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A tale of two games
Differing expectations between coasts
11/18/05 - by Ken Smyth

In four days I saw NHL games in two cities: Boston and San Jose. For fans in one it's the best of times, in the other it's the worst of times, yet the teams aren't that much different in the standings. (note: stealing from Dickens shows good taste and low ethics, both very important virtues for anybody planning a career in Silicon Valley or attending Harvard Business School.)

The fans who watched the Bruins kick the Penguins around 6-3 in Boston were generally very happy that the NHL was back, and pretty confident their team would prevail. Here in San Jose, the Sharks beat Nashville in an overtime thriller. While a win is a win, we were squirming a bit as yet another backup goalie for the other team stood on his head out there.

So what's the deal? Take a look at the scores, and take a look at the ceiling. Boston is making the games exciting to watch. Sixty-four goals scored and a lot of penalty minutes in seventeen games mean that even their losses are colorful. Boston also has tradition. The Bruins again play in a building called "the Garden" ("Banknorth Garden", following another corporate coupling- bankers hookup and break-up like prairie dogs with a Viagra stash) and the messy clutter of Stanley Cup banners and retired numbers hanging from the rafters helps remind everyone that their team can win it all, some of the time. The Sharks are playing tight games, winning a lot of them but losing too. Those two Pacific division banners are nice but awfully lonely. It doesn't help that the biggest problem on the Sharks right now- not scoring goals- is one of their traditions.

As for injuries, it's the time in the season that every team can point to a few starters who are hobbled. Losing two goaltenders could've hurt, but Nolan Schaefer came up from Cleveland and did a great job. Keeping goals out is not the problem. Scoring is. With Scott Thornton hurt and sitting, there is a big hole at left wing. Nils Ekman becomes invisible more shifts than a cocktail waitress dating the casino manager, and Marco Sturm can't play sixty minutes, or even thirty, and be effective.

History tells us that any October the Sharks' stagger out of on one skate and with less than thirteen stitches is a good one. A .500 start is an improvement over most years for this team. We all know that Bay Area fans get pessimistic any time our teams don't completely dominate the opposition, but relax a bit. Time is there and things could be worse. Notice the extra patrols on the Golden Gate Bridge after 49ers games to prevent fans from doing something crazy on the way home? Even with all than protection, the quarterbacks now detour through Oakland to be safe.

Road Trip- Boston

A few words about seeing a game in Boston- do it! The Banknorth Garden (renamed when Toronto Dominion bought out Fleet) is easy to find: it's that big ugly heap of cement that looks like airport parking where the old Garden used to be, and it's on top of a main commuter rail station. Don't worry about finding the place. Two marks of a true city are honest scalpers and taxi drivers who know their town- Boston has both.

We got a pair of seats in the corner on the lower bowl about halfway up for face value. They were comfortable and with good sight lines. Great views of Mario Lemieux doing his thing just like he did in the old days, though a little slower, and Sidney Crosby proving he's for real. If the Penguins can hold onto him and fame doesn't go to his head (or his waist, Mr. Falloon) he'll be a top forward- fast, smooth, and with an accurate shot. Other than Lemieux and Crosby, though; the Penguins are a lot like some Sharks teams of the recent past- one good line, a lot of veterans who are past serving on a top team and a lot of young players who probably will never see it.

The Bruins are still the Bruins- score some goals and hope they can get a lead and then beat the opposition into submission. A few things that looked very non-Original Six: people coming and going anytime they wanted from the seats and blonde "Ice Girls" who skated out and held the trash pails for the snow shovel guys during breaks.

After the game, you're in the neighborhood of the old Garden and there's lots of pubs and clubs along Canal and Friend Streets to hang out with some new best friends. Or, walk a few blocks to the North End for some good Italian food, not far from Paul Revere's house; though hanging lamps in the Church is a lot harder with the 21st century security system now in place. The Improv Asylum is right there on Hanover Street, if you need something to laugh at other than the weather.

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