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Feeder Fodder
Getting defensive & schedule musings
12/2/07 - By Mike Lee

So it's been a while since I've posted anything outside of game reports, so I thought I'd jot down some quick views on a couple of topics. I'll start with the state of the Sharks at the quarter pole. After 24 games, the Sharks are only 4 points out of the lead for the Pacific Division, but surprisingly sit in 9th place in the Western Conference. If you had told me that the Sharks would be looking up at Minnesota, Dallas, St Louis, Chicago and Nashville in the standings at this point in the season, I'd have told that you were mad.

So the Minnesota and Dallas part isn't that big a surprise, but the fact that the Sharks trail the Blues, Blackhawks and Predators is a bit if a mystery to me. Then again it doesn't. All you need to do is look back to the trade deadline last season to see where the Sharks weakness was. Sharks GM Doug Wilson made it a priority last Spring to land a solid defenseman.

He did that when he acquired Craig Rivet from Montreal , but at the time, he also had Scott Hannan in his defensive corps. San Jose was able to re-sign Rivet over the Summer, but they also lost Hannan to free agency. So the net-net of it all is that the Sharks are essentially in the same place they were last Spring.

I'd argue that Hannan is a better skater, so they downgraded to some degree with the blueline swap. There's no arguing Rivet's value in the locker room, and guys like Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matt Carle have an extra year of experience under their belts, but when it comes to putting up a shutdown type defense out on the ice, they still lack one, even two pieces to the puzzle.

Granted, the Sharks have allowed the 3rd fewest number of goals in the entire NHL (54), averaging 2.25 per game, but their 2.63 goals per game on offense ranks 19th in the league. The focus on team defense is something the Sharks have focused on this season, but in contrast, the absence of any offense is meaningless. They've yet to lose a game in overtime, but are 1-4 in the shootout this season.

Hard to win games without scoring more than the opposition. Robert Lang's goal last Spring changed the complexion of the team overnight. An emphasis on defense isn't a bad thing, so long as you don't lose sight of the end goal.

One or two shutdown defenders accomplish two things. It preserves the focus on defense, and allows your forwards to focus on putting the puck in the net. Time to go fishing for those defenders.

Schedule Bliss

The NHL Board of Governors decision last week to change the layout of the NHL schedule is yet another indication that the league is actually paying attention. Yes, there are plenty of things the NHL can do better, but it's important to understand that organization like the NHL don't move with the nimbleness of a Silicon Valley startup.

The league is still very much run by a group of owners who are set in the ways of the old guard. The lockout, continued revenue decline and too many missteps to name isn't something you turn around in a day. You can't turn an ocean liner on a dime, so why would it be possible to turn a professional sports league around? You don't.

The fact that more Eastern Conference teams will be coming to San Jose is a big win for Sharks fans. It's also a big win for the Sharks, because it means that games are more likely to be sold out.

Seeing the same teams 4 or 5 times a year was getting just plain old. Seeing teams like Toronto and Boston once every 4 years was ridiculous. The fact that the Sharks have feasted on Eastern Conference opponents the last couple of years is the bigger benefit.

So, while it's a small step, it's a step in the right direction. On to the national TV deal with ESPN.

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