My Two Cents for October 10th
Sharks Swimming Out of the Gate- The San Jose Sharks are once again playing hockey as the 2013-14 season is at long last underway. The Sharks have returned after a 4 ½ month sabbatical with many familiar faces as well as some new faces that are a bridge to the future of this franchise. The household names of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are all back for another go. Andrew Desjardins, Justin Braun, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and others are back to do the heavy lifting for Team Teal. Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns and the newest and youngest Shark Thomas Hertl are here to provide to the fans the future of Sharks hockey. Tuesday night against New York Hertl put on a show that left his teammates and perhaps even the visiting Rangers in awe, not to mention a full house at the Shark Tank. The Sharks have won their first three games and have let their fanbase know that this team is going to show up for work every game and do all they can to win and even entertain along the way. This team has come to play. There is a long way to go certainly as far as this new season is concerned. However the Sharks at least for now have served notice that they are here and ready for the challenges ahead. Head Coach Todd McLellan after the game this past Saturday versus Phoenix said that he actually was not all that satisfied with the teams play so far. This is a good thing because it sends the message that the Sharks can’t rest their laurels after just a handful of games. That is something that past teal teams have been guilty of.
Home Ice Will Be Huge- One of the keys to the Sharks being successful in the 2013-14 campaign will be their ability to protect and defend the Shark Tank. The Sharks want the Shark Tank to be a fun place to visit…that is if you are a fan and paying customer. If you are the opposing team, the Sharks want the visit to be about as much fun as a tax audit or root canal. What was seen in the first three home games against Vancouver, Phoenix and the New York Rangers was the Sharks using their home ice and their crowd to their advantage. The Sharks ultimately want the Shark Tank to be something along the lines of Century Link Field up in Seattle, a place visiting teams just do not to look forward to visiting. Now the reality is that no matter how good a team is, in the NHL you are not going to win or point in every home game. The objective however is to get the most out of your home ice advantage and play at a .750 clip for the season. This means for the Sharks that out of 41 regular season home dates, you want to win at least 30 and point (OTL) in five or six. One of the big reasons the Sharks got as far as they did in last years’ lockout shortened season was because they won 17 of 24 home dates, and out of the seven they did not win they still pointed in five and only lost two in regulation. This record gave the Sharks one of the best home ice regular season marks last year. Also factor in that in five post season home games the Sharks were undefeated, making their overall mark at the Shark Tank 22-2-5.
This is what the Shark Tank needs to be. It needs to be the most intimidating building in the entire NHL. Team Teal will certainly do their part. The fans need to do the same. Having that 6th man in the stands is a huge boost for any home team and the Sharks would definitely feed off of it. This will especially true when the likes of teams like Chicago, St Louis, Anaheim and Los Angeles come calling not to mention Boston, Pittsburgh and Detroit out of the east. The idea is simply to create an atmosphere unlike any other around the NHL. If the fans can create a playoff atmosphere at every home game and the Sharks will certainly feed off of it and do the rest. This was already tested in the last post season versus the Canucks and Kings and it worked. This is what needs to happen every home game.
The New Sharks- Thomas Hertl and Matt Nieto have done nothing but impress early in their Sharks careers. Hertl has lit a fire under the Sharks unlike anyone previous. Hertl in a very short period of time has had a huge impact on this team. At 19, this is a new venture for Hertl and he’s just going out and doing what most players should be doing, having fun with it. Hertl’s first three games in a teal sweater have exceeded the first three games of players such as Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and even Logan Couture with all of having strong NHL careers. Hertl right now has no idea how good he will be as he is several years before his peak. Honestly that is the best thing about it. Hertl may not be able to legally by a beer at the Shark Tank concessions, but he certainly free to light the red lamp as often as he darn well pleases. Hertl with six goals in his first three NHL games has done something that very few others have done especially before their 20th birthday. Obviously it’s way too early to start talk of the Calder Trophy however if Hertl continues to impress as he has thus far there is no way you will be able to keep him out of the conversation.
Matt Nieto meanwhile has quietly been a very effective player for team teal as well. Certainly nobody will expect a four goal game from Nieto, however he is there more to be another go to option for the Sharks and has the speed and quicks to compete. Nieto scored his first NHL goal against the Rangers Tuesday Night, and nifty wrister that beat a diving Henrik Lundqvist and gave the Sharks an edge that they would never come close to relinquishing. Like Hertl, Nieto is another raw and green talent who is learning the ropes of life in the NHL. The good news for Nieto is that he is surrounded by many players who have all the experience in the world to tap from and a coaching staff who understands how to bring along young talent.
Tyler Kennedy who certainly is not a first year player but is new to the Sharks and will bring much to the table. Kennedy has already won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Sharks will look to him for leadership skills as well as a locker room presence.
Penalty Kill Is Another Key- One of the keys for the Sharks to have continued success in the 2013-14 season is their penalty kill units. The Sharks penalty in the season opener versus Vancouver did not get off to a good start as the Canucks were able to score with 34 seconds. Since then, the Sharks Penalty Kill has gone 9 for 10 with the only missed kill being Tuesday night when the Rangers had a five on three man advantage. The Sharks penalty kill for the most part has been not only effective, but also able to wrest the puck away from the opponent and create their own offensive surges. This was best exemplified in Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers when Marc-Edouard Vlasic had a short handed goal while Logan Couture just missed scoring on a short handed chance. Saturday night against Phoenix, Joe Pavelski just missed scoring a goal on a short handed breakaway. These shorthanded chances have become more commonplace for the Sharks as they are more than will to attack the opponents net even with a man down. Sharks goalie Antti Niemi has made saves when need the most as he is always the last line of defense.
Power Play Needs to Improve and it will- In addition to a strong penalty killing unit, the Sharks also have the potential to build up one of the best power play units in the league. A big key to this success for the Sharks is to stop looking for the perfect shot. Most times when teams pre-occupy their power play time looking for that “perfect shot”, nine times out of ten they will never find it. Even if they do, there is no guarantee that the puck is going in the net. If the opposing goalie can see it coming he will certainly catch it. What the Sharks simply need to do is simply their power play and just get pucks towards the net. The more pucks on the net means the more preoccupied the opposing goalie will be. The idea is not only to keep the opponent busy, but also to create and wreak havoc around the net. Many times when teams on the power play are able to capitalize and score, they usually have created a great deal of traffic around the opponents net and often times even crash the net just to get the goalie off of his game. With sharp shooters as Couture, Pavelski, Marleau, Burns, Thornton, now Hertl and Dan Boyle the Sharks have enough fire power to get the job done. It’s just a matter of executing, and not using the two minutes to play “keep away”.
The Sharks in their opener had a five on three that did not work out because they were trying too hard to find the right shot and never came close to it. The Sharks were a statistical 0 for 8 on the power play in their opener. It’s a given that was widely discussed by the coaches and players the next day at practice. Since that five on three mishap, the Sharks have put more pucks on net and are attacking the net in waves. This does not guarantee a goal every time. What it does do is give the opponent and in particular the opposing goalie much more to think about once the Sharks gain the man advantage.
Brad Stuart Suspended- The NHL Wednesday afternoon informed the Sharks that Brad Stuart would receive a three game suspension without pay for his hit Tuesday night on the New York Rangers’ Rick Nash. Stuart was called for elbowing Nash early in first period and received a two minute minor penalty. However after further review Wednesday the NHL did not see it that way. Stuart will be eligible to the ice when the Sharks visit Dallas on October 17th.
Looking Ahead- The Sharks will get several test as three road trips will happen between now and early December of at least four games in length. Where earlier mentioned the objective at home is to play .750 hockey, on the road you are looking to play .500 or better. A strong post season contender generally travels well and can pick up anywhere from 20 to 23 wins on the road out of 41 dates. The Sharks may not be able to take the Shark Tank with them, however they can take their style of play with them. If they do this and it travels well the Sharks will be one of he top teams in the Western Conference this season.
Note For Reader’s My apologies for running a few days late on this column. It wasn’t intentional. There are lots of things going on now that the 2013-14 season has begun. Now that the season has started, “My Two Cents” will appear as it did last year with an in-season schedule. Starting next week “My Two Cents” columns will appear during Sharks two-day breaks in their schedule over the regular season. The new columns will post on the second off day of the Sharks break. When the Sharks play every other day for over a period of more than a week, the new column will appear on Sundays. The next “My Two Cents” will appear October 20th. As always thanks for your patience and thanks again for reading too.
…just my two cents…
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