JOE THORNTON WALKS TO THE RINK - GAME 1 PHOTO JON SWENSON
SJ AVERAGING 10.25 MORE HITS VS COLORADO THAN REG SEASON, AVS +8.25
REG SEASON FACEOFF PERCENTAGE VS COLORADO - 56.25%, PLAYOFF FACEOFF - 51%
- In 4 previous playoff home openers, the San Jose Sharks have had a small cadre of VIP's, team officials and kids welcome them on their brief walk to the Sharks head. Usually smiling, Thornton often high fived children on his way out, offering words of encouragement to help fire up the team before taking home ice for the first time.
In 2010, the Sharks passed by
a lone blue coat security guard and an aggressive fog machine en route to the rink. It was a small change, but it signaled a move towards a more business-like, more playoff hardened approach. There are no frills to this playoff squad in 2010, no Presidents trophy, no Art Ross or Rocket Richard trophies. They started the playoffs with an immediate sense of urgency that had not been seen in years past.
It was s small, but very good sign for Sharks fans.
- Latest updates for Game 5: According to San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak
, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan may experiment with splitting up the big line of Marleau-Thornton-Heatley. Pollak notes that it might be playoff misdirection, but that Thornton skated with Torrey Mitchell and Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley may join a line with Logan Couture and Manny Malhotra.
McLellan experimented shifting Mitchell, Malhotra and even Setoguchi for shifts on the top line to add a speed element against Colorado, but late in the regular season he had success mixing all 3 on seperate lines for a change of pace. He was noncommittal at the start of the playoffs whether he would adopt that strategy again.
The Sharks held a light practice on Wednesday, right wing Jed Ortmeyer and defenseman Niclas Wallin were listed as day-to-day. Dany Heatley told Mark Emmons
his injury was improving. "I wasn't 100 percent, but I was able to do a little more out there," he told Emmons. When asked to describe where and how he was injured, "We don't have to say... it's not the NFL," Heately said.
Denver Post beat writer Adrian Dater reports
that Marek Svatos might join Ryan O’Reilly and Kevin Porter for game five. Porter, the 2008 recipient of the Hobey Baker award as the top player in college hockey, missed two previous contests with an upper body injury suffered in game two. Milan Hejduk did not fly to San Jose with the Avalanche after injurying his jaw skating into Paul Stastny with his head down in game three. Center Peter Mueller will also remain out of the lineup.
"We have had some injuries, we need some guys to step up. I don't know what the scenario is going to be tonight, but if it is there it is an opportunity for us to score some goals, we need some secondary scoring", right wing Darcy Tucker on tonight's game.
Dater also posted video of brief chats with Colorado Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco yesterday
and this morning
- A couple of trends are starting to emerge after 4 games in the faceoff circle, and with the hit register. Through 4 regular season meetings the Sharks averaged 21.25 hits a game vs 22 for the Avalanche. That would include the late season Rob Blake hit that injured trade deadline acquisition Peter Mueller. In the playoffs the physical play has intensified considerably with ferocious yet borderline play by captains and former teammates Rob Blake and Adam Foote. The Sharks averaged 31.5 hits a game, with checking line center Scott Nichol registering a series high 8 in the 6-5 win on April 18th. The Avalanche averaged 30.25 hits a game, including a team high 6 by veteran center Stephane Yelle in game 4, and agitating Cody McLeod in game 1.
In the regular season, the Sharks were far and away the faceoff kings with three players in the top-16: Scott Nichol (1st - 60.6%), Joe Pavelski (4th - 58.1%) and Joe Thornton (16th - 53.9%). Manny Malhotra finished with a 62.5% from the dot, but a late season switch to the wing did not give him enough draws to qualify for the league lead.
In four head-to-head matchups, the Sharks averaged a 56.25 faceoff percentage vs a 43.75 for Colorado. In the playoffs that has dipped to 51% for San Jose and a 49% for Colorado. Key offensive zone draws have helped Colorado gain momentum, and faceoffs won on the penalty kill automatically wipe 15-20 seconds off the clock. In order to advance in the series, a return to form in the faceoff circle is one area where the Sharks need to key on.
- Sharks still waiting for top line to break through
Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley have 103 regular season goals, three gold medals and plenty of other accolades accumulated already this season. The one thing the high-scoring trio is missing so far is a playoff goal. The Sharks' top line has played nothing like that in the first four games of their first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche.
"We need them to get on the scoreboard," coach Todd McLellan said Wednesday. "We can talk about how they're playing and the chances they're creating and their contributions at the other end of the rink, which are all very important. They're doing a pretty good job in those areas. But ultimately they have to find a way to get on the scoreboard, particularly on the power play. It will come."
- National Post writer Joe O'Connor ratchets up the annual playoff pressure on Sharks assistant captain Joe Thornton: Thornton still an ordinary Joe in playoffs, Shark never seems to find extra gear in post-season
O'Connor points to Thornton's dip in production from the regular season to the playoffs, from 1.26 points per game to 0.82 points per game, points to his 2 assist total after 4 games against Colorado, and points to the success of Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg leading their teams early in the playoffs. He calls for Thornton to do more to lead his team.
It is a fairly standard rant, but Thornton is doing more than backchecking and "playing hard". He has been storming opponents on the faceoff dot, a sign he is playing a more physical game, and bull rushing defenseman in front of the net and in the corner. Out of the "big three" line, Thornton may be playing the best playoff hockey at this point in time. Dany Heatley was hobbled after a check during overtime in game 2, but he rang a shot off the crossbar earlier in that game, and redirected an OT shot inches wide of the post in game 4.
"As long as we win, everybody’s OK... Obviously we’d like to contribute offensively. That’s what everybody looks for, but if we’re doing things defensively and we get scoring from other areas, that’s good too. But definitely, we look upon ourselves to get the job done," Thornton told SJ Mercury News beat writer David Pollak on Tuesday
The X-factor on the big line has been Patrick Marleau. There are bursts of speed, and glimpses of the scorer who racked up 44 goals and 39 assists in the regular season, but the playoffs are a completely different animal. Shift-to-shift intensity and compete level need to be redlined at almost a constant pace. Right now Marleau, an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, is being clearly outworked by T.J. Galiardi, Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart.
The team may have bristled at former Shark Jeremy Roenick's recent proclamtion on Toronto 640AM, "When's Patty Marleau going to come out and hit somebody in a playoff game... When is he going to come out and start showing why he was so good in the regular season? Not just scoring goals, but playing physical and being emotional in a playoff round."
Not exactly sure what the problem with Roenick's statements are. Marleau does not need to come out and pretend to be Douglas Murray or Brad Staubitz, but his blazing speed has been sorely lacking on the top line. Speed that opens up holes in the defense for Thornton and Heatley to slide into, speed that gets the defense on their heels instead of challenging entry into the zone. Marleau started the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons playing an almost angry style of hockey, something out of the ordinary for the mild mannered, even tempered former captain. That speed and that snarl disappeared at some point prior to the Olympic break.
That sentiment was reinforced when eyeballs outside of the Bay Area labeled the big line "slow", almost an unheard of thought for a line with Marleau on it. After the gold medal winning Olympic performance, New York Times blogger Stu Hackel tackled the matchup problems
between Team USA head coach Ron Wilson and Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock in the finals.
Ron Wilson, his U.S. counterpart, on Sunday. But he had one big matchup he wanted, even without the luxury of the last change. He used the Jonathan Toews line, with Mike Richards and Rick Nash, against the top U.S. line of Parise, Paul Stastny and Jamie Langenbrunner. Wilson would have been happier with his big line skating against the slightly slower, less defensive Shark line of Joe Thornton centering for Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley.
With about 12 minutes gone in the first period, the game having been roughly even, Babcock had the the Shark line on and Wilson changed on the fly to get the Stastny line on against them. Erik Johnson of the U.S. misfired a pass that went for icing and, with the play stopped and a faceoff coming deep in the U.S. zone, Babcock without hesitation pulled the Shark line off and sent the Toews line on. The icing call prevented Wilson from changing players.
Galiardi-Stastny-Stewart have not looked out of place in the slightest against Marleau-Thornton-Heatley. During the second intermission of game 4 on CBC, the speed of the young Avalanche line was touted against the "slower" Sharks. One analyst added, "the Sharks are a fast team, but not a hungry team." Canadian analysts can always be expected to throw another log on the fire with a controversial take, but unlike last season this year the criticism is warranted.
Last year Marleau played somewhere around 60% against Anaheim after suffering the first major knee injury of his career. This year, there are no excuses. If the Sharks played in a major Canadian market, or in Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit or Pittsburgh, a lackluster performance on the ice would result in an onslaught of grinding media criticism. Criticism that can either inspire or grind down talented players. In San Jose, Marleau is going to have to inspire himself.
- San Jose Sharks President/CEO Greg Jamison discussed the play of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and Patrick Marleau today with Gary Radnich on KNBR 680AM
Evgeni Nabokov, if he is not the best goaltender in the league, he is in the top three. We have great faith in him. He has played well, he has fought. He takes some criticism, for a game or two, but he always comes back. He made a huge save, huge save in overtime to preserve that and help the bench, and help set the stage for Pavelski to go forward. We have great belief and faith in Nabokov. I think he is going to have great success.
The thing we have always had with Evgeni is a wonderful relationship, a great understanding. He has really played well for us the last few years. Every player goes through a time where it doesn't go as well as he wants it to go. It is really the mark of a player or a man, how they hang in there, how they fight through it and emerge on the other side. Over the years Evgeni has done a great job of that...
There was a lot of criticism about Patrick Marleau last year. The captain's C was changed and he steps up with 44 goals in the regular season. It is a real good season in the modern day NHL. I think Patty is working hard. I think that line is working hard, sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. They have played defensively, they move the puck. I think they will get rewarded. I believe that. If they continue to bring their effort, it will turn out positive for them. There is a lot written about 'the big line'. You know that with that type of publicity comes the possibility of criticism if you don't produce at people's expectation levels. I honestly think if they keep working at it they way they have, they will break through.
- A Sharkspage photo gallery from game one of the Avs-Sharks playoff series is available here
- The Sharks television crew of Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda, as well as the radio side Dan Rusanowsky and Jamie Baker, are at or near the top of the league with their accessible blend of information and entertainment. Longtime hockey fans or transplants are as apt to follow along with commentary as are casual fans or first time viewers. They have been having a little fun during the playoffs with a series of road "Sharks Late Night Confidential" videos posted on youtube. The second edition with Jamie Baker is available here
, the third with Drew Remenda is here
, (link to episode one here
). Episode 4 will be posted from Denver on Friday night.
- One reader asked about whether the responsibility for Dan Boyle's "own goal" in overtime for game 3 belonged to him or Evgeni Nabokov. Neither. Boyle's soft chip deflected off the stick of a forechecking O'Reilly and apparently snuck inside the post and Nabokov. To be honest, after Boyle scored 1:12 into game 4, the incident was put behind Boyle and the San Jose Sharks. The attempted play back around the wall in his own zone may have been a low percentage play when outnumbering the forecheck 2-on-1, but the deflection off of O'Reilly's stick was also an astronomical 1-100,000 play. To end up the game winning goal in playoff OT? A 1-1,000,000 play.
That being said, the responsibility for the play if it has to be meted out has to fall on Evgeni Nabokov. Doing the small things right for a goaltender means being mentally focused even when your defenseman is playing the puck in his own zone. He did not seal off the post. The allowed goal was every bit as bad as the goal Thomas Greiss allowed in from a hard angle below the goal line early in the season on the road in Los Angeles. Greiss performed admirably up until that point, holding the Sharks in the game as they stormed back from a 4-goal deficit. The Sharks lost that game, and game 3 vs Colorado, on plays that should not have been made. No excuses.
- The latest episode of the Globe and Mail's hockey podcast is available here
. Eric Duhatschek, James Mirtle and Darren Yourk break down each series. On San Jose vs Colorado, Mirtle points to the offseason bargain acquisition of goaltender Craig Anderson as being a large part of the Avalanche turnaround. Duhatschek talked about Thornton's playoff scoring struggles, "One of these days, Joe Thornton will have a big playoff game. I wonder if he has 1 or 2, if it will change the dynamic of his career." Duhatschek continued, "For now, most of the people have have been down on him have had the last word." He also called the 2009-10 regular season for the San Jose Sharks, "the longest 82-game preseason in the history of the National Hockey League."
- Former San Jose Sharks defenseman Andy Sutton vs. a non-expert
hockey reporter, one of the first Stanley Cup Playoff video memes of 2010.