post season things to be thankful for

I want to give thanks for a couple of things:

First, thanks to the Washington Capitals for making it past the Rangers. Both because I really am enjoying watching the Caps (a really good team with great players and some notable flaws) roll into the playoffs. It’ll just be fun to see how far they get.

Second, thanks to the New Jersey Devils for a game 7, last minute meltdown that both knocked them out of the playoffs (sorry, guys!) AND the Sharks out of the primary slot of the “how could they screw up that badly?” on the talk shows. While the Sharks implosion in the playoffs was bad, the Devils game 7 loss was historic.Doesn’t mean the Sharks problems are less serious, it just means I don’t have to read/listen to everyone dwell on them quite so enthusiastically.

I have my own thoughts on “what next?” for the sharks, of course. Wanted to get away from the emotion of the moment a bit, and I’m waiting to hear what injuries weren’t being disclosed, although to be honest, some of the folks I know who work in the locker room hinted to me there’s nothing significant, at least not among the players I’m most disappointed in. More on this later, but to be blunt about it, the pundits out there (you know who you are) who are looking at Lemieux and Roenick or Blake, or at Nabokov, are looking in the wrong place. This wasn’t a failure of the third and fourth lines, or of the old farts.

Although I did hear an interesting (apocryphal) story that after game 2 in round one, one of the minority owners in the  owners box threw a chair, made a comment (loudly) about “nobody over 30″ and stalked out of the box, not to be seen again the rest of the series.

that said, I’m finding Jeremy Roenick’s comments very interesting and saying more than most people realize, especially given some other things Roenick has done recently. It speaks to me of the direction I see the team needing to go. But — that’s for later.

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

Suspensions in the playoffs (and sharks game 6)

Brashear gets six games in the playoffs — well deserved, and well done NHL. The only way you stop this kind of crap is to kick them where it hurts. And Brashear needed a 2×4. Given Betts has a broken orbital bone and is out for a while, I’m glad the league came down hard here.

The Tortorella suspension? Unfortunate, but earned. Same penalty Tie Domi got for watering a fan and turning a small altercation into a bigger one. You simply DON’T DO THAT. And while I have some sympathy for Sather wanting sanctions on the Caps (they’re deserved, from what I can tell), it doesn’t argue away the issue of YOU DON’T DO THAT.  The Tortorella suspension should be ground zero for the debate on how the NHL handles things, mostly because the fans are always complaining that the league is too soft (except when it impacts their team, or “the game”). The league did right here.

As far as the Sharks? I finally saw the kind of game I felt this team was capable of; not perfect, but Joe Thornton finally stepped it up and played a “Joe thornton playoff game”. Will that game appear in game 6 tonight? If it does, the Ducks are done. Am I convinced? Far from it, but at least I’m looking forward to this game with some anticipation instead of resignation. There’s hope in Sharks land again, at least for me, that Thornton has finally figured out what it takes to win in the playoffs. I give the team a 25% to force a game 7, well up from “not gonna happen”. And if Game 7 happens, I expect the Ducks to go down. I don’t, however, expect the Ducks to go quietly. This’ll be a game to watch. Especially Joe.

There are some writers out here putting the blame on Nabokov for soft goals. Fortunately, these are writers who ignore hockey except when it’s playoff time, so it’s easy to realize they don’t have a clue and ignore them, hence I’m not linking to them (Hi, Mark. Hey, Ray, go cover the Warriors in the playoffs instead like you prefer. Oh, wait..). While I don’t completely exonerate Nabby, both of the goals in game 5 were started by defensive and coverage problems that had a lot more to do with the goals happening than Nabby did. When one of your players runs into a linesman and falls down and turns over the puck at the blueline, bad things usually happen… But you actually have to watch hockey to know that, it’s much easier for a columnist to blame the goalie….

Game on!

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

game 5 pregame notes

I apologize for the lack of hockey posting the second half of the season. I think maybe my (relative) lack of enthusiasm this season is because, frankly, I’m not surprised the Sharks are in this position.

They got off to a massively positive start, and somewhere along the way, started coasting. That coast has to a good degree continued into the first round.

I was wrong, however, when I said only two teams could beat the Sharks. There’s a third, and that’s the Ducks, and they’re doing an awesome job of keeping the Sharks from executing. The Sharks have had trouble stepping it up that next notch, but if the first round team was anyone but the Ducks (i.e., Columbus or St. Louis) this team would have rolled, if you ask me. At the same time, this team was built — and is capable of — beating any team going toe to toe. It just isn’t.

So it’s not about matchups (an easier first round would be nice, but no excuse). It’s not about how well the Ducks are playing, or Hiller is playing (they are awesome, and if you step back from being a team’s fan, both sides are playing some pretty damn good hockey, but there’s no excuse that the Ducks are outplaying the Sharks given relative talent levels).

It’s all about stepping up in the playoffs and the Ducks have, and the Sharks to a degree haven’t. And when I say “to a degree”, I’m specifically calling out four or five players in the top 3 forward lines, and most specifially, three of the top six forwards. And one in particular.

Yes, him.

I went into the playoffs feeling that anything less than Western Conference finals was a failure for the Sharks. Here we are, merely wondering if the Sharks can get to game 6. I consider game 7 a miracle, and requires heros.

Making it to game six itself requires heroes. Washington found one in Matt Bradley (way to go, Matt!); who’s the hero in San Jose? I’ll give credit to Cheechoo, he’s been pushing, gutty and simply can’t do it alone.

My view — it’s over. The only question is tonight or game six.  I can’t see this team making it out of this round, I can’t really see this team getting to game 7. I just don’t see the people who need to step up doing so.

What makes a star in the game is how they play the game for six months a year. To become a superstar, you have to prove it in the playoffs.

So far, the Sharks have a number of stars, and the ones that could become superstars in the game — aren’t. Or can’t. Or maybe they can, but haven’t before not. Tonight would be a good time to start. I’m not holding my breath.

Now, assuming the Sharks don’t get out of the first round, then what?

Changes. Forward changes. Top six changes. We’ll have to consider something I think we all thought unthinkable going into the season. No, not putting Marleau on the altar, he stays.

But if we don’t make it out of this round, I can think of two players that have proven to me that the best they’ll ever be are stars, and I think the Sharks have to think long and hard about rearranging the roster and move those players and allow some of the players that seem to be emerging to take on the roles that allow them to take a shot at being superstars.

Because, have you noticed it? As the season’s rolled along, he’s gone from being “Little Joe” to just “Joe”?

I’ll be there tonight, rooting them on. I hope to be proven wrong, but I expect it’s our last hockey game of the season.

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

The 2009 Playoffs western conference predictions

This is going to be one hell of a playoffs.

There are really only two teams that “should” go to the Stanley Cup finals from the west. San Jose and Detroit. Everyone else is a dark horse.

That said — both teams are vulnerable to upsets, and I wouldn’t be at all suprised if it happens.

Detroit: will their goaltending be good enough to support a deep run? the last two games against Chicago indicates that might be a problem.

San Jose: this team had plenty of injuries in the second half of the season, but honestly, they seemed to lose interest as well and coast. The good news is — they still won the President’s Cup. The bad news is: that won’t be good enough in the playoffs. If any team can “flip the switch” and get going in the playoffs, the Sharks can, but if it takes more than a period or two the Sharks could find themselves in trouble.

So either — or both — of these teams could be missing from the western final. I give it about 50-50 one of them will be. Which one? Pick ‘em. But honestly, the sharks problems are more solvable than the Wings are; if the goaltending isn’t there, it’s all over. And I don’t trust either Osgood or Conklin based on their play the second half of this season.

Honestly? With the exception of Calgary, which just looks — off — anyone in the West can go on a run and go deep. Seven of the 8 teams are teams that I think are legitimately dangerous, and there are some goaltenders out there that can kill any other team in a series, starting with Luongo. So the west is really a crapshoot. Other than my believing that Calgary just can’t get past Chicago, the other three series should be tough and fun series.

San Jose/Anaheim: San Jose in 5. This isn’t the cup winning team of a couple of years ago. It tends to look old, and it’s one of the teams where I think the goaltending just won’t be strong enough. I think the Sharks can out-physical them, and the Ducks take too many penalties and penalties at bad times, which plays into the Sharks strength. The best way to beat the Sharks is stay even strength, and the Ducks can’t.

Detroit/Columbus: Detroit in 5. But Columbus goaltending is strong, the Wings didn’t look good this last week, and their goaltending? I’m betting Conklin holds up for a series, but if I’m Mike Babcock, I’m not feeling overly confident right now.

Vancouver/St. Louis: Vancouver in 6. The Blues are a true cinderalla story, but don’t expect them to go quietly. But Luongo will be the difference here. Just don’t expect any “happy to be here” team to show up.

Chicago/Calgary: Chicago in 5. Chicago is firing on all cylinders and plays a fast, physical style I like. Calgary isn’t. This series should be (relatively) easy, but the Flames will get physical and Iginla won’t go quietly. But the Hawks should go into the next round.

If Detroit gets goaltending, the only team that can beat them is San Jose.

The only teams that can beat San Jose are — Detroit, and San Jose. I wish I were more confident that a self-inflicted wound wasn’t likely.

I am picking San Jose to come out of the West, though, but only giving it a 50% likelihood of happening. 25% to Detroit. and 25% to the field, and in the field, I really like Chicago and I wouldn’t put it past Columbus and Vancouver if their goaltending carries them.

Tomorrow, the east.

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

Looking back on the season — my predictions

Before the season, I (as usual) predicted the season results for the western conference. this year I didn’t do the eastern due to lack of time. But how did I do?

My guaranteed playoff teams?

  • Sharks
  • Detroit
  • Calgary
  • Dallas
  • Anaheim

Sharks and Detroit? yes (duh). Calgary? Just missed winning the conference to Vancouver, finished 6th. Dallas? well, um, no. And Anaheim is in, but in 8th (and playing the Sharks).

Bubble Teams:

  • Minnesota
  • Edmonton
  • Nashville
  • Chicago
  • Columbus
  • Colorado
  • Vancouver

The good news is that three of my bubble teams made it in,t he bad news is none of the ones I picked for 6-7-8 did. In reality, I only picked four of the 8 western playoff teams. Not a good year for me. Nashville JUST missed, but that doesn’t count.

Picking St. Louis out of the playoffs. Ding. better luck next year, but who knew?

All in all? A so so year. Let’s see how I handle the playoffs.

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports