Sharks struggle to start strong after Olympics

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sharks.jpgWith a respectable 3-2-1 record since getting back from the Olympics, you can fault most people for assuming that everything is fine at the Shark Tank. However, Fear the Fin’s Mr. Plank is not one of those people; he points out that the Sharks are clearly struggling (particularly early in games) and wonders how much longer the team can mask such blemishes.

I doubt I need to reiterate how important scoring first is to winning hockey games, but here’s some context– San Jose has a 77.4% winning percentage when scoring first this season, compared to a 51.4% winning percentage when giving up the first goal. Coincidentally, the Sharks are actually 2nd in the league in terms of being able to come back when trailing initially– silver lining again, but obviously not a situation they wish to find themselves in on the majority of nights.

… Overall, the Sharks have spent 42.06% of their game time tied, 42.35% down by at least a goal, and 15.59% with the lead.

They have three first period goals, two second period goals, and an astounding fifteen tallies in the third period.

Not to iodize old – yet still raw – wounds, but Sharks fans can’t be blamed for constantly waiting for the next shoe to drop.


In last year’s playoffs, they received what I felt was a really rough draw (would you rather play a loaded Anaheim Ducks team or two overachieving happy-to-be-there bunches in St. Louis or Columbus?) and bowed out in the first round. They’re once again fighting for the Presidents’ Trophy and are almost guaranteed to win their third consecutive Pacific Division title (not to mention their fourth 100 point finish in a row), but Sharks fans could care less. All they want is for the team to make the token “choking” jokes go away.

On some level, I wonder if the Sharks are simply bored. Yet again, the team ran away with what is actually a very tough division. Once more, they find themselves with nothing but first place in the West to fight for. As much as we like to think that effort, skill and coaching matter the most, there’s little question that hockey is also a game of bounces and (at least somewhat) of luck. Being the juggernaut that “cannot deliver when it matters the most” must be incredibly taxing.

Personally, I think the Sharks are as good a bet as any. Evgeni Nabokov can be overrated at times, but I’d still take him over Chicago’s goalies. If Marc-Edouard Vlasic can be healthy and rust-free by playoff time, they have a sturdy defense (even if it’s less dominant than years past). Dany Heatley can also take some of the pressure away from eternal scapegoats Joe Thornton and awkward Patrick Marleau.

Like any team, the Sharks have their issues but they’re still my pick to hoist the Cup (even if this very sentence does nothing to endear me to Sharks fans fearing a jinx, along with many people who prefer to lean on played-out punchlines).

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.

Report: Former NHL referee Devorski to stop by Jets camp

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There is heightened focus on penalties right now and the Winnipeg Jets have taken the step of bringing former NHL referee Paul Devorski to training camp for help.

The league is cracking down on slashes and faceoff infractions right now, although according to Sportsnet, Devorski’s influence at Jets camp will go beyond just those two calls.

From Sportsnet:

The retired NHL referee will be at training camp on Friday where he will officiate the team during battle drills to give Jets players a better sense of how to stay within the rules.

NHL teams reaching out to the league to consult on officiating is not new, but having a referee work on-ice with a team is a less common step.

Currently many NHL teams are consulting with the league over more hot-button issues like slashing and faceoff violations, but the Jets focus with Devorski will be on past issues.

Around the league, it will be interesting to see if there is an increase in the number of penalties called, especially early on, and if so, the possible impact that will have on the games once the regular season gets going next month.

Per Michael Traikos of the National Post, there had been 91 slashing penalties called through 19 exhibition games in which real-time statistics were kept prior to Wednesday’s slate of games.

“It definitely changes how you have to defend. Those reactionary slashes of the stick, taps to the hands, are so ingrained in a defenceman,” Eric Gryba told Sportsnet. “If they stay as rigid on the rules as they are right now… the whole makeup, landscape of the D-corps is going to change, from top to bottom. Everyone is going to have to be a better skater to defend.”

The new tweak on faceoffs has also garnered some critics. Like Brad MarchandHe isn’t a fan.

“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand told CSNNE earlier this week.

“Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

While the Jets are seeking the knowledge of a seasoned official to help them stay out of the penalty box beyond slashing and faceoff violations, it seems the entire league is in for quite a learning experience over these next few weeks.

Canucks, Kings ‘put on a show’ during first NHL preseason game in China

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SHANGHAI (AP) A golden dragon was held aloft on poles by skaters. Kobe Bryant appeared on video. NHL mascots gave the crowd a primer on what this odd game is all about.

NHL preseason hockey made its debut in China – a 5-2 victory by the Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks – in a step by the league to crack an immense market.

The fans in Shanghai got a fast and physical display Thursday – 17 power plays and 57 shots on goal, all met with loud cheers. Each hard check drew a collective “oooh” or “aaah.”

“Obviously, you wanted to put on a show for the fans here and they got to see some goals, too,” said Vancouver forward Sven Baertschi, who scored the Canucks’ first goal.

An announcer came onto the ice to explain the finer points of the game as Fin (Vancouver’s killer whale) and Bailey (Los Angeles’ lion) acted out infractions such as charging, crosschecking, tripping and hooking.

A golden Chinese dragon came out next, hoisted on poles by seven skaters. A group of Chinese kids in hockey uniforms joined the NHL players during China’s national anthem.

With Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the NHL is showcasing two preseason games in a country unfamiliar with hockey. The Kings and Canucks play their second game in Beijing on Saturday.

Even if the rules remain somewhat of a mystery, the crowd appreciated the speed and collisions.

“To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know the crowd, the noise, the atmosphere,” Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. “I think the whole thing for me is we’re here to grow the game. It’s my hope that the more they see it, the more people like it.”

Tanner Pearson scored twice for the Kings and Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter each had a goal and an assist. Jonathan Quick made 31 saves.

Team allegiances were hard to find in the crowd, the most demonstrative fans being rowdy Canadians waving their country’s flag.

Spectator Inge Zhang was more appropriately attired for an NBA game, wearing a Miami Heat jersey with pink letters. A media manager for the Shanghai Sharks basketball team, she was excited because she heard a certain NBA great might be there.

“So we came here actually for Kobe Bryant,” she said while her friend laughed. “But I love this sport, too.”

Bryant, in fact, did show, although in a video message to support his hometown Kings.

“I see more foreigners here tonight than Chinese, but I think there are still a lot of hockey fans in China,” Zhang added. “I think the NHL should take this opportunity to grow the sport here.”

That’s the plan now that the NHL has signed a contract to bring two preseason games to China for six of the next eight years.

“The effort here really is to build from the grassroots up, to try to grow the appreciation for the sport, the understanding of the sport,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before the game. “We’ve certainly made the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the Chinese government aware that we’re willing to help any way we can as they gear up and prepare for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.”

But this is the first step in a long process.

“It’s great for China itself to see the NHL live and in person, see the speed of the game, how good the players are,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “But whenever you’re bringing hockey to a new country, it’s going to take time. I think it’s great the NHL is committed to doing that.”

Blackhawks release trio from professional tryouts

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The Chicago Blackhawks made some roster moves Thursday, releasing forwards Drew Miller and John Mitchell, and defenseman Mark Stuart from their professional tryouts.

All three players were added to the training camp roster at the beginning of last week, after Cody Franson was previously brought in to the Blackhawks camp on a PTO.

Chicago is now down to 54 players in camp.

Miller, 33, had spent the last eight seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, although he also spent seven games in the minors last season with their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.

Stuart, 33, spent the last six years on the Winnipeg Jets blue line. Mitchell, 32, had played the last five seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.