The Time Has Come
... for me to assume the, oh so familiar, "I am sorry" stance for not keeping my word about this blog.
I had all the good intentions but ... you know the drill.
However, Playoffs hockey is back, so I am taking this opportunity to do two things : do a postmortem to the regular season, and lay down the expectations for the playoffs.
For the most part, the Sharks have had a decent season by almost any standards. They overcame a series of long term injuries while finishing in 6th place in the league.
However, as usual, the season showed some weaknesses. Some of them we already know or expected : spottiness in performance level among their "leaders", an alarming weakening of Niemi's goaltending, a rather pathetic Power Play, but I have spotted, more often than before, a rather weak match-up game played by the coach.
More than that I have seen him being completely baffled by the opposition and at a total loss on what to do about it. And there there is a goalie game which the coach is still completely lost in and the rather weird reward/punishment system that may have cost the Sharks a few points down the road.
I am hoping the coach will get a grip on all that for the upcoming series against the LA Kings, because we all know what Sutter and his goons will bring with them in the series and if coach Mclellan doesn't get his ducks in order , the Sharks fans will wonder WTH happened in a little over a week from tomorrow.
I will not give grades for the players performance during the season but I will name a few that impressed and a few that left me wanting for more:
Impressed by : virtually all rookies plus Vlasic Pavelski and Sheppard
Performed more or less as expected : Burns, Marleau, Hannan, Braun, Havlat ( considering what he went through)
Disappointed, more or less, by everybody else but with emphasis on Thornton ( drop off in goals scored, even though it was never his strength, is not excusable, plus I questioned his efforts too many nights), Niemi (numbers paint most of the picture but not all of it. His overall game has changed and not for the better and those who read my blog in the past already know I never liked his game), Couture ( he was spottier than Marleau ), Stuart ( maybe i expected waay to much of him) and Irwin ( the guy just doesn't improve fast enough).
With that out of the way, let's talk about the series that starts tomorrow.
i need to address the elephant in the room : who should start in net. The only logical answer is : the starter, Niemi. Yes I am not a fan and yes I have always supported the rookies, but if this team is to have a chance at challenging for the Cup they need the starter because it is more likely Niemi does a repeat job of being average enough to backstop the Sharks to a Cup the way he did for Chicago, than it is for Stalock to take the world by storm and shock everybody with a playoffs for the ages..
Not only that, but Niemi is better suited for the type of game LA will bring. sure, there is the argument that Stalock is not a known commodity to the opposition, being a rookie and all, and that his puck handling can help the D and even the offense but I have a sneaky suspicion he won't have the chance to do that much. Not only that, but Sutter's strategy will not change no matter who is in net and they are suffocating enough not to be afraid of a couple long goalie passes here and there.
So start Niemi and if he blows it up in the first game you go to the rookie and say : "you want a starting job next year: get me this win".
Goaltending has an enormous importance in this series but so does physicality. In this world of increased frowning upon even the world "physicality", let alone the actual implementation of it in the game, the Kings will have it and will dish it out every chance they have. Many so called "pacifist hockey experts" say that you beat a team like that with "skill" and "finesse" and a bunch of other things pulled out of the PETA school of thought. The reality is, it is a long series and if you let the Kings beat up on your from the get go , they will have you down and out long before your skill can reign supreme. Because, you see, the Kings are quite skilled themselves.
So to beat them you have to be close to matching them in the body blow department. And by that I don't mean run around like idiots trying to deliver ridiculous hits that can lead to injuries and suspensions. No, what I do mean is finish your checks, be hard on the stick and harder on the skates. Push them before they push you and you might have a chance to tone them down.
Other than that, the Sharks need the leaders to lead when necessary not when they feel like it ( aka it doesn't matter if Marleau scores a hat trick in a 6-1 blowout if he doesn't get squat in a 1-0 loss in game 7) the rookies need to push themselves beyond any level they have pushed to during the regular season, Stalock needs to be ready to step in and save the day if asked to do so, Havlat needs to stay healthy and show everybody he can still be a factor and Torres need to be allowed to play his game.
If all that happens, and they can keep it u for more than two series, the Sharks get their payback and win this series and can have a good chance at, FINALLY at least play in the finals.
And Win It ALL
Because, as you will see in the included picture, I did pick them to win .
That is it for today but I hope I will write something after every game the Sharks play and/or whenever I get the chance to talk about the other series.
Have a great Stanley Cup Playoffs everybody and GO SHARKS!