Thursday, May 13, 2010
It's on. This is the way it was supposed to be, right? The two top teams in the Western Conference will face off in a 7-game series to decide who will go to the Stanley Cup Finals and be the overwhelming favorite.
That is true. No matter who comes out of the Eastern Conference, whether it's the Bruins/Flyers or Canadians, the team that wins the Sharks/Blackhawks series will be without a doubt the clear favorite to win the Cup.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Sharks are the best team going, the only thing knocking this team is the fact they have been at a stand still since they defeated the Red wings in 5 games in what feels to be a month ago. They want to get out on the ice while they're hot.
Honestly, the Blackhawks are the favorite in this series. They have recent momentum since beating the Canucks, plus they went 3-1 against the Sharks during the regular season.
But the Sharks have several things going their way that have not been talked about. How about the fact that Blackhawks' goalie Antti Niemi has never played against the Sharks? Or how about the Sharks are playing a much better form of hockey than they were in the regular season?
The tipping point in this series may be that one point that separated the Sharks as the #1 seed in the West and the Blackhawks as the #2 seed. The Sharks have home-ice advantage, and we all saw what that team and those fans can do once in their home arena. The "Nabby" chants start going, the Jaws music start playing. Everything is better at The Sharks Tank. Unless you're the opposing team, then that stuff just gets annoying.
Bottom line is this is going to be a series for the ages. Two teams who have similar styles of play, and just as much equal talent on the ice. The last time we saw this sort of match-up was, well, last series when the Sharks played the Red Wings.
One thing bothers me, though. I cannot help but think back to the game on November 25th when the Sharks and Blackhawks met up. The final score was 7-2 in favor of the Blackhawks in a game where the Blackhawks made the superior Sharks look ridiculous. They outhustled and outperformed the Sharks. Will there be a difference in how the Sharks prepare for this team in this series? There better be, they would have had 8 days between series to do so.
If the Sharks are to knock off the Blackhawks, they will need more contribution from their 1st line than ever. We saw this in the last couple of games in the Red Wings series. The Red Wings' primary focus was on Joe Pavelski since he was tearing them up in the previous games. In response, the Sharks' 1st line showed up and was the reason why the series didnt go to a Game 6 or 7.
Fasten your seatbelts for this one, folks. This is a series made for it to go the distance, and I don't doubt we will see anything but that.
My prediction: Home-ice will play a huge role in this series and the Sharks will be fortunate that they got that last point to get the #1 seed in the West and home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Sharks in 7.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Here you go A's fans. Despite the injuries that have plagued this team over the last several weeks after a strong start to the season, the A's still managed to hit the headlines yesterday in the form of A's pitcher Dallas Braden's perfect game.
There are several stories wrapped up in this one, which is why it is so intriguing. First, he threw the gem against arguably the best team going right now, the Tampa Bay Rays. Second, he threw it on Mother's Day in honor of his mother who had died when he was in high school. How about the fact that he was drafted in the 24th round, or that he has never pitched longer than the 7th inning in any big league start? How about that he is a native of nearby Stockton? How about that his grandmother told A-Rod to "stick it."
All these stories pail in comparison to the one that the national media has seemed to hook onto. The Braden/A-Rod Saga.
The dispute between the two was still hot going into Braden's start yesterday. His perfecto just fueled the fire a little more. Now it's out of control.
Was Braden right in calling out A-Rod? Eh, it's an unwritten rule that every ballplayer knows, and don't let them tell you differently, as Alex Rodriguez did. A-Rod knew exactly what he was doing. Don't forget, this is the same player who yelled at the 3rd baseman while trying to catch a pop-up, ans also the same guy who tried to swat the ball out of the 1st baseman's glove so he wouldn't be called out, thinking no one could see him. Ya know, the things kids who know him as the best player in the game should look up to.
The only problem I have with the whole Braden/A-Rod feud is who is Dallas Braden? Sure, the Bay Area knows him and now the nation is familiar with him. But before this, he was just some no name who wanted seemed to want some recognition for calling out A-Rod. Finally somebody did it, but it probably shouldn't have been Braden, or at least not made so public by Braden. It just made him out to look cocky by going after one of the best players on the planet, while Braden boasts 17 (make that 18) wins in his career.
Now, he is recognized, but for a much better reason, which is why this A-Rod feud carries so much punch now. And it will continue to carry punch until someone gets knocked out, or at least until the two players meet again. In which Braden will go head hunting for A-Rod's dome.
I honestly doubt the two will square off in the distant future. A-Rod will probably come down with the flu that day or something along those lines. He just seems like the kind of guy who would do that. And I wouldn't blame him. Hell, if a guy heaving 90 MPH wanted to decapitate me for breaking an unwritten rule that I clearly had knowledge of, I wouldn't want to be in that batter's box either.
But Braden will have to wait until the July 5th series in New York for that to happen, given it is his turn in the rotation. Maybe Braden will still be fuming on this matter, or maybe he won't, but he doesn't seem like a guy who lets things go easily.
All we know is this story suddenly has legs. Before the perfecto, Braden was just some looney trying to make a name, now he is the guy with the 19th perfect game in MLB history trying to right a wrong. It's crazy how a perfect game can instantly do that to someone.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
They're not supposed to be here. There is too much choking in this team's history to have any legitimate success in the NHL Playoffs. But the Sharks finally did it by beating the Detroit Red Wings last night and moving on to the Western Conference Finals.
When Barry Melrose of ESPN finally admits that the Sharks are a "really good team," you know they've done something right. Melrose was the man who was calling a possible Red Wing comeback in this series when they were down 3-0, and he went crazy when the Wings beat the Sharks in Game 4. But who wasn't? That Game 4 was so one-sided that why not give Detroit a legitimate chance of coming back and winning this series? You sound brilliant if they do. After all, the Sharks have always choked. Scratch that, at least for now.
Now that the Sharks have defeated the Almighty Red Wings in a playoffs series, can we finally put this whole choking matter about the Sharks behind us?
For the Sharks fans, yes, go ahead. But for the rest of the NHL world, they still know the team from San Jose as one that has fallen in their potential to win the Cup year after year despite being the favorite. Is a couple series wins in this year's playoffs going to change that? No, the Sharks are the #1 seed, they should be here. Which brings up the question, why do the critics keep picking the Sharks to lose each series? History is the answer.
For the rest of the NHL world, the Sharks' curse is still not over. It won't be over until they are hoisting the Stanley Cup over their head. They will be the underdogs in the next series and the series after, but if they are to relinquish that "choking" title from their name, they must win the Cup. Easy, right?
Sure, Sharks fans know that this a different team with a different attitude and different players, but the rest of the world does not understand that. Prove it to them. The Sharks are the best team still in the playoffs and anything less than a Sharks Stanley Cup victory isn't worth it, and surely won't be worth it to the rest of the NHL world.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Mission accomplished. The San Jose Sharks did what they were supposed to do on Sunday by winning on their home ice for the second time in this series and leading the best of 7 series against the Detroit Red Wings 2-0.
This was a total team effort that saw both teams gather momentum throughout the game. For the second time in this series and 5th game in a row, the Sharks came out firing, but this time only to be let down by a Red Wing goal midway through the 1st period.
But the Sharks showed something that we have not seen in playoffs past, but have seen several times already in this year's playoffs. That is a will to answer right back. The Sharks would answer with 2 goals in just over 2 minutes to go up 2-1.
The Red Wings would tack on another goal late in the 1st period to tie the game up at 2-2.
After a stalemate 2nd period, which saw the Red Wings hit the back of the net a 3rd time, pressure was on the Sharks to maintain their home ice against the mighty Red Wings. And they answered.
It is often the saying that it doesn't matter how you start, but how you finish, and the Sharks finished this one with emphasis.
They took to the offensive early and often in the 3rd period, and it payed off with a power play goal by that man again, Joe Pavelski, at 4:40. But they weren't done.
After both teams threatened midway through the 3rd, the Sharks had a 2 on 1 breakaway at 12:37 where Dany Heatley wristed a shot at goalie Jimmy Howard which bounced off Howard's chest and in front of the net to be tapped in by Joe Thornton. 4-3.
After that, persistent and pesky defense all but sealed it up for the Sharks as they took the first two games of the series at home.
No doubt, the Sharks have surprised many with how much they have continued to improve their game throughout these playoffs, and how not affected they are by recent disappointing seasons, which many thought they would. The consensus before this series was the Red Wings are too disciplined, too experienced, and too good for these underachieving Sharks. But looking at these first two games of this series, we haven't seen any of that. The Sharks' defense is playing great, their 2nd tier players are contributing more than the 1st tier, and their goalie is hot right now. The Sharks are peaking at just the right time.
Now, we will see if this carries over to Hockeytown. But the way the Sharks are feeling about their game right now is business as usual, the perfect attitude. They understand what they are doing is large, but they also understand that they belong somewhere further in these playoffs, and that they are by no means done. With the 1st line starting to sprout legs and walk, maybe this could be the start of something that the Bay Area hasn't seen before with this team.
All the pieces are there, but can they continue. It will be a real test in Detroit, but pulling out one win over there would be huge, the question is can they get that win?
The goal I set for this team so far in this series is win at home. Check. Next goal, take at least 1 of 2 from Detroit in Detroit.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Is there any argument as to a better start to the series for the San Jose Sharks? The Sharks defeated the Detroit Red Wings at The Tank last night by a final of 4-3, giving them a 1-0 series lead.
Coming into the game, it seemed to be a nation-wide consensus that the #1 seeded Sharks appeared to be the underdog in this series, given their history in the playoffs and the way the Red Wings are playing right now.
But for a stretch of 1:19 in the 1st period, the Sharks looked and played like a favorite as they scored 3 goals in that span. This included another goal from that man again, Joe Pavelski, who is quickly losing his nickname of "Little Joe", and adding the "Big Pavelski" to his assortment of names. He would finish with 2 goals and an assist, including the deciding goal on a 5 on 3 powerplay at the start of the 3rd period.
But back to the jaw-dropping 1st period. For that 1st period, mostly the 1:19, the Sharks looked unstoppable like a team that was prepared, like a team that is the #1 seed in the playoffs, like a team that belongs there.
But you didn't think that would last long, did you? I sure did. Maybe that was what I wanted to happen or maybe that was because of what should have happened, but looking back, there was no way the Red Wings were going to throw in the towel after that 1:19. It would have been nice, but just simply was not going to happen. They are too good of a team for that, and don't expect in any of the other games in this series.
The Red Wings quickly rebounded and put up 2 goals before heading into the 2nd intermission. But back to the Big Pavelski, who again proved he is the best player going on this Sharks team, at least for these 2010 playoffs. He scored on that same 5 on 3 power play and the Sharks had another multi-goal lead. But you didn't think that would last did you? Well I did...again. The Red Wings would score another goal within minutes of Pavelski's goal, and the game was on yet again.
After that, it was a race to the finish, and the finish seemed like forever if you were a Sharks fan. The Sharks seemed to fall back on their aggressiveness in the 3rd and hoped to win by scoring those 4 goals, or so it appeared. But the defense kicked in and Evgeni Nabokov made clutch saves as the Sharks were able to hold off the Wings and get the win.
Although the Sharks won this game, the impression was evident that the Red Wings were the better team, except for that 1:19 of the 1st period. Give it up for the Sharks, though. They came out firing, and that payed off. The Wings were caught off-guard and were not able to stop the Sharks, whose 1st line finally showed up. That was one of the keys to this series, wasn't it? The 1st line? Dany Heatley had a goal and Joe Thornton made his first contribution to the 2010 NHL Playoffs with an assist. All this minus Patrick Marleau, who should be ready for Sunday's Game 2.
The Sharks got Game 1, but there is no doubt this series will go the distance. First priority for the Sharks: Come out with the same fire, and win Game 2 on home ice.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
So the San Jose Sharks get the series no one wanted to happen. The Sharks will play the Red Wings in the Conference Semifinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Game 1 starting on Thursday at The Tank.
These two teams have met numerous times before in the postseason, but no one need mention what the Sharks record is in Conference semifinals or even how the Red Wings have faired against the San Jose Sharks in previous seasons.
This series has a different feel to it. The only stat lines that need to be mentioned are the ones pertaining to this season. The Sharks have the #1 seed in the Western Conference, the Red Wings have the #5 seed, the Sharks are playing some of their best hockey of the year, and so are the Red Wings. Game on.
Make no mistake, the Detroit Red Wings are only the #5 seed in the West because of injuries to their premiere players. This is a top 3 team in the West, maybe the best. We got to see that when they were healthy down the stretch, going 16-3-2 after the Olympic break.
Off the top of my head, I see at least one advantage for the Sharks. Jimmy Howard is a rookie goalie. The bad news: he is a finalist for Rookie of the Year.
The Red Wings are skilled defensively and have the players to score anytime they want. If the Sharks are to succeed, they will need help from not just the Joe Pavelski Line, as we have come to know it, but the 1st line as well. After all, they are the Canadian top line. If the 1st line has a series like they had against the Avalanche, granted they were hit with injury... but I dont't even want to think about it.
The main thing is that Evgeni Nabokov needs to continue to stop everything in sight, and the Sharks need to play with the same high energy that we saw in the last several games of the 1st Round. If they can limit their mistakes as well, that would be most beneficial, as the Red Wings are patient and take full advantage of the opposing team's mistakes.
In most people's minds, the Sharks are the underdogs. This could work in the Sharks' favor, or maybe it won't. But the Sharks have not faired well these last couple of seasons being the favorite, so maybe a change of rank will help.
The Sharks went 0-3-1 againgst the Red Wings this season, but that means nothing now. This is the 2nd season where everything gets turned around. Where #8 seeds can actually have a legitimate chance at beating the #1 seed, both in the West and the East. The Sharks main concern, first and foremost, win Game 1.
Monday, April 26, 2010
If last night's Giants game was any sign, this is going to be a long season. The Giants won last night 5-1, behind Jonathan Sanchez and, well, their offense. That same offense that was verbally bashed this week by everyone and anyone worthy of an opinion.
Last week, the Giants averaged something like 1.3 runs a game, and all panic broke out in the Bay Area. Sure, the offense, on paper, is nothing special. In fact, Brad Penny reminded us of that the other day, while he was pitching and after the game as well. But last night's offensive beating (in Giants talk, not true of any other MLB team) of ace Roy Halladay showed that this team will have its games. They can put the bat on the ball, occasionally.
Is it possible that Penny's verbal beating of the Giants' offense had something to do with their approach to the plate last night? It sure looked like it, and I wish to believe it played a part. There was a new approach going to the plate, and that was "Halladay is going to throw me first-pitch meat pies over the plate, and I am going to swing at them." Halladay's lack of respect (or so it seemed) for the Giants' offense actually worked in the Giants favor last night, and they took advantage early and often. Sure, the whopping 5 runs scored last night is nothing much, but give it up for a line-up that boasts no legitimate power hitters going up against Doc Halladay.
It's just going to be that kind of season for the Giants and their overanxious fan base and those who choose to comment on it. Panic when they don't score, relief when they do.
This week's main topic in Giantsland was when are the Giants going to get some big power hitter to save the team? Not never is what I say. It's not going to happen. Names being thrown out there were Carlos Lee and Jermaine Dye. Sure, it would be great to get another bat in the line-up, and I hope they do, don't get me wrong. But don't expect it. MLB hitters aren't as fond of AT&T Park as the fans that pack the seats every game are.
Honestly, the Giants are lucky they got such a dynamite pitching staff, otherwise this whole "lack of hitting" ordeal would stick out like a sore thumb, and then there really would be pandemonium in the Bay Area, instead of making a story out of nothing.
One week, they will hit great, the next week, nothing. It's a long season, don't panic. Wait until the pitching staff has a bad week, oh man. All hell will break loose. That might happen, although it doesn't seem like it will anytime soon. For now, enjoy the ebbs and flows this line-up will throw at you week in and week out.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
All in all, it was good day for the Bay Area's football teams. Both the Raiders and the 49ers got who they wanted, and no doubt will be improved in the coming season.
As quickly as the Raiders had their pick in, you would have thought that Rolando McClain was the #1 player on their Draft Board. He is a nice fit for the Raiders, and all those people who figured the Raiders would waste their pick like they did with Darius Heyward-Bey (me) were mistaken this year.
McClain is a 6'4" 254 lb. linebacker from Alabama where he won the Dick Butkus Award this last season as the nation's best linebacker. The Raiders had him extremely high on their Draft Board and were sure that he was their guy no matter who was on the Board. Some may argue that McClain was drafted a little prematurley by the Raiders, but the Raiders sure felt something special for this kid. He will fit in nicely.
The Raiders will hope that McClain turns into someone like a Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis, and although all three are built similarly, McClain is taller giving him a higher advantage point. One thing on McClain is that he is smart and will run that Raider defense from the moment he gets there. You will not hear many complaints about this pick, McClain will be a solid NFL player.
49ers GM Trent Baalke said it best when he said, "Happy Birthday to Alex Smith and Frank Gore." The 49ers were hell bent on improving their offensive line, and did they ever.
They played this draft smart. OT Anthony Davis must have been their 2nd rated OT on their Draft Board and they knew that #13 was not high enough to draft him, so they traded up to #11 to ensure that they got him. It was a great move. It seemed like they wanted Davis pretty bad and were not sold on the other OT's like Brian Bulaga.
Davis has some character issues, but I'm sure Mike Singletary will fix that right up if necessary. But this was a pick of the future because Davis may not be ready to start just yet. His upside and potential is through the roof and he will prove to one day play the blind side for the 49ers, if not this coming season. With Barry Sims aging, Davis may get his turn real soon.
While Davis may be an "if," Mike Iupati (pictured) is anything but. Iupati was an excellent draft pick for the 49ers. He combines size with shear strength and will no doubt be starting for the 49ers very soon. He is NFL ready with his 6'5" 331 lb. frame, the all-around biggest guy on the 49ers. Scouts say he is versatile enough to play Tackle later in his career, but for now, he and David Baas will make a good team at the Guard position. No doubt, Iupati will be a great NFL player for years to come, and with the additions of Davis and Iupati, if all pans out, the 49ers weak offensive line could turn special in these next few years.
Overall, both teams had great picks and addressed each of their needs. The Raiders were dead set on McClain and the 49ers were dead set on Davis and Iupati.
I'm not quite sold on Davis yet, but his potential could prove me wrong. Some are going to argue that Jimmy Clausen was there at #17 for the 49ers to take and that they should have taken him there. But obviously other teams also have some concerns about Clausen too because he was not taken in the 1st round. If Clausen is there in 2nd round when its the 49ers turn, they will have a hard decision to make. Honestly, I think they should go for it. He played in the Charlie Weis system at Notre Dame and knows the NFL offense well. It would be a nice pick, actually, for both the 49ers and the Raiders, as both could use some insurance at the QB position.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Who really knows how any NFL Draft will end up? It's such a commotion on Draft Day that there is really no way to predict who is going where. I mean, Michael Crabtree ended up with the 49ers last year and no one thought that was possible. It just takes one or two teams to go a different way with their picks, and another team gets rich.
For the 49ers, there are too many ways this team can go, and they are not giving out information on who they have their eye on and what position they would really like filled. Plus, ex-GM Scot McCloughan has left the team, and interim Trent Baalke is forced to take over.
The 49ers hold the 13th and 17th picks, and for me, there are two positions that the 49ers must draft somewhere between April 22-24, an OL and a CB/S. Good news for the 49ers, this year's Draft is full of them.
Let's start with the Offensive Tackles. Russell Okung, Brian Bulaga, and Trent Williams are the big boys for this position. Although I would love to see Trent Williams, who sports a 6'5" 310 pound frame, fall to the 49ers, I don't think we are going to see that. But I will say that the #4 best OT, Anthony Davis, will be there if the 49ers want him. It depends for the 49ers, are they going to go with the best available player? Or with the position that they need most?
Anthony Davis is a junior OT out of Rutgers. He is 6'6" 325 pounds, but questions about his weight and love of the game is what has buried him so far down the Draft Board. Do the 49ers need someone like that? No, but if he turns out to show no problems at all, then a 6'6" 325 pound frame could bolster that 49ers offensive line, most definitely.
Again, this is all depending on if these players are still there come the 49ers turn at #13, but S Earl Thomas out of Texas is projected to go #14 to the Seahawks. I don't see how the 49ers can pass up on as promising a Safety as Thomas. But the 49ers sole goal is to get an OL, and if a worthy one is there, they will go with that.
If the 49ers plan on going with the best available player at #13, you will probably see Jason Pierre-Paul go, assuming he is still there. I think he will, but again, you never know. Todd McShay has him going to the Jaguars at #10 but all other experts have him going somewhere above that. Pierre-Paul is the DE out of South Florida.
But if you're looking for the sleeper pick, I have one for you. After having Michael Crabtree fall in their laps last year, the 49ers will be looking for that same thing in Jimmy Clausen. Clausen can go anywhere from 7-17 in the Draft. If the 49ers want him, he will have to hurdle some teams.
First up, what will the Browns do at #7? They picked up Jake Delhomme during the offseason and traded away Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Is Jake Delhomme their QB? Or will they give another Notre Dame QB a try? The Browns would be fools to pass up Clausen here, but if they are set on Delhomme as their QB, who is scheduled to make $7M this season, then Clausen will fall at least till #8.
The #8 pick belongs to the Raiders. With Jamarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski fighting it out for the QB position, I doubt they take a QB here, even one that makes as much sense as Clausen. The Raiders have far other priorities they need to fill instead of a QB, and the OL is one of them. I just don't see it happening here.
But if Clausen gets past the Raiders at #8, and possibly the Bils at #9 (no telling if Trent Edwards is their man), I see the 49ers having a legitimate shot at him. Every other team between the Raiders and 49ers already have solid starting QB's. The 49ers don't even need to draft Clausen at #13 because every team between them and their next pick at #17 already has a starting QB as well. So if they don't draft him at #13, don't panic.
Will the 49ers do it? I'm not sure. But there is a logic to be believe that Clausen will be there if they want him. It is a matter of Clausen getting past the #7,8, and 9 picks, which I predict he will. What's better? Todd McShay realizes this as well and has Clausen going to the 49ers as the #17 pick.
My Predictions: 49ers
#13- There is some who beleive that CJ Spiller would be drafted here. I see the best OL available for this spot. To me, it's going to be between OT Anthony Davis and OG Mike Iupati from Idaho. The 49ers need help at OG. My pick: Mike Iupati
#17- If Jimmy Clausen is there, then it's Clausen. If not, look for CB Joe Haden from Florida to sneak down, or even DE Jason Pierre-Paul. My Pick: Jimmy Clausen
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
How nerve-racking was that? Knowing that the Sharks were down 2-1 in the series, knowing that rarely do teams come back from a 3-1 deficit, and knowing how well Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson was playing, how could you not?
The San Jose Sharks beat the Avalanche in overtime in Game 4 last night, evening the series and heading back to the Bay Area with a sigh of relief. Joe Pavelski scored top shelf on the goalie Anderson in overtime, the only puck that had got past Anderson since the first minute of the 1st period.
Seeing how well the Sharks have played in these last three games, it is about time they come out with a win, and this one is a big one.
But the big story was Dan Boyle. 48 hours after his blunder in Game 3, which after further video review was not his blunder at all, Boyle scored in the first minute of the 1st period to put the Sharks up 1-0. Sweet relief for Boyle who was visibly down on himself for the past 48 hours. Also, sweet relief for the Sharks as they went 0-6 on the power play in Game 3, but scored on the power play in the first minute.
Boyle's goal would fuel the Sharks for the rest of the period as they were no doubt the better team in the 1st period. They were playing like they had played during the games before, except this time they got some points for their effort. The Sharks were scrappy on defense, they got to every puck, and the Avs had no chance on any of their shots taken on Evgeni Nabokov.
The 2nd period was a different story. The Avs came out firing on all cylinders and the Sharks were put on the defensive. Avalanche center Paul Stastny scored on the power play at 3:27 and the game was tied.
The Sharks looked tired walking into the dressing room after the 2nd period and to top it off, Anderson looked like he was at the top of his game yet again. But it felt like equal momentum for both sides as they went into the 3rd period.
Dany Heatley, who sat out Game 3, was visibly tired and not 100% throughout the game, and it showed in the 3rd period. Anderson for the Avs continued to stop everything in sight and the Avs were quicker than the Sharks who seemed to be praying for the dressing room down the stretch of the 3rd.
The game went to overtime and after brilliant saves by both goaltenders throughout the first half of the period, Pavelski finally scored on a lightning fast wrister that sailed top-shelf on Anderson giving the Sharks the win.
You can argue that the Sharks got away with one here, but after all this team has been through in this series, the Sharks will take whatever they can get. In my opinion, the Avs won 2 of the 3 periods, with the overtime period going to the Sharks. Anderson played the way he has played since the start of Game 3 and grabbed 43 saves, some standing on his head. Nabby grabbed 33 saves as well and he continues to be reliable in these playoffs for the Sharks.
This win was much needed for the Sharks and now they return back to San Jose with the home-ice advantage and will be welcomed with open arms in the HP Pavilion.
A couple things need to happen for the Sharks. Heatley needs to get healthy. Even though he played no part on the power play last night, he is a key part to the success of the Sharks getting the puck in the back of the net. Had they had him on the ice in Game 3, we'd be talking about a 3-1 lead for the Sharks. Also, where is Patrick Marleau and the rest of the Canadian National Team's 1st line? They've disappeared. Maybe the rest of the Sharks team is good enough to pull them through, but the 1st line is supposed to be the cornerstone of this team, and they have not shown up in this series.
Game 5 in San Jose at the HP Pavilion on Thursday, 7:30p.m.
The San Francisco Giants are coming off a 2-game losing streak for the first time this season, both in late-inning fashion. But up until then, the Giants were and are playing very good baseball. They are hitting surprisingly well and 4 of the 5 pitchers in their rotation have pitched near lights out. But, as far as I'm concerned, there are 2 problems that this team will face in the coming future, and Giants management will have to find which side of the spectrum gives them the better chance to win.
Sanchez or Uribe
The first problem is more of a predicament. Freddy Sanchez is the team's starting 2nd baseman, or at least that is what he was expected to be when they obtained him last season and what he was expected to be when he comes back from injury. But when is that? Reports say early-May, but other reports say end of May possibly early-June. Sanchez has missed Spring Training as well as the first 13 games of the season, and he will most certainly need to get back into real baseball shape in order to get back onto the field. To be safe, I would predict an early-June return for Sanchez.
Meanwhile, the Giants aren't missing him much, which is where the predicament for the Giants comes in. Juan UUUUU-Ribe has taken the 2010 season by storm after getting a 1 yr./$3.25 million contract in the offseason. This has turned out to be a great move for the Giants as Uribe is no doubt the team's best hitter this season, including clutch hit after clutch hit. Through the first 13 games, Uribe is batting .348 with 16 hits (tied for the team lead) and has 11 RBI's, which almost doubles Pablo Sandoval's RBI total, who is in 2nd place on the team.
So what happens when Sanchez comes back? There the predicament lies. There's no room for Sanchez. Edgar Renteria is having a fantastic start to his season, so you can't move Uribe to shortstop. Sandoval and Aubrey Huff are really the only legitimate power-threats next to Uribe, so they aren't going anywhere. So where do you put him? How about the trading block?
Sure, Sanchez is an ex-batting champ, but his recent injuries have done nothing to justify his 2 yr./$12 million deal that he signed with the Giants last season. Plus, who knows how he will come back from this injury. Trading Sanchez would only work if the Giants re-signed Uribe, and also pending Uribe continues on this tear. Bottom line is there is nowhere to put Sanchez other than the bench, and who wants a $12 million player on their bench? The Giants will have to figure out something quick, but the worst thing to do would be to put their best hitter (Uribe) on the bench just get their money's worth for Sanchez. It will cost them games, and the Giants will need every win this year if they hope to contend for a division title.
No doubt, the Giants will have some thinking to do in the coming months regarding this issue, but it will make this predicament even harder to decide upon if Uribe continue to swing the bat like he has. It will boost their win total, though.
Wellemeyer or Bumgarner?
The only thing wrong with the Giants pitching staff so far is its #5 starter Todd Wellemeyer who has been the only "if" in the Giants rotation this season. Wellemeyer signed a minor-league contract with the team in the offseason and won the #5 spot in the rotation in Spring Training over young phenom Madison Bumgarner. But with the struggles so far this season for Wellemeyer, when is a good time to try something new? Maybe call-up Bumgarner.
Sure, Bumgarner is only 20 years old and needs to get some routine starts under his belt in AAA this season, but he pitched surprisingly well in however many starts he had last season in the Majors. Plus, whatever he brings to the table is better than what Wellemeyer has brought so far. Unless Wellemeyer's start to the season is just a fluke, there is no doubt someone like Bumgarner, or even Kevin Pucetas, will get called up to replace him for a few starts.
The Giants, of course, will wait this one out and see how Wellemeyer does in his next several starts, but if he continues to be the only hole in a very solid rotation, something needs to change. It is not right for the other 4 starters to go out and have solid outings, but when its Wellemeyer's turn its an automatic 4-5 runs given up. And with the Giants offense, although good so far, that is hard to come back from.
The only thing holding the Giants from pulling the trigger in the foreseeable future is Bumgarner's first 3 outings in AAA-Fresno this season. In 3 starts, he is 0-1 with an 8.31 ERA, and only made it through the 4th inning once.
So expect to see Wellemeyer for a little while longer as long as Bumgarner is pitching like that in AAA, but know that it has got to be on the minds of Giants management to replace Wellemeyer sooner than later if this keeps up. If Wellemeyer continues to be the only hole in that pretty rotation, then expect Bumgarner sooner, no matter how he is pitching in AAA.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Still trying to pick your jaw up after watching that game last night? Yeah me too. The San Jose Sharks lost last night in overtime after The Play We Shall Not Speak Of occurred just 51 seconds into overtime.
It was an absolute heartbreaker for the Sharks who were in absolute control of the game from the start of the 2nd period on, and yet no "W."
The news of Dany Heatley sitting out the game had already put the Sharks behind the 8-ball, and wow could they have used his powerplay skills last night. The final tally of the Sharks on the powerplay was 0-6. But the Heater absence was negated, at least a little, with the loss of Avalanche Milan Hejduk who left the game after colliding with his teammate at center ice in the 1st period.
Still, the Sharks played well, in fact, they played great, they just could not find the back of the net, not once, which happens to be the most important part (And by back of the net, I mean the opposing team's net). The Sharks outshot the Avs 51-17, and 43-8 from the 2nd period on. There is no way to relate those stats to the final score.
It was an absolute grudge match that pinned Evgeni Nabokov against Craig Anderson, with Anderson playing the role of a brick wall in front of the net. There wasn't much Nabby could do. He had a couple of huge saves early, and given the opportunity, probably would have been just as hot as Anderson.
Craig Anderson, win or lose, was terrific. It was a performance in net that not many will forget, and could potentially mark this series and maybe his career. He stopped 51 shots, which is unheard of given that these are his first playoffs. The only way to describe his play last night was that he was in the zone. And the Sharks ran into another hot goalie.
How do the Sharks move on from this? They just do. They have to. They need to go back to the fact that they are playing very good hockey right now. They are aggressive, quick, playing solid defense, and getting shots to the net. Getting the puck in the net like they did in Game 2 was not going to happen last night. Anderson was too good, and the Sharks didn't capitalize on the opportunities in front of the net when they needed to, and that may have been the result of no Heater.
If the Sharks score in overtime and win the game, then there is huge momentum going into Game 4 knowing that they just played excellent hockey for the past 2 games. Up until 51 seconds into overtime, they did. In fact, they ARE playing great hockey, but somehow the series is 2-1 in favor of the #8 seeded Avalanche, and the Sharks will have to try to find someway to put The Play We Shall Not Speak Of out of their minds. Someway.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I could have sworn I was watching a Ducks/Sharks game from the first round of the 2009 NHL Playoffs last night. That's how it felt. The San Jose Sharks lost last night to the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 when Avalanche winger Chris Stewart scored off of Rob Blake's skate with a little less than 50 seconds left in the game.
Is this 2009 and before all over again? Probably not, at least I'm not going to say that out loud. Bottom line was the Avalanche defense came to play last night, and the Sharks offense couldn't put the puck in the net. That's it, don't overthink it. In the playoffs, every team brings it every night. That is why it is called the 2nd season. Teams like the Avalanche, who many predicted would not be in this position, have nothing to lose, so they play their hearts out. The Sharks were a victim of that last night.
Sharks fans should be bummed about this, though. After all, the Sharks are the #1 seed playing a team that could not be a more better match-up for them. The Sharks are stronger, bigger, quicker, and more experienced. Then how come they lost so convincingly last night? Sure, the Sharks lost by just one goal, all be it a goal that was scored with 50 seconds left. But the Sharks were a Ryan Clowe "excuse me" goal away from being shut-out.
Credit Evgeni Nabokov with continuing his hot play and stopping 28 shots. But credit Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson even more for stopping all of the weak shots sent his way by the Sharks' offense. The Sharks couldn't get a good opportunity at the goal, and when they did, they couldn't execute it.
The Sharks had 26 shots on net and that is unacceptable for a team that boasts Heatley-Marleau-Thornton. Where were they? They got shots to the net with 8 shots altogether, but none went in, and that seems to be what counts.
Maybe this was a case of a little playoff jitters, or maybe it wasn't, but the the Sharks played last night like they belonged there, when in fact the scoreboard would say otherwise. The Sharks need to play like they are not the #1 seed, because in the playoffs it doesn't matter. As the Sharks franchise knows all too well.
The only thing you can say is tomorrow is another day. I'm not going to call the game on Friday a "must-win," but it would be highly advised.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
What makes this season different? Another #1 seed, another trip to the playoffs, and yet this team is not a favorite by any means to win the Stanley Cup.
With their playoff track-record, who would pick them to win it all? Year after year, we see this team go into the playoffs and come out with nothing. Last year was a new low, even for a franchise that has had as little success as the Sharks in the playoffs.
But this year will be different, right? At least, that's what we have told ourselves for the last 5 seasons. What makes this year different, then?
For one, the Sharks parted ways with 11 guys from last year's team and replaced them with a nice mix of young players and veterans with experience in the game. Torrey Mitchell, Jamie McGinn, Manny Malhotra, and Scott Nichol will all play key roles in these playoffs to help out the front-line guys.
Two, usually the Sharks are crawling into the playoffs with injuries or end-of-season bad play. This year, there are no injuries to speak of and they went 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Joe Thornton scared us for awhile with his injury, but I think that was more of a lengthy rest that Coach Todd McLellan used for him. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is one that is key to the success of the defense, but he is back from his injury and back to his normal defensive self.
Three, Evgeni Nabokov usually struggles in the last few games of the season and brings that with him into the playoffs. But this year, some could argue that Nabby is playing his best since before the Olympic break. Nabby is who determines how far the Sharks will go in the playoffs. If he can take his play from the final games of the regular season and use it in the playoffs, the Sharks may have something.
Four, the Sharks offense is usually fire in the regular season, but tends to slow down in the playoffs. The Sharks addressed that to the fullest extent during the offseason, picking up scorer Dany Heatley in a deal. If that won't fix the problem, nothing will. Plus, Joe Pavelski is peaking at just the right time for the Sharks.
So what makes you think the Sharks won't make a run for the Stanley Cup? Nothing. But if you look closer, things have changed in San Jose. The pieces are there for the first time in a long time for the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup. It is just up to the them to put it all together.