My Two Cents for Monday, November 4th 2013
Sharks Face A Challenging Month- After one month plus one game into the 2013-14 The San Jose Sharks find themselves right near the top of the Western Conference Standings. The Sharks after 14 games have won 10 while dropping one in regulation and three in either overtime or in a shootout loss. The Sharks as of this writing only trail the second place Colorado Avs by one point in the overall Western Conference Standings. Meanwhile the Sharks are also trail the Anaheim Ducks who are off to an 12-3-1 by two points. The Ducks are a not only beating teams but also are able to dominate teams over the course of entire games. More on the Ducks later. The Phoenix Coyotes, who were able to steal a game at the Shark Tank Saturday night thanks to Mike Smith’s outstanding goal tending are only three points of the Pacific Division lead themselves. In the Western Conference, first place and ninth place are only separated by seven points in the standings. What this all means is that in the Pacific Division and throughout the Western Conference there are a cluster of strong teams and most are off to overall good starts. The strongest overall teams will eventually start to separate themselves from the weaker overall teams at some point. In the Western Conference however keep in mind that most teams at least from your conference leader to the lowest seed will all be fairly strong teams in their own right. The competition will be stiff all season. For teams that are off to bad starts now, this does not bode well as playing catch-up the rest of the season will be quite an exhausting task. The Sharks know that this is a marathon and not a sprint. However though it may be a marathon every point they pick up in the standings will be an important one. The Sharks are fortunate that they have pointed in all but one game, and only missed that one that got away by less than a second.
In the month of November the Sharks are going to have a great many challenges that will put them as a team to the test. The Sharks will be seeing in November the likes of Vancouver twice, take on another five game road trip that will feature a stop in Chicago. The Sharks are also looking at home dates against a Tampa Bay Lightning team that on any given night can light up the scoreboard, the Los Angeles Kings as well as back to back home dates against St Louis and Anaheim at the end of the month. The Sharks will also travel to Calgary and Winnipeg which can be tough on visiting teams. The Sharks will also see the Buffalo Sabers Tuesday night at the Shark Tank as well. Though the Sabers are not having their best of seasons to date (2-13-1), the Sharks have to treat them they same way they would treat either Boston or Detroit, with respect. The Sabers in someways may seem like a gimmie game, however keep in mind they will show up and they will play. They get paid too. There is a good chance they will be loose being 3,000 miles from home and without the local distractions. Playing with house money and with a goalie such as Ryan Miller who can still duel with the best, the Sharks need to approach this game knowing what needs to be done and execute it. The Sharks with the Western Conference potentially being a dog fight all season cannot afford to take games on the schedule from granted. One of the problems they had against the Coyotes Saturday was letting down their guard just long enough. This led to the Coyotes first goal just barely 30 seconds into the game. In this division and this conference if you let your guard down even for only a moment that maybe all it takes to get beaten.
This said do not read too much into the results of the OTL’s because in the old NHL those were tie games, and the Sharks have been competitive in all 14 of their games so far this season. When you look at the regulation loss in Boston and the three overtime or shootout losses, the Sharks had enough opportunities in those games to be in a position to win them. Team Teal either did not get the right bounce or in some instances were just plain unlucky. In a shootout you are betting an extra point in the standings on a skills competition which is basically a complete crap-shoot. That’s Gary Bettman’s NHL. The Sharks as with any other NHL team would much rather have two points in the standings at the end of the night than just one. At the same time one point certainly beats none at all. Another thing to keep in mind that out of the 10 wins the Sharks have, nine of them fall into the “ROW” category. “ROW” is wins in regulation and overtime, not counting shootout wins. The idea here is to keep teams from benefiting too much from their ability to win a tie-breaking skills competition at the end. This is an important stat. Last season, in their last season as a Western Conference team the Columbus Blue Jackets lost an eighth seed tie breaker to the Minnesota Wild based on the ROW statistic. This is not to say winning the shootout isn’t important, but if you fall into a late season tie breaker you really want to avoid the game going to the shootout round if possible.
Dan Boyle Is Back- One of the best things about the Sharks game against the Coyotes despite the end result was the return of Dan Boyle to the Sharks line up. Boyle missed seven games after being knocked out by Maxim Lapierre in St Louis on October 15th. Boyle made an appearance in the Sharks broadcast booth with Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda while the team was in Montreal last week and appeared to be okay and stated that he was very anxious to get back on the ice. Boyle Saturday night scored a goal and had over 22 minutes of time on the ice. Though the Sharks managed well enough while he was out, his absence especially when it came to the power play was quite noticeable. After the game Boyle showed no ill effects and should be a go from here on out baring any other injury. It was truly great to see Boyle back on the ice. At the same time, it is just frustrating that the head of player safety Brendon Shanahan somehow did not see the hit that landed Boyle on the injured list was nothing more than a five game “slap on the wrist.” to a player like Lapierre who has a history of injuring opposing players.
Martin Havlat’s Return- This past Wednesday night in Los Angeles, Martin Havlat made his long awaited return to the Sharks line up after an injury last spring that required surgery which kept him of the ice rink until this fall. Havlat has played with limited time on ice as the Sharks are trying to bring him up to speed. Havlat, who unfortunately has had his Sharks career plagued with injuries has to his credit worked very hard to get back into the Sharks line-up. However the Sharks need to handle Havlat with kid gloves as they also know that another injury to Havlat could be another major set back for him as well as the rest of the team. Obviously the hope here is that he can avoid the injury bug and make significant contributions for Team Teal as they can no doubt use them. The Sharks would be wise to use Havlat in limited roles just so they can be certain that he can be there for them later when it really matters.
Hertl NHL Rookie of the Month- In news that actually may not be a surprise to some Sharks rookie center Tomas Hertl was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month. In his first 13 NHL games Hertl had 8 goals for the Month of October. Four of those eight goals came in one game October 8th against the New York Rangers at the Shark Tank. Hertl, who turns 20 later this month has brought a youthful energy with him that has made him an instant phenom amongst the Sharks fan base and seemingly has also lit a fire under Team Teal as well. It may be very early in the season to talk about the Calder Trophy. If Hertl however continues to contribute at even half of the pace that he did in October, it will be very hard to keep him out of the discussion. Hertl, along with Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Matt Nieto and other younger players have shown that the Sharks future may very well be in good hands afterall once the stalwarts on the current team call it a career (though that really is still at least a year away or more).
Colorado Avs are for Real- There is a new hockey buzz in the Denver area as the Colorado Avalanche are off to a 12-1-0 start. In between their one regulation loss to Detroit, the Avs have strung together two six game winning streaks that have been very impressive. The Avs are 6-0-0 on the road and on the season have outscored their opponents 42-19 through 13 games. It remains the be seen where the Avs can take this. However the Avs have grown a lot of the last couple of seasons are have assembled some of the best young talent in the league. Head Coach Patrick Roy deserves much of the credit as he has turned this team into a group of players that will go through a wall for him. Matt Duchene, Paul Stasny and team captain Gabriel Landeskog are the team leaders in scoring and have seen other team members rally around them and make huge contributions. Colorado will be a serious player in the Western Conference all season long. With most of the players on the team averaging 24 years of age or less the Avs could become a team that is built to last.
Ducks On a Mission Again- Another team that will be a bona fide Cup threat this season are the Anaheim Ducks. Seven years removed from the 2006-07 season where they basically owned the league on the way to maybe one of the easiest Cup wins in NHL history, the Ducks are now completely rebuilt and just like Colorado will be a force in the Western Conference all season long. The Ducks just completed a 5-2-1 road swing and as of Monday night are leading the Western Conference overall (25 points, Colorado 24, the Sharks 23). This could be more than a team that’s motivated by Teemu Selanne’s final season. The Ducks have few if any flaws in their line up. At home the Ducks are undefeated and so far have routinely blown teams out at the Honda Center. Yes, it is early in the season however it would be foolish to ignore this team. There is a lot of focus on the LA Kings today and rightfully so, however as a cautionary tale it would be wise to pay attention to the Orange County crew as well. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are off to strong starts while former Shark farm hand Nick Bonino is off to his best start as a professional. Mathieu Perreault, Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Palmieri, Jakob Silfverberg (who came over from Ottawa in the Bobby Ryan trade) have all made major contributions for the arch rival Ducks. The return of Dustin Penner along with Selanne’s contributions haven’t hurt them either. The bottom line with the Ducks is that they know they are good and are a strong Cup contender. They can dominate entire games from start to finish just like the 2006-07 did. The rest of the Western Conference needs to make a note of this and pay attention to this team. Saying the Ducks are for real is an understatement.
Wild Night in Philly- Last Friday night in Philadelphia with the Flyers on the wrong end of a 7-0 thrashing to the Washington Capitals things got a little crazy. After Washington’s Joel Ward scored his third goal of the evening just over five minutes into the third period, all hell would soon break loose. The Flyers Wayne Simmons decided he had enough and was going to bowl over anyone who got in his way. Simmons and the Capitals Tom Wilson got into a fight and before too long most everyone on the ice was fighting someone. Flyers goalie Ray Emery had skated across the ice as he was looking to take on the opposing goalie Braden Holtby for some reason. Holtby declined Emery’s invite to dance, but that did not stop Emery. The Flyers goalie grabbed Holtby sweater despite the referee’s best efforts to keep the two apart. From there Emery just took Holtby off to the side and started to pound him mercilessly. What was surprising was that nobody from the Capitals ran to Holtby’s aide for almost a full minute. All and all at the 5:31 mark of the final period both teams were assessed a total of 114 penalty minutes (almost two hours worth of penalty time). Sometimes what can happen in blow out games is the team that is getting beat reaches a boiling point where they decide that they have had enough, realizing they have no chance for a win. Much frustration leads up to this and by the time the Flyers were down seven goals it was time to do something else. If you can’t win the game at least send a message and win the fight. However the fight had more immediate consequences for the Flyers than it did the Capitals. Vincent Lecavalier left the game with a facial contusion and is day to day. Emery was ejected from the game for instigating the fight with Holtby who really wanted nothing to do with it. Meanwhile forward Steve Downie who just came over in a trade from Colorado the day before was also injured in a separate fight in the second period and is out indefinitely. All in all just another Friday night in Philadelphia. Let’s go get some cheese steaks (really, I can use one right about now too)…
…just my two cents…
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