Shark Notes – April 27th

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment


San Jose Sharks will face the Detroit Red Wings in the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Semifinals
SAN JOSE WILL FACE DETROIT FOR 2ND STRAIGHT POSTSEASON IN 2011 WCSF

SAN JOSE SHARKS VS DETROIT RED WINGS
2011 WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINAL BROADCAST SCHEDULE

Game 1: Friday, April 29 – Detroit at San Jose, 7PM, CSNCA/TSN/FSD
Game 2: Sunday, May 1 – Detroit at San Jose, 12PM, NBC/TSN
Game 3: Wednesday, May 4 – San Jose at Detroit, 5PM, CSNCA/TSN/FSD
Game 4: Friday, May 6- San Jose at Detroit, 4PM, VERSUS/TSN
Game 5: Sunday, May 8 – Detroit at San Jose, 5PM, VERSUS/TSN
Game 6: Tuesday, May 10 – San Jose at Detroit, CSNCA/TSN/FSD
Game 7: Thursday, May 12 – Detroit at San Jose, CSNCA/TSN/FSD

*if necessary. All times PST.

- The San Jose Sharks may have won the opening round playoff war against Pacific Division rival Los Angeles, but they lost the first round celebrity battle by a wide margin. In addition to the Late Show monologue on CBS by talkshow host Craig Ferguson at the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL’s all-time goal scoring, assist, and point leader Wayne Gretzky was rinkside for the deciding game 6. Fox Sports West’s Hiedi Androl asked #99 what it would take to make the Kings successful in the oversaturated entertainment capital of Los Angeles. “Winning makes a team in LA successful,” Gretzky said. Los Angeles battled back from three 1-goal deficits, but they could not capitalize on a 5-minute power play that stretched into overtime and were eliminated 4-2 in game 6 Monday night.

After a 7-year playoff drought, the Kings have made the postseason in back-to-back years earning 92 wins and 199 points in that span. Without their leading offensive weapon Anze Kopitar, they leaned heavily on young talent and pushed the second best team in the NHL to the brink. There were other celebrities that came out to watch the WCQF. David and Victoria Beckham came out for game 4 in LA. Cuba Gooding Jr., Will Ferrell, Kevin Connolly, and Taylor Kitsch among others came out for game 3. More than the celebrity appearances, a divergent fan base with feet in a number of different pools all peaked for the playoffs.

After being trolled by San Jose Mercury News opinion columnist Mark Purdy, southern California hockey fans inside the Staples Center acquitted themselves well during the series. Prodded along by former Cow Palace and San Jose Arena organist Dieter Ruehle (also the NHL 94, 95 and 96 keyboardist), the wild momentum swings on the ice were complimented by an exceptional playoff atmosphere. There were several rounds of “Sharks suck” chants that would not have been out of place on Long Island. The long procession of fans headed to a normally vacated downtown at night for playoff games was inspiring to many jaded post-Gretzky era followers. It could be a sign of better things on the horizon.

- In end of season exit interviews, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi took an objective talent level assessment with regards to his team and San Jose. From MayorsManor.com: “The personnel side, the coaching side, the players side – we all have to look at ourselves. So, when you see San Jose enter in the zone with possession all the time, there’s a level of skill there – that I have to help them get on the rink,” Lombardi said.

The Kings famously missed out on the arms race for free agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk this offseason. After a 17-year, $102 million contract was rejected by the NHL, Kovalchuk signed a 15-year, $100 million deal to remain with the New Jersey Devils and promptly record near career lows in goals (31), points (60) and +/- (-26). In late February the Kings put Marco Sturm on waivers where he was picked up in a depth move by the Washington Capitals. Sturm finished the regular season with a goal and 4 assists in his last 6 games. Almost a month after the Sturm transaction, leading scorer Anze Kopitar and second leading scorer Justin Williams both went down with injuries. Lombardi paid a steep price for deadline pickup Dustin Penner (Colten Teubert, 1st 2011, 2nd 2012), but Penner alone was not enough in the playoffs. He was demoted to a makeshift 4th line in game 6 with Jarret Stoll and enforcer Kevin Westgarth. More front line talent needs to be added in the offseason. Forward prospects Brayden Schenn, Andrei Loktionov, Tyler Toffoli all have the skill to be impact players, but their talent will be staggered additions into the lineup long term.

- After Joe Thornton sparked a wild team celebration with his game winner in OT, there was a non-controversy controversy regarding the handshake line and twitter responses from players after the game. Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray shook hands with the Sharks coaching staff after the series loss, but Murray did not join assistant coaches John Stevens or Jamie Kompon in the handshake line to shake the hands of Sharks players. Sharks forward Devin Setoguchi asked via twitter why Terry Murray did not join the handshake line. “Too bad Murray didn’t have class to shake hands like players (who bled) and asst coaches,” Jamal Mayers also said on twitter.

In a response on Tuesday to Darren Dreger, Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray said his intention was to compliment the players through the media. “It has always been about the players, my opportunity to complement the opponent is through the media which I did several times in the series,” Murray told Dreger. “Last night I said that they were good enough to win four series in this year’s playoffs. That’s high praise coming from me.” Dreger quickly moved on to the twitter responses by Setoguchi and Mayers, and asked if they had crossed the line. Today, Devin Setoguchi told David Pollak of the Mercury News that he regretted asking a legitimate question, but Mayers stood firm with his criticism. “I think that you have to be responsible in what you say and you have to be prepared to back whatever you do say… It was meant as a question,” Mayers said.

Respected TSN analyst Bob McKenzie noted Tuesday that many NHL coaches do not take part in the handshake line tradition. “Some do shake but say no obligation,” McKenzie noted via twitter. In a subsequent tweet to Sharks rookie Logan Couture, McKenzie also wrote that many coaches belived it was a player only ritual. “Tortorella didn’t, Carlyle didn’t. Lots do. Lots don’t,” McKenzie said of coaches participation. A night earlier after being eliminated, Anaheim Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle congratulated the Nashville coaching staff and left the ice.

The entire NHL is going through a transition, the San Jose Sharks have been ahead of the curve and adjusted to changes better than most. Mistakes will be made, but this was not one of those times. Crossing the line in this instance would be limiting the players ability to express themselves and interact with fans if they chose to do so. It would be a departure from several of the fundamental post-lockout changes that lead to the NHL’s current grassroots popularity and support.

With regards to Terry Murray choosing not to shake hands with players, even if it was not a public or personal obligation, it should have been done. Murray had made pointed criticisms towards individual Sharks players during the series, notabley Jason Demers and Dany Heatley. A look in the eye and a handshake means the players and teams can move forward. When you meet 2 or 3 times in the pre-season, 6 times in divisional play, and 6 times in the postseason, the next game is always around the corner. Things can build quickly. The Los Angeles Kings also developed the top youth hockey development system in the state, followed closely by the San Jose Jr Sharks system. What happens on NHL ice sometimes flows pretty quickly to youth hockey rinks. Respect for the opponent, and respect for the game are core principals a lot of younger hockey players are taught. That is embodied by the handshake line between players and coaching staffs that just slugged it out through a bitter playoff series.

“I think that’s what our sport is all about. It looks like we’re battling for every inch and we are, but at the end of day, it’s about how much respect you have for your opponent and how hard they battled,” center Scott Nichol told SJsharks.com of the longstanding NHL tradition. Nichol, and his play against Kings defeneman Drew Doughty and Matt Greene, was cited by Murray as the reason the Sharks game 4. “It’s great to look the guys in the eye and shake their hand and they tell you good luck and keep going. You tell them how great the series was and that it could have gone either way. That’s what’s so special about our sport,” Nichol said.

- In pre SJ-LA mainstream media prognostications, 8 of 8 ESPN analysts correctly predicted the Sharks over LA. TSN’s Ray Ferraro predicted that the Sharks would take advantage of their underground second half campaign, and build on the experience they had going to the Western Conference Finals a year earlier. “Nobody has really spoken about the Sharks… this is a very confident, very healthy team heading into the playoffs.” Last year the Sharks top two right wings were hobbled by injuries, Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. Two years earlier Patrick Marleau remained on the ice despite looking about 60% after suffering the first knee injury of his career. Every team deals with injuries in the post season, but the fact that a lot of media assessments were made about all three players without acknowledging the stark difference in their performance was unsettling. Ferraro noted the Sharks achilles heel as being the defense’s ability to move the puck. They are “Dan Boyle and a lot of other guys”, Ferraro said.

“The other guys” made an impact in the first round. Above and beyond his 2 goals and assist in the series, second year defenseman Jason Demers made an impact literally and figuratively. He registered 12 hits in the series, and nearly earned a suspension for a high elbow on Ryan Smyth. Demers ability to line up players for open ice checks has been fairly consistent, but this year his decision making has improved in all areas. A result was a complete defenseman registering 20 minutes of ice time throughout the series, an increase over his 11:10 average last year when he was an offensive and power play specialist in the postseason. The loss of Ian White in game 2 after a head shot was a critical one. On a second unit with Niclas Wallin, White was able to keep the pressure up when Boyle was off the ice. He gets a heavy point shot on net almost at will. The underrated part of the Sharks this second half may just be the defense.

The host of the Versus playoff preview special, Liam McHugh, noted that the Sharks have been a top two seed in 4 of its last 7 straight playoff appearances. Not noted, in each of those seasons the Sharks won a Pacific Division title. Former Sharks forward Jeremy Roenick added that the pressure is “absolutely not” off of San Jose. “This team is so heavily, heavily stacked up front, my only concern is on the defensive end,” Roenick said. He said the Presidents Trophy campaign of Vancouver took a few eyes off the Sharks, but that the pressure is a constant. “In that locker room, I was in there 2 years ago, I can’t even imagine the pressure that is going on in that locker room right now with the team that they have, and as well as they played in the second half.”

One of the reasons for the Sharks success in the second half and in the postseason is that they have played more for each other than trying to satisfy any expectations or outside pressure. “They are no longer the team to beat, but the team most likely to beat Vancouver,” Keith Jones said. In a subsequent Hockey Central broadcast later in the series, they pointed to Joe Thornton’s career statistics after a split on home ice: +135 in 995 NHL regular season games, -23 in 96 NHL playoff games. Thornton’s offensive production was down almost 20 points from a year earlier in the regular season. A sign of the change in his game, he finished leading the NHL in takeaways with 114, 21 more than next best player Jonathan Toews. In the first round playoff series against Los Angeles, Thornton registered 2 game winning goals, including the series clincher in game 6, 3 assists, 7 blocked shots and 11 shots on goal. Thornton was a matchup problem for a strong Kings defense, and his aggressive and consistent backcheck set the tone for the entire bench.

- NHL’s long-term business plan pays off, Media rights fee nearly triples in new deal with NBC, Versus – Sports Business Daily.

Though the two are friends, Bettman had a tough message to deliver: Days earlier, ESPN told the league that it would make an aggressive bid on the NHL’s media package. Bettman told Roberts that ESPN’s planned bid of $160 million to $170 million per year would test NBC’s and Versus’ right-to-match clause, which several media executives described as the tightest such clause they had ever seen. The clause gave NBC the right to match any deal the NHL signed with another network.

The NBC Sports Group came back with an offer the league eventually accepted, $187 million per year over 10 years. The Stanley Cup Finals would get broadcast channel placement. There would be a new Thanksgiving holiday game to supplement the Winter Classic and Hertiage Classics. 100 games would be aired, up from 60 according to SBJ’s John Ourand, on NBC, Versus and at least one other national cable channel. The NHL still has it’s international broadcast rights available for sale. It is an enormous step forward for the league.

The new deal may result in an additional $3-4M per year according to St. Louis reporter Andy Strickland. $7M a year for national broadcast rights is less than what STL receives from FSN Midwest, but it could help a team already maxed out on attendance with the 6th lowest payroll in place for 2011-12. For the San Jose Sharks, it will be an additional boost for the franchise after the March 11th sale of Strikeforce to UFC parent company Zuffa LLC. The Sharks parent company, Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, sold its 50% stake in the second largest mixed martial arts promotion for an undisclosed sum.

- NHL playoffs could have their own madness next year – Bruce Dowbiggin for the Globe and Mail.

With double overtimes and improbable comebacks, the 2011 playoffs have staggered a lot of people. Usual Suspects has learned that, if the NHL has its way, the 2012 playoffs may be staggered. With the new U.S. broadcast contract allowing NBC and partner Comcast exclusivity over the playoffs, the league wants to take a page from NCAA March Madness and stagger the start times of the games so they don’t all go to intermission at the same time.

- The San Jose Sharks learned who their second round opponent would be after the Vancouver Canucks bounced the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night in overtime. San Jose will face a rested Detroit Red Wings squad for the fouth time in franchise history. The Sharks have a 2-2 record against Detroit, with 4-3 and 4-1 series wins in 1994 and 2010, and 4-0 and 4-2 series losses in 1995 and 2007. The Red Wings enter the second round after a 4-0 sweep of Phoenix. The Sharks finished with a 3-1 regular season record against Detroit, outscoring them 15-11 in the process.

A couple of playoff statables: The Sharks and Wings each have two players in the top 10 for faceoffs taken in the playoffs: 2nd – Joe Thornton (70-39, 64.2%, 8-4PP), 4th – Justin Abdelkader (33-21, 61.1%), 6th – Joe Pavelski (53-39, 57.6%, 9-5PP, 6-4SH), 8th – Pavel Datsyuk (43-33, 56.6%, 9-4PP). Both teams use a number of set plays on the faceoff, which increase significantly on special teams.

Pavel Datsyuk earned a nomination for the Selke Trophy Wednesday along with Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews. If he wins the award June 22th in Las Vegas, it would be the fourth consecutive year he was honored as the top defensive forward in the game. This is the first of the 4 years Sharkspage would not give him the vote. An injury limited season (56 games played), and increased special teams roles for Kesler and Toews would give one of them the nod. The Red Wings lost Johan Franzen for game 4 with a reported lower body injury, and center Henrik Zetterberg missed the entire first round with a sprained left knee. Both are expected back for the second round.

Up front, it should be a little bit of a mirror image between the Sharks-LA series. The Red Wings will role 4 forward lines with more experience and more speed than Los Angeles, but the Sharks will have the talent edge rolling 3 scoring lines firing on all cylinders. If Todd McLellan can get useable minutes from a fourth line of Scott Nichol, Jamal Mayers, Ben Eager and Jamie McGinn, it can be a factor late in games or late in the series. All 4 forwards earned undisciplined penalties in the first round. Getting the puck deep, keeping proper position between the opponent and the crease has to be see as a successful shift from them. Goals will come from the top 3 lines. Any message that needs to be sent will be on the scoreboard. In their defense, Nichol missed 20 games at the end of the season while the top 3 lines had plenty of opportunity to gel. The fourth line will only get better the more they play together.

In goal, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (4-0, 2.50GAA, .920SV%) has the playoff edge in 2011 over Antti Niemi (3-2, 4GAA, .860SV%) and Antero Niittymaki (1-0, 0.66GAA, .970SV%), but Howard cracked in the 2010 WCQF series against San Jose. After a couple of technical mistakes, he questioned and second guessed himself until it snowballed. If Niemi can build on a game 6 clinching win in LA and regain his regular season form (35-18-6, 2.38GAA, .920SV%), he will make the difference in the series. He has been pulled twice so far. The Sharks need strong forward and defensive support to set the tone early. On defense, both teams are similar with puck moving and defensive elements on all three units. Veterans Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski have a game breaking edge over Dan Boyle and Ian White, but it will not be for a lack of effort. On the contrary, if the Sharks defense takes what is given more than trying to press and create, they will be more successful. Detroit and San Jose will both test defenses with a battle for net front position.

According to Yahoo, for the first time in recorded history (or 12 years), a defenseman other than Lidstrom leads the team in ice time. That would be Niklas Kronwall. Playoff time on ice leaders for SJ: Dan Boyle 27:10, Joe Thornton 21:41, Marc-Edouard Vlasic 21:26, Patrick Marleau 21:06, Joe Pavelski 20:06, Douglas Murray 20:01, Jason Demers 20:00 (11:10 avg last year).

- SB Nation Copper and Blue blogger Derek Zona tracked scoring chances throughout the Sharks vs Los Angeles playoff series. An index of his results is available here.

SAN JOSE SHARKS-LOS ANGELES KINGS SCORING CHANCES
(EV, PP, 5-ON-3 PP, 5-on-3 SH, NOT 4-on-4)
Game1: 24-15
Game2: 9-9
Game3: 22-8
Game4: 15-20
Game5: 23-8
Game6: 17-14

Total: 110-74

SJ-LA POWER PLAY SCORING CHANCES
Game1: 2-2
Game2: 5-2
Game3: 4-1
Game4: 4-3
Game5: 5-0
Game6: 2-8

Total: 22-16

- San Jose Sharks EVP/GM Doug Wilson was interviewed by KNBR’s Rob Brooks today (sans Fitz). An mp3 of the interview is available here. Wilson discussed Joe Thornton’s series winning goal, a team first attitude, the fact that both teams are very familiar with each other, and special teams among other topics.

Joe is so respected within the game. He is one of the great players within the game. Our players look up to him and do have that respect. I think Joe, a lot of the emotions were coming off killing a 5 minute major and winning the game. Joe is a guy that is a team first guy. He was playing his best hockey, all 3 zone hockey, in that game. I think he was 12-5 on winning faceoffs, winning battles. That is what he has done this year. The coaching staff believes in him immensly. He would have been just as happy if Logan Couture or Devin Setogchi scored that goal. That was a team first celebration. Overcoming a challenge just prior to that on the PK.

We do (both teams know a lot about each other). Playoff history last year, and the games this year. Our players know about their team. Our coaches know a lot about their team, and vice versa. I think as always it will be played out on the ice. I think as always our team will be looking forward to the challenge that is ahead of them. I think we have played well as a team. We have 7 guys that have scored over 20 goals, and 5 guys that are 60 points plus. I think we have got more depth, but it will be a heck of a series with two very good hockey teams.

Just like goaltender, (special teams) is about making the right save at the right time. A big power play goal is as much the right goal at the right time, taking advantage of your opportunity. Penalty killing, which we weren’t pleased with most of the season this year, they came up big when it mattered (in the playoffs). Particularly in the last game. And our power play was top 2 in the league. We know what our capabilities are. Now it is just being efficient and executing up to the levels we expect.

- Speaking of late night comedians, the third episode of Norm MacDonald’s new Sports Show featured the youtube highlight reel goal by Bobby Ryan against the Nashville Predators. Ryan deked it between the legs of Predators forward David Legwand. Deked it in the other direction, then made a hard move to backhand a shot under the crossbar. Nashville defenseman Shea Weber and goaltender Pekke Rinne were stunned. “Oh for crying outside, that is some crazy stuff,” MacDonald said of the play. MacDonald’s new show is a continuation of the savage comedy he used to lay waste to ESPN’s 1998 ESPY awards. The ESPY’s have never been the same, or watchable, since.

[Update] Jamie Samuelsen’s blog: Wings’ series with Sharks won’t be the same as last year – Jamie Samuelsen for the Detroit Free Press.

[Update2] Eulogy: Remembering the 2010-11 Los Angeles Kings – Yahoo Puck Daddy.

[Update3] Hungry Red Wings out for revenge against tough Sharks – Detroit News.

[Update4] Boylen: Too much whining and why Cory Schneider was still the right call – Rory Boylen for The Hockey News.

But we should hear something about it because the Sharks displayed why series are decided by teams and not referees. Despite being put in a hole late in the game, the Sharks fought through the penalty kill and managed to win it themselves in overtime. It’s good to see a team put up a fight like that to win a series – especially one that has failed in the playoffs so many times before. Winning like that is always better than winning off a power play goal. Remember, it isn’t the referee’s fault your team lost. Everyone has calls go against them at some point, but what separates the contenders from the pretenders is their ability to overcome.

The 5-minute major late in an elimination game tied 3-to-3 was not the only bad call, and not the only borderline call for each team. The Jason Demers (interference) and Drew Doughty (high sticking) calls could have gone either way. The second period high sticking double minor on Joe Thornton was a different story. Kings forward Wayne Simmonds lifted Thornton’s stick until the blade hit Brad Richardson in the face. Getting the call right has to be a priority for officiating in the playoffs. Bottom line.

A different result was referees Tim Peel and Marc Joanette Saturday game 5 in San Jose, won by the Los Angeles Kings 3-1. The Sharks put a whithering offensive attack on net registering 52 shots on goal, 14 missed shots on goal, and 23 shots that were recorded as blocked (89 total). San Jose drove the net hard, and the Los Angeles defense regularly put players down. There were nearly a dozen checks to the ice, or hooked players to the ice in front of the Kings net in the third period alone. No calls until Matt Greene progressively escalated the intensity of his checks and he crossed the line, twice. The officials were consistent in what was and was not allowed, and all of the players on the ice understood it except for Matt Greene.

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