at the NHL level, that there is very little mental time off for a goaltender during a game. Remaining focused while bodies pile up in front of the crease is also extremely difficult. Being able to shake off a goal against, or shake off a loss, and return to the focus and intensity of game action is a process that needs to be learned. Many of the developing prospects have won at every level they have played, and being forced to overcome adversity is also something that needs to be learned.

Quick has also been helped by the strong blueline play of 1st round selection and Calder contender Drew Doughty, and waiver wire pickup and leading defensive scorer Kyle Quincey. Dean Lombardi once mentioned building from the blueline out in San Jose, and now with a more stable base in Los Angeles he has the luxury of being more selective at the trade deadline. The GM says that there is more respect for Los Angeles around the league, and that making the playoffs was a goal set by the team early in the season.

Lombardi discussed the play of Drew Doughty:

Question: In your opinion, which Kings player has had the most surprising season?

LOMBARDI: ``I think you'd have to say that any time an 18-year-old comes in plays that type of minutes with that much poise... As much as I like this kid (Doughty), I don't know if I've seen this before, at this age.''

Question: On one of your teams, or ever?

LOMBARDI: ``On any team. Ray Bourque, I saw him break in. I'm not saying he's Ray Bourque, but he's not out of place. The funny thing is, I thought his worst game was against the Islanders, the one we just played. That was his worst game, by far. And it was kind of weird, because he has raised the bar so high with his play. Now, when he has a game that might be considered an average game for a 19-year-old, it sticks out like, `That was awful.' But if he had thrown you that back in October, when he was just breaking in, you would say, `Well, that's a 19-year-old.'

``But when you see that, after what he has done consistently... That rush he made the other night against Edmonton, in the 4-on-4. He went around and changed speed and he tried to jam it in on his forehand. Do you know how hard that is? And he's trying to win the game. That's what I love about this kid. He's recognizing, already the moments where it's like, `OK, I've got to take a little risk here.' His timing, not only in terms of how he keeps things simple, but subtlely, it's high-level. That's what the great ones do. They're not bringing you out of your seat, the top defensemen. What does Lidstrom do that brings you out of your seat? He just makes the right play at the right time. You've got to really know the game in order to appreciate him.

Lombardi sets the bar high for Doughty, but if the rookie defenseman was playing on the East Coast or in Canada he would garner a much higher profile around the NHL.

It was an in-depth, informative, and very lengthy interview from the somewhat media-shy Lombardi, but it is also a highly recommended inside look at an NHL general manager preparing for the impending trade deadline.

[Update] GM Dean Lombardi goes down with the ship, In his seventh full season as the Sharks general manager Dean Lombardi was fired and replaced with assistant GM Wayne Thomas - Sharkspage post from March 19th, 2003.

[Update2] Another view from the past, via Sports Illustrated's SI vault:

Jaws Of Defeat - Sports Illustrated article from March 8th, 1993.

It did not help that last June, team president Art Savage fired general manager Jack Ferreira, an astute hockey man who commanded respect around the NHL. Rather than replace Ferreira, Savage instructed that the duties of general manager be shared by Kingston, then assistant general manager Lombardi and director of player personnel Chuck Grillo, who have become known as both the Three-headed Shark and the Kingston Trio. Many NHL observers have their doubts, to say the least, about this unorthodox troika.

Says Phil Esposito, general manager of the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning, whose 19 wins through Sunday have thrown the dreadfulness of the Sharks into even sharper focus, "If I want to talk about a deal [with San Jose], I don't know who to call."

Actually it was never called the 3-headed Shark, or the Kingston Trio, it was called the 3-headed monster by fans and media in San Jose. It would have been interesting to ask Lombardi what the situation was during that time, and what lead to him eventually taking over the GM reigns in San Jose.

Looking through the official 2008-09 NHL Record Book, the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks hold the record for most losses in league history with 71, and the record for most home losses with 32 (not including neutral site games). The SI article above notes it was a difficult season for the players, but the crowds in San Francisco were always vocal and passionate.

[Update3] Kings continue to show maturity - Helene Elliott for the Los Angeles Times.

The next Southern California hockey team that will make the NHL playoffs is the Kings.

Yes, the long-hapless and until recently hopeless Kings.

It is a fairly bold, if backhanded statement regarding the Kings playoff hopes, but not a controversial one among many who have seen Los Angeles play this season. The Battle of California's Rudy Kelly offers a dissenting opinion.

2-time World Champion Robert Guerrero to attend Sharks-Kings game prior to his return to San Jose March 7th

Gilroy boxer Robert Guerrero vs Duad Yordan HBO Boxing After Dark San Jose

2-time IBF Featherweight Champion and Gilroy native Robert Guerrero (21-1-1, 16 KOs) will attend the San Jose Sharks vs Los Angeles Kings game tonight to promote his upcoming HBO Boxing After Dark March 7th fight against Indonesian Duad "Cino" Yordan (15-0, 10 KOs). The HP Pavilion card features a trio of up-and-coming young boxers including Guerrero and heavy hitters James Kirkland (24-0, 21 KOs) and Victor Ortiz (23-1-1, 18 KOs).

"It's an honor to be a special guest at the Sharks game and in my opinion they're the best team in the NHL," Guerrero said in a press release. "As a prize fighter, you always dream about making appearances like this. I know the house will be packed".

Guerrero regularly attends Fight Night at the Tank events in San Jose, and during a press conference for his fight with Duad Yordan he said he has been trying to return to HP Pavilion for 3 years. After title fights in Denmark, Las Vegas, and Arizona, Guerrero will get his wish in front of very vocal fans and boxing luminaries Oscar De La Hoya, Sugar Shane Mosley and comedian George Lopez.

Tickets are available via ticketmaster here. A roundup of the latest boxing and mixed martial arts notes is available here and here.

[Update] Ghost Guerrero a master at maintaining his focus - Mark Purdy for the San Jose Mercury News.

It's only February. But in my book, Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero has already clinched the title of 2009's most focused athlete.

Guerrero, the former world featherweight champ from Gilroy, had a big fight 11 days ago in Los Angeles. As 20,000 fans watched, Guerrero knocked out Edel Ruiz in the first round. It was his first bout as a junior lightweight, on the undercard of Shane Mosley's fight at Staples Center. But if you follow boxing closely, you already knew that.

Here is what you did not know: Guerrero climbed into the ring less than 48 hours after leaving the bedside of his wife, Casey, in a South Bay hospital. She was having chemotherapy drugs pumped directly into her brain to wipe out cancer cells. Casey has dealt with leukemia the past two years.

[Update2] WBO Welterweight champion Paul Williams (36-1-0, 27 KOs) moves up to 160 pounds to face Ronald "winky" Wright (54-4-1, 25 KOs) April 11th at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Vegas. Wright last fought in 2007, where he lost a 12-round decision to Bernard Hopkins. On his layoff, Wright told the Los Angeles Times "I've wanted to fight the best. The best don't want to fight me."

[Update3] Take a look at the upcoming ESPN/ESPN2 boxing schedule via Dan Rafael: Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa on Feb. 20th, former Ring Magazine fighter of the year Glen Johnson Feb. 27th, WBC Heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko Mar. 21st (ESPN), and Sharkspage favorite and former WBC WBC Heavyweight champ Samuel Peter Mar. 27th.

Not sure what got into the water at ESPN, but there are going to be a lot of interesting fights available to the masses on the 4 letter network in short order.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sharks outmuscle and outscore Edmonton 4-2 in a physical contest, Claude Lemieux earns first misconduct in Teal

San Jose Sharks vs Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey photos
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson NHL photo
Claude Lemieux NHL hockey fight Theo Peckham

The Edmonton Oilers were still using last year's playbook in a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on Tuesday night. After a disjointed first period, the Oilers started punching players after whistles and ramping up the physical play along the boards and in front of the net. The attempt at intimidation backfired, and actually lit a fire under a new-look Sharks lineup that was using 3 new forward combinations for the first time.

Lukas Kaspar joined Thornton and Setoguchi on the top line, Patrick Marleau centered Jonathan Cheechoo and Mike Grier on the third line, and Claude Lemieux centered a pair of Worcester Sharks teammates in Jamie McGinn and Brad Staubitz.

San Jose captain Patrick Marleau was named first star of the game, but one of the driving forces behind the Sharks win early was center Joe Pavelski. A costly first period turnover by defenseman Tom Gilbert in his own zone was taken towards the center of the ice by Milan Michalek. Michalek dropped the puck to Pavelski, who ripped a hard shot over the glove of Roloson for his 17th goal of the season. Pavelski is garnering serious consideration for Team USA's 2010 Olympic squad. Only 24 years of age, he is a big-game player who has won at every level of hockey he has played. Strong in the faceoff circle, Pavelski is also the go-to player for San Jose on the shootout. He also makes up the top PK unit in the NHL with Patrick Marleau, one that has a combined 7 short handed goals.

The Oilers fourth line generated the best scoring chance of the game at 12:18. A hard backhand from Tom Gilbert deflected off Evgeni Nabokov and dropped in front of the net. Outnumberd 3-to-2, enforcer Zack Stortini jumped on the loose puck and punched it home. More known for his fists, Stortini leads the NHL with 18 fighting majors after dropping the gloves with Alexei Semenov in the 2nd, he threw his arms in the air and got the most out of his goal celebration. Edmonton added a second goal after a hard wrap around dump in by Sheldon Souray popped off the boards and deflected in front of the net. Erik Cole was there for the easiest of his 13 goals this season.

The Sharks started to click in the second period, outshooting Edmonton 17-7 and outskating them at a fairly good clip. Edmonton tried to slow down the game and negate some of the skill disparity between the two teams. During several scrums, the Oilers shielded referees trying to seperate bodies and sucker punched Sharks players in a vunerable position. The player most targeted, Joe Pavelski. Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau tried unsuccessfully to goad Milan Michalek into a fight. It eventually lead to the first of 3 ill-advised penalties, including a 4-minute double minor at the end of the period.

Patrick Marleau had another strong game for the San Jose Sharks. He started the comeback with his first goal of the game 1:48 into the second period. Jonathan Cheechoo flicked a hard pass off the boards to Marleau at the Oilers blueline. With Sheldon Souray guarding him 1-on-1, Marleau deflected the puck forward and used a burst of speed to blow around Souray wide. Two quick strides gave him room to snap a shot high glove-side by Roloson. Score 2-2. Marleau added his second goal of the game, his 32nd of the season, shorthanded at 5:43. Grier, Boyle and Ehrhoff killed off a 5-on-3 as Marleau came out of the box. Grier carried the puck down the right wing and used Marleau's stick as a "backboard" to give the Sharks a 3-2 lead. Marleau is tied for 2nd in the NHL with 4 shorthanded goals.

Marleau was singled out by radio play-by-play host Dan Rusanowsky as the first star of the game, and he was also named first star by's Ross McKeon. McKeon also notes that Marleau was 14-3 on the night from the faceoff dot, and that he is one of only 3 players in the NHL this season that belong to the 30 goals 30 assists club (along with Alexander Ovechkin and Zach Parise). NHL on the Fly also singled out Marleau's 2 goal game. They said that his quick hands, quick feet, and quick release allowed him to "beat everyone on the ice" for the first goal, and added "he was the difference in the game" after his second shorthanded goal.

Then the second period devolved into something that did not really resemble a hockey game for awhile. After two hard hits along the glass, the second being Setoguchi pasting Jason Strudwick, all 5 players on each team joined together for a center ice scrum in front of the benches. After the players were seperated by the refs, something was said between 21-year old Theo Peckham and 43-year old Claude Lemieux and they dropped the gloves. Peckham took him down pretty hard, and continued taunting as Lemieux tried to punch around the referee taking him to the penalty box. Lemieux earned his first fighting major and 10-minute misconduct as a San Jose Shark.

It got worse. After Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson made a routine save, Devin Setoguchi crashed the net to send a message. Ethan Moreau would have none of it, as 3 players corraled Setoguchi with 1 ripping his helmet off. Setoguchi, along with Pavelski, was also sucker punched while the refs were busy trying to pull people apart. An intense 6-foot-2, 225-pound Ryane Clowe was on the ice shortly thereafter, and after another scrum in front of the net he was barely contained by Sheldon Souray.

Defenseman Alexei Semenov dropped the gloves with Zack Stortini at the end of the 2nd, but later in the third period he was involved in one of the most entertaining exchanges on the ice. As diminutive forward Sam Gagner crashed the net on Evgeni Nabokov, Alexei Semenov pushed him off to the side. Gagner shoved Semenov, and started having words with him. Jonathan Cheechoo, skating by, looked at the 6-foot-6 Semenov and the definitely smaller than listed 5-foot-11 Gagner and laughed. Semenov, a former Oiler, was given the name "Big Bird" by the Edmonton broadcast.

A bad turnover by right wing Marc Pouliot lead to the Sharks insurance goal at the end of the second period by Joe Thornton. Lukas Kaspar snapped a long point shot on goal that was kicked wide right by Dwayne Roloson. Thornton deposited the puck into the open net for his 14th of the season. It gave the Sharks a 4-2 lead. "We kept our cool, and that was a good thing for us," Thornton said after the game. After scoring the goal, Thornton smiled and pointed at a few fans in the front row before being mobbed by his linemates.

Evgeni Nabokov finished with 24 saves on 26 shots, earning his 29th win of the season. The Sharks finished 1-6 on the power play, and killed off 4-4 PP's against.

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

[Update] Circling Sharks take bite out of Oilers' playoff aspirations, Marleau scores twice to help snap Edmonton's three-game winning streak - Edmonton Journal.

At one end of the ice stood the snarly San Jose Sharks, a team that just came off an uncharacteristic 1-2-4 stretch. At the other stood the Edmonton Oilers, a team that was not going to concede anything.

The Oilers threw hits, punches and 26 shots at the Sharks net on Tuesday night but, in the end, they also threw away a couple of valuable points. A couple of mistakes turned into two game-changing goals for the Sharks, who went on to score a 4-2 victory, dropping the Oilers to 29-24-4.

[Update2] Oilers tank in San Jose - Edmonton Sun.

[Update3] More on Joe Pavelski from head coach Todd McLellan on the Mercury News blog:

"He goes to the hard areas. There’s a lot of people who turn away early and get out of there. Joe plays in that area and that’s why he’s rewarded with goals and assists. He’s got a lot of courage and he knows where he’s got to go for production."

Edmonton definitely noticed the play of Pavelski, and tried everything in their limited arsenal to get him off his game. The Wednesday morning skate was filled with school children as part of a promotion to encourage more reading. Several of the Sharks were off the ice in less than 30 minutes, but others stayed on the ice for individual drills. 5-6 kids also skated with Mike Grier and a couple of other Sharks forwards. Sharkspage helped do an interview on the Colorado Avalanche last night after the Oilers game, and answered a few questions about the Sharks and hockey blogs at the morning skate. According to James Gralian, two of Lemieux's fingers were taped and his hand appeared less than 100% after his fight last night against Theo Peckham. Lemieux was centering the 4th line with McGinn and Staubitz.

[Note] Claudie Lemieux's penalty was a 10-minute misconduct, not a game misconduct as originally posted. Thanks Josh. Patrick Marleau's 2 goals are the 600th and 601st points of his San Jose Sharks career. Marleau is the franchise leader in games played (850), goals (270), assists (331), points (601), and several other franchise marks. Thanks to Stephanie for the information.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hockey Notes - February 17th

Sharks captain Patrick Marleau scores goal on Edmonton Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson

- The San Jose Sharks (37-8-9, 1st Pacific) face off against an Edmonton Oilers (29-23-4, 2nd Northwest) club riding a 3-game winning streak tonight at HP Pavilion. The Oilers earned a 3-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes Monday night, as goaltender Dwayne Roloson stopped 28 of 29 shots against and bumped his record to 20-13-4 (.917SV%, 2.68GAA). According to the Yahoo team report, Roloson has started 12 straight games for the Oilers and 28 of the last 29.

It was a tight checking game by both teams. Each collapsed often around the net to break up chances and clog shooting/passing lanes. Despite the lack of room, Czech forward Ales Hemsky was able to score a garbage rebound on a power play, and feed Sheldon Souray on the point for the Oilers first 2 power play goals of the game. Hemsky finished second star of the game registering 2 points. On Monday, Phoenix Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky said Hemsky might be "the best passer in the game", adding "he sees the open guys as good or better than anyone at this level".

According to Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal, the Oilers win over Phoenix helped them leapfrog Anaheim in the Western Conference playoff race. Edmonton jumped from 9th to T-6th place with 62 points. The playoff herd has narrowed with 8 teams seperated by 6 points or less for the final 5 spots. Time is running out on St Louis, Phoenix and Colorado. The Oilers will play Tuesday without a pair of puck moving former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (arm) and Denis Grebeshkov (lower body).

- The San Jose Sharks finished a season long 5-game road trip with a disappointing 6-5 loss to the New Jersey Devils. Instead of trying to punch through an aggressive forecheck and a tight Devils defense that likes to counterpunch on mistakes, the Devils and Sharks resorted to firewagon, last man standing hockey for 60 minutes.

The Devils gave up three 1-goal leads in the first half of the game, and a power play strike by Devin Setoguchi with 13 seconds left in the second period gave the Sharks their first lead of the game. Joe Thornton found himself in a familiar position, with his back to the end boards, the puck on his stick and his eyes on the front of the crease. As soon as one Devil adjusted his stick position, Thornton threaded a pass to the top of the slot, and Setoguchi hammered home his 24th goal of the season.

It took the Sharks 39 seconds to convert on their 5-on-3 power play, it took Patrik Elias 29 seconds to tie the game at 4-4 on New Jersey's 2-man advantage. A torrid Jamie Langenbrunner gave the Devils their 4th lead of the game at 7:40 of the third period, New Jersey finished 2-7 on the power play against the 5th best PK in the league.

Recent AHL callup Derek Joslin took a puck over the glass penalty setting the stage for a critical penalty kill for the Sharks, but second line center Joe Pavelski deftly stickhandled around a defenseman shorthanded and lifted a laser over the shoulder of Scott Clemmensen to tie the game at 5-5. Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau are each tied for 5th in the NHL with 3 short-handed goals, and they often work together on the same PK unit. Joe Thornton took a cross checking penalty at 14:59, and this time David Clarkson's second goal of the game held up en route to a 6-5 Devils win. The Sharks allowed 3 power play goals on 5 opportunities in the 3rd period alone.

- Game 56: New Jersey Devils 6, San Jose Sharks 5 - New Jersey Star Ledger.

The shorthanded goal by San Jose's Joe Pavelski which tied the score, 5-5, in the third period was probably one Scott Clemmensen should have stopped.

"It hit me in the blocker," Clemmensen said. "The guy came in and made a nice little move. He had a bad angle on his backhand and got it up. It hit me square in the blocker and I was looking for the puck. I thought maybe it hit my blocker and went over the top (of the net). It hit my blocker and went in the net, obviously. That was a surprise to me."

- The tale of the tape on the 5-game road trip is not a pretty one. San Jose finished 1-1-3 with 1 overtime loss and back-to-back shootout losses, earning 5 out of a possible 10 points. The Sharks lead over Detroit dwindled to 1-point for 1st place in the Western Conference. Prior to NJ, San Jose gave up a goal on a defensive change in 3 straight games. Each was preceeded by a turnover in the neutral zone. The Sharks finished the roadtrip allowing 6 power play goals against and 12 goals against (1SO) in 2 games.

The Sharks also had to adjust on the fly to a roster hit with injuries and the flu. Checking line center Marcel Goc was injured early in the first period against Buffalo, and his replacement Tomas Plihal left the game against New Jersey on Sunday with an undisclosed lower body injury. The Sharks are already without 2 players who have centered the third line, Jeremy Roenick (shoulder surgery) and Torrey Mitchell (broken leg in training camp). Dan Boyle turned in a monster game against Buffalo despite dealing with the flu, but he was unable to make the start against New Jersey. Coaches Todd McLellan and Todd Richards, and Ryane Clowe also were dealing with the flu. Defenseman Brad Lukowich and forward Jody Shelley are expected to return to the lineup soon.

- The Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 shootout win over the San Jose Sharks earned head coach Michel Therrien a grand total of 3 more days on the job. He was fired after horrendous 6-2 loss to Montreal the following Saturday. According to Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netters, Therrien was the 19th head coach in franchise history. His hard-nosed style was effective early, but it could not adapt to best suit the talent remaining on the lineup after heavy roster turnover (Hossa, Malone, Ruutu, Roberts), and the earlier loss of gritty goaltender and outdoor hockey specialist Ty Conklin. "I never saw it coming," a stunned Therrien told the Pittsburgh Tribune.

- The NHL and NHLPA opted for only 4 teams, instead of 6, to start the 2009-2010 season in Europe. St. Louis will face Detroit in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, and two up and coming teams Chicago and Florida will face off in Helsinki, Finland. Off of the schedule is the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames in Finland.

ESPN's Scott Burnside notes a cost savings benefit for the media traveling to Europe to cover the games:

And if the NHL is determined to start each season in Europe -- and it is -- it's crucial it doesn't blow it along the way. When the NHL went to two sites last season -- Prague and Stockholm -- it stretched resources pretty tight. It also stretched the resources of media wanting to cover these events, another important issue for the NHL.

If the league is going to go to Europe, they want to make sure they get bang for their buck, not just in the host cities, but also from coverage of the teams that make the trek. With the newspaper industry in a state of chaos, not having six teams in Europe might not be such a bad thing.

While the current active roster does not have any Finns in the lineup, several years of Miikka Kiprusoff and Vesa Toskala playing in San Jose and in the organization has built a sizeable cult following in Finland. The Sharks also drafted Toijala, Finland-born goaltender Harri Sateri in the 4th round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft (106th overall). Sateri represented his country at the last World Junior tournament in Canada. Adding Teemu Selanne for a couple of runs at a Stanley Cup put them over the top.

- The Worcester Sharks have been very active on the transaction wire, as defenseman Derek Joslin bounced back and forth to help contribute with injuries to Brad Lukowich, Rob Blake and Dan Boyle missing a game with the flu. Jamie McGinn and Lukas Kaspar were brief callups, and Worcester's leading scorer Ryan Vesce saw his first action in the NHL in 2 games against Pittsbrugh and Buffalo.

The Worcester Sharks are mired in a slump of their own, as their losing streak hit 4 games after a 5-2 loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins:

Ryan Vesce had a goal and an assist in his return back to Worcester after an NHL call-up, but the Sharks fell yesterday, 5-2, to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in front of 6,823 at the Wachovia Center at Casey Place. The loss is the fourth straight for Worcester (27-24-0-2), a season high. The Penguins are 35-16-1-2 (73 points) and are currently second in the Eastern Conference.

The Sharks, which have 56 points and are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference, are 1-5 on their current seven-game road trip.

San Jose Sharks assistant coach Todd Richards was a head coach of the AHL Penguins the from 2006-08, leading them to an AHL Calder Cup Finals appearance last year.

- There was more cross-sport pollination last weekend in the South Bay. Last year Czech tennis player Radek Stepanek entered center court at HP Pavilion in a Joe Thornton Sharks jersey, but he could not pull off the upset over favored Andy Roddick. This year, with the same Thornton jersey in tow, Stepanek downed American Mardy Fish in the Men's Singles final 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, and along with Tommy Haas later in the day captured the doubles title over Jarkko Nieminen and Rohan Bopanna.

He was the fifth player in tournament history to capture the singles and doubles titles in the same year, along with Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Roscoe Tanner and John McEnroe. Stepanek is also the first Czech-born player to win the second oldest American tennis tournament since Ivan Lendl in 1983.

- James Mirtle posts an interesting look at the running for the 2009 Selke Trophy award given to the league's best defensive forward. In the running at #4 is Joe Pavelski. His PK linemate Patrick Marleau ranks #9 among the 30 players profiled.

TSN's Scott Cullen also crunched his unique brand of numbers to determine the best line in the NHL. Washington's Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin ranks first, Detroit's line of Hossa-Datsyuk-Holmstrom ranks second, and San Jose's Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi ranks third. You would like to fault Cullen for not including enough defensive statistics to balance out the rankings, but he has included 9 categories that can gauge defensive performance and only 6 offense-related categories. The Sharks balanced offense with eight players registering 10 or more goals is 1 more than Washington's 7, and 1 less than Detroit's 9.

- Bloggers James "Tapeleg" of Jerseys and Hockey Love and the Rink Podcast, and presumably Jibble of Jibblescribbits will be at the Sharks-Oilers game tonight. On part of his West Coast swing, James Tapeleg covered Armenian Heritage Night in Los Angeles. DT of Inside Hockey will also be at the Sharks game tonight.

[Update] Oilers-Sharks Preview - USA Today.

[Update2] When Sharks attack: Adding teeth on defense - Sporting News.

Think the San Jose Sharks will stand pat before the trade deadline? Like Jaws and Drew Rosenhaus, they keep swimming and looking for their next meal, er, deal.

So Sharks GM Doug Wilson will prowl the deep blue-line sea. David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News says Wilson wants to add another veteran with playoff experience to his defense corps. Pollak assures readers the Sharks haven't "soured on Alexei Semenov or Derek Joslin," who are a tad on the sushi side -- raw fish. Wilson wants cold-blooded vertebrates.

If Brad Lukowich returns sooner rather than later, the Sharks defense should be able to hold up down the stretch and heading into the postseason. 4 players who have spent time centering the third line are either scratched or on the IR. Given some of the recent struggles, another veteran presence centering the third or fourth line has to be at the top of the shopping list. With the Sharks tight up against the cap any players coming in would have to be matched by a salary going out.

Veteran defenseman Kyle McLaren has missed 34 games rehabbing a hand injury while playing with the AHL Worcester Sharks. Worcester GM Wayne Thomas told the Telegram and Gazette "He's a ways away".

Sunday, February 15, 2009

4 Questions about the New Jersey Devils for Yahoo's Greg "Puck Daddy" Wyshynski

The San Jose Sharks (37-7-9, 1st Pacific) face off against the New Jersey Devils (36-17-3, 1st Atlantic) 12PM (PT) this afternoon at the Prudential Center. Coming off a 1-0 shutout win over the Boston Bruins, the Devils have won 13 of their last 16 games and have rocketed up the standings to tie the Washington Capitals for the 2nd best record in the Eastern Conference.

Yahoo's Greg Wyshynski answered 4 questions about the Devils:

[Q] Jamie Langenbruner has 26 points in his last 23 games, perennial backup Scott Clemmensen has 24 wins in 36 starts, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias are on pace for 94 and 91 points respectively. What have been the biggest factors in New Jersey's recent success?

[GW] Clemmensen has been great when they've needed him to be. The defense features three very good skaters and two bangers -- one of whom, Colin White, is playing the most disciplined hockey of his career. They're rolling four lines of forwards like every great Devils team under Lamoriello has.

But the biggest difference for me has been this team's utter fearlessness when it comes to rallying or scoring in the third period. Maybe it's Elias playing like a star again, but you don't see much panic or pressing from this team in big games. They're a calm, veteran, savvy bunch.

[PJ] How has the identity of the team changed in the absence of Martin Brodeur? And how do you work him back into the lineup without disrupting the team's chemistry and still maintain the stellar play from Clemmensen?

[GW] Clemmer's been good, but let's not back him out to be Hasek here.

The notion that there should be an iota of concern about chemistry or bad voodoo when Marty comes back is perhaps the biggest non-story of the season. Even if Brodeur loses every single game he plays from his return through the first round of the playoffs, he's earned the right to do so. And there isn't a player in that room not named Scott Clemmensen who'd disagree.

As for identity, there's no question Brodeur's injury brought this team together and had them buy into Brent Sutter's system. But Clemmensen has never played in an NHL playoff game; Brodeur has three Stanley Cups The math ain't hard.

[PJ] In one or two brief sentences, how would you describe the offensive and defensive systems of the New Jersey Devils?

[GW] The Devils roll four lines and are aggressive on the forecheck. They get the defensemen involved on the rush, but are rarely caught out of position on defense. This team is much more like the 2000 Cup champion that manages to show offensive spark while playing solid, fundamental defense. Boring they're not, at least on most nights.

[PJ] Is New Jersey the best team in the Eastern Conference?

[GW] No. They're super talented, veteran savvy, and they have good goaltending with Clemmensen and potentially superb goaltending with Brodeur. But they lack that Zdeno Chara shutdown guy or that Mike Green offensive D-man on the blueline. And there have been nights when the offense and the special teams have looked dreadful. They're a playoff team and a Cup contender, but I'd still take the Bruins and probably the Capitals over them.

Last October, Wyshynski interviewed fellow New Jersey Devils fan and "Clerks", "Dogma" and "Chasing Amy" director Kevin Smith. Smith tried to explain Devils fans, "Being a Devils fan, you just have to try harder. You have to be more patient, put up with a lot more ribbing from everybody else, and find your calm center." In San Jose the ribbing not only comes from Kings and Ducks fans, but local opinion columnists and radio hosts take shots at the sport whenever possible.

On the question to Wyshynski about Brodeur's return, the Sharks have been dogged by similar "chemistry" questions when Brian Campbell was acquired at the trade deadline last year, when Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich were added this offseason, and when 43-year old Claude Lemieux was called up from the Worcester Sharks AHL affiliate. The locker room in San Jose is loose, and the notion that any of these additions would be a disruption fades away after spending about 2 minutes around the team.

The issues San Jose has had to deal with in the regular season and in the postseason are confidence and compete level. Adding 4 Cup winning veterans to a roster in the span of 5 months will have an impact on both.

[Update] Martin Brodeur estimates he's a 'week to 10 days' away from playing for New Jersey Devils - New Jersey Star Ledger.

Martin Brodeur's eventual return to the Devils isn't an abstract concept anymore. The face of the franchise is back practicing on a full-time basis and he estimates he is no more than "a week to 10 days" away from playing games.

Brodeur practiced with the full squad Saturday for the first time since he suffered a torn biceps tendon in his left (catching glove) arm on Nov. 1. After his work day was over, Brodeur -- perhaps flush with all those endorphins surging through his body after a 25-minute practice plus another 20 minutes of shot-blocking -- was even ready to proclaim himself ready immediately if needed.

[Update2] With Brodeur Returning, Devils Have Decisions to Make - NY Times.

[Update3] San Jose Sharks' Claude Lemieux relishing chance to face Devils Sunday - New Jersey Star Ledger's beat reporters blog.

"It will be a great day," Lemieux said Friday via phone from Buffalo. "That will be game No. 10 for me. I got to play in Colorado, which was really special. New Jersey is a special place for me. I won two Cups there. I have a lot of great memories. It will always be a good stomping grounds for me.

"I've not been in the new arena. It will be my first visit. I'm looking forward to seeing all the guys I played with (on the Devils' roster). There are still a few around. Marty (Brodeur) won't be back yet, but I look forward to playing them. I still feel very strongly about the time I lived in New Jersey and I still have a lot of respect for Lou (Lamoriello). It's funny how it worked out. I get to play in all the cities I played in: Dallas, Montreal, Phoenix, Colorado, New Jersey."

[Note] Mike and Doug from Sharks Analysis and the DOH Podcast visited NYC before heading to the Devils game today. Notes from the road trip should be available on their next podcast.

5 unanswered goals sparks dramatic comeback in 5-4 Bakersfield win at Stockton, goaltender Andrew Perugini's quest for a 10th straight win falls short

Bakersfield Condors down Stockton Thunder 5-4 in ECHL hockey
Stockton Thunder ECHL goaltender Andrew Perugini photo
Bakersfield Condors Stockton thunder goaltender crease photo

With the largest storm of the season barreling down on Northern California, the streets of Stockton were understandably empty. It was a different situation at Stockton Arena, where the bordering parking lots were near capacity almost an hour before game time. After racing to a 3-goal lead, the Stockton Thunder allowed 5 unanswered goals by Division rival Bakersfield in an entertaining 5-4 loss on home ice.

7,522 fans turned out to see rookie Stockton goaltender Andrew Perugini attempt to earn his 10th straight win in goal. Tied with Devan Dubnyk for the franchise lead with 9, it looked promising early as the Thunder came out of the gates hard. In the first five minutes, Stockton racked up 2 monster hits in the offensive zone. One hit targeted a defenseman playing the puck in the corner. The second hit might have seen a player leave his feet to crush a forward along the glass, drawing a loud cheer from the crowd.

Energy forward Adam Huxley dropped the gloves with Bakersfield's Hank Carisio at 1:56 for possibly one of the longest hockey fights of the year. A long fight in the NHL can last 40-45+ seconds. Huxley and Carisio traded a large volume of punches for nearly 4 minutes, pushed each other up against the bench, then pirouetted with a handful of jersey while trying to land from outside before the refs escorted them to the box.

Another hard check off a faceoff as former Worcester Sharks forward Craig Valette is knocked to the ice. Franchise scoring leader Mike Lalonde opened the scoring at 4:13 with a quick shot in front of the crease, assists Cory Urquhart and Ryan MacMurchy. In the first 5 minutes of play, there were 3 monster hits, a fight that lasted longer than most pay-per-views, and a blue collar goal against a division rival.

The Stockton Thunder kept rolling. It was Cory Urquhart bobble head night, and the Lalonde-Urquhart-MacMurchy line was causing problems for Bakersfield down low. MacMurchy scored on the rush at 11:46 (assist Urquhart), and celebrated with a leap into the glass. Urquhart added a third goal with a hard snap shot less than 2 and a half minutes later. Lalonde drew a player to him, then hit Urquhart in front for a quick shot that beat goaltender Dave McKee. The Thunder headed back to the locker room with a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes, but Urquhart would finish with 4 points on bobblehead night after scoring his second goal of the game, 22nd of the season, with no time remaining in the third period.

Urquhart is one of 6 former Fresno Falcons players to join the lineup (Matt O'Dette, Kenny Macaulay, Daryl Marcoux, Judd Blackwater, Igor Gongalsky) after the central Californian franchise folded mid-season. Those who comment about Tampa Bay's roster turnover this season in the NHL need to take a look at Stockton's roster at the ECHL level. According to, 44 players have suited up to date for the Thunder. 10 players have been called up by Edmonton's AHL affiliate in Springfield, or by Portland, Rockford, Binghamton and San Antonio also in the AHL. When a suspension and 2 injuries forced Stockton to play with 4 defenseman for a stretch, former SJSU defenseman Ian Fazzi and Ben Laing were offered amateur tryouts for 1 game.

Through all of the turnover, former Fresno Falcons head coach Matt Thomas has kept the team focused while churning out wins on the ice. After being brought in on December 29th, the Thunder lost in OT for his debut against Alaska and then won the next 7 games. The 7-0-1 record prior to the Allstar Game break (Jan 20-21, Reading PA) was nearly matched with a 7-4 record in 11 post-ASG contests. Thomas is a young and enthusiastic bench boss, who has not missed the playoffs in 7 straight seasons as a head coach and assistant coach in the ECHL. Saturday was also Fresno Falcons appreciation night, and Thomas spent a half hour after the game speaking with a section full of Falcons fans who chartered a bus for the game.

The first intermission promotion for Valentines Day saw 103 couples married or remarried on the ice by a local radio host. The Bakersfield Condors, Anaheim's short-hop ECHL affiliate, celebrated the nuputials 33 seconds into the second as right wing Mike Wirll scored his 13th goal of the season, assists Thomas, Morrow. The Thunder killed off 4 straight penalties, including one 5-on-3, but the ice titled heavily in Bakersfield's favor. They piled up 27 shots in the final 40 minutes to Stockton's 10.

The Condors could not be stopped in the third period. Andrew Ianiero tallied the first power play goal of the game for Bakersfield at 7:53 of the third. Stockton had trouble clearing the puck out of the zone, and trouble clearing bodies out of the crease. Danny LaPointe, Chad Painchaud and Dave Bonk scored in a span of 3 minutes and 49 seconds to give Bakersfield a 5-3 lead. A YMCA chant over the loudspeakers could not cheer up the dejected crowd.

Dave McKee (6-10-3) finished with 14 saves on only 18 shots, earning his 6th win of the season. Stockton rookie Andrew Perugini saw his bid for 10 straight wins scuttled as he stopped only 32 of 37 shots against. The Lalonde- Urquhart-MacMurchy line finished with 10 points (4G, 6A), 5 shots, and +4. 5 different players scored for Bakersfield (Wirll, Ianiero, LaPointe, Painchaud, Bonk). The Condors have won 5 of their last 6 games. Stockton dropped to 1-4 against Bakersfield this season, but they lead the ECHL in total attendance (144,197) and average attendance through 23 home games (6,269). Edmonton Oilers skating and skills coach Steve Serdachny attended the game. ECHL Allstar Ryan Huddy, Stockton's leading scorer, is the son of Edmonton Oilers assistant head coach and 5-time Stanley Cup winner Charlie Huddy.

A photo gallery from the game is available here. Herman Evaristo of was also at the game taking photos.

[Update] Things fall apart fast in third - Scott Linesburgh for the Stockton Record.

Thunder coach Matt Thomas said the defeat would have to be put aside when Stockton plays host to Ontario at 4 p.m. today, but the team needs to remember what happened.

"It's got to sink in, and you have to let it sting a little," Thomas said. "You have to understand why it happened, and make sure it doesn't happen again."

The Record also has a multimedia slideshow from the game available here. More notes from head coach Matt Thomas on the situation in Fresno and the current play in Stockton will be posted in the next edition of hockey notes.

[Update2] Minor League Malarkey: Nothing says bliss like on-ice weddings -

[Update3] Condors quiet Thunder with 5-4 comeback win, Bakersfield heads to Utah for two games this week -

Great American Wedding Rink: 103 couples married at last night's Stockton Thunder vs Bakersfield Condors hockey game

Great American Wedding Rink couples married at ECHL hockey game

As part of the "Great American Wedding Rink" promotion, 103 couples were married or renewed their vows last night by KAT 103FM host and licensed minister D.J. Walker. During the first intermission of the Stockton Thunder vs Bakersfield Condors ECHL game, the couples filed out onto the ice as the ceremonies were read over the PA system and a group photo was taken.

According to news reports, the number of couples wanting to participate exceeded capacity. The number of grooms wearing a full body Condor costume with a referee shirt on top? One.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Buffalo Sabres earn emotional 5-4 OT shootout win over San Jose Sharks

Hockey took a backseat Friday as the suburban Buffalo community of Clarence was trying to come to grips with the crash of Continental Flight 3407 that killed 50 people. "It's an incredibly sad day for our city," Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said after the morning practice. "This is going to touch a lot of people... but we have to try to get through it." Ruff added, "It is a tough day for Buffalo".

According to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, the Sabres and the NHL considered postponing the Friday night game with the San Jose Sharks, but the decision was made to play on and give the community a brief respite from the horrible news. A long moment of silence was held prior to the national anthems, as the sellout crowd paid their respects.

The game itself started out heavily lopsided in Buffalo's favor. The Sabres scored 3 unanswered goals by Adam Mair, Jaroslav Spacek (PP) and Derek Roy (PP), and outshot San Jose 18-13 in the first period. Roy's goal came on a turnover by Joe Thornton at center ice as the Sharks defense was making a change. It is the third straight game a poor line change has cost San Jose a goal. Patrick Marleau scored his 28th goal of the season on a seeing-eye wrist shot from the left point with Thornton creating traffic in front of Ryan Miller. The power play goal was assisted by Marc-Edouard Vlasic (23) and Joe Thornton (46).

Ales Kotalik took a pass from Craig Rivet and scored his 12th goal of the season from nearly the identical position as Marleau. Traffic screened Evgeni Nabokov on the play, but the critical faceoff loss by Joe Pavelski in the defensive zone to Matt Ellis set up the third Buffalo power play goal of the game. The Sabres finished 3-6 with the man advantage, the Sharks finished 2-2 on the power play. San Jose held opponent's scoreless on the power play in 7 of the last 8 games (22-24). The 3 goals allowed dropped the Sharks PK to 4th in the NHL (84.9%), behind only Minnesota, NY Rangers, and Calgary.

Momentum shifted dramatically in the second period. After his turnover lead to a goal by Derek Roy, Sharks center Joe Thornton earned an assist on each of the next four goals for his team. Three unanswered goals came in the second as Thornton worked the low cycle to find Marleau in front for his 29th. Thornton hit defenseman Dan Boyle with a breakout pass, who then stiff-armed defenseman Toni Lydman and scored high far-side. Thornton also intiated the scoring in the third period by dishing to Boyle, who then found a wide open Devin Setoguchi camped on the far side of the slot. Setoguchi hammered home his 23rd goal of the game (PP). The game was tied 4-4, but the ice was heavily tilted towards Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.

Joe Pavelski battled hard after a face off. He snapped a quick shot past Miller through traffic, and the Sharks had a 5-4 lead with less than 10 minutes left in the game. San Jose has the firepower to come back from seemingly insurmountable deficits, but they have had problems tightening up defensively and closing out games. The Sabres pulled Ryan Miller, then outnumbered Milan Michalek 2-to-1 in the corner. Derek Roy won the battle, then fed the puck to Craig Rivet on the point with 5 seconds left in the game. Rivet hammered a one-timer, which was tipped by Jason Pominville to tie the game 5-5 at 19:56. Un-be-liev-able finish.

Each goaltender looked sharp in the shootout. Evgeni Nabokov stoned Kotalik, Stafford and Connolly on the first 3 Buffalo shootout attempts. Ryan Miller stopped Boyle, Pavelski and Setoguchi. Jason Pominville scored the game tying goal in regulation, and he was the first to get one past Nabokov. Sharks captain Patrick Marleau finished with 2 goals, and a slick backhand up high that beat Miller in the shootout. Derek Roy was up first in the 5th shootout round, and after a leg pump and a hard deke to his backhand was successful, the pressure was on the Sharks. Milan Michalek tried the same move, break of the wrist and a hard deke to the backhand, but Miller was there for the save. Sabres earn an emotional 6-5 OT shootout win over the San Jose Sharks.

[Update] Focus is on community for Sabres - Bucky Gleason for the Buffalo News.

[Update2] Shootout losses troubling McLellan — plus other notes and quotes from Buffalo - San Jose Mercury News blog.

Updated photo galleries

Added 16 galleries from the 2008-09 NHL season to the photo galleries web page. The first ECHL gallery of the season will be posted very late tonight. A preview of the Pacific Division throwdown between Stockton and Bakersfield is available here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sharks interested in Tampa Bay Lightning center Jeff Halpern?

According to Tampa Tribune beat writer Erik Erlendsson, San Jose's John Ferguson has been scouting the Lightning for a few games and there is a rumored Sharks interest in center Jeff Halpern. The 9-year veteran and former Washington Capitals captain has 3 goals and 5 assists in 25 games played for Tampa Bay this season.

According to Hockey Forecaster's mini-scouting report Halpern plays a strong defensive game, excels on the penalty kill, and offers "solid leadership qualities". Halpern was traded to Tampa February 26, 2008 along with Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen and a draft pick, with Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist headed to Dallas. He is signed through 2009-10 at $2 million a season according to NHL Numbers and the NHLPA.

Erlendsson notes that the Lightning had an interest in Devin Setoguchi before the Dan Boyle trade. Setoguchi is now second on the Sharks with 22 goals scored in 51 games played. A more realistic return might be draft selections or one of the younger forwards the Sharks have called up from the AHL this season, Jamie McGinn, Lukas Kaspar, or Ryan Vesce. McGinn and right wing Brad Staubitz are two forwards who are targeted for larger roles in San Jose for 2009-2010. The Sharks development system also has one of the deepest collections of goaltending prospects in the NHL according to several scouting publications.

There has been a lot of forced turnover on the Sharks third and fourth lines. General manager Doug Wilson could be looking to add a veteran who can steady the play in pressure situations, and who can match up and lock down opposing scoring threats. On a line with Jonathan Cheechoo and Mike Grier, scoring chances are going to be there. The Sharks lost speedy checking line center Torrey Mitchell with a broken leg in training camp, his return date is as of yet uncertain. Marcel Goc suffered an undisclosed lower body injury in the first period against Boston, and 3rd/4th line center Jeremy Roenick may return as soon as next week. Tampa center Jeff Halpern has returned from 2 knee injuries in the past, an ACL and MCL injury on his right knee in June 2008, and an ACL injury in his left knee in 2002

The main rumors circling Tampa Bay this week have focused on Pittsburgh's alleged interest in Martin St. Louis. St. Louis is a bonafide scoring threat, and he will be for years. According to St. Petersburg Times beat reporter Damian Cristodero, if the trade talks to not start with defenseman Ryan Whitney and center Jordan Staal, and end somewhere near Whitney-Staal a prospect or a draft pick, then the Lightning should not even consider moving St. Louis. It is hard to question that assessment.

Erik Erlendsson also mentioned that the Columbus Blue Jackets might be interested in Vinny Prospal. Thanks to Puck Daddy for the original Jeff Halpern link, and for answering a few questions prior to the Sharks visit to New Jersey on Saturday.

[Update] St. Louis to Pittsburgh? - Lyle Richardson for

[Update2] Trade Deadline Playbook: Western Conference - Scott Cullen for TSN.

The Plan: Likely the favourite in the Western Conference, the Sharks have a loaded lineup that may only require the smallest of tweaks for depth help leading into the postseason, particularly since the team's biggest need right now may be a checking centre and Torrey Mitchell should be able to fill that role when he returns from a broken leg that has kept him out all season.

[Update3] Does the Best Team Have the Best Coach? - Jeff Z. Klein for the NYT Slapshots blog.

A reasonable, well-explained rationale for adopting a particular mind-set; it makes sense on a strategic level. But where McLellan really impressed was on the tactical level, in the X’s and O’s, where San Jose actually won the game...

"We talked between the second and third periods about keeping the puck away from Thomas,” McLellan said, speaking to just four of us reporters in the corridor after the game. "Thomas was like a third defenseman back there the first two periods, so we tried to make an adjustment to keep it off his stick."

That explained why the San Jose forwards were working so hard to carry the puck over the Bruins’ blue line in the third. It was barely noticeable, but in hindsight, yes, they’d generally been dumping it in for the first 40 minutes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

San Jose drops 2-1 OT shootout to Pittsburgh, Boston-Sharks ratings on Versus up 69% from season average

Pittsburgh Penguins Areana prior to game with San Jose

One day after an East vs West battle of the titans with Boston, the Sharks traveled to Pittsburgh to face off against the top two scorers in the NHL, Evgeni Malkin (24G, 56A, 80PTS) and Sidney Crosby (21G, 51A, 72PTS). Malkin was a physical force from the start. Five minutes into the game Malkin carried the puck to the front of the net through Dan Boyle, who to his credit did just enough to break up his stick on the play. For 20+ minutes of ice time, Crosby was for the most part invisible until it mattered. After Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Michalek, Pavelski and Dan Boyle in the OT shootout, captain Crosby deftly pulled the puck back and forth until threading it 5-hole. Crosby sent the 17,034-strong crowd home happy with a 2-1 OT shootout win.

The Penguins have won 3 of their last 4 games, with the only loss coming in a Stanley Cup Finals rematch with Detroit on Saturday. After plowing over the best team in the NHL in Boston, the Sharks have racked up 3 losses in their last 4 games. There was a noticeable lull in play during the second period. Right wing Bill Thomas livened up Mellon Arena with the first goal of the game 18:36 into the second period. After Miroslav Satan carried the puck through the neutral zone, Bill Thomas shoveled a pass in front of the net that deflected off the stick of Rob Blake by Boucher.

Joe Pavelski scored the game tying goal for San Jose 11:07 into the third period. For the second straight game, Dan Boyle carried the puck deep and created all kinds of defensive breakdowns in front of the net. Three Penguins converged on Pavelski in front, as behemoth Hall Gill tried to catch up to Boyle. A hard shot by Ryane Clowe deflected off a mass of bodies, and consecutive whacks by Milan Michalek and Joe Pavelski eventually resulted in Pavelski's 8th goal of the season.

Sharks backup goaltender Brian Boucher (9-1-2, .932SV%, 1.79GAA, 2SO) saw his first start since Jan. 10th. He finished with 35 saves on 36 shots against, and earned second star of the game with a calm and poised performance in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury (19-14-3, .913SV%, 2.75GAA, 2SO) was solid in net for Pittsburgh, racking up several clutch glove saves stopping 36 of 37 shots and earning first star of the game. The energy level for San Jose waned considerably in the final two periods. Head coach Todd McLellan juggled the lines trying to find a combination with jump. Worcester Sharks leading scorer Ryan Vesce saw his first NHL action in Teal, and in line with assements from 3 different Sharkspage writers he brought energy and skill to the lineup.

Marcel Goc and Jody Shelley were scratched from the game with injuries, center Jeremy Roenick could return to the lineup soon. Video highlights of the game are available here. The incomparable Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Gazette posted his usual jersey and music video-laced liveblog on Empty Netters. In an email Seth notes that Bill Thomas stood out by generating more scoring chances than usual, and that Fleury has been the team's "saving grace" keeping the Penguins in playoff contention.

This post was delayed because of the Pensblog Bob Errey soundboard. Click Soundboard City to start. The soundboard is probably the best use of a hockey blog since the LCS Save the Whale telethon.

[Update] After Crosby's goal, Fleury snuffs Sharks' final shot to give Penguins two big points - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Crosby, who was battling a flu-like ailment, was the only shooter on either side to get a goal in the shootout. Whatever symptoms he might have been experiencing didn't affect his powers of observation. He studied how Boucher stopped Petr Sykora and Evgeni Malkin on the Penguins' first two shootout tries and factored that information into his own attempt.

"I just tried a bit of a different move," Crosby said. "I just watched him the first couple of times and thought there was some room in the five-hole."

Petr Sykora tried two dekes to open up the five hole, and was stuffed by Boucher's shoulder. Malkin tried a hard fake to his backhand, and pulled the puck back and forth several times before a weak attempt five hole. Crosby must have seen something different from the previous 2 shooters.

[Update2] John Ryan of the Mercury News reports that Tuesday's San Jose Sharks 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins delievered impressive ratings for the Versus national broadcast in the U.S. According to Ryan, the 0.54 household rating was a 69% higher than the season average, with an estimated 550,000 total viewers. Sports Media Watch notes that an October Detroit/Toronto game drew a total 573,000 viewers.

[Update3] The journey from Pittsburgh to Buffalo takes the Sharks longer than expected - David Pollak's Working the Corners blog.

Fight Notes: Strikeforce aquires ProElite properties, signs television deal with Showtime, Gilroy's Robert Guerrero HBO fight in San Jose March 7th

Strikeforce promoter and CEO Scott Coker
Strikeforce acquires ProElite properties, signs television deal with Showtime

- The 10th largest metropolian area in the United States, San Jose goes about its daily business while sandwiched between the major San Andreas and Hayward Faults. Tuesday afternoon the landscape of mixed martial arts shifted ever so slightly towards Northern California with the announcement that San Jose-based Strikeforce acquired as many as 42 fighter contracts from ProElite, as well as its deep video library. Also announced Tuesday was an agreement with Showtime to produce and televise as many as 16 Strikeforce mixed martial arts events a year by 2010, with up to 5 "championship-level" live events and 5 "up-and-coming" series events scheduled for 2009.

Strikeforce added several high profile names to its roster including "the face of women's MMA" Gina Carano, and heavily hyped Kimbo Slice. Two big names that can guarantee a crossover draw at the box office. Less heralded fighters like EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler, Stockton's Nick Diaz and Elite XC Welterweight Champion Jake Shields could set the table for a number of competitive fights for years. Shields' manager Monte Cox recently noted that negotiations are still ongoing.

The man behind it all is Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. The formula for his success is simple. Coker stocks fight cards with competitive matchups, pays fighters well, and turns a profit. "It's really all about networking and building good relationships," Coker told Yahoo's Kevin Iole. Coker also described the high level of interest and martial arts participation in the Bay Area, and noted that developing relationships with instructors and gyms helped him grow his business.

The relationships Coker built date back to the sport's first mainstream exposure on television. Strikeforce started producing kickboxing events for ESPN2 in 1993. The broadcasts had a multiplier effect on kickboxing in the Bay Area, dramatically increasing the number of instructors, schools and participants in the South Bay. Strikeforce produced the first K1 kickboxing event in Las Vegas in 2000 before crossing over to MMA in 2006 when a record 18,265 fans turned out to see Frank Shamrock face Cesar Gracie at the first sanctioned MMA event held in California.

Strikeforce's modus operandi as a regional promotion should not change as it steps into the the top bracket of MMA organizations, previously occupied by one lone 3 letter resident. Even with the understated style of its CEO and its business-like approach with fighters, Strikeforce has stepped into a larger arena and it will need to deliver. ProElite's video library will help bolster the content available for programming, but the pressure will be on Strikeforce to fill high profile televised fight cards on a much more compressed schedule.

The first Strikeforce/Showtime event will be held April 11th at HP Pavilion between two local bad boys, Frank Shamrock and Nick Diaz. Shamrock last stepped into the cage against Cung Le in March 2008 for a San Jose on San Jose battle that many called the fight of the year. Sacramento's Scott Smith and Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson are also rumored to appear on the card.

MMA Weekly recently reported a second Shamrock/Le fight could be in the works for 2009 after Cung Le rehabs an elbow injury. MMA Weekly also reported that a SEC filing by Pro Elite pegged the sale price for its assets to Strikeforce at $3 million. Friend of the blog Dann Stupp of MMA Junkie notes that invitations were handed out to Gina Carano (7-0) and Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos (6-1) for the April 11th card in a possible women's fight of the year matchup, negotiations are still ongoing. Sherdog's Loretta Hunt followed up with "Kimbo Slice", who is looking to return to the cage as soon as possible.

The full conference call is available for download here.

- Death Knell for Elite XC, Second largest mixed martial arts promotion closes doors Tuesday - Sharkspage, October 2008.

- On the same Tuesday in Milpitas, Golden Boy Promotions and HBO Boxing After Dark held a press conference to announce that 2-time champion Robert Guerrero (23-1-1, 16KOs) of Gilroy will return to HP Pavilion for the first time since 2006. He will fight Indonesian Daud Yordan (23-0) for the NABO JR Lightweight title. Guerrero recently stepped up to 130 pounds defeating Edel Ruiz in 43 seconds on the Margarito-Mosley undercard at the Staples Center.

According to David Robinett of Fight News, Guerrero has been sparring with Shane Mosley in preparation for the fight, but has not seen very much of his opponent Yordan. He mentioned being happy to return to the Bay Area after several years, and being honored to appear on a card with other young guns like Victor Ortiz and James Kirkland. "Its going to be exciting having Victor out there, myself, and Kirkland, We’re the young up and coming fighters and its time for us to take over, it’s a new era" Guerrero told the media.

The very stacked March 7th card will feature a televised main event bout between Ring Magazine #10 Jr. Middleweight James Kirkland (24-0, 21KOs) and Miami-based Joel Julio (34-2, 31KOs), a semi-main event bout between hard punching Victor Ortiz (23-1-1, 18KOs) and Mike Arnaoutis (21-2-1, 10KOs) for the WBO, NABO and USBA Jr Welterweight titles, and a non-televised fight between heavyweights Ashanti Jordan (7-0, 6KOs) and Hermann Binek (7-1, 6KOs) in addition to Guerrero-Yordan. James Kirkland has knocked out 7 of his last 8 opponents. His opponent Joel Julio dropped a 12-round unanimous decision November 1st against Sergiy Dzinziruk in a WBO JR Middleweight title fight.

Victor Ortiz offered the quote of the press conference. "I'm happy to be fighting in San Jose, people have been asking 'Vic, when are you coming to the Bay Area?' and I didn't know what to say until I realized they call San Jose the 'Bay Area', I'm from Kansas" Ortiz told the media.

More information on the upcoming card will be available at HBO Boxing After Dark, tickets are available via ticketmaster. Goldenboy and photographer Tom Hogan is one of the best photographers on the planet. It will be interesting to see his boxing images from HP Pavilion. Last month in Southern California, Golden Boy Boxing was forced to compete against Golden Boy MMA as Mosley-Margarito in Los Angeles was scheduled for the same night as Emelianko-Arlovski. Both events did very well.

- Ward Shuts Out Buchanan -

Before a raucous crowd of 1,100 in a nearly full ballroom at the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in LeMoore, CA, Andre “S.O.G” Ward improved his unbeaten streak to 18-0 with 12 KO’s by shutting out Henry “Sugar Poo” Buchanan over twelve not so scintillating rounds to retain his WBO NABO super middleweight title and claim the vacant NABF super middleweight title. Despite making pre-fight knockout predictions, it was Buchanan who stayed on the defensive all night, making it next to impossible for the natural counterpuncher Ward to get a consistent flow going. But he certainly gave the fans their money’s worth with his effort.

Ward set the tone early over Henry Buchanan, muscling him around the ring and landing hard, quick combinations. The Oakland-native started picking "Sugar Poo" apart from the opening bell, but he could not knock Buchanan out after he entered a defensive shell for most of the fight. Ward has told the media that he is looking to bring a high profile boxing event back to the city of Oakland.

- Available on for free on select broadband networks in the U.S. is last Friday's Yusef Mack vs Chris Henry Friday Night Fights boxing card on ESPN. The Light Heavyweight main event was bolstered by Fernando Guerrero vs Gabriel Rosado and Shawn Porter vs Cory Jones. It was one of the best cards of the year on ESPN to date, in front of a very vocal Maryland crowd.

- Antonio Margarito's license is revoked for a year, Fighter and trainer are held responsible for illegal hand wraps before last month's fight against Shane Mosley - Los Angeles Times.

The California State Athletic Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to revoke former boxing welterweight world champion Antonio Margarito's license for one year, and that of his trainer, for having illegal plaster-like substances on his hand wraps before his title fight against Shane Mosley...

State inspectors testified that they confiscated two gauze pads that were "firm" and "smeared with a substance" before Margarito made the first defense of his welterweight title against Mosley on Jan. 24 at Staples Center. Mosley won by a ninth-round technical knockout.

The pads, shown in photos to be caked with a white grout-like substance still under analysis by a state lab, were inserted covertly under the knuckle pads atop Margarito's fists, a fact that his trainer, Javier Capetillo, admitted could have injured Mosley.

[Update] Thanks to Strikeforce, a handful of stars are back in business - Josh Gross for Sports Illustrated.

[Update2] The top 5 pound-for-pound fighters - Dan Rafael for ESPN.

[Update3] San Jose-based Lyoto Machida and his manager were both guests on the hour long Inside MMA highlight show last Friday on HDnet.

[Update4] Strikeforce Landed EliteXC for $3 Million - Sherdog.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks liveblog, best team in the East vs best team in the West

The Sharkspage liveblog of today's Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks game will begin at 3PM (PT).


The Boston Bruins (39-8-7, 1st Northeast) vs San Jose Sharks (36-7-7, 1st Pacific) matchup tonight features a rare meeting between the top teams in each conference. The game will feature San Jose on a national Versus television broadcast for the first time this season, and will be aired over the radio on KFOX 98.5FM and WBZ 1030AM in San Jose and Boston respectively. Sports talk radio has been humming about this game on KNBR 680AM and WEEI 850AM in each market as well. The game will also be televised nationally in Canada on TSN and RDS.

San Jose's lead over the Detroit Red Wings for first place in the Western Conference has dwindled to only 2 points, but the Sharks hold a massive 20 point cushion over Anaheim and Dallas for first place in the Pacific Division with several games in hand and under 30 games left in the season. Riding a season-high 3-game losing streak, the Sharks are looking to rebound against the top team in the National Hockey League. The Sharks dropped the first game of the season long 6,215-mile, 5-game road trip 3-2 in overtime at Columbus on Saturday.

Boston is easily the hottest franchise in the NHL. An overtime 4-3 loss in Manny Fernandez's return Saturday kept them from extending their winning streak to 6 games but kept the point streak alive at 9 games. The Bruins have registered a 32-5-6 record in 43 games played against Eastern Conference teams this season, and have a 7-3-1 record against the West. Boston is 15-4-3 when scoring first, 9-3-3 when trailing after the first period, and 12-2-2 when tied after 40 minutes. The morale of the story for opponent's has to be score first, but not in the first period, and have a lead heading into the third period. San Jose's blazing hot 11-1-1 (23 points) record in November was surpassed by a 12-1-0 (24 points) record by Boston in December.

The Bruins have dealt with injuries to several key players, but have not missed a beat cycling in replacements on the ice. Defenseman Andrew Ference, winger Blake Wheeler, and backup goaltender Manny Fernandez all returned to the lineup, but former San Jose left wing Marco Sturm will be out for the season after undergoing knee surgery. Sturm is the last remaining player on the Bruins roster from the monster December 1st, 2005 trade of center Joe Thornton (covered on this blog here and here).

Boston right wing Michael Ryder had facial surgery to repair a broken bone. The 6-foot-0, 192-pound right wing took a stick between the eyes Thursday against Ottawa. Ryder has been effective in a secondary scoring role, registering 19 goals and 36 points in 52 games played. Defenseman Aaron Ward, who scored the game winning goal with 12 seconds left in the third period in the last meeting between these two teams in October 2007, is questionable for the game with flu-like symptoms.

On the NHL Live XM radio program this morning, they called the Sharks and received an update on the return of injured center Jeremey Roenick. He is expected to return next week. Checking line wing Jody Shelley was injured against Columbus, and AHL Worcester Sharks left wing Jamie McGinn made the short hop to Boston to replace him. Defenseman Derek Joslin was also sent down to Worcester with the expectation that veteran defenseman Brad Lukowich may be set to return from January hernia surgery. Torrey Mitchell is still rehabbing a broken leg suffered in training camp.

"We have to be prepared and give the team the right information to be successful, but I don't think we have to offer a lot of motivation" head coach Todd McLellan said on the pre-game show. "I think their team game is more dangerous than their transition game... they are always composed".

From the pre-road trip scouting report: Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli described head coach Claude Julien's system to Craig Custance of the Sporting News. "Claude is a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of coach. He grinds it out, goes over defense -- he's defense first." Chiarelli said. "He's adapted with the more skill we put in place, more active on the defenseman, tweaked the forecheck." Chiarelli also mentioned activating the D in all 3 zones, being agressive on the forecheck, and playing their own brand of a trapping 1-2-2 style that is common in the league.

Cornelius Hardenbergh posted a complete recap of the pre-game media and blog coverage at Hockey Blog Adventure.


Joe Thornton line starts the game for San Jose, Boston head coach Claude Julien is matching them with the checking line. Referee Chris Rooney is also on the ice for this game. Rooney was the referee who ejected Joe Thornton in his return to Boston after his trade to San Jose in 2005. On Jan. 10th, 2006, Rooney ejected Thornton for a hit from behind on Hal Gill. Evgeni Nabokov has to get over quickly to make a kick save on right wing Chuck Kobasew.

The third scoring chance of the game equals the first goal for the Boston Bruins. A drop pass by Savard to defenseman Dennis Wideman, and Wideman fires the puck on Nabokov with players crashing the net. With a scramble in front, Savard and Lucic are both there to jump on the rebound. Lucic deposits it into the empty net from 17 feet out for his 12th goal of the season at 3:58. Assists Savard (42) and Wideman (26). Boston also has a 27 goal advantage over San Jose 5-on-5, and a 17 goal deficit a man down against the Sharks according to the radio broadcast.

Sharks radio analyst Jamie Baker offers an early analysis of the Bruins: they generate speed through the neutral zone, attack the net with speed, offer solid puck support, and they have three lines pressuring the Sharks on offense. San Jose will look for the defense to activate and transition the puck up ice quickly, and generate shots on goal and traffic in front of the net.

Center Patrice Bergeron is called for the first penalty of the game at 5:31 for tripping defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The Sharks have the 2nd best power play on the road (29.8%), Boston is tied for 7th at home on the penalty kill (85.4%). Rob Blake scores the equalizer with a shot from the point at 7:18. Blake's power play goal deflected off the stick of Blake Wheeler and was redirected off the skate of Dennis Wideman by Tim Thomas. Assists Vlasic (22) and Clowe (24).

Twice hulking left wing Milan Lucic tried to check 240-pound Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray, and twice Lucic was knocked to the ice. In the Western Conference, Murray is well known as a hard hitting defenseman in addition to being tremendously difficult to check. Against St Louis, he was sandwiched by 2 players and he sent them both sprawling. According to, Lucic only has 6 fighting majors this season but he has developed a fearsome reputation for physical play. On a national TSN broadcast in October, Lucic hammered Toronto defenseman Mike van Ryan through a pane of tempered glass.

With the focus on 6-foot-9, 250-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara, the contributions from Dennis Wideman for Boston have often been overlooked. After Chara and Wideman, the return of Andrew Ference is crucial for the blueline. Ference disrupted a homerun pass by center Joe Pavelski to Milan Michalek. Michalek gained possession of the puck after he crossed the blueline and was called offsides. Veteran play by Ference.

Petteri Nokelainen, on the second line for Boston in Michael Ryder's spot, streaks down the right side and snaps a shot on Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov kicks a long rebound to his right and Milan Lucic buries it for his second goal of the game at 14:54. Assist by Nokelainen (3). It was the second straight game with a costly defensive breakdown after a poor line change for San Jose. Both lead to a goal against. As Vlasic and Blake jumped on the ice, the Sharks turned the puck over and Blake was unable to keep Lucic from getting in position for the rebound. Bruins lead 2-1.

6-foot-6 Alexei Semenov has words with 6-foot-9 Chara, and Claude Lemieux skates over to check on the discussions. On a Boston dump in Dan Boyle gets his stick up and cuts Petteri Nokelainen over his eye. The cut draws a lot of blood. Boston crowd is chanting as the referees huddle, unintelligable over the telvision broadcast. San Jose checking center Marcel Goc left the first period to go to the locker room for an unspecified reason and did not return.


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was an intermission and second period guest on the Versus broadcast. Bettman noted the both teams raised their level of play for this game in the first period, and that reports of San Jose starting 2009-2010 in Finland against Calgary have not been finalized yet but they are working on it. Bettman says league revenue will grow 5-6% this season, lower than expected, but that playoff ticket sales and season ticket renewals in a bad economy will be a test for the league. He also noted that the league is looking into the issue of fighting, focusing on how to make it safer.

The Sharks start the second period with back-to-back penalties on Devin Setoguchi for goaltender interference (0:28) and Dan Boyle (1:39) for tripping Boston center Patrice Bergeron. San Jose bends but does not break on the extended 5-on-3, and the momentum slows down for Boston as the Sharks successfully kill off both penalties. The Sharks have a little more jump to start the second, but each team is skating very well. The action is wide open and end-to-end at times, but tight and physical in front of the net and in the corners. Boston looks every bit the faster team, San Jose the bigger team.

Quick bang-bang passing from Wideman and Ference leads to a long breakout pass to Kessel. Kessel skates wide of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and snaps a shot from a hard angle that misses the net. Sharks instantly move puck up ice, touch pass by Marleau springs Setoguchi through the neutral zone. Setoguchi splits Boston defense and forces Tim Thomas to make a pad save down low.

Milan Lucic is played hard against the endboards by Christian Ehrhoff, but Lucic emerges from the corner with the puck and plays it up the boards. San Jose responds by breaking into the Boston zone, and Jonathan Cheechoo drives the net and runs into goaltender Tim Thomas after the whistle. Three Bruins converge on Cheechoo.

Very few whistles in this game. Boston is using speed when driving the zone and creating gaps in the Sharks defense. Nabokov stops initial shot by Patrice Bergeron with his body, but PJ Axelsson fires a rebound attempt over the net. Tim Thomas responds on the other side of the ice, he holds his ground and deflects a shot by Mike Grier into the corner. Later in the period Nabokov makes a highlight reel save stacking the pads and robbing Marc Savard. Savard took a pass in stride and cut across two thirds of the ice surface trying to wait out Nabokov, desperation pad stack but it worked.

In the Bruins defensive zone, Joe Thornton carries the puck around Aaron Ward with one hand on his stick. He turns the corner and dishes to Alexei Semenov who has his stick cocked on the point. Semenov hammers a shot that deflects off traffic, but Boston is scrambling on this shift. Later in the period the Sharks second line of Clowe-Pavelski-Michalek is executing the low cycle effectively with body position and puck protection. The Sharks seem content to gather the puck and force Boston to take it, but eventually Boston clears and transitions up ice. Both teams trade scoring chances on each side of the ice.

Douglas Murray is making his presence felt, checking leading Bruins center Marc Savard and then initiating a massive collision with Zdeno Chara along the glass at the blueline. 43-year old Claude Lemieux breaks up a rebound attempt by David Kreci late in the second. During the second intermission, Versus studio analyst and former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Ed Olczyk notes that there is "confusion" in the Bruins zone when the San Jose defense activates on the play. Welcome to the Western Conference. San Jose outshot Boston 13-10 in the second period, but Boston holds on to a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.


Puck dropped. John Bishop is liveblogging this game for Bishop's second period mini-recap "A tense 20 minutes of back-and-forth skating, a few pileups and a little more pushing and shoving than what play necessitated resulted more in the oohs and ahhs of the crowd than a whole lot of action (or shots) at either goal."

For some reason the Sharks radio broadcast is 10-15 seconds delayed, and the Boston Bruins radio broadcast is 3+ seconds ahead of the Versus broadcast. Easier to catch plays listening to the Boston broadcast, but Jamie Baker on the Sharks broadcast is an expert at breaking down developing patterns and themes on the ice.

San Jose Sharks captain Patrick Marleau ties the game at 2-2 with a 17 foot snap shot, 3:32 into the third period. Assists Ehrhoff (19) and Clowe (25). Clowe protected the puck along the corner, and then passed to Ehrhoff on the point. Quick shot by Ehrhoff with Pavelski bodied up in front of Tim Thomas and Marleau driving for a rebound. Boston can not tie up the 225-pound Marleau, and he pots his 27th goal of the season. Last year after 78 games, Marleau finished with 19 goals. This season after 50 games, Marleau has 27.

Chara laid out Jonathan Cheechoo at the end of the second period, probably a delayed retaliation for his charge on Thomas and an answer to Douglas Murray's relentless monster checks. Chara played Devin Setoguchi perfectly as the sophmore tried to carry the puck behind the net with speed. Chara caught Setoguchi like a catcher's mitt and hammered him off the puck. Setoguchi gets back into the play and challenges Chara for possession, and as their legs get entangled Chara spins to the ice. Hard to tell if it was one of those things that happen in 1-on-1 battles or if he was trying to draw a penalty.

Another goal by San Jose at 7:28. Milan Michalek scores his 15th of the season under the crossbar, with assists by Dan Boyle (27) and Ryane Clowe (26). The Sharks second line has been carrying San Jose of late. According to and McKeen's Hockey writer Max Giese, the second line is setting the tone in the final period, with Ryane Clowe and Milan Michalek effectively using their size along the boards and in front of the net. He also points out that their are several Worcester Sharks jerseys in the Boston audience. Worcester is San Jose's AHL development affiliate. Chuck Kobasew hammered Douglas Murray against the glass at the start of the play, but Murray took the hit to move the puck up ice. senior writer Dan Rosen is liveblogging this game on the official league website. "How often do you see a D-man acting as a center on the rush?" Rosen asks. "We just did. Pavelski was trailing and Boyle was streaking up the ice with Clowe and Michalek. Man, Boyle is fast." Rosen also notes that Petteri Nokelainen will not return to the game.

Marleau drives deep but loses the puck on a check by Aaron Ward. Setoguchi gains possession, takes it behind the net and fires a hard pass at Joe Thornton posted up in front of Tim Thomas. Thornton misses the puck with his stick, but it deflects off of his left skate and into the net. Sharks score their 3rd goal in 8 shots. The play is under review. Versus camerman focuses on NHL review official in his own personal skybox. The official has 6 screens with 6 different camera angles on the play. No kicking motion, goal counts. Thornton scores his 13th of the season, assists by Setoguchi (25) and Marleau (28). San Jose extends their lead to 4-2.

Boston has an opportunity to work back into the game as Jonathan Cheechoo takes a 2 minute hooking penalty on Marc Savard. Bergeron-Kreci-Wheeler line on the ice for Boston, but they can not convert. Critical clear by Pavelski deep, Boston now 0-for-4 on the power play. The sellout crowd is vocal and unhappy, booing Thornton every time he touches the puck for the entire game. The Sharks give them another opportunity as Dan Boyle pulls down Blake Wheeler. 4:24 left in the game, Bruins down by 2. Defenseman Denis Wideman breaks his stick, Sharks able to kill off their 5th straight penalty.

Desperation time for Boston as they pull Thomas with 1:26 left in the period. Nabokov forced to stack his pads again, stoning Marc Savard twice on quick shots from 10 feet out. Sharks right wing Mike Grier scores into the empty net at 19:31 to ice the game, it is his 10th goal of the season. Assists by Patrick Marleau (29) and Thomas Plihal (8). Bruins radio broadcast notes it is the first time Boston has lost by more than 2 goals at home. They lost 4-0 at Anaheim October 17th, and 5-2 at Calgary on January 6th. Calgary and Columbus are the only teams to beat San Jose twice this season, the Flames are going to be a handful in the postseason with more offensive depth and the same physical in-your-face style.

A lot of interesting notes from the Boston Globe liveblog of the game: "Cornell-on-Cornell crime" was witnessed after Byron Bitz laid out Douglas Murray, Fluto Shinzawa called Mike Grier the most effective player on the ice for San Jose after a hit on Shane Hnidy and a 2nd period breakaway (if you are counting that is one vote for Michalek, one for Grier), Fluto also chronicles the injury report for Boston after a brutal cut to Petteri Nokelainen, a Chuck Kobasew leg injury, and another injury to Mark Stuart.

Earlier this season I mentioned that the Sharks were not just rolling over teams, they were mulching them. While not a dirty team, the Sharks are capable of playing a very physical style that can wear down opponents over 60 minutes, not to mention a 7 game playoff series. In the past, teams (Edmonton, Calgary, Anaheim, etc) tried to set a tone by physically intimidating the Sharks early in a game. This year, San Jose has not exactly realized they can do the same night in and night out over an 82 game season. Like Boston, the Sharks have opted to change up on the fly taking whatever opposing teams throw at them, and more often than not emerging with a win.

With the 5-2 win over Boston, the Sharks exercized a specific gameplan and stuck to it for 60 minutes against the top team in the NHL. Effectively using the big bodies up front, and letting the defense press the action, the Sharks were able to work back from a 1-goal deficit and pile up 4 unanswered goals in the third period. The only time these two teams can meet again is in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Three stars of the game picked by WBZ radio were Ryane Clowe, Milan Lucic and Patrick Marleau. That is one vote for Michalek from Max Giese, one vote for Grier by Fluto Shinzawa, one vote for Clowe by WBZ, and Versus called Patrick Marleau the key player of the game. NHL On the Fly named Patrick Marleau their performer of the night, and Marleau was also Yahoo's 2nd star of the night with a shout out to his penalty kill unit.


"I think in the second period when we lost Nokelainen, and in the first with the high sticking incident, and we lost a Kobasew for a good portion of the second period, so we got thin pretty quick. In the second period there were not that many whistles. I think our guys got a little tired at that point, and we came out in the third and pretty much the same thing. We basically had three lines all night, and against a team that is pretty big and pretty strong, with a full lineup, at the end we just did not have enough to continue to compete against a team like that."

"The explanation (on Boyle's high stick) was that nobody saw it. They felt that they thought it was a puck that hit him in the eye. That is the explanation I got. (Nokelainen) is at the hospital, it is an eye injury. I don't think it is looking very good right now."

"I don't think we were moving the puck around with enough authority, and we were not quick enough, definitely not strong enough on the puck, and you got to outwork the PK. Those are three things that are not happening right now. Our power play is not helping us right now, but we have been good for most of the year. The last little while we haven't been on..."

"Give them credit, they played a real good game, a real patient game. We had a good first period but as the game went on they started picking up their game. We had our hands full. I would agree, they were the best team we have played so far this year. It would be nice to get another shot at them, hopefully with both teams being healthy. Hopefully we can work our way there, but that is a long ways away. There are a lot of things to be done before we can even think about that."

"They are heavy on their sticks. They have a good size hockey club. When it was time to really battle, I thought in the first again we moved the puck well and used our speed to our advantage, but when we slowed down a bit and it became a battle they certainly had the advantage on us. They were strong on their sticks, and stronger than we were."


"They came out hard and took advantage of some advantageous bounces. Those are two very good teams. Not only did we play with them, we could have won the game. It went a lot of how I expected, except I expected us to win."

"Lets just get them (goals deflecting off skates) all out of our system for a few games in a row. That's hockey. And as we know that does not always last. It is not very fun when those things do happen. It won't happen all the time."

"Hockey is momentum, the fourth goal was momentum goal. We learn something every game the whole year. Overall we have done very well, so there are a lot of positive things, but obviously we can play better because we have earlier this year. There is good, but there is room for improvement."


Evgeni Nabokov (28-6-6, 2.41GAA, .910SV%, 4SO) stopped 28 of 30 shots against to earn his 28th win of the season. Tim Thomas (24-6-5, 2.15GAA, .930SV%, 3SO) stopped 26 of 30 to earn only his 6th regulation loss of the season. The Sharks scored 4 unanswered goals in the third period including an empty netter, and finished 1-1 on their only power play opportunity with Rob Blake's 8th goal of the season in the first period. Boston was scoreless with 5 power play opportunities, including an extended 5-on-3 early in the second period. San Jose outhit Boston 39-25, and dominated the faceoff circle 33-15 (69%). Joe Thornton won 10 out of 12 draws, and Marcel Goc won 2 straight before leaving the game with an unspecified injury. Both teams registered 51 total shots on goal (SJ: 31s, 11ms, 9bs, BOS: 30s, 9ms, 12bs). Boston outshot San Jose 13-6 in the first period, over the next 40 minutes the Sharks outshot the Bruins 24-17. Boston center Petteri Nokelainen was taken to the hospital with an eye injury, right wing Chuck Kobasew left the game in the second and third period with seperate injuries, and defenseman Mark Stuart also briefly left the game in the second period. San Jose Sharks center Marcel Goc left the game in the first period and did not return.

[Update] NHL On The Fly featured the Boston-Sharks game to open the highlight program. Host Brian Duff noted the game had a playoff feel for a February game. Analyst Gary Green noted Boston had a solid first period, and an even second, but their downfall was the third period. Patrick Marleau was named the perfomer of the night by NOTF, and they attributed the come from behind win to San Jose's confidence in the third period, their leadership, and an active defense. They were also a little puzzled that with the game tied 2-2 in the third period, 4 Sharks players were deep in the Boston zone trying to get the lead. No fear.

On XM Radio's NHL Live program earlier Tuesday morning, they singled out the Joe Thornton vs Zdeno Chara matchup as one to keep an eye on. They also compared the play of the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, and used confidence and compete levels as two barometers of each team's play. Those are perfect measuring sticks for the San Jose Sharks in the regular season or in the playoffs. Against Boston, San Jose's confidence never waivered. It allowed them to take chances. If the compete level was even slightly lower, or if it was not a complete 20-person team effort, the Sharks could not have worked their way back into the game.

[Update2] Ardent Thornton critic Kevin Paul Dupont and Boston Globe beat writer Fluto Shinzawa broke down the 5-2 Boston loss via video. Dupont is still promoting his vision of Thornton as a player looking to pass first and one who rarely sets up in front of the net. Thornton and Marleau both started the season with a nasty edge to their game, playing a physical 2-way style. They held Stanley Cup Finalist Pittsburgh to a record low 11 shots on goal, and ran over the Detroit Red Wings 2 days later. It is hard to keep that hard edge consistently over 82 games, but Thornton and Marleau have both created a number of problems for teams by basically being immovable in front of the crease. 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara fared none better. Dupont notes that Thornton scored a goal without taking a shot (he finished with 1 goal, 2 shots, 18:03 of ice time, and a 83% faceoff percentage), and still calls Detroit better than San Jose. Shocker. Shinzawa offers a more technical analysis, calls the Bruins power play outage a big concern, and notes that they have been held scoreless on the man advantage in 6 of its last 7 games (2-30).

In his post game report, Shinzawa notes that it is the first time in 28 games that Boston has lost after holding a lead entering the third period. "In the third period, we just played way too safe, We just sat back. I can't recall a good forecheck that we had or any solid shifts in their zone." defenseman Andrew Ference told the Boston Globe. Kevin Paul Dupont offers up another scathing column which basically illustrates how few San Jose Sharks games he has seen this season. Dupont is an East Coast Ray Ratto or Skip Bayless, offering criticism for effect or reaction, not insight.

The Globe's Bruins Blog may have captured the turning point of the game, posting a photo by Matthew J. Lee of head coach Claude Julien protesting the lack of a high sticking call on Dan Boyle. Boyle inadvertently got a stick up in the face of center Petteri Nokelainen as he tried to enter the zone at the end of the first period. According to the Globe blog, referees Chris Rooney and Don Van Massenhoven told Julien that they did not see the play, and that it might have been a puck that hit Nokelainen. Nokelainen left the game and did not return.

[Update3] Sharks zip past Bruins - San Jose Mercury News.

[Update4] Sharks Come on Strong in Third and Beat Bruins - Jeff Z. Klein for the New York Times.

[Update5] One lesson from San Jose-Boston tilt: B's still have much to learn - Pierre LeBrun for ESPN.

The night was supposed to be all about Joe Thornton's first full game back in Boston against the Bruins, but it was telling of the Sharks' depth and talent that the star center was largely kept in check until a puck went off his left skate for a goal in the third period. Perhaps another playoff lesson for the rest of the Western Conference teams. Shutting down Thornton isn't good enough. You also need to have answers for Patrick Marleau (one goal, two assists Tuesday night), Ryane Clowe (three assists), Milan Michalek (one goal) and Mike Grier (one goal), among others.

A lot of teams pretend to roll four lines. The Sharks actually do it and get results. Grier's checking line with Jonathan Cheechoo and Tomas Plihal might have been San Jose's best on this night, hammering away at Chara and the Bruins' other defensemen all night long. That softened them for Marleau, Thornton & Co.

The Sharks had to shorten the bench with Marcel Goc leaving in the first period, but San Jose's third line has not been a constant all season. Clowe started the season on the third line, later replaced by Clowe. Goc was replaced by Thomas Plihal. Jeremy Roenick had been used on the third and fourth lines before shoulder surgery, and he is looking to return at some point on this 5-game roadtrip. Blazingly fast Torrey Mitchell was initially slotted as the checking line center, but he suffered a broken leg crashing into a post in training camp. The only constant on the third line has been Mike Grier, who has been effective in a defensive role 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill.

The Sharks have dealt with as many injuries as the Bruins, and have adapted on the fly with success in a similar fashion. LeBrun is right that teams often fail to match up with the depth in San Jose, but also of note is that there is potential upside for the top team in the Western Conference when more bodies start returning to the lineup.

[Update6] Western Conference to East foes: Kneel before Zod, mortals! - Yahoo's Puck Daddy.

You may have noticed that the two best teams in hockey, statistically, met last night in Boston. The Sharks handed the Bruins their first loss when entering the third period with a lead this season, wearing down the Eastern Conference leaders before posting a four-goal rally in the final frame.

But it's not like the Western Conference's powers haven't been wearing down the East all season long. The Sharks improved to 10-1-1 against the opposing conference, and they aren't alone in dominating their potential Stanley Cup finals foes. It's been a case of mere mortals against the superpowers of the West; and even the most heralded Eastern Conference teams have been humbled in the process.

Is this a harbinger of the inevitable? Will the Cup remain in the West? As General Zod asked in "Superman II," "Is there no one on this planet to even challenge me?"

Max Giese: San Jose Jr. Sharks Defenseman garnering NHL draft buzz

Every year there is a diamond in the rough that NHL teams discover in a developmental league that doesn’t match the prestige of playing in the CHL or NCAA. In 2007 the Columbus Blue Jackets used their second round pick on defenseman Will Weber out of Michigan High School Hockey. This year San Jose Jr. Sharks’ defenseman Daniel Senkbeil could be that player, as he's currently receiving considerable NHL attention while playing at the Midget Major level. He's a 6-foot-4 185 pound defenseman with considerable offensive skill and vast potential. Another player on the Jr. Sharks is also attracting NHL interest, defenseman Ben Paulides, a 6-foot-1 210 pound defenseman that plays with a distinct passion for the game. I was able to see both of them play for myself over the weekend, as the Jr. Sharks where in Middleton Wisconsin for the 21st annual Gold Medal Classic tournament. Several NHL scouts where also in attendance. Below is the scouting reports on Daniel Senkbeil and Ben Paulides from McKeen's Hockey.

Daniel Senkbeil (2009), D, San Jose Jr. Sharks
A diamond in the rough waiting to be a home run for any team that selects him, Senkbeil is a raw and gangly defenseman with enormous potential .. type of defenseman that can go end-to-end with the puck or make two opponents miss before stretching the ice with a brilliant pass .. lively and rangy skater that will see his mobility blossom beautifully once he physically matures .. moves fluently in all-directions with clean pivots and can speedily accelerate past multiple waves of opponents while carrying the puck .. boasts rangy puck skills and strong stick that enables him to softly maneuver the puck around legs and sticks .. owns a big slap shot that he unleashes with a quick and full wind-up .. needs to activate himself more while without the puck on the point and pinch into the open seems .. displays quick vision and he makes a great first pass .. his terrific poise allows him to make plays with the puck under pressure .. uses an enormous stick which magnifies his elongated reach .. looks like a 2-D cartoon character and needs fill out badly .. tends to push the offense too much, but head coach Tony Zasowski is encouraging him to do so because he’s their top offensive threat .. coachable and is receptive to instruction after every shift .. off the ice he’s your typical laid back, Californian kid, on the ice he’s a competitive game changer.
Vitals: 6-4 185, 9-7-1991

Ben Paulides (2009), D, San Jose Jr. Sharks
Character player that had his best game of the weekend in which he scored a crucial goal and assisted on the game-winner despite suffering from an upper body injury .. even more impressive was the toughness and passion for the game he showed by continuing to play a brash, physical game .. strong skater with textbook skating form, although he still can be beaten by speed in transition at times .. not as dynamic as Senkbeil in terms of offensive upside and at times struggles to see the ice, but he does occasionally show you a flash by scoring a big goal or executing a multi-zone pass .. defensively he maintains tight gaps and physically strands his ground while doing a nice job clearing his crease ..while Senkbeil is thin as a rail, Paulides is already a thick 210 pounds and has the character, passion, and toughness that NHL teams covet on draft day.
Vitals: 6-1 210, 8-26-1991

SAP Open: Tommy Haas defeats shoeless Pete Sampras in tennis exhibition, James Blake injured on opening day

Pete Sampras Tommy Haas SAP Open tennis exhibition photo San Jose
Pete Sampras exhibition tennis backhand photo
USA Tennis James Blake photo

Tennis is at its heart a gentleman's sport with tradition and respect as ingrained in the culture as much as competition and shoe contracts. With a strong fan turnout for the first evening session of the SAP Open to see Pete Sampras play an exhibition match against James Blake, the eleventh ranked Blake had to pull out after tweaking his back playing doubles. Twenty minutes after defeating unheralded German Lars Poerschke in a tougher than expected opening round match, Tommy Haas was back on the court to trade ground strokes and verbal barbs with Sampras.

"When they asked me if I wanted to play against the best player ever, I said I like my chances this year." Haas said after defeating Sampras 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 12-10 in a spirited match. It was the second straight year Haas filled in for an injured exhibition opponent. Last year after Marat Safin pulled out, Sampras downed Haas 6-4, 6-2.

This year Sampras and Haas amped up the level of play in the exhibition. A clean winner on one point would be answered on the next point with a ace or a heavy groundstroke. But both players were clearly on the court to enjoy themselves. After one missed ball, Sampras handed his racket to a young ballgirl from Freedom high school in Oakley, Alexandre Gerundino. Half embarassed and half feeling the pressure of nearly 8000 fans watching, she promptly flubbed a serve from Haas before returning back to her position.

Tied at 4-4 with the score 30-15, Sampras missed a jumping overhead slam as the ball tipped off the top of his racket. The passion for the sport and the skill is still there, but the timing gained from every day play on the circuit is difficult to duplicate. "It is a challenge for me to keep up with these guys that play every day" Sampras said. After a foot fault, Haas mockingly berated the linesman and faked hitting a ball at him. Sampras hammered a hard inside out forehand in the first set tiebreak for a clean winner, but Haas emerged with the first set tiebreak 7-4.

With Haas on his fourth set of play in less than 3 hours, Sampras deftly directed a drop shot far court with a game tied 40-all. At one point after nailing a hard forehand, Sampras high fived several fans and sat between 3 older ladies in the front row and ate a handful of their fries. Sampras won the second set 6-4 with a hard cross court slam, and then another drop shot after Haas' defensive return.

At 9-9 in the third set tiebreak, Sampras lost a shoe jockeying for position on an overhead. After Haas returned the ball down the line to his left, Sampras hit the deck with a puzzled look. Laughing at the replay on the huge video screen, the fans at HP Pavilion heckled him good naturedly for a few minutes until he returned to play. After dropping the third tiebreak (in lieu of a full set) 10-12, KNTV-11 sports anchor Raj Mathai asked Sampras if he would ever contemplate a return to the sport. "To be #1 at 25 is hard, at 37?" Sampras asked, "but I still enjoy playing the game".

He thanked Haas for filling in yet again, and walked off the court to a standing ovation from a slightly older crowd who no doubt spent plenty of hours imitating Sampras serves and forehands on nights and weekends. In 52 grand slam appearances over his 15-year career, Pete Sampras has won a record 14 major championships (7 Wimbledon, 5 US Open, 2 Australian Open).

Garnering consideration among his peers, fans and the media as possibly the best player to ever play the game, second ranked 27-year old Roger Federer is close on his heels with 13 major championships. When asked about Federer possibly being the best of all time, Sampras said that Federer needs to keep an eye on overall #1 Rafael Nadal. "He has 6 titles at 22, do the math" Sampras said, "He is an animal".

For more information visit the official 2009 SAP Open tennis tournament website. A photo gallery from Day 1 is available here.

[Update] Showdown: James Blake will face nemesis Vince Spadea in the first round of San Jose on Wednesday night. - Tennis Week.

[Update2] Double Duty: Haas beats Poerschke, then Sampras, in San Jose - Tennis Magazine.

Tommy Haas won twice Monday at the SAP Open. Haas knocked off Lars Poerschke, 6-1, 7-6 (8) in the first round, then stayed to play Pete Sampras in an exhibition match when James Blake was forced to withdraw due to back spasms. "Tommy saved the day," Sampras said.

Tournament officials were scrambling when Blake informed them of his withdrawal less than 15 minutes before the scheduled start. "Ten minutes after my match I saw James was struggling a little bit," Haas said. "Then Pete asked me and I said sure, why not? A lot of people came to see Pete tonight, and not who he played. It was fun. Pete still has an unbelievable serve."

[Update3] What Moses and Roddick have in common - Inside Tennis. Possibly an early candidate for headline of the year from this East Bay tennis magazine.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Norway Hockey Update: Norway earns 2010 Olympic berth with win over Denmark, Espen Hildrup photo galleries

Patrick Thoresen hat trick Olympic Group G qualification tournament Norway photo Espen Hildrup
Team Danmark goaltender Patrick Galbraith photo Espen Hildrup
Norges Ishockey fan France photo Espen Hildrup

Norwegian photographer and friend of the blog Espen Hildrup has been front and center during Norway's improbable run to a 2010 Vancouver Olympics berth. The Men's Group G "Group of Death" Olympic Hockey Qualification Tournament hosted in the Norwegian capital of Oslo saw a finale between favored Denmark and Norway on Sunday.

Former Edmonton Oiler and Philadelphia Flyer Patrick Thoresen scored two unanswered goals in the second period to overcome a 2-1 deficit, and completed the hat trick in the third period to give Norway a 5-3 win and their first Olympic berth in 16 years (since Lillehammer in 1994). The top line of Thoresen, Tore Vikingstad and Per-Age Skroder combined for 6 points and 6 shots on goal against Denmark, and combined for 15 points in 3 tournament games. Goaltender Pal Grotnes stopped 22 of 25 shots against Denmark, and finished with a .910SV%, 2.00GAA and 3 straight wins for Team Norway.

Norway is a team on the rise. In addition to making it to the Quarterfinals of the World Championships, Norway finished second to Austria in the European Ice Hockey Challenge hosted in Oslo. Now with an appearance at the 2010 Olympics, they have an opportunity to grow the game among the youth in Norway and grow the profile among the media in North America.


- Norway 5, Denmark 3 - February 8
- Kazakhstan 8, France 2 - February 8
- Norway 3, France 2 - February 7
- Denmark 3, Kazakhstan 2 - February 7
- Norway 2, Kazakhstan 1 - February 5
- France 2, Denmark 1 - February 5
- Pre-game practices - February 4

For more hockey images visit

Sharkspage interviewed Espen Hildrup in 2007 about shooting the official Norwegian GET-Ligaen hockey league, former NHL Allstar Espen "shampoo" Knutsen, and the 3-time champion Valerenga team. Hildrup now shoots for the Norwegian Ice Hockey Federation and the 2008 GET Champion Frisk Asker Norwegian hockey club, and his images from the Olympic Qualification Tournament were used by

According to Hildrup, defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen practiced with Valerenga prior to the start of the NHL season. With Mike Commodore (food poisoning in Pittsburgh) and Marc Methot (flu) out, Tollefsen started Saturday registering 9:40 of ice time as the Columbus Blue Jackets earned a 3-2 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks. Tollefsen is the only Norwegian playing in the NHL after Patrick Thoresen left to play for Lugano in the Swiss League.

In the Group E Qualification Tournament, former San Jose Sharks goaltender Dmitri Patzold helped Team Germany and head coach Uwe Krupp earn a ticket to Vancouver in 2010. Patzold finished with a .942SV%, 1.20GAA and 3 wins in 3 games. Germany qualified with two early wins against Slovakia and Austria before thrashing Japan 7-1 on Thursday. An underdog from the outset, a Japanese squad consisting mostly of ALIH players earned a 5-4 upset win over Slovakia.

According to Mohit Joshi, Germany is trying to break the single game attendance record with a 75,976 gate for the 2010 Ice Hockey World Championships at the Gelsenkirchen soccer stadium. The current attendance record is 74,554 fans for the Michigan vs Michigan State "Cold War" game at Spartan Stadium in 2001. (Link AM).

[Update] Norway is back at Olympics - Davide Tuniz for

[Update2] Olympic disappointment for ice hockey hopefuls, Norway earns a place in next year's Vancouver Olympics at the cost of disappointed Danes - Copenhagen Post.

National ice hockey ambitions took a step backwards on Sunday after Denmark lost 5-3 to Norway in its qualification tournament for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Denmark, which has held on as a fixture of the highest level of international hockey, needed only skate to a tie against Norway. Despite playing without its three NHL stars, things good off to a good start for the Danes when Mads Bødker scored past Norwegian goalie Pål Grotnes just 45 seconds into the game...

The Olympics were within reach,' Bäckman said after the match. 'We played a good match, and can be proud, even though we're deeply disappointed right now.' Bødker called the loss a 'horrible disappointment. If only they'd been better than us, but they weren't, even though they had all their best players.'

The three Danish players referenced are Vancouver Canucks right wing Jannik Hansen (Herlev, Denmark), Phoenix Coyotes left wing Mikkel Boedker (Brondby, Denmark), and New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen (Herning, Denmark).

[Update3] For a look at one of the best Danish hockey photographers online visit, or his hockey photos blog.

[Update4] European Puck: Norway and Latvia to Vancouver 2010 - New York Times Slapshots blog.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Losing streak hits 3 games, Columbus Blue Jackets down San Jose 3-2 in overtime

NHL shot chart San Jose Sharks Columbus Blue Jackets

The Sharks are officially in a slump. After outplaying the Blue Jackets for 40 minutes and battling back to tie the game in the third period, Christian Backman split a pair of Sharks defenseman to punch home a rebound for the game winning goal 1:33 into overtime. The 3-2 overtime win for Columbus gives San Jose 3 straight losses, and starts a season long 5-game round trip off on a sour note.

Center Justin Williams opened the scoring for Columbus only 1:46 into the first period. Williams cut hard to the front of the net after a turnover by defenseman Alexei Semenov along the boards, and he snapped a shot high over the glove hand of Evgeni Nabokov. The Blue Jackets padded their lead with a goal by NHL 2K9 coverboy Rick Nash. Kristian "Juice" Huselius and Manny Malhotra won a 2-on-3 battle for the puck along the boards as Nash broke up ice. Huselius nailed Nash with a crisp pass in stride as the Sharks defense was still making a line change. Nash buried the puck past a diving Nabokov.

The Sharks had to battle themselves and turnovers as much as they did the Blue Jackets to get back in this game. Including a recent 4-3 shootout loss to Carolina, turnovers and mental mistakes cost San Jose for all 7 of the last 7 goals scored against the team. On the Sharks radio broadcast of the game, Dan Rusanowsky and Jamie Baker were speculating whether the coaching staff would need to call out the players, or whether the players would call out each other in the locker room or on the bench to step it up.

The style of play changed for Columbus in the second and third periods. After scoring 2 goals on only 3 shots taken after 20 minutes, the Blue Jackets registered only 13 shots for the remainder of regulation. They seemed hesitant to drive deep on offense, preferring instead to clog up the neutral zone and force San Jose to take it 200 feet. It was a suffocating prevent defense style of play exhibited earlier in the season by Vancouver when they tried to hold on to a lead at HP Pavilion. The Sharks consistently fired shots on goal with a total of 30 taken for the game, but 17 were blocked by a mass of bodies in front and a whopping 15 missed the net.

Devin Setoguchi played like a heat seeking missle after Columbus took the lead. He registered a game high 7 hits, and a launched a hard wrist shot from the slot to put the Sharks on the board with a power play goal 54 seconds into the second period. San Jose has scored a power play goal in 7 straight games, converting 8-33 opportunities (24%).

Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has also been heating up offensively for San Jose. The German blueliner has 7 points in his last 7 games (4G, 3A). After a clean faceoff win by fellow German Marcel Goc, Malhotra was ejected from the faceoff circle for left wing Jason Chimera, Dan Boyle fed Ehrhoff on the left point. Ehrhoff wound up and bombed a huge slapshot on goal that beat goaltender Dan LaCosta with Jonathan Cheechoo planted on the doorstep.

Dan LaCosta stopped 28 of 30 shots to earn the first win of his National Hockey League career. He replaced Calder candidate Steve Mason (mononucleosis), and Wade Dubielewicz (flu) in goal. Defenseman Mike Commodore and forward Jake Voracek also did not play in this game. For San Jose, defenseman Brad Lukowich, and forwards Torrey Mitchell and Jeremy Roenick were out. After allowing 2 goals on the first 2 shots against, Evgeni Nabokov regrouped to stop 17 of the next 18 for San Jose. The Columbus Blue Jackets finished 0-1 on the power play, and 4-5 on the penalty kill. Defenseman Douglas Murray returned from an undisclosed injury, while recent returnee Dan Boyle again logged a team high 28:19 of ice time. It is the second straight game Boyle has lead the team in minutes after returning from a 3-game post-Allstar absence. In 5 games since appearing in the ASG January 25th, Joe Thornton (2A) and Patrick Marleau (1G, 1A) have combined for only 4 points. Dan Boyle has registered 1 assist in 2 appearances since the ASG. San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak's "personal iron man streak" of covering Sharks games was stopped at 149 games after he set up shop early in Boston instead of making the trip to Columbus.

Post-game comments by San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan:

"(It was) tough sledding. Their first two shots on goal go in, so it was a little demoralizing to start the game. But give our guys credit. I thought we fought back and I thought we controlled most of the game. We had them on their heels. We knew they played the night before and we wanted to go after them. We didn't get many pucks through to the net. They did a really good job of blocking and fronting a lot of our shots, so that probably hurt us a little bit. But to fight back the way we did against a really good team, we're happy with that. But we'd like to obviously come away with a win."

Post-game comments by Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock:

"This was a playoff game, it was heavy and physical. They were starting their road trip and they wanted to be off on a good start and we were trying to turn things around, so there was a good competition level between the two teams. We responded the way we needed to respond. We had much better play by people. We played with a high level of emotion and intensity. I like the way we played the whole game. We managed the game the right way."

"One point wasn't good enough. We wanted to get to 57 points by the end of the week, 57 or 58 points was the goal. We needed two points today, one wasn’t good enough. There’s a group sitting there at 57 points and we needed to be part of the group. We can relax and get back to work on Tuesday and Tuesday will be even a bigger game."

[Update] Nabokov, Sharks beaten in OT - Aaron Portzline for the San Jose Mercury News.

[Update2] A heavy-mettle band, Jackets overcome bevy of injuries, illnesses to beat NHL's best team - Aaron Portzline for the Columbus Dispatch.

Nationwide Arena, sold out for only the second time this season, erupted with cheers, cannon fire and a scrum of celebrating players. In the middle of it were two improbable stars -- Backman and LaCosta -- on a most improbable night.

More from Portzline is available on his blog at Puck Rackers and on his podcast at the appropriately titled Cannon Fodder. A photo gallery from Columbus Dispatch photographer Neal Lauron is available here.

[Update3] One of the best pre-game previews online came from a newer blog started in 2008 Waiting for Next Year. WFNY is an informative group blog dedicated to Cleveland and Ohio State sports. They should have an exciting stretch run to cover with the Blue Jackets and 10 other Western Conference teams seperated by only 9 points with under 30 games left in the season. It is going to be a dogfight in March and April.

Added WFNY to the blogroll. Cough, go Blue, cough.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Photo of the day: Beware of Bike Race

Amgen Tour of California cycling race San Jose Stage 3

A sunset over cattle grazing on the San Jose foothills sheds light on an interesting traffic sign. The Amgen Tour of California cycling race begins Saturday February 14th in Sacramento. Stage 3 on Tuesday travels 104.2 miles from San Jose to Modesto, and includes a 1943-foot Category 1 climb on Sierra Road.

Photo taken with an LG cellphone.

Local public television station KTEH profiles San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton on 'This is Us!'

San Jose public television station KTEH recently featured San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton as part of a series of local profiles called This is Us. The program features Bay Area figures including surfing pioner Jack O'Neill, Gilroy boxer Roberto Guerrero, San Jose Opera's Irene Dalis, botanist Joel Goldsmith among several others.

This is US labels Joe Thornton "the best professional athlete in the Bay Area" and calls him a potential lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame. They speak with Thornton about growing up playing the game with his brothers, and note that above all the one intangible he brings to the game for San Jose is leadership. "There are different avenues of leadership, and we cover them all here in San Jose" Thornton said.

20-year NHL veteran Jeremey Roenick said Thornton's talent for a big man is what sets him apart from the rest of the league. Roenick adds that his versatility includes toughness, passion and creativity. He does not put him on the same level as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, but Roenick adds that there are few players in the game as close to that level as Thornton is.

It is a great peek inside the San Jose Sharks locker room, and an interesting profile of one of the Bay Area's most unassuming sports stars, but calling Joe Thornton the "best professional athlete in the Bay Area" might overlook two people. As it happens, both were on the ice Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. 24-year old San Francisco Giants right handed pitcher Tim Lincecum was one of the lone bright spots for Major League Baseball in the Bay Area last year. The 2008 NL Cy Young Award dropped the cerimonial first puck against Carolina.

You could also make the argument that Thornton's linemate, Patrick Marleau, is the best 2-way player in the NHL right now. Another unassuming Allstar, his unique combination of size, speed and skill are integral to the makeup of the top team in the Western Conference. For Marleau and Thornton one thing is certain, individual accolades and regular season achievements are not what they are focused on this season.

[Update] Hossa, Thornton ready to play before former fans - SLAM Sports.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Joe Thornton Friday media conference call transcript

San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton photo

San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton participated in a media conference call this morning. A transcript of the call from NHL media:

[Q] A lot has been said about rookie coach Todd McLellan, but can you tell me a little bit about what Jay Woodcroft has meant to your team?

[JT] He's been great. He actually takes care of all the video part and some of the on?ice stuff. But he breaks down the good things, the bad things in our game right then, and he works one?on?one with us after and at practices and things like that. He's been a great addition to the whole coaching staff.

[Q] Also, could you tell me about the additions of Blake and Boyle and what that's allowed your offense to do knowing you've had those two back there on the defensive line?

[JT] Yeah, they've been great. They obviously played big, big minutes. They play both power play and penalty kill. They're two stud defensemen that definitely should be up for Norris consideration. They've been great. They give other confidence to the other defense on our team, and they're good veteran guys that won Stanley Cups, so you know you can rely on guys like that, too.

[Q] Obviously you want to make this one last longer than the last one. The fact that that game was so short for you a few years ago when you were here shortly after the deal, did that kind of leave a bad taste in your mouth? Do you kind of want to play a complete game now?

[JT] Well, yeah. It's hockey and you kind of expect the unexpected, but obviously you want to play the full 60 minutes. It ended up working out well because I think we won, I'm not sure what the score was but we won pretty big that night. It worked out good; I got to eat some popcorn in the room and everything. But yeah, the plan is to play a full game and to have a good game.

[Q] Why are the Sharks better this year? What's going on with that team? Is it moving the puck better from the back end?

[JT] Well, I think with the new coach we just tweaked our system a little bit, plus we added some big players on the point, so I think when you add all that together, you're going to have a pretty good season, I guess.

[Q] I'm actually working on a story on Mike Grier and would like to know from your standpoint, how would you describe his importance to the team?

[JT] He's a big part of our team. He brings a lot of leadership, a lot of character. He's huge on the penalty kill. He blocks shots, does all the little things that don't get maybe noticed on the stats sheet and things like that. But he's a big part of this team. Yeah, he's been through a lot of wars, so you definitely can lean on a guy like that, especially for the young guys that expect what's to come down here in the last 30 games here plus the post?season.

[Q] I covered the Sabres for a number of years, including the time when he was there, and I recall a lot of the players when he left saying how much he was missed in the locker room because he always seemed to have a knack to say the perfect thing at the perfect time. Have you been exposed to that, and do you have any examples by any chance?

[JT] Yeah, he's just a real positive guy, and I think when something needs to be said, I think a guy like him definitely has ?? he can stand up no problem and address the room, and he's done that in the past. I have no examples, but he is good with talking in the room and calming guys down if it's a situation that needs to be handled a little bit or fire the guys up. So he has a good pulse on the team.

[Q] Is his family's background a popular topic in the dressing room?

[JT] Yeah.

[Q] What comes up about that, and how do you think that ?? how could you imagine that that family background has impacted his development as a hockey player, even though we're talking about different sports?

[JT] No, I think just his dedication to sport, obviously his family all into football, one is in Houston, one is in Miami. No, it comes up a lot. We love talking about football because we usually have Sundays off, so he knows quite a bit about it. I think he reads your magazine front to back, as well. He's well?groomed in the sports category area.

No, I think for his father just to be part of the NFL, I think he just learned a lot of discipline from him and maybe just leadership qualities from his dad. Yeah, he's just a tremendous teammate.

[Q] Just kind of going back to the return to Boston, lots of time has passed, lots of water under the bridge. Are you still in touch with a lot of the players there? I can't even imagine that there would be very many guys that remain from when you played there.

[JT] No, there's not. Well, I still talk to PJ once in a while, but I think he came in the same year as me, and that's about the only one that really started with me. Timmy Thomas was there a little bit and Patrice Bergeron was there, but that's pretty much it on the player side. You talk to the trainers a little bit here and there and the equipment guys, but everything else has pretty much all changed there.

[Q] So is it then easier to go back in a situation like that, because even though it's the team where you started, there's I guess the sense that it is another game, an important game because they're the top team in the east?

[JT] Yeah, really that's all it is to me. There's not too many ex?teammates over there, and it's just really an important game in the schedule. They're the best in the east, and we're the best in the west. So it's an important game that way rather than I'm playing against friends, I think.

[Q] And then just one final follow?up. There's some of us that are imagining, like occasionally there's upsets in the playoffs, but sometimes the top teams get through, and if the top teams do get through this year, there would be a San Jose?Boston Stanley Cup final, which I guess from your perspective would look good because it means you're competing for the Stanley Cup. Do you allow your mind to wander, or is it too dangerous to do that because you've got to get there first?

[JT] You wander a little bit, but obviously we've still got a lot of hockey to work out here. If that were to be the case it would be great because both teams made it there, but I think both teams would agree we've still got a lot of work ahead of us.

[Q] Just to go back to that Boston game three years ago, the fans gave you a pretty good ride. You did not hang around long to get booed more, but they gave you a pretty good ride. Do you expect the same thing this time?

[JT] I don't think you expect anything. I think you go in with no expectations. That's how I'll go into Tuesday's game, just with no expectations again.

[Q] Do you have any regrets about what happened in Boston, or is that passed?

[JT] I have no regrets at all. That's years and years ago. I had no regrets when I played there and when I left, no.

[Q] How about the feeling of being traded at that time? What did it mean to you when you got traded at that time?

[JT] Well, I never in juniors had gotten traded, so that was my first dose of getting traded. It was a little weird, a little emotional to be leaving. But really, after I got traded, from that night on, it was tough, and then the morning came and I flew and I met my new teammates with the Sharks. I think after really that first 24 hours, I think it wasn't hard, it was just back to business, I think. It wasn't too tough after that.

[Q] About this season, new coach, and McLellan obviously comes in with a winning pedigree from last year especially, but I guess you could expect that you guys would be a good team, but did you expect that it would be like this?

[JT] Well, you expect it to be good because I think with having Dan Boyle, I don't think too many people outside of Tampa really knew how good he was. But I played with him in the world championships and things like that, so I expected him to make a big impact, and Rob Blake, because Rob, we play here in California all the time. So I knew those two guys were going to make a big impact, but I just didn't know how big. I think with those two guys coming here, our expectations were real high. But to have the start we are, I don't think anybody expected that, no.

[Q] Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're still with Setoguchi and Marleau, correct?

[JT] Yes.

[Q] There seems to be a pretty good chemistry there, and all three of you guys were in Montreal for All?Star weekend there, as well, which must have been pretty special to have a whole line there. Where do you think it all stems from, that chemistry, if you can just break it down a little bit?

[JT] Well, I think you look at Paddy has tremendous speed and so does Seto. They both shoot the puck really, really well, they both see the ice well. I'm a big believer in good players make each other into great players. I think that's the case with us. We're all good players, and when you put them together, we become better players. All three of us have good hockey sense, and I think when you throw three guys in a line that have good hockey sense, usually good things come out of it.

[Q] McLellan keeps pushing the right buttons. What's different with him in the room with him as the coach this year? Has much changed?

[JT] Not too much to be honest with you. I think just our daily approach is just a little bit different. We just really focus in on that day. I think in years past we kind of looked maybe too far ahead, and this year we're just working out our kinks now, and we're working hard each and every day and focusing on that day. I think that's probably going to be the difference.

[Q] Does the Stanley Cup from last year ever get brought up? Does he ever bring it up and say this is what works?

[JT] It does come up a little bit, and we saw his ring when we came to Detroit there and the Red Wings came to the rink. So we do talk about it a little bit, what championship teams do. So it's nice having a coach that has been there and done that.

[Q] You were talking about the Boston thing. Have you ever understood why or got an explanation why you were traded?

[JT] Really, I don't really know. I know at the time I can remember the team wasn't doing so well. But no, I really don't know or I don't think anybody knows other than a couple people why that happened. But yeah, I still don't know.

[Q] You said there's not a lot of people associated with the team in terms of players that are still there. How about do you still have friends in the community that will be pretty cool to reunite with for at least one day?

[JT] Yeah, my brother still lives in Boston. He goes to school there at Boston University. It's going to be nice to see him. Yeah, I've still got quite a few friends there over the years. I started when I was 18, so that's a lot of good friends that I still have there. So it'll be nice when we get a couple days off, which will be good to kind of go visit some people that I need to.

[Q] And the last question would be this weekend, in different circumstances, but obviously Marian Hossa will go back to Pittsburgh this weekend and back to one of his old teams, albeit he didn't play there that long, be he might get a little bit of a cool reception. Any advice for Marian when he goes in there, how to deal with it?

[JT] No, I just think you go in with no expectations, and that's about it, really. You've just got to go play your game. That's the bottom line.

[Q] I'm calling from Swedish television, and I was just wondering, why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season?

[JT] We've been real consistent since day one, and that's probably the one thing is just our consistency. We try to play hard each and every night, and we've got lots of talent. I think when you work hard and you're consistent, you're going to get results. I think that's the case this year.

[Q] And Douglas Murray has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?

[JT] He's had a great season, actually. He's just so big and strong, and he just controls the puck when he has it. But he's been great for us all year long. He plays big minutes for us on the penalty kill and things like that. But he's been a big, huge part of our success.

[Q] When you're looking back now in hindsight at getting traded and going to San Jose and everything, how beneficial was the trade from Boston to San Jose and going from one situation to the other for your career?

[JT] Well, I think it's worked out well for me, obviously. But you know, I thought it was going good in Boston, as well, though. I don't think there was anything wrong there to be honest with you. But I think just being a little bit older, I think now ?? I was young then and now I'm just maturing to be an adult now. So I think just maturity?wise you get to know the game a little bit better, you get more confidence, and you just know your body a little bit more.

I think it just really is two parts of a hockey player that I was.

[Q] Did you use that trade as motivation or like you kind of maybe had to prove something to somebody after the fact?

[JT] No, not at all. You just play hockey, and that's what I do. I'm a hockey player. But no motivation or anything like that. You just have to earn respect from your new teammates, and that's about it. But there's no new motivation. You have enough on yourself that you don't need any more.

[Q] How different for you personally is it going to be going back to Boston this time than last time? Maybe a lot less emotional than the last time you were there?

[JT] Yeah, I feel like I've been a Shark for a long time now. It'll be a little bit funny, but I don't think now, being through it once before, I don't think it's going to be a big challenge for me.

[Q] And when you kind of look back on that one other time, that five minutes and 13 seconds that you were actually in the game, what sticks out in your mind just from that day going back? Is there anything that you really kind of think of when you think of that day?

[JT] Just how weird and awkward it was to be honest with you. It just felt really strange to be on a different side on the bench and skating a different way. Just a little bit awkward, I think.

[Q] I just wonder if you could walk me through what a typical week for a pro hockey player is, the rhythms of the week with practice and games and whether there's a particular day that you think you do better on or look forward to playing on or something like that?

[JT] Pretty much typical days are you play a Tuesday, a Thursday and a Saturday, and on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday you usually have practice at 11:00 o'clock. So you wake up 9:00?ish, quarter to 9:00?ish, go to the rink, grab some breakfast and away you go. And then after practice there might be a little light workout or things like that. Then usually home, and then here in California you can sit out by the pool if you like and then play some Tiger Woods in the afternoon, and then dinner time and then maybe see a movie or watch a TV show on television, then just do it all over again the next day.

I like Saturdays personally. I like Saturday night games. They seem to be fun.

[Q] Why is that?

[JT] I don't know, just ?? well, we sell out every night here, so it's really just ?? if you're on the road, usually Saturday nights will be sold out on the road and there's quite a good atmosphere in the building. Saturday nights, it's Hockey Night in Canada, too, you to get to watch Don Cherry on TV.

[Update] More to game than Thornton's return - San Francisco Chronicle.

[Update2] Joe Thornton to make just second trip back to Boston since 2005 blockbuster - Canadian Press.

Sharks give up a pair of 2-goal leads in 4-3 shootout loss to Carolina Hurricanes, Dan Boyle returns after 3 game absence

NHL goaltender Carolina Hurricanes Michael Leighton photo
San Jose Sharks Dan Boyle Carolina Hurricanes Ryan Bayda photo
Carolina Hurricanes Sergei Samsonov

The Sharks started strong for 30 minutes against the Hurricanes Thursday night at HP Pavilion, pushing the puck deep and physically dominating a much smaller Carolina team. Ryane Clowe knocked home a Milan Michalek rebound for his 20th goal, and defenseman Alexei Semenov snapped a quick wrist shot from the point that deflected in for his first goal of the season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic would add another tally in the second period on a slick feed from Clowe. The Sharks had a pair of 2 goal leads early in the game, but the Hurricanes were relentless. They trapped and outnumbered the Sharks in the neutral zone and down low, skated hard for 60 minutes, and capitalized on turnovers and a penalty shot to eek out a 4-3 shootout win over the best team in the Western Conference.

Hurricanes goalie Michael Leighton robbed Dan Boyle with a spectacular glove save, and sealed off the post against Patrick Marleau in the first period to keep the Sharks from running away with the game early. Rob Blake tried a cross ice pass in the neutral zone that was picked off by a streaking Matt Cullen. Cullen was even stride-for-stride with Ehrhoff, but he protected the puck with his body and forced the Sharks defenseman to reach around and hook him before he could get a shot off. Cullen was awarded a penalty shot. The left handed Cullen threw a hard feint to get Nabokov down, then roofed one high over the blocker to get Carolina on the board. He is heating up with 11 points in his last 9 games

The best description for Carolina on Thursday was opportunistic. A breakout pass by Patrick Marleau in the second was picked off by recent AHL callup Jakub Petruzalek. Petruzalek fired a hard angle pass directly on the stick of Sergei Samsonov, who deflected it past Nabokov. San Jose's 1991 2nd round draft selection Ray Whitney tied the game at 3-3 midway through the third period. Joe Pavelski could not clear a rebound, and Cullen jumped on the loose puck, drew 2 Sharks to him, and dropped a back pass to a wide open Whitney on the far side of the crease. Whitney punched it home for his 17th goal of the season. He leads Carolina with 43 points in 53 games played.

Nabokov and Leighton were each tested as time ticked down in the third period and overtime, but the game would be decided by an overtime shootout. Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski fired the puck wide, but Tuomo Ruutu put one past Nabokov to put the game on Milan Michalek's stick. Michalek hesitated with the puck before taking it to his backhand, where he beat Leighton from 15 feet out. Sergei Samsonov would have the game deciding shootout opportunity. Samsonov skated straight down the middle with speed, and executed a quick deke to his backhand. Nabokov mis-timed an extended poke check, and Samsonov tucked the puck under his pads. The Hurricanes and Samsonov mobbed Michael Leighton.

Leighton stopped 37 of 40 shots for his 6th win of the season. Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves on 29 shots against. San Jose finished 1-6 on the power play, and held Carolina scoreless on 2 power play opportunities. Defenseman Dan Boyle returned after missing 3 games with a wrist injury and registered a team high 29:41 minutes of ice time and tied Milan Michalek with 6 shots on goal. Milan Michalek was awarded Sharks January player of the month honors prior to the game, and he finished on top of a half dozen physical 1-on-1 and 2-on-1 battles along the boards. Defenseman Douglas Murray responded to a hard Tim Gleason check on Devin Setoguchi in the first period with a pair of monster hits on Tuomo Ruutu. Murray suffered an undisclosed injury and did not return to the game.

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

[Update] Sharks lose a lead twice, fall in a shootout - SJ Mercury News.

[Update2] Canes roar back, top Sharks in shootout - Chip Alexander for the News and Observer.

The Carolina Hurricanes played the game without captain Rod Brind'Amour, injured and back in Raleigh. The Canes played the third period without center Eric Staal, who didn't return after the second intermission because of a lower-body injury. And goaltender Cam Ward, after 17 consecutive starts, was given the night off and Michael Leighton given his first start since Dec. 23.

But the Canes still had enough to beat the San Jose Sharks, arguably the best team in the NHL, taking a 4-3 shootout victory Thursday night at HP Pavilion.

Professional athletes = crossover sports fans, San Francisco Giants serve beers and sign autographs at fanfest in San Jose then attend Sharks game

2008 NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum photo
San Francisco Giants announcer Mike Krukow fan fest photo San Jose

As professional athletes, the San Francisco Giants have the prestige and cache of playing for a storied baseball franchise in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. As crossover sports fans, the Giants looked a little more like fish out of water. At a slightly rainy meet and greet with fans Thursday night in dowtown San Jose, several Giants players were stationed behind the bar at Britannia Arms pouring beers and signing autographs for a 50/50 hockey and baseball crowd. The conversation was lighthearted and friendly, but when asked by fans about the Sharks a few baseball players responded with blank stares.

The Giants fans in attendance were all business, hitting several autograph tables with speed and precision. There was a line around the block to meet Mike Krukow, Roberto Kelly, San Jose born Carney Lansford, Aaron Rowand, Sergio Romo, Barry Zito and several other players that arrived by limo. According to the SJ Mercury News beat writer Andrew Baggarly, Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum drew a "rockstar" like crowd at the bar. Shortly before dropping the puck at the Sharks-Carolina game at HP Pavilion, the U of Washington-alumni mentioned catching a Seattle Thunderbirds WHL game while in college. Lincecum struggled a little bit to pick out a favorite player on the Sharks during an intermission interview, but he went with a good choice in captain Patrick Marleau.

Many professional athletes in the Bay Area are avid followers of other sports. The San Jose Sharks have attended en masse games at AT&T Park in San Francisco and at the Coliseum in Oakland. 'Rocket' Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Oakland in 2006 for a game against the Cleveland Indians, he declared himself an A's fan. German-born Christian Ehrhoff and Marcel Goc participated in the ceremonial first kick for an Earthquakes-Houston game that was one of the most physical of the 2008 MLS season.

Long-time San Francisco Giants first baseman J. T. Snow recently dawned goalie pads in San Jose for a Sharks practice. Snow took shots both literal and verbal from Jeremy Roenick, and looked positively horrible in goal (but he has a good glove hand). San Francisco 49ers tackle and Western Michigan native Joe Staley attended an intense Sharks-Ducks game earlier this season along with teammates Shaun Hill, Alex Smith, and Adam Snyder. The diehard Sharks fan said that fighting would never go over in the NFL because of the size of the players. He almost started a hilarious fight of his own with the Sharks broadcast crew when he said in a televised intermission interview that hockey was better live than on TV. They responded that he will have time off in January to watch hockey. Consider the gloves dropped.

Sometimes athletes take it a little farther than just being a fan of another sport. 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich has taken his passion for mixed martial arts a step further by training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose. On a recent episode of Inside MMA, Ulbrich told host Ron Kruk that former line coach Dan Quinn introduced players to AKA to improve hand speed and agility. Ulbrich said that competing in MMA would be as intense, if not more, than competing in the NFL because of the individual nature of the sport. His favorite fighter... Fedor Emelianenko.

Many of the arbitrary sporting lines drawn by opinion columnists in newspapers and blinkered radio talk show hosts simply do not play out in the public, or with many of the professional athletes themselves. Both want to see competition, passion and excitement whatever the venue.

[Update] Giants Players, Coaches, Broadcasters & Alumni to Appear in San Jose and San Francisco for Annual KNBR 680/Giants FanFest -

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Max Giese: San Jose Sharks' Prospect and USHL All-Star Justin Daniels

San Jose Sharks prospect Justin Daniels recently took part in the USHL All-Star Game and impressed with his polished skills. He was the Sharks first selection of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. They traded a third round selection in 2009 along with the 117th and 147th overall selections in 2008 to have the rights to select Daniels 62nd overall. After being drafted 4th overall in the USHL draft last spring, Justin has been having a productive season for the Sioux City Musketeers. Daniels, a natural centerman from Suffern New York, only has 3 goals in 36 games, but his 24 assists are good for 10th overall amongst leading scorers in the USHL.

Scouts agree that it's his play-making ability that makes Justin such a promising prospect "He's an excellent playmaker" says Sharks Eastern United States Scout Jake Gardiner, who added "he's a good skater and a very tough kid". Justin is the type of player that when he has the puck, he can control the play and the pace of the game. Former Northeastern Huskies assistant coach Gene Reilly thinks its Justin's creativity that makes him stand-out "He's cerebral, he likes to go east to west, stall, and delay to make plays" said Reilly. Daniels' outstanding vision and patience stand out most from his game as he's a terrific playmaker that is averaging nearly an assist a game. Justin is a bit one-dimensional at this time in the way he always looks to pass, he must begin to take the puck to the net himself and shoot more.

Besides becoming more selfish with the puck and improving his shot, Justin also needs to add strength. He's a finesse playmaker with an intriguing skill set, but one that severely needs to develop muscle mass. San Jose Sharks chief scout Tim Burke sees potential in his projectable frame "The upside is that his body is going to get stronger and he's built well physically" said Burke. One NHL scout isn't worried about Justin's current lack of strength "His lack of strength isn't an issue because he has the height, and it's easier to put on weight than it is to add inches" said the scout who proclaimed "he's tall and skinny, but will bulk up when he goes to Northeastern and gets into their weight room". Word is that Justin has already added around several pounds of muscle this year in Sioux City and now weighs in roughly at 6-foot-2, 180-pounds.

Even though Justin Daniels remains a long term project that needs to add strength and begin to develop his finishing touch, the consensus amongst scouts is that he has what it takes to be a player in the NHL. "Justin has the vision, skill, and the courage to make it in the NHL" said Gene Reilly. One NHL scout told Sharkspage "His puck skills are exceptional, he has the great stick and great hockey sense to create plays in traffic". Next season Justin and his twin brother Drew, who the Sharks drafted 194th overall in 2008, are scheduled to play for the Northeastern Huskies. Both are anticipated to inherit key roles immediately. While still years away from making his NHL debut, the future seems bright for Justin Daniels and the San Jose Sharks, who are happy to have another play-making centerman in the system.

Longest road trip of the season looms on the horizon for San Jose, NBC/Versus Sharks broadcast notes

After a disappointing performance against Chicago the Sharks have 4 days and 3 full practices to prepare for Thursday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes (25-22-5, 3rd Southeast). Then San Jose will hit the road for the longest and most difficult road trip of the season, one that covers 5 games in 9 days against stiff competition. Below is a breakdown of the monster road trip with a brief scouting report on each destination.

But first, Carolina returns to HP Pavilion for the first time since December, 2005. The Hurricanes recently rebounded from a 5-game losing streak by winning 4 of its last 6 games on the back of workhorse goaltender Cam Ward. While San Jose has a +55 goal margin, Carolina has had trouble scoring goals with the 4th worst offense in the Eastern Conference. They have scored 20 goals less than they have allowed, the top three lines are not producing consistently, and veteran center Rod Brind'Amour has a staggering league worst -30 plus/minus rating.

On to the 6,215-mile road trip:

2/7 COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (24-22-5, 3rd Central): The Blue Jackets are one of the Western Conference herd teams battling for a playoff berth down the stretch. After losing 4 of its last 6 games, Columbus has dropped to a 4-team tie for the 8th spot in the Western Conference (tied with Minnesota, Edmonton, Phoenix). Seven teams are bunched up in the playoff picture within 4 points of each other, and those outside of the playoff bubble are one strong week away from changing their fortunes. Only the three division leaders (SJ, DET, CAL) appear to have any kind of playoff security in what looks to be the tighest Western Conference stretch run in several years.

Columbus will have to battle tooth and nail to emerge with its first postseason appearance in franchise history. Head coach Ken Hitchcock has built a blue collar work ethic that has been successful at home. The BJs are 15-9-1 at Nationwide Arena, while only 9-13-4 on the road. Early season rookie of the year candidate Derick Brassard was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, but rookie goaltender Steve Mason stepped into the breach starting all but 6 of the last 39 games. Even while battling mononucleosis, Mason has been keeping games close and giving Columbus an opportunity to win on a nightly basis.

Kristian "Juice" Huselius has been heating up on the top line with Jason Williams and Rick Nash, but scoring depth without Brassard in the lineup has been an issue. Veteran Fredrik Modin has 6 points in his last 8 games, but he has not scored a goal in his last 11. Rafi Torres has scored once since his return from injury, and has been relegated to 4th line duty. At times Columbus has become too one dimensional offensively and they need other players to step up and contribute.

Ken Hitchcock had possibly the best analysis of the San Jose Sharks prior to a game earlier in the season. Hitchcock said that San Jose is consistently the hardest working team off the puck. He said that if the players did not have numbers on the back, all you would see is a lot of large bodies pressuring the puck. He also noted that recent playoff setbacks have lit a fire under the Sharks this season, and that there is a "significant business-like" approach for a team that wants more. "They're not satisfied with just being a good team" Hitchcock said.

2/10 BOSTON BRUINS (37-8-6, 1st NHL): Boston and San Jose have been jockeying for first place in the NHL for several weeks. On Tuesday they face off for a nationally televised broadcast on Versus for easily the biggest game of the season. 6-foot-9, 251-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara has set the tone for this club with a toughness that permeates down through the lineup. Hit with injuries to several key contributors, the Bruins have cycled through replacements without missing a beat, registering a 30-5-5 record against the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic returned to the first line with Marc Savard, Blake Wheeler returned to the second line with Krejci and Ryder, Petrice Bergeron returned from a concussion to center the third line. The big guns are returning, and the addition of Andrew Ference adds another solid veteran to an already deep blueline. With goaltender Manny Fernandez on the shelf with a back injury, 2009 NHL Allstar Tim Thomas has taken the reigns and run with them. Third in the NHL with a 2.11GAA, Thomas leads the NHL with a .933SV%. If Chara is getting whispers for a Norris trophy nomination, fans in Boston are standing on street corners proclaiming Thomas for the Vezina.

Former Montreal and New Jersey head coach Claude Julien has been a revelation in Boston. He is 4 wins away from matching the win total from last season with 31 games left in the season. Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli described Julien's system to Craig Custance of the Sporting News. "Claude is a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of coach. He grinds it out, goes over defense -- he's defense first." Chiarelli said. "He's adapted with the more skill we put in place, more active on the defenseman, tweaked the forecheck." Chiarelli also mentioned activating the D in all 3 zones, being agressive on the forecheck, and playing their own brand of a trapping 1-2-2 style that is common in the league.

The Bruins and Sharks are similar in one respect, they have each shown the ability to win games in a variety of different circumstances this season. Tuesday will be the first and only time #1 in the East faces #1 in the West in the regular season.

2/11 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (24-23-5, 4th Atlantic): Pittsburgh has been dropping games in December and January at an impressive, near 2-to-1 clip. Throwing out 3 charity points for overtimes and shootouts, the Pens are 10-19 from December through February 3rd. The Stanley Cup Finalists from last season have not only dropped out of the playoff picture, they have nearly dropped off the face of the planet. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Michel Therrien is on the hot seat, and many speculate he could be the next coach dismissed after the recent departure of Craig Hartsburg from Ottawa.

While the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrate their 6th NHL title, the Penguins have often looked disjointed and sluggish on the ice. All the more puzzling given the fact that Evgeni Malkin (22G, 54A) and Sidney Crosby (20G, 48A) are 1-2 in the race for a scoring title. Veteran scoring has improved slightly from the start of the season, but experienced players like Miroslav Satan, Petr Sykora and Pascal Dupuis need a man-to-man challenge on a nightly basis. They need to be better than the opposition, and take some of the pressure off of Malkin and Crosby.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (16-13-3, .910SV%, 2.85GAA, 2SO) has given up 3 goals or more 19 times this season, the Penguins have lost 12 of those games. The Penguins need more consistent goaltending from Fleury. After several quality starts early in the season, backup goaltender Dany Sabourin struggled mightily and effectively played his way out of town. Pittsburgh acquired solid backup in Mathieu Garon from Edmonton, but the former Los Angeles Kings netminder has seen a grand total of 1 start allowing 5 goals on 26 shots in a 5-4 loss to Toronto. According to news reports, Sergei Gonchar is taking contact in practice and getting closer to a return from shoulder surgery that has kept him off the roster for the entire season. According to the Tribune Review, Gonchar could be on schedule to return ahead of a previous early March target. It will be hard for the Penguins to ease him back in the lineup, but their power play (24th, 38-230, 16.5%) could use a stimulus package of its own.

2/13 BUFFALO SABRES (26-20-5, 3rd Northeast): The Buffalo Sabres finished their own 6-game, 15-day road trip with a 3-3 record. Derek Roy notched a game deciding shootout goal in Florida, Tim Connolly and Daniel Paille scored in a 2-0 shutout in Phoenix, and 7 different players scored in an epic 10-2 route at Edmonton. The loss was so bad that Oilers fans chanted for the 10th goal during play. Ryan Miller (24-13-4, .917SV%, 2.53GAA, 4SO) has been a bedrock in goal for the Sabres. After an early rotation with Patrick Lalime, Miller has started all but 3 games in the last 2 months. Scouting report from a former collegiate goaltending coach on Miller: good size, extremely athletic, aggressive and confident in goal. Austrian left wing Thomas Vanek has dropped in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Vanek, tied for 3rd with 29 goals, trails only Alexander Ovechkin (36) and Jeff Carter (32) for the NHL goal scoring lead.

You can crunch the numbers all you want on this game, but more than anything the San Jose Sharks should be looking to avenge the worst loss on home ice last season. After the opening goal by defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, a quick skating Buffalo Sabres squad piled up 7 goals on Evgeni Nabokov and Dimitri Patzold. Derek Roy, Michael Ryan, Thomas Vanek, Ales Kotalik, Tim Connolly and Paul Gaustad (2) each scored for the Sabres. At the time of the meeting, the Sharks were the top road team in the NHL but were struggling to earn wins on home ice. This season the Sharks have lost a grand total of 2 games in regulation on home ice, earning an NHL best 23-2-2 record at HP Pavilion.

Former Sharks defenseman Craig Rivet compared the Buffalo Sabres recent road trip to travel he experienced last year in the Western Confernce. "Everybody's going through the same thing. That's the league. That's part of hockey right now. You have to be able to prepare for each game individually. You take one game at a time, and that's all we're looking to do." Rivet told Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. The Sabres injured reserve list is getting a workout with three defenseman missing an extended period of games. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder (shoulder), Teppo Numminen (face), and Andrej Sekera (lower body) are out. Rivet had to play with 3 rookie defenseman against Anaheim: Chris Butler, Mike Weber and Marc-Andre Gragnani.

2/15 NEW JERSEY (32-16-3, 1st Atlantic): The CBC's Jim Hughson took a look at the cream of the Eastern Conference crop, the defending Conference champion Penguins, a "cinderella" Bruins team, the 100th anniversary "sentimental" pick in Montreal, a New York Rangers squad that exploded out to a 10-3 start, and Hughson calls the New Jersey Devils the best team in the East. How have they accomplished that? "The New Jersey Devils just won't go away" Hughson said.

The Devils had an 8-game winning streak snapped Tuesday in a 5-2 loss at Washington. Perennial backup Scott Clemmensen (22-10-1, .918SV%, 2.34GAA) has staked his claim on a Devils goaltending crease that has been Martin Brodeur's for the better part of 13 seasons. 4-time Vezina winner Martin Brodeur has started in 70 or more games for the Devils in 10 straight seasons before suffering an elbow injury in early November. As Brodeur approaches an expected return in late February, the Devils will have to figure out how to maintain the team's chemistry while working him back into the lineup. Clemmensen has won 22 of his 33 starts, and has helped the 2nd best defense in the Eastern Conference clamp down on close games. Clemmensen is 9-5 this season in 1-goal games.

The Devils are getting production from the top of the lineup, left wings Zach Parise (29G, 30A) and Patrik Elias (22G, 35A) are on pace for 94 and 91 points respectively, captain Jamie Langenbruner has 15 points in his last 11 games. The Devils are also getting a balanced production with 7 different players reaching double digits in goals scored. The addition of the NHL's leading active goal scorer (653), Brendan Shanahan, has added even more firepower furthur down the lineup. Shanahan has 3 goals and an assist in 6 games on a third line with Brian Rolston and John Madden.

The one weakness may be a somewhat anonymous blueline. Paul Martin has quietly been putting up solid offensive numbers year after year in New Jersey, but Johnny Oduya, former St Louis blueliner Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, and Mike Mottau have been executing the New Jersey defensive system that can squeeze the life out of opponents. Colin White also keeps opponents honest. The difference between this year and seasons past is that the Devils can balance that defensive system and solid goaltending with a potent offensive attack. The Devils will get a stern test as they host back-to-back games against the 1st and 2nd place teams in the NHL, Boston (Feb 13) and San Jose (Feb 15).

[Update] NBC and NHL scheduling gurus = epic FAIL, NBC chooses Philadelphia Flyers vs the New York Rangers over New Jersey Devils vs San Jose Sharks for February 15th broadcast - Battle of New York.

[Update2] According to Versus, Joe Beninati will be the play-by-play host for the Sharks-Boston broadcast February 10th at 4PM (PT), Andy Brickley will be the analyst, and Bob Harwood will be the rinkside reporter for the game.

[Update3] The latest DOH podcast and Rink podcasts are online. Allegedly there is more Sharks hockey talk on the Chomptalk 1220AM radio show with a guest apperance by center Joe Pavelski.

[Update4] Hurricanes send C Brind'Amour home - National Post.

Due to an unspecified nagging injury, Carolina Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour returned home Wednesday and will miss the team's upcoming games in San Jose and Phoenix...

The Hurricanes also announced Wednesday that right wing Scott Walker will be placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury. The move will be official Thursday when the team recalls center Jakub Petruzalek from Albany of the American Hockey League.

Thanks to Paul Kukla for the link.

[Note] Corrected the date of the Carolina Hurricanes last visit to HP Pavilion. Carolina lost 4-3 in their last visit to San Jose on December 10th, 2005.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

San Jose 2-0 on Saturday's UFC 94 card with wins by Jon Fitch and Lyoto Machida

Akihiro Gono enters the cage

Two San Jose based fighters emerged from Saturday's high profile UFC 94 event with impressive wins. Brazilian-born Lyoto Machida and former Purdue wrestler Jon Fitch both train at San Jose's American Kickboxing Academy under Bob Cook, Dave Camarillo and Javier Mendez.

In a co-main event fight, Lyoto Machida (14-0) knocked out previously undefeated Thiago Silva (13-1) with one second left in the first round. Machida, normally a patient fighter who uses an opponent's aggression against him, picked Silva apart and knocked him cold as time ran out on the first round. He earned a $65,000 knockout of the night bonus. After the fight he spoke to the crowd in English for the first time. "I love my fans in Las Vegas and here in America, when I fight here I feel at home" he said. The UK Sun reports that Machida will not be next in line for a title shot at 205 pounds. According to UFC president Dana White, the winner of UFC 96's Jardine vs Jackson bout will get the next shot at Rashad Evans.

Jon Fitch (18-3) had to endure the bizarre ring entrance of veteran Japanese fighter Akihiro Gono (29-14-7), pictured above with two of his cornermen. A fan video of the pre-entrance dance routine is up on youtube here. Gono often entered the ring in Japan donning an afro and a jumpsuit.

Fitch held a dominant position on top of Gono for a majority of each round, and at one point delivered a series of nearly a dozen elbows as the ref called for more action to keep the fight going. Maybe he was looking for Fitch to unleash two dozen. "It feels good to get back in the winner's circle, I'm a little disappointed I didn't finish him." Fitch told "A lesser opponent than Akihiro Gono I would've finished." Each judge scored every round for Fitch, one giving him the 3-round fight by a 30-26 margin. Fitch's fight was not aired on the televised broadcast, it was only available via online pay-per-view at

Fitch was briefly released from the UFC in November after he refused to allow his name and likeness rights for an upcoming video game to be used without compensation. After much bombast from the UFC's Dana White, cooler heads prevailed and an agreement was reached. Fitch rejoined the UFC less than 24 hours later. In August of 2008, Jon Fitch lost a 5-round UFC Welterweight title fight to Georges St-Pierre (50-43, 50-44, 50-44).

The main event of UFC 94 saw UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre demolish UFC Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn, stopping him after delivering relentless ground and pound punishment for the better part of 3 rounds. Penn will go back to the Lightweight ranks, and St-Pierre might move up in weight to face UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva after he takes care of a top contender at 170.

On the undercard, 21-year old Jon Jones delivered one of the most dynamic performances in recent memory with a 3-round unanimous decision over tough veteran Stephan Bonnar. Jones has the size and athleticism, and more importantly the skill and killer instinct, to earn a title shot in short order. Karo Parisyan narrowly edged Dong Hyun Kim in a matchup of skilled judo players. Stockton's Nate Diaz lost a split decision to the flamboyant Clay Guida, and Sacramento's Christian Wellisch lost a split decision to Jake O'Brien.

[Update] Penn quits before final round, St. Pierre keeps belt at UFC 94 -

[Update2] UFC 94 in pictures - UK Sun.

Hockey Notes - February 3rd 5-on-5 player rankings and statistics

- These BehindtheNet numbers reflect 5-on-5 play through February 3rd with a minimum of 20 games played. GP = Games Played, TOI/60 = Time On Ice in minutes, GFON/60 = Goals For, On Ice, per 60 minutes, GAON/60 = Goals Against, On Ice, per 60 minutes, RATING = Behindthenet Rating (+/- relative to team), CORSI = Player rating invented by former Buffalo coach Jim Corsi (Shots on Goal, plus Missed Shots plus Blocked Shots - opponent's CORSI). Dirk Hoag offered another explanation of these statistics here.

As the Sharks enter the second half of a marathon NHL regular season, a few trends literally jump off the chart. The top two San Jose scoring lines of Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi and Clowe-Pavelski-Michalek alone are piling up at least 22 shots a game more than the opposition 5-on-5. In his third NHL season, defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is logging nearly 20 minutes 5-on-5, more than future Hall of Famer Rob Blake and 2009 NHL Allstar Dan Boyle. Averaged over 60 minutes, the Sharks are scoring 1.37 goals a game more than the opposition when Vlasic is on the ice.

Also noticeable on the chart is the fact that the Sharks third and fourth lines are giving up as many or more goals than they are scoring 5-on-5. Averaged out to 60 minutes, Roenick (2.26/2.26) and Cheechoo (2.01/2.01) are even, but Grier, Goc and Shelley are allowing more goals than the Sharks are scoring. San Jose is dealing with injuries to centers Jeremy Roenick (shoulder) and Torrey Mitchell (leg), and have had to use a string of callups from the AHL Worcester Sharks to bolster the forward corps, but head coach Todd McLellan has said that he needs to have more confidence in his 4th line. Adding veteran Claude Lemieux should crystallize the need for simple, sound defensive play.

The Sharks have scored a power play goal in 9 out of the last 10 games (14/46, 30.4%), moving up to 4th in the NHL with the man advantage. Ryane Clowe leads the team with 11 power play goals and 22 power play points. A streak of 10 straight penalty kills against Vancouver (1-1), Colorado (3-3) and Phoenix (6-6) helped the Sharks move up to 5th in the NHL (27-182, 85.2%) on the PK.

Sportsclubstats playoff probabilities San Jose Sharks

- Earl Sleek has been crunching the playoff numbers for the Anaheim Ducks over at the Battle of California. The Ducks playoff chances have plummeted to 37.9% according to probabilities cruched by

Taking a look at the probabilities for the San Jose Sharks offers a different outlook. The Sharks have dropped in one area, they are no longer 30 games above .500 with recent home losses in regulation to Calgary and Chicago. With 10 million scenarios crunched, the Sharks apparently need a 22-11-1 finish down the stretch to lock down 1st place in the Conference.

Another website,, details the San Jose Sharks playoff outlook: 28% chance of winning an NHL Championship, 43% chance of making the Stanley Cup Finals, 64% chance of a Conference Championship berth, and an 83% chance of making the second round.

- Sharks' Semenov is making his presence felt - Mark Emmons for the San Jose Mercury News.

Semenov has been the beneficiary of recent injuries to Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich. He has been either even or had a plus-rating in 14 of his last 15 games. It's a big change for Semenov, who had trouble getting into games as the seventh defenseman in a six-player blue-line unit earlier this season.

"I'm getting the chance to play a lot with Marc-Edouard (Vlasic) and it seems like we've been doing pretty good," said Semenov, who has four assists and a plus-six rating in 22 games.

- The playoff push: 90+ points or bust - James Mirtle.

- A new blog started in December, Puck Money, has focused on tracking attendence and financial issues and how intimately they are intertwined. His feature "Playing Under Capacity" has featured 5 teams: the New York Islanders, the New Jersey Devils, the Los Angeles Kings, the Nashville Predators, and the Phoenix Coyotes.

For each of the teams he examines the arena location/age, ticket prices, promotions, metro population, on-ice product, location, and the history of the franchise along with other relevant data. On the Phoenix Coyotes the blog notes that their last playoff appearance came against the San Jose Sharks in December of 2002 (they lost 4-1 in the WCQ), the Fan Cost Index is $65 lower than the NHL average, and that there are issues regarding reported attendance vs actual attendance. One thing left out of Puck Money's analysis is the impact of youth hockey on a developing fan base. Youth hockey in Phoenix is growing at a slower clip than California, but it is trending up. Arizona Rubber is a roller/hockey magazine available at every rink in the state.

It is an interesting look at the situation in Phoenix, which has been the target of a number of critical financial news reports this season. Phoenix Coyotes CEO Jeff Shumway recently stepped down to focus on the core business ventures of Phoenix Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes. With the team expected to lose an estimated $30 million this season, Moyes reportedly is looking to sell all or part of his stake in the franchise. David Shoalts of Toronto's Globe and Mail reported that the losses could hit $45 million in Phoenix this season, and that they missed mandatory targets which could drop their portion of the NHL's revenue sharing. The situation is bleak, but many still believe that the franchise is not going anywhere.

On the ice the Phoenix Coyotes have one of the most talented younger rosters in the Western Conference. A roster that rivals the high profile youth movement in Chicago, and the more under the radar youth movement in Columbus. Sophomore's Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal are both among the team's top 5 scoring leaders. Blazing Danish left wing Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Turris, Enver Lisin and 2008 Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter are going to be impact skill players. It is a matter of when, not if. Former south bay native Viktor Tikhonov has all the tools to develop into a power forward. Winger Jared Staal, and former first rounder Al Montoya, are also in the development pipeline.

Picking starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov up off the waiver wire from Anaheim last year added a much needed #1 goaltender, and the trade of defenseman Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton to Florida for center Olli Jokinen and a draft pick (2008 2nd-Staal) added a veteran cornerstone to the top of the lineup. The trade has been a boon for both teams. The playoff picture in the Western Conference is fluid, with Phoenix and 4 other teams tied for 6th place. A few games ago Phoenix was tied for fourth with Anaheim. The Coyotes can use a tight stretch run to build enthusiasm, and use playoff home dates to boost the bottom line. Television ratings for the Phoenix Coyotes are also up 100% at the mid-point of the season, the second biggest ratings increase in the NHL behind only the Washington Capitals.

In November I interviewed blogger Paul Becker on the situation in Phoenix. Becker talked about the growing Phoenix Coyotes voice in the blogosphere, noted the team's commitment to youth hockey, and said that putting a winning product on the ice is the biggest factor in improving the outlook for the franchise.

- The Morning Skate: How Did the Coyotes Mess Happen? - Stu Hackle for the Slapshots blog.

- Predators predict they'll show slight profit - John Glennon for the Nashville Tennesean.

A Predators franchise that reported $70 million in losses under Craig Leipold is on target to make money for the second straight season under new ownership, majority owner David Freeman said. The Predators are forecasting a tiny profit of $145,000, but — considering the team's player salaries jumped by about $10 million this season — it's one of a few figures that appear to indicate the franchise is weathering current economic hardships.

Some other numbers of note: The Predators are reporting paid attendance average up by about 6 percent over this time last season — despite the season-ticket base falling from 9,500 to 8,700. In addition, ownership said that sponsorship and suite revenues have increased by about 6 percent over last year.

The modest gains despite a struggling U.S. economy are impressive, but moving forward individual NHL teams and the league as a whole are going to have to adapt a gate-driven league to the economic situation of many of its fans.

- Versus analyst Keith Jones named Zdeno Chara has his mid-season pick for the Norris Trophy on the NHL Live radio program this morning. Jones said that Chara added a level of toughness to the Bruins, that along with the play of Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton make them a difficult team to play night in and night out. Tonight on Versus, the Washington Capitals visit New Jersey at 4PM.

- Alaskan hockey games listed as 'Questionable Volcano' -

- San Jose Sharks center Jeremy Roenick was a recent guest on the Razor and Mr. T radio show on KNBR 680AM here in the Bay Area. The interview is available for download here.

[Q] Somebody said J.R. laid somebody out in the Allstar Game and the fans loved it.

[JR] I think I was the first guy to ever hit someone in the Allstar Game, and I hit hard too. I hit the guy because I didn't like him. His name was Alexei Zhitnik, I hit him two years in a row. I am sure he was sitting there saying what is going on with you dude, why are you hitting me like this. I said I was trying to get some action in the game, in actuality I wasn't doing that...

[Q] How would you describe head coach Todd McLellan's approach to the game?

[JR] Totally, totally professional. I can honestly say I have never been around a coach this professional. He has treated the players exactly as I think they should be treated. That is something to be said in the National Hockey League when you have a lot of egos you have to master, you have to deal with. He is able to balance all those at one time and make sure everybody is feeling good about themselves. He will kick them in the ass when he needs to. He has been really good in that aspect.

[Update] Ten Players to watch at the trade deadline - Darren Dreger for TSN.

[Update2] Campbell's Cuts: Senators fire the wrong man - The Hockey News.

The problems in Ottawa go way beyond who’s standing behind the bench. It’s clear the Senators fired the wrong person today. What owner Eugene Melnyk would have done if he had any ability to admit his mistakes would have been to fire GM Bryan Murray. Or at the very least, he could have fired Hartsburg, put Murray back behind the bench where he’s much better suited and waited until the summer to replace Murray as GM.

Murray is a terrific coach and might even be a decent GM, but the fact is no objective hockey observer could possibly come to any other conclusion than pointing out that everything Murray has touched in a managerial capacity has turned to lead. And much of the blame for that has to go right to Melnyk, who allowed Murray to prevail in a power struggle between Murray and former GM John Muckler after the Senators advanced to the Stanley Cup final.

[Update3] The Denver Post's Adrian Dater answered one of my questions in his latest Q-and-A with fans.

[Jon] Is Chicago a member of the new "Big Four" in the Western Conference this season along with San Jose, Detroit and Calgary, or are there only three teams on the same plain atop the West? At what point were the Colorado Avalanche no longer one of the best four teams, and what were the major factors in the Avs' falloff?

-- Jon Swenson, San Jose, Calif.

[AD] Jon - At what point were the Colorado Avalanche no longer one of the best four teams, you ask? When the puck dropped on opening night, would be my smart-aleck answer.

Injuries have certainly played a big part in their drop-off. I mean, take the top two centers, a top-two defenseman and good rookie winger away from any team, and let's see how they fare. The Avs have not fared too well with the losses of such players.

Yes, I think Chicago is among the top four in the West. San Jose and Detroit are 1-2, and it's probably a tossup right now between Chicago and Calgary for the third and fourth spots, although I'd probably go with Chicago over the Flames. Calgary has a nice record, but I still think they're vulnerable in certain areas and will be exposed in the playoffs.

[Update4] Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews scores twice, Chicago hands San Jose second regulation home loss with 4-2 win - Sharkspage for the Chicago Sun Times.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

G.J. Berg: Sharks to start 2009-2010 season in Europe?

With the NHL sending teams over to Europe the past couple of seasons for the NHL Premiere events, you start to wonder when (not if) the NHL San Jose Sharks might start their season other than in North America.

The last day of January 2009 brought word from the Hockey Night in Canada crew that the San Jose Sharks might meet up with the Calgary Flames to start the season in Helsinki, Finland.

That prompted some queries which lead to an official announcement from Sharks president Greg Jamison that yes, the Sharks have been invited to participate to start the 2009-2010 in Europe, but nothing is settled.

The Mercury News' David Pollak does a little digging and comes up with some further information, as well as some suggestions on matchups and locations for the Sharks to play in Europe (such as with a number of German players, perhaps time there).

Sharks' Radio play-by-play man Dan Rusanowsky expands thoughts on play in Europe, the world, and possible matchups even further. Final word on the pre-season plans (games, training camp) and season openers won't be known for several months. [Update] Overseas game de-Fin-ite? - Calgary Sun.

According to reports, the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues would play in Stockholm, Sweden, while the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers would meet in Prague, Czech Republic. Curiously, the Flames and Sharks kicked off the 1998-99 regular season with games in Japan. Calgary also had a tour of Russia during the exhibition season after winning the 1989 Stanley Cup. The past couple of seasons have seen a handful of clubs play in Europe -- the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning meeting in Prague, while the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins faced off in Stockholm and the 2007-08 campaign kicked off with the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings in London, England.
[Update] Eric Duhatschek reports that plans for games in Prague fell through so the Sharks will not be heading to Europe to start the 2009-2010 season (and the teams scheduled for Prague will be heading to Helsinki).

Max Giese: Prospects Report - Worcester Sharks at Providence Bruins

The Atlantic division was up for grabs as the Providence Bruins hosted the Worcester Sharks on Superbowl Sunday. Coming into the game the Bruins were 4-0-1-0 against the Sharks this season and 9-0-1-0 in their last 10 meetings. For the Sharks, it was their third game in three days and their second game in the last 18 hours as they just finished dusting off the San Antonio Rampage 5-1 Saturday Night in Worcester. This game was a good measuring stick of the character of the prospects on the Worcester Sharks have, no one would've blamed them for playing a sluggish game.

Worcester outplayed the Providence Bruins, and outshot them 35-20. The Sharks puck-movement was strong and they controlled the play for the majority of the game. A couple of quick strikes by Mikko Lehtonen and strong goaltending from Kevin Regan left the Bruins victorious 2-1.

G Thomas Greiss - Challenged shooters and often stationed himself just outside of the blue paint to make a save .. boasts powerful lateral movement, but sometimes he doesn't maintain form while moving side to side .. gave up a soft goal between his glove and body when Mikko Lehtonen came down the left-wing in the first period .. nearly gave up a 50-footer and had jittery rebound control shortly after the first goal on him was scored .. skates well outside of the crease and handles the puck smoothly .. came up with athletic stops.

D Mike Moore - Opponents couldn't get around him 1-on-1 and he stood his ground with tight gaps and physically finished his man .. stapled opponents to the boards with his hip-checks .. attempted to rush the puck up the ice, but didn't have any success .. could've used more finesse with the puck and he needs to work on his puck-protection, as he tends to carry the puck too far out in front of him instead of properly carrying it closer into his body, this allows opponents to strip him off of it.

D Jason Demers - His skill level skating and moving the puck is evident .. skates with long strides .. his vision and passing skills are his strongest asset .. poised in all-situations and appears to have dramatically improved defensively since earlier viewings .. counted on to play in all-situations and has emerged as a legit prospect.

C Steven Zalewski - Centered the first line and won some key draws .. works hard and smart by doing all of the little things .. was largely invisible and struggled to generate offensive opportunities, until with under a minute left in regulation he fired home a quick shot that beat Bruins goaltender Kevin Reagan 5-hole.

C T.J. Fox - Quickly accelerates and was effective on the penalty-kill .. centered the fourth-line and performed his defensive role well .. skates well with the puck and you get the sense there is more offensive upside here.

C Tom Cavanaugh - Always in the right place at the right time, although he failed to cash in on two glorious scoring opportunities, including one that could've tied the game with seconds left .. detailed defensively and came deep into his own zone to support in coverage .. created a few nice plays through the passing game in the offensive zone .. his lack of quickness hurts him.

LW Lukas Kaspar - Was a creative play-maker while working the right point on the power-play, something he did with the Ottawa 67s and this allowed him to get his big slap shot on net .. utilized on the penalty-kill and did well with his active stick .. his combination of skill, size, and speed is very noticeable at this level of play .. I've never seen him back-check this hard and he stripped multiple opponents off of the puck .. finished all of his checks and was strong passing the puck in all three zones .. his 4-game scoring streak came to an end but he played very well.

LW Jamie McGinn - You can tell that he is a born leader and often head coach Sommer sends McGinn over the boards to lead by example and set the tone with his hard-working play .. strong skater with a quick shot coming down the wing .. worked and back checked hard .. could be a real force down the road once he becomes more comfortable with his physicality .. defenders had difficulty containing his attacks to the net.

LW Frazer McLaren - Skates well for a player of his size with a languid stride .. was rarely on the ice and the game wasn't all that physical, leaving McLaren invisible.

LW Brad Staubitz - Displayed great hustle and strong straight-line skating while finishing all of his checks hard .. protected the puck well on the cycle .. had some scoring opportunities but couldn't finish them.

RW Matt Jones - Big winger and that is an agile skater for his size .. for a player of his size you wish he was more physical, as he mostly uses his strength to protect the puck and doesn't use it enough to take opponents off of it .. his decision making was slow and it was hard to grade out his offensive abilities because he was on the fourth line .. did drive the net when he had the chance and he appears to have some skill with a long reach .. his defensive positioning and marking are very raw.

RW Riley Armstrong - Quickly got under the opponents skin, especially Bruins' defenseman Brian Lashoff .. took a bad penalty in the first period .. not a pure burner with the puck or the most skilled player, but he fought very hard to retain possession .. payed the price and sacrificed his body for the teams benefit .. went to the front of the net on the power-play and dug the puck out of the corners.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews scores twice, Chicago hands San Jose second regulation home loss with 4-2 win

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin photo
San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov photo gallery
San Jose Sharks Chicago Blackhawks NHL photo gallery Patrick Sharp

Coming off of a disappointing 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, the Chicago Blackhawks entered HP Pavilion on Saturday night looking for a more inspired performance right from the drop of the puck. Former Shark Brian Campbell and left wing Andrew Ladd delivered. Campbell sliced through the Sharks zone with speed, executing a give-and-go and firing a point blank shot on Evgeni Nabokov. The puck deflected to the stick of Jonathan Toews, and he buried it in the open net. In 5 career games against San Jose, Toews has 6 goals.

The Blackhawks opened the scoring 48 seconds into the game. They would pour it on with a shorthanded goal and 2 power play goals to earn a 4-2 win over the Sharks. The loss was San Jose's second in regulation on home ice, where they have built up an incredible 23-2-2 record.

The turning point in the game appeared to come later in the first period when Chicago center Dave Bolland had a goal disallowed. Patrick Kane high-sticked Jonathan Cheechoo, but the linesman notified the referees after the goal was scored. Cheechoo was called back from the locker room to see if the stick drew blood, it did. The goal was disallowed and a 4-minute double minor was inadvertently called on Kris Versteeg. Even the NHL statisticians had it mislabeled as Dustin Byfuglien. According to, over a minute was lost due to the continuation of play before the penalty was called. Christian Ehrhoff scored on the power play to tie the game at 1-1. Instead of a 2-0 Chicago lead, the game was tied with power play time left over for the Sharks.

But the Blackhawks kept skating, kept getting the puck deep, and they won the special teams battle that tipped the game in their favor. Chicago finished 2-for-3 with the man advantage on power play goals by Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, and scored a short handed goal by Kris Versteeg on a delayed penalty (which would have resulted in a penalty shot). After the game Sharks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said "It seemed like they were faster skating to loose pucks". The Sharks captain Patrick Marleau concurred "They were a little bit quicker".

The loss of defenseman Dan Boyle (wrist) for a third straight game since the All-Star break impacted San Jose's ability to break the puck up ice, but ill advised penalties also put the Sharks on their heels. Ryane Clowe took a retaliation penalty in the first after Dustin Byfuglien checked Joe Pavelski. Evengi Nabokov tripped Patrick Kane leading to Jonathan Toews second power play goal. Ehrhoff's interference call lead to a power play goal by defenseman Duncan Keith. Head coach Todd McLellan said that San Jose expended so much energy on defense, they were tired and looking to get off the ice on offense.

Brian Campbell was the designated villian on the ice for San Jose. 10 minutes into the second period he executed a spin-o-rama to break the puck out of his own zone, He received a healthy round of boo's from the fans for his effort. Chicago was well coached by Joel Quenville. Excellent spacing in the neutral zone allowed them to generate speed on offense, and they consistently beat San Jose to loose pucks along the boards and in the corners.

Nikolai Khabibulin (15-4-5) stopped 32 of 34 shots to earn his 15th win of the season. Evgeni Nabokov's 2+ game shutout streak was stopped early in the first period, and Chicago broke a 13-game losing streak against San Jose dating back to October 2005. San Jose Sharks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has 5 points (3G, 2A) and 15 shots in his last 5 games. Worcester Sharks right wing Ryan Vesce was called up as an insurance forward as the Sharks are dealing with a few nagging injuries.

The coaching staff of the San Jose Stealth lacrosse team was in the front row during the second period of the game. Twice they were showered with ice through the photo hole after checks along the glass. According to head coach Jeff Dowling, the next Stealth home game will be February 21st against the Colorado Mammoth.

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

[Update] Chicago Tribune reporter Chris Kuc noted that the Blackhawks have not fared well during their annual "circus trip" in November, where the circus takes over their home building and forces an extended road trip. This season a subsequent "ice show" road trip will equal 8 games.

The San Jose Sharks have their own annual "tennis" road trip in early February. While the SAP Open tennis tournament takes place at HP Pavilion from February 9-15, the Sharks will hit the road for 5 games in 9 nights. Not quite an epic poem worthy odyssey, but the Sharks will face off against the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins in back-to-back road games. The Bruins, who just leapfrogged San Jose for first place in the NHL, will play the Sharks on a Versus national broadcast Monday, February 10th. Add in Columbus, who always plays San Jose hard, New Jersey and Buffalo, and you easily have the most difficult road trip of the year.

[Update2] Hawks off schneid, Even nullified goal can't prevent them from ending 13-game skid vs. Sharks - Chicago Sun Times.

Slow starts have been a seasonlong problem for the Blackhawks, but that wasn't the case Saturday. A fast start alone, however, didn't produce their biggest victory of the season.

The Hawks recovered from a controversial ruling that went against them to earn a 4-2 victory against the San Jose Sharks, their first triumph against the Western Conference leaders in 14 meetings. The Hawks had been 0-10-3 in the previous 13 games between the teams and hadn't won at the Sharks' HP Pavilion since March 2003. They also handed the Sharks only their second regulation loss at home this season (23-2-2).

[Update3] Chicago Blackhawks defeat San Jose Sharks, Toews scores twice to pace huge victory - Chicago Tribune.

Darryl Hunt: WorSharks Stampede Over Rampage, 5-1

The Worcester Sharks, despite being shorthanded a team record nine times in the game, defeated the San Antonio Rampage 5-1 at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts Saturday night in front of a loudly partisan crowd of 5,803.

Worcester would get on the board first when Tom Cavanagh would go behind the Rampage net and hold the puck unchallenged, finding Jamie McGinn wide open to the left of San Antonio goaltender Al Montoya. McGinn blasted a one-timer just under the crossbar at 9:49 to grab a 1-0 lead.

The WorSharks would make it 2-0 at 12:08 of the first when Cory Larose would collect a rebound of a Matt Jones shot, and with Brad Staubitz setting a great screen, would lift a backhander past a blinded Montoya.

Worcester's third goal of the period could not have been more perfectly timed as Andrew Desjardins pushed a lose puck into the net with just as time expired in the period. Worcester had broken out of its zone with just seconds remaining in the period, and with the puck bouncing around in front of the Rampage net the San Antonio defenders seemed to stop playing as they anticipated the horn. Desjardins found the lose puck and just beat the horn, with the red and green light flashing almost simultaneously.

Worcester would take a 4-0 lead at 10:47 of the second period on a nice shorthanded goal by Steven Zalewski. Lukas Kaspar would grab a lose puck in the WorSharks zone and break down the right boards. Kaspar was forced wide by the defense, so he wheeled the net, throwing a perfect backhand pass across the slot right on Zalewski's backhand. Zalewski flipped it under Montoya's glove as the Rampage gave up their AHL leading 10th shorthanded goal against.

San Antonio would get their lone marker while skating with a two man advantage. After two great saves by WorSharks netminder Taylor Dakers, numbers would get the best of Worcester with Wyatt Smith standing all alone at the far post to collect a rebound to make it 4-1 with just 24 seconds left in period number two.

Despite being down three goals San Antonio would pull Montoya with about 90 seconds remaining in the contest, but Worcester would kill any chance of a comeback with a Larose empty netter at 18:43 for the 5-1 final

Worcester's injury list remains unchanged, with Kile McLaren getting closer to playing after hand surgery and Mike Morris still out while suffering from a concussion. Ryan Vesce, recalled Friday prior to the start of the of the Springfield game, has been returned to Worcester and may play against Providence on Sunday in a battle for first place in the Atlantic Division.

For the first time this season Worcester took part in a game where the two referee system was used. Ghislain Hebert and Chris Ciamaga were the two referees, and it's probably safe to say neither had his best game. The amount of borderline and phantom calls against both teams was far too high.

The linesmen also had a tough night. While this writer didn't keep track, there had to have been fifteen occurrences where a player--or both--were waved out of face offs. San Antonio's first penalty, a delay of game at 1:43 of the first, was for a face off violation when two Rampage players were tossed out of the same face of. No one in press row could remember ever seeing that called.

An oddity in the game: both teams had players named "Matt Jones". Worcester won the battle of the Joneses, with Matt M. Jones getting an assist on Cory Larose's first period goal and finishing the game at +1. Matt S. Jones was on the ice for the same goal and finished the game at -1, dropping the Rampage defender to a league worst -34 on the season.

Another oddity in the game: both teams used their timeouts, and neither used it in the game's final minutes. Worcester head coach Roy Sommer called his at the 3:18 mark of the third period after the WorSharks had been called for consecutive icing calls. Rampage head coach Greg Ireland called his at 5:55 of the third when San Antonio was about to go on another five on three.

The AHL is, at least in the northeast, primarily a bus league. So one has to wonder why the AHL schedule makers decided to have the Rampage play Friday night in San Antonio and Saturday night in Worcester. The Rampage players were up very early to make a 6am EST flight to Houston, where they then changed planes for a flight to Hartford, Connecticut. Now add an hour bus ride from Hartford to Worcester with the Rampage arriving in Worcester at 3pm for their 7pm face off with the Sharks, and that's a long travel day for an AHL game. Oh, yeah...the Rampage don't play again until Wednesday night in Binghamton, NY.

Bryan Marchment was again behind the WorSharks bench with Sommer and assistant coach David Cunniff.

The three stars of the game were:
1. Brendan Buckley (a,+2,defensive play)
2. Staubitz (2a)
3. Desjardins (g)
My vote was Larose (2g), Zalewski (shg,a), Staubitz.

Even Strength Lines


Power Play Lines
Jones/Fox/Staubitz (in the game's last minute)


Penalty Kill Lines


Face offs (offense/neutral/defense = total) (unofficial)
Even Strength
Cavanagh 1-0/3-1/3-1 = 7-2
Desjardins 0-1/1-2/0-1 = 1-4
Jones 1-0/1-1/1-1 = 3-2
Zalewski 5-0/1-1/2-2 = 8-3
Armstrong 0-0/0-0/1-0 = 1-0
Larose 0-0/0-1/0-0 = 0-1
Fox was waved out of only face off

Power Play
Larose 1-1/0-0/0-0 = 1-1
Armstrong 0-1/0-0/0-0 = 0-1
Desjardins 1-0/0-0/0-0 = 1-0
Zalewski 0-1/0-0/0-0 = 0-1
Fox 0-1/0-0/0-0 = 0-1
Jones 1-0/0-0/0-0 = 1-0

Penalty Kill
Cavanagh 0-0/0-0/5-0 = 5-0
Zalewski 0-0/1-1/2-3 = 3-4
Kaspar 0-0/0-0/0-1 = 0-1
Desjardins 0-0/0-1/0-0 = 0-1
Fox 1-0/0-1/1-1 = 2-2
Larose 1-0/0-0/0-1 = 1-1

SA 0 1 0 - 1
WOR 3 1 1 - 5

1st Period
Scoring - 1. Worcester, J. McGinn (12) (T. Cavanagh, J. Demers) 9:49, 2. Worcester, C. Larose (16) (M. Jones, B. Staubitz) 12:08, 3. Worcester, A. Desjardins (5) (B. Buckley, B. Staubitz) 19:59
Penalties - Served by D. Nesbitt Sa (bench minor - delay of game) 1:43, L. Kaspar Wor (holding) 3:02, B. Staubitz Wor (tripping) 13:54, S. Ferguson Sa (interference) 17:20

2nd Period
Scoring - 4. Worcester, S. Zalewski (10) (L. Kaspar, M. Moore) 10:47 SH, 5. San Antonio, W. Smith (13) (C. Kolarik, D. Spina) 19:36 PP
Penalties - B. Westgarth Wor (tripping) 0:34, K. Porter Sa (slashing) 2:48, C. Larose Wor (holding) 6:57, T. Cavanagh Wor (hooking) 10:32, B. Westgarth Wor (holding) 18:24, J. Demers Wor (delay of game) 19:05

3rd Period
Scoring - 6. Worcester, C. Larose (17) (S. Zalewski) 18:43 EN
Penalties - T. Cavanagh Wor (hooking) 4:44, J. Demers Wor (hooking) 5:55, M. Jones Sa (interference) 10:47, F. Lessard Sa (instigating, fighting, game misconduct - instigator (last 5:00) 47.11) 19:28, F. McLaren Wor (misconduct - unsportsmanlike conduct 75.4) 19:28

SA Shots: 7 13 7 TOTAL: 27
WOR Shots: 17 10 6 TOTAL: 33

Power Play Conversion
San Antonio Rampage 1-9. Worcester Sharks 0-5.

San Antonio Rampage
Montoya 2-13-0 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 59:23 SV: 28 GA: 4 [L]

Worcester Sharks
Dakers 9-5-0 Start: 1st 0:00 Min: 60:00 SV: 26 GA: 1 [W]

Attendance : 5803. Referees: Ghislain Hebert (49), Chris Ciamaga (41). Linesmen: David Spannaus (8), Luke Galvin (2)