My Two Cents for November 25th, 2013
At Quarter Mark Sharks Holding Steady- As strange as this may sound the San Jose Sharks have already completed just over one fourth of their regular season schedule. Though 23 games they are holding steady with a 15-3-5 mark good enough for a third place tie in the overall Western Conference Standings. After a hot October the Sharks have comeback to earth a little in November having at one stretch a winless streak that stretched out to five games. In those five games, four of them ended either in an overtime or shootout loss. Now, four points out of 10 possible certainly does not sound like a great accomplishment. However consider what if they were no points picked up in that five game stretch. Those four points could determine playoff seeding. As we have all seen in past seasons sometimes one to four points in the standings can determine who gets in to the post season and who does not. It may be very early to talk about the post season right now but do keep in mind as the season moves along those four points could be a factor perhaps much later in the season. Also consider the Sharks only have three regulation losses on their first 23 games as well. One of those three regulation losses happened literary at the last possible split second of a game in Boston. Only St Louis can match the Sharks in regulation losses so far this season. Chicago has only four regulation losses. In the east the lowest total of regulation losses is six (Boston). The other two losses to Vancouver at home and the Blackhawks in Chicago Sunday were those teams catching the Sharks at the right time as Team Teal certainly did not play their best hockey in either game. When it comes right down to it the Sharks have had some off nights but still managed at least a point. The two other games mentioned here were more or less nights where nothing went right for Team Teal. In an 82 game schedule you have to expect probably at least four or five games that are going to be bad ones. The best clubs will have them, then once they are done go about their business and get ready for the next game.
This is not to say the Sharks will only lose 12 games in regulation this year. The Sharks will be fine and just need to stay the course. There are going to be those games where they don’t have it. Even the best teams will have that game come along at some point. The Sharks need to continue to work and focus as the season goes along. If after 42 games Team Teal has amassed 26 wins then you know this team will be a formidable team all season long. One of the things though that the Sharks need to work on is to not look at the schedule and see one team that is not playing well coming up, then after that a major divisional foe. As the Sharks learned against the Buffalo Sabres almost three weeks ago is that any team that laces up the skates can play with any other team regardless of their record and on any given night compete. Setting aside the overtime goal/no goal controversy, this game hopefully served as a lesson learned more than anything else. With the Western Conference shaping up to be a race to where 95 or more points will most likely be required to make the post season, the Sharks will not be a team lacking in the motivation necessary to get the job done.
In the Midst of a Big Homestand- The Sharks currently are on a five game home stand where through the first two games they have come away with impressive wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New Jersey Devils. The Sharks will get a three day break starting Sunday before their next game and they will need it. When the Sharks return to the Shark Tank on Wednesday it will be the start of possibly the most challenging four day stretch they will have all season. The Los Angeles Kings who are the latest to become a huge teal nemeses make their first appearance in San Jose. The Kings have let the Sharks know under no uncertain terms how they have surpassed Team Teal and left them in their rear view mirror. All of this, and yet the Sharks still seem to have their number at the Shark Tank (it’s just the Staples Center that seems to be the problem). After the Kings game the Sharks will get Thanksgiving Day off though they may want to hold off on the turkey until next Sunday. On Friday afternoon (not evening) the Sharks will be hosting the St Louis Blues and the long awaited visit from Maxime Lapierre, who is not only Public Enemy #1 but also apparently one of Brendan Shanahan’s favorite players as well. The Sharks may be tempted to think about payback here and they certainly would be justified. However it may be best that the Sharks consider “Time and Place”. If Lapierre decides to start something, then take care of it. Otherwise just let Section 209 remind him of what a jerk he is and take care of the business of winning the game. Besides, with Anaheim coming in the next night the Sharks will need to spend their energy here very wisely.
As for the arch rival Ducks, the Sharks will need to get a good night’s sleep as the Ducks have reclaimed their status as a bona fide NHL powerhouse once again. The Ducks simply put can “bring it” any time, any place, any where. The are a bona fide Stanley Cup contender and when they are on the schedule for the day it is all hands on deck. If you don’t play 60 minutes against this team, they can bury you very quickly, easily and decisively. There are teams that though they may not admit it want no part of this team if they make the post season. To put it in perspective, it the Sharks had played the Ducks on the night they just were flat against Vancouver on November 7th, it would not have been 4-2, it would have been somewhere around 9-3. If the Sharks already know and have respect for this, they will be able to compete against the Ducks. The point here is simply that the Sharks even after two tough games against the Kings and Blues have no margin for error. That is what will make the next three games a true test. The good news is that the Sharks play all three of these games at home. The Ducks by the way also have a Friday afternoon game at home against the Flames, so it’s Anaheim that has to get on the plane for this one (albeit it’s only a 50 minute flight). If the Sharks somehow come out on top on all three games regardless of how they do it, this will be nothing short of a huge boost in the confidence level of Team Teal going into December.
Havlat’s Return- In many ways it’s good to see Martin Havlat return to the line-up as he has come back from pelvic surgery which in itself is remarkable. Though Havlat may never be in the same shape or form he was when he was 21, he has gone out and at least owned up to his end of the bargain and has played an important role for Team Teal on this ice. The Sharks have allowed Havlat as much time as needed to get reaclimated with the team and the pace of the game. In ten games played so far, Havlat has a goal and two assist which includes one Saturday Night in the Sharks win over New Jersey. At this point realistically, there is no way Havlat can humanly live up to his contract and at this point that can no longer be the expectation. Other teams know this as well which makes him un-tradable unless that Sharks are willing to eat the contract which would not be a fiscally sound move. The Sharks just need to be judicious on how the use Havlat as he has a history of injuries that have kept him away from the ice for several games at a time. At the same time Havlat’s experience as a player and knowledge of the game is a strong asset to have and the Sharks would be wise to use that to it’s fullest advantage.
Never Winging It- One player who has flown almost totally under the radar for the Sharks has been Tommy Wingels. In 23 games Wingels has made some very strong contributions for Team Teal which include seven goals and nine assists. Wingels has come a long way and has worked his way into the fabric of the team to where he is every bit as important as Joe Pavelski or Logan Couture. What makes Wingels a key player in the Sharks line-up is that he is not afraid to get out there and grind, and works for every loose puck he can get to. This past Thursday night against Tampa Bay he had his first ever two goal game in the NHL. When you watch him play your are seeing someone who leads by example as he never takes a shift off and always goes with 110 percent effort. Wingels is a combination of speed and determination to go with a goal scoring touch. Wingels in summary has become an asset that the Sharks cannot be without.
Stalock Impressive- Alex Stalock has started three games in goal spelling Antti Niemi this season when the Sharks top goalie has needed a breather. So far Stalock has impressed and has seemed to embrace the opportunity he has been given. Stalock has won all three of his starts and has a save percentage of 95%. Even in a game where the Sharks had a bad night at home against Vancouver over two weeks ago, Stalock came into the game in relief of Niemi and held the fort by not giving up a goal in 21 shots by the Canucks. The fact that Stalock was able to perform as he did in that game in that situation speaks a lot about him as a goalie as he passed not only a gut check but a character test too. The Sharks made a very wise move when they decided to go with Stalock as their backup this season. No disrespect to former goalie Shark Thomas Greiss, it just seems that Stalock is a lot more steadier and more self assured. Stalock is just a few seasons removed from an injury which could have ended his career too. Considering how far he has come from that is no small feat. The nice thing about having a goalie such as Stalock in the fold is that he can spot start at anytime and he is always ready and willing to go. That’s exactly what a team needs in a back-up.
Hertl for Calder Campaign- Thomas Hertl at the age of 20 year olds has probably accomplished a lot more than most of us have when we were 20. Just 23 games into his first NHL campaign Hertl has 12 goals to lead the team (Patrick Marleau is second with 11). Hertl also has six assists as well. The good thing about a player such as Hertl is that the Sharks as a team seem to feed well off of his energy. A lot of the reason the Sharks did so well in October was that Hertl was on fire coming out of the gates and the rest of the team picked up on his energy, challenging each other to match his intensity. Hertl is still a very green player at this point of his career but so far has a great handle of the game at the NHL level. It remains to be seen how the rest of the season plays out for Hertl and the Sharks however if he can keep playing at a strong clip for most of the season he will definitely be one of those who will be a difference maker for Team Teal. As far as being a Calder Trophy candidate Hertl is definitely in the conversation. I don’t have a vote however if I did and Hertl played the rest of the season at even half of the pace for which he started he would easily have my vote. All of this and the reality is that Hertl would virtually have to set several rookie records if he’s going to get the league vote for the Calder.
Hertl believe it or not right now is actually an underdog to win the Calder. The sports media which covers the NHL has a huge say and influence on who this goes to an right now they are all locked on Boston Bruins’ rookie Torey Krug. If you look at Krug’s stats, I will agree they are impressive as he has scored six goals while adding six assist. He is an overall plus 5 rating so far while Hertl is a plus 7. Krug is and will be a solid player for the Bruins much like Hertl will be for the Sharks. Seth Jones, the 19 year old rookie with the Nashville Predators will likely also get some consideration as well. So far Jones has three goals and has six assist as well. The problem for Hertl may be two fold here, 1) Jones will probably pull some votes away from both Hertl and Krug. Maybe not too many, but maybe just enough. If that happens that would likely favor Krug. And 2) East Coast Bias is real and does exist. Many of those who have votes reside in the east and are not going to stay up until after 1am Eastern Time to watch the Sharks. If Hertl (hypothetically ofcourse) played for LA or Anaheim it would be different. That’s just the way it is. Consider that last year Antti Niemi was a finalist for the Veznia Trophy. Then consider that it was won by a goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky who team (Columbus) did not even make the playoffs. Niemi despite one of his best seasons lockout abbreviated or not finished a distant third.
This is not to say this will happen to Hertl when it comes to the Calder and I sincerely hope it doesn’t. However just remember that Krug is more than likely to get the votes from the East Coast writers just because his games are on when its more convenient for these writers to be watching. Is that wrong? In principal, yes. However most of those who have a vote don’t always apply principal. If Hertl wins the Calder, that will be a tribute to his dedication and hard work. If Hertl doesn’t win the Calder, that does not in any way shape or form diminish what he has done and what he may do in the future. His goal may very well be a much bigger prize for Team Teal. If that happens it will all be worth it Calder or not.
My Two Cents Is Here to Stay- Just a note to acknowledge that this column has been on a three week hiatus that was not planned. I apologize for that want you the reader to know that this column hasn’t gone anywhere and isn’t going by the wayside. My full time work as an insurance underwriter has been quite busy lately and it has taken me away from what I love to do here. The plan during the Sharks season is to post an article every 10 days or whenever the Sharks have a three day break in their schedule as they do here. Any hiatus here is only temporary and unintentional. The next My Two Cents will be in the next Sharks three day break on December 15th. Thanks for reading and look forward to many more. Happy Thanksgiving in advance too.
…just my two cents…
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