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Enough is enough
No more excuses
12/23/07 - By Ken Smyth

It's finally hit me. Next home game, I want the guy from "Pulp Fiction" at the press conference. "Say what again, motherf@#$, say "what" one more damn time!" Next player or coach who has a bad game and then says "what we need is.." or "What we didn't do is.."gets one!

The plain fact is that this is far and away the most talented group of players the San Jose Sharks' ever assembled but they seem to be completely disinterested in playing in San Jose. You can't say the Sharks have given up on the coach, they look like a team that's given up on hockey. This means that a lot of visiting teams are finding the San Jose Arena rather cozy, especially Anaheim, Detroit and Dallas.

We can rant on and on about whose fault it is and who needs to be fired or traded. I know that I do. We fans, everywhere, also get caught up in all the "what" stuff. Check out the flaming posts after the dismal 7-1 loss to Buffalo Sabres on December 8th. With a couple names and situations changed the same rants are on the Sabres' board after their equally listless showing at home against Boston on December 10th. We're all just guessing, and saying "what." Blam!

Management so far has been lucky. It was good for a while that out of the seventeen thousand some people in the arena crowd only the eighteen uniformed players were completely bored with Sharks hockey. But that's been changing, too. Notice how when the game is not a sell-out they don't announce the attendance to the crowd? You can blame the schedule that has the Sharks playing the Ducks four times in about a month, but there are empty seats appearing.

Back when the Sharks were scrappy and struggling, they played well enough at home to make things interesting, especially if they made it out of the first period with the score tied or down by only one. This current team is near the bottom of the NHL in second period scoring. Outside of a franchise shift to Tonopah, Nevada (Mizpah Hotel is for sale, again; again cheap) or filtered visors to make opposing teams' colors look Coyotes' red, what's (Blam!) to be done?

This falls back to the team and the coaching. Accountability is a word used and people like the sound until it's used on them. Until Doug Wilson makes a change Ron Wilson is stuck with the team and they're stuck with him. The Sharks are still tied up in the standings with an old group from Anaheim (that paid a lot to get Scott Niedermayer back) and a surprisingly good young Dallas team. They could use a second goaltender with NHL experience (Wade Flaherty returns!) and an experienced forward or two, and maybe a top four defenseman come the trade deadline. We can't control how well this team plays, luckily we don't have to watch.

Trapped again?

The Law of Unintended Consequences always bites where you don't want it, sort of like fleas in a sleeping bag. Moving the bluelines out to give more room in the offensive zone popped up the scoring for a season or two. But the so-called trap is back with a new location.

Traditionally, on defense a winger covered the opposing defenseman on the blueline; trying to break up his shots or passes from the point and staying ready for a pass that might spring him on a breakaway or a 2-on-1. The bigger zone means that winger is further from his own net if he plays this way and not as involved in team defense, which for a player is a sure path to being a healthy scratch.

This season I see more teams moving the wingers down towards the top of the face-off circle, into the shooting lane from the point, and using them like a first layer of defensemen.

Two wingers alongside the slot defensively is a lot like a penalty-kill with an extra man still free to be a pest on the boards or around the net. If you have a Joe Thornton-type passer setting up along the boards it means there is a defenseman and a forward in his face with his two line mates both covered. A Patrick Marleau who passes from around the face-off circle gets the defenseman in front of him, a winger trying to poke the puck away behind him, and one of his own wingers double-teamed. Unless a defenseman pinches, the offense is at a 3-5 disadvantage. That's like the odds on the lottery. If a defenseman does come in to help there's a chance at a breakaway. Wingers tend to be faster skaters than d-men; giving one a puck and a couple steps is always a bad idea.

This scheme reduces territorial responsibilities of the defensemen, putting them closer to the net, and lets teams again use big grabby pylons who were supposed to be eliminated by the rules changes. Forwards are now blocking shots about as much as defensemen. Anaheim and Detroit used this alignment to great advantage in the playoffs last year. Now it looks like the whole Western Conference is doing it. Net result is, the dreaded trap is back, this time in the offensive zone rather than the defensive.

As of Tuesday, NHL team goal totals show a noticeable tilt towards the Eastern Conference. Only three of fifteen Western teams are in the top ten goals-per-game, with Detroit the only one in the top five. Maybe it's just the jet lag but maybe Mike Rathje and Derien Hatcher retired too soon. The NHL may again tinker with the rules if the situation doesn't sort itself out. As far as the Sharks are concerned, Joe Thornton is setting up in all kinds of unaccustomed spots (including Gretzky's 'office' behind the net.) trying to make the defensemen think and act fast. Marleau doesn't look like he's got a clue.

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