Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Quarter Pole Report : State of the Sharks

I think I did this last season. Some friends of mine also like to put out a report on their respective teams, now that the season is a quarter over. Here goes.

Goaltending: 8
The Sharks have arguably the best goalie tandem in hockey with Toskala (10-2) and Nabokov (5-5). Just for the record, all of Nabokov's losses came against probable playoff teams (Minnesota, Rangers, Anaheim, Edmonton, and Detroit). I only gave an 8 because while having two netminders is a strength now, the longer we get into the season the bigger a liability it will become. Especially if their respective records have a similar disparity. Tosk will want the #1, and Nabby is making #1 money with a no-trade clause.

Defense: 7
Clearly the Sharks' biggest weakness. The 6th spot is still up in the air, with Gorges, Davison, and Murray all rotating in and out. Nobody has played well enough to lock it up. Hannen is a rock, Matt Carle is a stud, and McLaren hip-checks like a freight train. Trading one of the goaltenders for a solid defenseman (Jovo and Boynton have been rumored) could possible kill two birds with one stone. You know who I really miss? Tom Preissing.

Forwards: 8
Joe is being Joe, but the Marleau-Bernier-Michalek line is the best on the Sharks right now. Cheech is hurt, and Bell, once thought to be the answer to the "Nils Ekman issue", has been relegated to 3rd or 4th like duty. Michalek has been playing on the top line a bit, along with Mike Grier. The third and fourth lines have been doing their job well, with being pests, keeping the puck deep, and creating a decent chance now and again, but the top line needs to be more stable and scoring in order for the Sharks to get a 9 here.

Special Teams: 10
Clearly, the best special teams units the Sharks have ever had. The Sharks are currently #1 in the NHL in PP, #7 in PK. Curtis Brown and Mike Grier have shored up the PK, and putting Marleau and Carle at the points with Joe, Michalek and Cheech on the PP is a deadly combination of skating and shooting skill. Now that Joe is shooting more than last season, the opposing D have a Hobson's choice.

Coaching: 8
There wasn't much pressure up until now with the Ducks the clear favorites to take the Pacific in the pre-season polls, and the fact that they didn't lose a game until last week. But ESPN has San Jose at #1 in the power rankings, and they are no longer a secret. This will raise expectations, and the Sharks will become of of those teams that other teams get up for, like the Wings. As long as Toskala and Nabokov aren't sniping at each other in the press, the coaches are doing a good job.

First quarter Stud: Patrick Marleau - the captain should be on the All-Star team.
First quarter Dud: Mark Bell - I'm willing to be patient, since he got the DUI and everything. But he seems to skate and shoot like a Zamboni. I have no idea how he scored 25 goals like that... there's something missing here. He needs to find it- quick.
Biggest Surprise - Dallas. They lost Arnott and stripped Modano of the captaincy. I was sure that would sow seeds of discontent, but they are still only two points behind.
Biggest Disappointment - Ottawa. How they are under .500 with a lineup like that is putting on a clinic of underachieving.

Comments welcome.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Road Trip Grade: A-

Some might be surprised that I give the recent 4 game roadtrip such a high grade. They played 3 teams, all not very good, and only got 6 points out of 8 possible. By the Sharks' own admission, they played poorly against the Coyotes, the second game against the Kings (where they lost) and Colorado, for significant stretches. However, this feeling about the Sharks is almost entirely new to me. In past years, when the Sharks would play badly, they'd get shellacked. As this recent road trip shows, the Sharks are capable of sucking for a while, pulling up their (hockey) socks, and squeaking out a win.

This ability to win even in non-ideal circumstances is the mark of a good team. It's fantasy to think the Sharks will have their best game every night, or even 95% of the time. There will be plenty of games where they are discombobulated for a period, a power play, or an entire game. Poor teams give up 2 goals during a bad stretch of time, and flog themselves the rest of the game for doing it. Good teams have that selective amnesia - forget about the bad things that just happened - and go back work, knowing they can still win. In the case of the game against Phoenix, we played just crappy pretty much the entire time. But the Sharks managed to find a decent opportunity to score, made it happen, and kept the puck out of their own net. It'd be great to put a 5-0 beatdown on the Sabres, but that 2-1 squeaker has a satisfaction all its own.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Big Road Trip Coming

One of those sports clich├ęs I really hate is that "good teams need to beat teams that are worse than they are". I guess there's a small amount of wisdom here, although I have trouble wrapping my mind around teams that only beat the teams that are better than they are. Does that mean those teams suck? Anyway, the Sharks have a four-game road trip coming up that applies to this "truism". They need to collect as many points as possible in playing the Kings twice, the Coyotes, and the Avalanche.

I thought the Avs were bad, but as of now, they are 7-5-2, good enough for second in the Northwest. They have 4 fewer points than the Sharks, but the Sharks are third in the Pacific, easily the toughest division in hockey. I still don't think the Avs will make the playoffs, and I think the Sharks should win that game, even in as hostile an environment as Denver is.

Tomorrow night San Jose faces off against the Wild, a team that made the Sharks look foolish at home on September 21st, beating them 4-1. I was there that night, and it was pretty embarrassing. Mark Parrish was forechecking everything, and the Wild played the defensive style that frustrates so many teams. I hope the Sharks can remember that drubbing to bring something a little extra tomorrow night. The Wild, unlike Colorado, have improved in the offseason, and should make the playoffs; they may even win the division.