HEAD COACH TODD MCLELLAN GATHERS PLAYERS AT PRACTICE WEDNESDAY
SHARKS VP/ASSISTANT GM WAYNE THOMAS AND DEVIN SETOGUCHI
SHARKS 6-FOOT-5 GOALTENDER HENRIK KARLSSON AT PRACTICE
- The Sharks first practice Wednesday after learning of their opponent in the Western Conference Finals was focused and intense. Clocking in at just under an hour and a half, head coach Todd McLellan ran the players through a series of fundamental drills and then began to break the practice down into more detail oriented elements.
The Sharks skated hard, but also smart. Like a light switch, players would battle for a puck down low or explode up ice for a breakaway, then they would shut it down to absorb the message Todd McLellan and his staff would deliver at 10-15 minute intervals. Two notes from practice, Marleau kicked it into a sixth gear on one breakaway up ice. When he is flying, it opens up gaps in the defense for Thornton and Heatley. In another sequence, 6-foot-3, 240-pound defenseman Douglas Murray carried the puck along the boards through a mass of about 4 teammates. He lowered his shoulder and rumbled through the pack with a third and fourth effort. His teammates, several of whom were knocked out of the way like bowling pins, hooted and hollered after the effort. One of the lighter moments in a very focused practice.
Lines and defensive pairints were similar to those used against Detroit, Marleau-Thornton-Heatley, Clowe-Pavelski-Setoguchi, Malhotra-Couture-Mitchell, McGinn-Nichol-Helminen, Murray-Boyle, Blake-Vlasic, Huskins-Demers, Wallin-Leach. The only player not spotted on the ice by this blog was forward Jed Ortmeyer, who is nursing an undiclosed lower body injury.
- After Worcester was eliminated from the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, forwards Benn Ferriero, Ryan Vesce, Frazer McLaren, John McCarthy and Andrew Desjardins, defenseman Derek Joslin and Mike Moore, and goaltender Alex Stalock were called up to serve as standby players for the postseason.
- Two years ago this blog tried to get then head coach Ron Wilson to preview a Douglas Murray vs Jarome Iginla matchup in the playoffs. On a number of plays, the two were locked into a battle for position or possession down low in the corners, and in front of the net. Wilson did not bite, instead preferring to talk about the performance of the defense as a whole 5-on-5, and on special teams.
San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak asked Murray about the potential matchup with Byfuglien after Wednesday’s practice:
“He’s a heavy player that plays heavy,” Murray said of the forward who’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 257 pounds. “Some guys are heavy but don’t play heavy.
“When he goes to the net we have to treat him the way we treated Holmstrom and Bertuzzi when they drive the net. Today’s rules, you can’t get into a cross-checking match with him and you have to leave him to Nabby and make sure we get a stick on any type of rebound or clear him out once the shot comes.”
Unlike Chicago’s first two playoff opponents, the Sharks have large ill-tempered defenseman available on all three pairs. Along with Murray, 6-foot-4, 225-pound Rob Blake and 6-foot-3, 220-pound Niclas Wallin will be tasked to keep the crease clear in front of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Blake compared Byfuglien to Todd Bertuzzi, size and quick hands for scoring from in tight. Wallin returned from an undisclosed injury for game 5 against Detroit, and he waged several solid battles in front of the net in just under 10 minutes of ice time.
The Sharks dressed seven defenseman for that final game against Detroit, and have used rookie defenseman Jason Demers on the power play and occasionally at forward late in the season.
- Instead of preparing for a net front presence on all 4 lines like they did against Detroit, the Sharks may have to address a more top-to-bottom offensive attack against Chicago. Via ESPN’s Scott Burnside after Chicago-Vancouver game 6:
They’ve got four forward lines rolling like nobody’s business, and just when you think you might have Jonathan Toews’ top line bottled up for a few minutes, Kris Versteeg or Dave Bolland or Patrick Sharp or, yes, that guy Marian Hossa comes along and pots one before you can catch your breath.
It’s a relentless attack that only finds ways to beat itself when it’s too impatient to wait for its chances. Otherwise, you’re looking at the most dangerous offense in the NHL right now.
“This has been an interesting year for this organization. It has been the product of a lot of experiential learning, what some of the guys have been through, what this coaching staff has done. Instead of using the term exhausting, I think we welcome the opportunity for guys to show what they are capable of.”
“I have nothing but great memories from Chicago. My wife is from there, all of my children were born there. I have got friends thee and people that influenced my life in a major, major way. Great fans in Chicago, but I look forward to beating them. It is about this team, the guys in this dressing room. That is where our focus is.”
“The best part (of the playoff run) is seeing all of San Jose get behind us,” Ryane Clowe told host Greg Papa, who was interviewed along with Dany Heatley on CSNBA’s Chronicle Live.
- Interesting post by Mike Chen breaking down the impact of faceoffs: Do faceoffs equal victories.
Chen charts the winners and losers from the faceoff circle in the Semifinals, and notes the faceoff winners compiled an 11-9 overall record. According to Chen, 16 of 20 games were decided by 1-goal.
San Jose led the regular season in faceoff percentage at 55.4%, Chicago came in third at 52.4%. It should be noted that the Sharks had three players in the top-16, Scott Nichol (1st, 60.6%), Joe Pavelski (4th, 58.1%) and Joe Thornton (16th, 53.9%). Converted center Manny Malhotra would have finished first overall in the NHL (62.5%), but his move to wing in the last half of the season did not give him enough eligible draws.
The trend has continued in the playoffs. The Sharks have three centerman in the top-15: Manny Malhotra (2nd, 61.7%), Joe Thornton (9th, 55.7%) and Joe Pavelski (14th, 53.3%). The Blackhawks have two centerman in the top-30: Jonathan Toews (4th, 58.8%) and Patrick Sharp (30th, 48.6%).
San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan noted during the regular season that faceoff wins are key for a puck possession team. In addition to their importance 5-on-5, McLellan also said that each special teams draw won can allow his team to control 15-20 critical seconds of play.
The Sharks did not sit on their success for the playoffs. In late regular season games against Vancouver and Phoenix, it was evident Joe Thornton and Manny Malhotra significantly ramped up their intensity from the faceoff circle. Thornton eyes the opposing centerman’s feet, and chirps at the linesman when they are out of position or when their stick is not on the ice first. His bull rush forward was not as successful against Colorado as it had been in the past, but it sends a message. Malhotra often neutralizes his opponents stick, and controls the puck down low with his body or glove. Pavelski mixes it up but has the most success with sheer speed. Against Calgary in a game that knocked them out of the postseason, the Sharks wingers turned the tide in the faceoff circle. Clowe, Marleau, Heatley, Setoguchi and several others routinely beat Calgary wingers off the draw to help control the puck. It was a very poor effort in a critical game for Calgary.
NHL teams keep extraordinarily detailed faceoff statistics, many of them broken down in situational or location based categories. It is a fascinating element of the game similar to the line of scrimmage in football, even moreso when you train a zoom lens on it and watch it up close. Hopefully the Versus or CBC coverage can train a camera on the faceoff circle, and break down a few of the battles in slow motion for viewers.
- The Hockey News columnist Adam Proteau lists the top Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final opponent for all 30 NHL hockey teams: Dream playoff matchups for each NHL team. Two California mentions stand out.
Anaheim’s ideal CF opponent is listed as Los Angeles (“LA and Anaheim are close geographically”), and their ideal SCF opponent is listed as New Jersey (“the Ducks and Devils share a Cup final appearance in 2003, as well as a (tenuous) connection to Mickey Mouse”). Not sure of the connection, but a Boston or Philly SCF with the Ducks in Burke’s prime would have been entertaining. The Ducks-Sharks post-lockout games from 2005-07 may have been more like rugby than hockey, but it was the best hockey played at HP Pavilion until this postseason. Not sure if the two teams hate each other as much as the fans, but they should. Another playoff round with two healthy lineups might make that happen.
The Sharks ideal CF opponent is listed as Anaheim (“The Sharks and Ducks haven’t met in the playoffs, but they’ve got a nice Pacific Division rivalry going.”). That has now been fixed to represent the 2009 WCQF SJ-ANA series. The ideal SCF opponent is listed as Boston, regarding Joe Thornton facing his old team. Boston is the NHL franchise I followed for 10+ years before San Jose Sharks was given a team. They have followed similar cyclical periods of success and failure in recent seasons. With entertaining players, passionate fans, and one of the most brutal media corps covering the league, a Boston-SJ SCF would be entertaining. NoCal vs Chowder.
- Two fans have sent in corrections for the Sharks playoff history page. Thank you very much for helping me to keep the history accurate. One of the errors was the location of the Sharks game 7 loss at Colorado (not San Jose) in 2002. Peter Forsberg scored the lone goal, and Patrick Roy turned in a 27-save shutout to help Avalanche overcome a 3-2 series deficit to advance to the WCF.
It was the first year the Sharks won a Pacific Division Championship, and it was also the infamous game where Teemu Selanne backhanded a shot across an empty crease. Roy made a diving play to his right and was out of position on Selanne’s wraparound, but the Finnish goal scorer could not tuck it into an empty net.
It was the second time in four years that Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic took over games that ousted the Sharks from the playoffs. A year before the Sharks would get their revenge in the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals, I ran into Peter Forsberg at a bar in Stockholm. Having a few adult beverages with members of a Swedish second division soccer team, one tapped me on the shoulder and said the most famous person in Sweden is behind you. Turned around, and Forsberg was in a semi-VIP area surrounded by a dozen tall blonde women. I went over, shook his hand, offered him a beer and said I was a fan of his play except when he almost singlehandedly knocks the Sharks out of the playoffs. He declined the beer and said, “you came a long way to tell me that.”
- Coyote Ugly – Phoenix Business Journal.
This raises the questions of whether a deal to sell the Coyotes to an owner who will keep the team here ever will get done. There also are questions as to whether Glendale legally can cover the Coyotes losses.
First, the idea of a city government pretty much financing a private business runs into legal issues in Arizona. We have a gift clause here that restricts things, like say, a city government covering the costs/expenses/losses of a professional sports franchise. Glendale will argue the bonding district helps alleviate the gift clause worry. Critics might argue if the district quacks like a subsidy then it is a subsidy.
The situation in Phoenix is almost becoming untenable.
- Took a small poll after the San Jose Sharks eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in game 5 at HP Pavilion. Asked a season ticket holder since the inaugural season in San Francisco in 1991, a team employee since the first year in San Jose in 1993, and San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak if this Sharks series win over Detroit was bigger than the shocking upset in 1994. All three said this was a much bigger win. It helped the Sharks right past playoff failures, it will increase the exposure of the team, and there was more on the line were the reasons given.
Given the Sharks recent postseason missteps it is hard to remember that the series win in 1994 really established an identity for the team in the South Bay and in the Bay Area. At the time, fans who were watching the game in downtown San Jose bars emptied into the streets and thought a Stanley Cup parade was imminent. The Sharks did not have the championship success of the Oakland Raiders, Athletics, or San Francisco 49′ers, but the playoff success they did achieve helped build a winning identity.
It also helped erase memories of a team that struggled to a brutal 11-71-2 record in the Cow Palace one year earlier. The Sharks were second worst on offense (218GF, 23rd of 24 teams), and worst in team defense (414GA, 24th). Other than 7 home wins, 2 of them against the Los Angeles Kings, there was not a lot to cheer for outside of one of the pioneering small local breweries (before microbrews took off) and rooting against Theo Fleury.
I might have to go against the grain, and say the Sharks playoff defeat of the Detroit Red Wings in 1994 was more important to the franchise and the fans. First impressions and team identities are hard to shake, and that win helped set the stage for a solid franchise in the South Bay.
- Note: this blog switched over from Blogger to WordPress hours before the start of the WCSF series due to blogger.com discontinuing FTP publishing support. Also had a few problems with publishing to the server during game 4, which were quickly straightened out. Updated the hockey blogroll and media blogroll on the right, added twitter and contact form pages, and added 24 hockey photo galleries from the 2009-10 season. Everything should be back to normal. Thanks for hanging in there with the blog, and thanks to the handful of fans that have recently contributed to the site via paypal.
[Update] San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan was a guest Tuesday with Ralph Barbieri on KNBR 680AM:
“The fact that the (series win) came against Detroit made it a little more special. Not necessarily for me, I am not the important guy here, for the players. Detroit has been at the pinnacle of the league, a lot of teams try to emulate what they do. Not only on the ice, but in the front office, and the way they scout and develop players. We would like to try to take as much from the Detroit organization, all the good in it, and emulate it, and try to come up with our own formula. I think we are starting to see some of the benefits of doing it that way. Doug Wilson has done a really good job of providing us with a group of players that are prepared to play playoff hockey this year… We just beat a team that has a tremendous amount of world class athletes on it, and I think that is a reflection of the number of world class athletes we have on our team.”
“People expect the unexpected from (Joe Pavelski) now. Scoring two goals a night, scoring the game winner. To have Pavs play the way he did all season, contribute consistently and in all areas, on the penalty kill and the power play, it makes our second line extremely strong. It gives Joe Thornton and his line a little bit of space to breathe. You really have to have that kind of combination going in the playoffs to have any success at all.”
“As coaches we are always asking for more, trying to push them and get more out of them. To be successful, probably in every sport, you need a contribution from everybody. Whether it is a minute or two, or a full 20 a night, players have to leave their mark on the game. Ultimately, whoever wins the Stanley Cup this year, everybody’s name will go on it. They won’t be individuals, they won’t be listed by order of importance or stats… We still need to discover that is the case. It is not about just Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, it is about Thomas Griess playing periods two and three in our blowout loss in Detroit and doing a very admirable job, it is about Helminen coming into the lineup from Worcester, it is about Niclas Wallin coming back and playing injured in game 5. It is about all of those players. What ends up happening in the sporting world and in the media, obviously you talk about the stars, and they impact they do or don’t have. It is always done by a collective group, that is why they put everyone’s name on the trophy.”
In addition to McLellan, captain Rob Blake, broadcasters Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda, several other Sharks have been recent guests. The more calls they get at 808-KNBR and 808-1050, the more they will talk hockey on air.
[Update2] Two interesting but unconfirmed reports: According to a European website (via thescore.com’s Hockey or Die), Sharks defenseman Niclas Wallin has signed a 2-year contract with Lulea of the Swedish Elite League. Also from Pro Hockey Talk at NBC, the Sharks-Blackhawks Western Conference Final series is allegedy scheduled to start Sunday, May 16th at 12PM. This blog has an email out for confirmation.
[Update3] Take it to the bank: Sharks to play noon Sunday and thoughts on how this ended up as game NBC wanted – David Pollak’s Working the Corners blog.