| Enough is
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
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?
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
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
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.
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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