Joe Sacco

Columnist rips Avs’ home record, front office, identity…pretty much everything

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Longtime Colorado Avalanche reporter Adrian Dater took the club to task today in a scathing piece entitled “Avalanche lost in a haunted house.”

Dater aggressively questioned the direction of a team that, after starting the season 6-2-0, has lost nine of its last 11. Five of those losses have come at the Pepsi Center, where only 14,882 are showing up per night. (That’s 24th in NHL attendance.)

Three major issues with the Avs arise in the piece: 1) an inability to win at home, 2) the team’s lack of identity and 3) a muddled front office.

Dater, on Colorado’s home woes: “Trouble, like charity, begins at home. That has certainly been true for Denver’s once-proud NHL franchise, which was slated to start a record eight-game run there on Friday night against the Dallas Stars. Like the weather in Honolulu, such a favorable schedule would ordinarily be cause for some easy forecasting. Avs teams of yore would be expected to win a minimum of six and most likely did. But this most recent edition carried a 2-6-1 home mark into its game against Dallas, and was 5-19-2 overall in its previous 26 home outings.”

Dater, on the lack of identity: “Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the Avs played a free-wheeling, fun, skilled game against the Penguins, taking a 3-1 lead and nearly building a bigger one if not for the stout defensive efforts of a couple of goalposts. In the third period, the Avs tried to slow things down and preserve their advantage. They played too much in their own end and left the arena on the nasty end of the 6-3 final score.

Then on Thursday night in St. Paul, the Avs took on the plodding, defense-minded Wild. Instead of skating like they did in Pittsburgh, they looked like they were trying to match each dump-and-change shift with Minnesota. The result? A competitive game, but a 1-0 loss.

Bottom line: the Avs play too much like the team they’re skating against and often abandon their own distinctive brand of hockey.”

Dater, on the front office: “The team’s ownership group, led by E. Stanley Kroenke and his son, Josh, are rarely seen at home games and they almost never talk publicly about the Avs (though Josh, an executive with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, is often front and center at that team’s press conferences). Below the Kroenkes, former maestro GM Pierre Lacroix retains the title of team president, but he’s rarely around the building anymore too. His son, Eric, is the assistant GM to Greg Sherman. The great and popular [Joe] Sakic has the title of ‘executive adviser.’ Confused yet about really runs the show? The question of who’s in charge has been leveled at the guys upstairs as well as at the guys down on the ice.”

Dater also ripped Sherman’s highly-questionable trades (Craig Anderson-for-Brian Elliott, Chris Stewart/Kevin Shattenkirk-for-Erik Johnson/Jay McClement, Semyon Varlamov-for-1st/2nd round picks), the dragging of feet on naming Milan Hejduk captain (which had been vacant since Adam Foote retired) and the struggling young centerpieces of the team — Paul Stastny and and Matt Duchene.

This is uncharted territory for a team with such rich winning history. The Avs have won two Cups and made the playoffs 12 out of 15 seasons since moving to Colorado. Sure, the Avs have had down years before, but they always seemed to have strong leadership and a sense of direction — something that can’t be said for the current lot.

When looking at the Avalanche of today, one has to wonder what’s the end game.

Despite rough start, the Sharks ‘know we’re going to get better’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Nick Bonino #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates after scoring a third period goal against Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — It’s only been one game of the Stanley Cup Final and the San Jose Sharks are already tired of hearing about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ speed.

“It’s an NHL team,” said defenseman Brent Burns. “They’re fast. So is St. Louis. It’s not like St. Louis has got boots on.”

“They’re a good rush team, they’ve got some speed, they make some plays,” captain Joe Pavelski grudgingly conceded. “I don’t know, those teams we’ve played before are pretty good. I think Nashville was probably one of the better rush teams that we saw.”

In other words, the Penguins’ speed was no big deal. Nothing new. Nothing to panic about. The Sharks can play better than they showed in Game 1, a 3-2 loss that wasn’t decided until the final few minutes.

“They definitely came out with some speed and were skating, created some chances,” said Pavelski. “But we helped that out along the way, too.”

After getting outshot 15-4 and outscored 2-0 in the first period, the Sharks fought back in the second. They cut down the turnovers, outshot the Penguins 13-8, and tied the game.

“They carried the first, obviously. We carried the second I think, and then the third was two good teams going at it,” said Burns, calling the opening 20 minutes a “Holy [expletive] we’re here” experience for a San Jose group that has never been this far in the playoffs.

“You make the Stanley Cup finals, you dream about it for a long time,” he said. “You probably used more energy the last couple of days thinking about it than playing in a game. … I think we’ll be better second game.”

Head coach Pete DeBoer agreed.

“They’re a fast team,” he said. “They dictated play in the first. I thought when we played our game in the second, they had trouble with us. It’s the first game of the series. It reminds me a lot of St. Louis Game 1. I know we’re going to get better. Our execution’s got to get better. Part of it was some of the pressure they put on, but part of it was self-inflicted.”

He added, “There’s nothing that I saw tonight that I’m going out of here thinking that we can’t come out and compete and play much better on our end.”

Sullivan calls it a ‘blindside hit to the head,’ but Marleau doesn’t think suspension’s coming

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PITTSBURGH — It didn’t take long for the first controversial incident of the Stanley Cup Final.

Patrick Marleau‘s illegal check to the head on Bryan Rust — one that earned Marleau a minor penalty, and forced Rust to exit the game — left Rust day-to-day with an upper-body injury, per Pens head coach Mike Sullivan.

When asked what he thought of the hit, Sullivan was blunt.

“It’s a blindside hit to the head,” he said. “[Marleau] gets a penalty and I’m sure the league will look at it.”

Marleau wasn’t saying much about the incident following the game, but did suggest he wasn’t expecting supplemental discipline:

“I just tried to keep everything down,” Marleau added. “I didn’t want to get too high on him.”

It’ll be interesting to see what transpires. There hasn’t been a suspension in the Stanley Cup Final since Vancouver’s Aaron Rome was given a four-game ban for his massive hit on Boston forward Nathan Horton.

Marleau has no history with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

It should be mentioned the DoPS has been fairly active this spring, handing down five suspensions, including a pair of three-gamers to Brooks Orpik and Brayden Schenn.

Bonino scores late, role guys star again as Pens take Game 1

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PITTSBURGH — If this playoff run has proven anything, it’s that the Penguins are more than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Tonight only reaffirmed it.

Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Nick Bonino did all the scoring on Monday, with Bonino’s late marker the winner as Pittsburgh defeated San Jose 3-2 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Bonino’s goal, his fourth of the playoffs, came with just over two minutes remaining, capping off a quality opener in which both teams carried play for long stretches.

Rust and Sheary punctuated a dominant opening period for the Penguins — they out-shot the Sharks 15-4 — but the Sharks replied with a stellar second frame, equalizing on goals from Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau.

That set the stage for a dramatic third, and the Bonino goal.

That he, Rust and Sheary did the scoring for Pittsburgh was fitting. There’d been plenty of talk heading into this series about role players coming up large, to the point where the American Hockey League sent out a press release noting that 23 of 25 Penguins that’ve played in the playoffs thus far came through Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, highlighting this spring’s “big four” of Rust, Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl and Matt Murray.

Rust etched himself into Pittsburgh lore in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over the Lightning.

Murray’s exploits are pretty well-known. The 22-year-old was remarkably solid after regaining the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 6 of the ECF, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

He was good again on Monday, with 24 saves on 26 shots.

Sheary, the diminutive speedster, scored his third goal of the playoffs tonight. Kuhnhackl tied a team high with eight hits.

As such, Pittsburgh has to be thrilled about how tonight went. They held up home ice and got contributions from across the board — the only downer has to be the health of Rust, who twice exited the contest after taking a hit to the head from Marleau.

As for the Sharks… well, this one will sting a bit. The club did remarkably well to rally from a two-goal deficit and carried play in the second period, but can’t be pleased.

They were beaten in the possession game and out-shot badly (41-26), things head coach Peter DeBoer wanted to control against Pittsburgh, a team he considers the fastest in the league.

That said, there are positives moving forward. Martin Jones was outstanding in his Stanley Cup Final debut, with 38 saves on 41 shots, and there’s still a chance to get the split on Wednesday night.

Of course, to do that, the Sharks will have to figure out how to slow down Pittsburgh’s role players.

Video: Patrick Marleau gets minor penalty for hit on Bryan Rust

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Patrick Marleau made a big impact with the 2-2 goal in Game 1, yet a hit he delivered on Bryan Rust might draw more attention.

With the score tied 2-2, Marleau was whistled for a minor penalty for “illegal check to the head” on Rust. The Pittsburgh Penguins power play was not able to score on the San Jose Sharks during that two-minute power play.

Rust left the bench for a short period of time, yet he returned to action.

Some believe that Marleau deserves a look from the Department of Player Safety for the check. Others wonder if it should have been a penalty at all.

Watch the video above and check out the GIFs below to decide for yourself: