Sunday, October 28, 2007

Setoguchi, Kaspar to debut against Stars

With Ryane Clowe and Rob Davison on injured reserve, two former San Jose first-round picks, Devin Setoguchi (8th overall in 2005) and Lukas Kaspar (22nd overall in 2004), will make their NHL debuts Monday night, when Dallas hosts the Sharks, reports David Pollak.

Setoguchi finished third in NHL preseason goal scoring, compiling five goals and seven points in six preseason games for the Sharks, but a leg injury prevented him from starting the season on the active roster, allowing him to rehabilitate in the AHL. In six preseason games, Kaspar regsitered four assists, good for second on the team, and eleven shots on goal. In 160 career games for the Worcester franchise, Kaspar has scored 27 goals and 51 assists for 78 points. Setoguchi has been held off the scoresheet in three games for Worcester this season, but in 255 career WHL games for Saskatoon and Prince George, has scored 118 goals and 125 assists for 243 points, along with 19 goals and 14 assists in 29 playoff games.

But enough statistics. Setoguchi and Kaspar are obviously being counted on to jump start what has been a tepid offense the last two games for the Sharks, with Kaspar likely to flank Patrick Marleau and Steve Bernier on the team's second line and Setoguchi to play right wing on the third line with Patrick Rissmiller and the team's other rookie, Torrey Mitchell. While Kaspar's offensive statistics are fairly underwhelming for a first-round draft pick, he has developed into an all-rounded two-way player in the AHL and will likely be counted on to bring speed and defensive conscience to Marleau's line and, with Mike Grier continuing to nurse a groin injury, may see some time on the penalty kill. Setoguchi developed considerable chemistry playing with Mitchell in the preseason and having the speedy center as his pivot once again should help Setoguchi adjust to the NHL.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Blue Jackets 2, Sharks 1

It has gotten to the point where "It's early" is no longer a palatable excuse.

The Sharks have suffered a weekend from hell with losses to Detroit and, earlier today, the Blue Jackets. The consecutive losses mark the Sharks' first losing streak of the season and serve to further underscore how dissapointing this young season has been, with San Jose having compiled a mediocre 5-5-1 record through 11 games. Perhaps most embarassing is the fact that the Sharks hit the net just 28 times in their back-to-back defeats.

To give credit where credit is due, however, the Blue Jackets definitely look like a team on the upswing with a legitimate chance to qualify for their first ever postseason berth. They have thoroughly bought in to Ken Hitchcock's conservative system and Rick Nash looks more like a superstar now than he did when he lead the league in goals during the 03-04 campaign.

Of course, that isn't to make excuses for the Sharks' lackluster play against Columbus. The supposedly high-powered offense is teetering precariously on the brink of anemic, with Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo continuing to make as much of an impact on the scoresheet as Ron Wilson. And speaking of Wilson, the Sharks coach's constant shuffling of lines, as noted in a previous entry, seems to be compounding the Sharks' problems. With Dallas and Los Angeles winning tonight, the Sharks fall to third in the Pacific Division, well out of playoff positioning and Monday's tilt against the Stars has become as close to a must-win as it gets in October. Evgeni Nabokov, who had another excellent game against the Jackets, highlighted by a larcenous stop on David Vyborny, has been the team's lone bright spot and the reason the embarassing losses to Detroit and Columbus weren't downright humilating.

It's true that we have yet to approach Halloween, but with the Sharks' season quickly coming off the tracks, it's safe to say that it can no longer be considered "early."

Red Wings 5, Sharks 1


The Sharks were utterly dominated last night, there really is no other way to put it. Alexei Semenov's late goal salvaged the shutout, but for all intents and purposes, this loss was every bit as bad as last December's 8-0 drubbing at the hands of the Coyotes, which has now become the gold standard for Sharks futility.

It's true that, due to flight delay, the team hadn't taken the ice in four days, but even exiting from a decade-long hibernation would have been no excuse for the effort (or, more accurately, lack thereof) the Sharks put up last night. They were thoroughly obliterated by a team that just seemed to want the win more. Ron Wilson can shuffle the lines as much as he damn pleases, but I honestly don't think it's going to change a thing. Simply slapping players on different units not only fails to combat the team's primary problem, the lack of a will to win, but it may actually be counterproductive as, through ten games, no one has been able to generate any semblance of chemistry with anyone else.

I hate to jump on the anti-Marleau bandwagon, but the Sharks captain, with four points and a +0, has been invisible through ten games. Of course, as explained above, San Jose's problem is not one that is limited to a single player. In fact, it's a miracle the team has five wins and the division lead (the latter of which can likely be attributed to Anaheim's endless string of injuries and Dallas' inability to score) because no one on that roster has put up a consistent effort.

Of course, to say this is solely an emotional problem would be quite shallow. The offense was incapable last night, and have been too many nights already in this young season, of sustaining a forecheck and generated fewer than five legitimate scoring chances, meaning they really had no chance to win this game no matter who was in net for the Red Wings. The defense has been far better than any of us could have predicted, but gaffes by forwards on the backcheck (Steve Bernier a culprit last night on the Andreas Lilja goal) have made our blueline look bad as well. Overall, too many questions, too few answers for the Sharks, and as Wilson said after the game, perhaps the most difficult challenge will be to put this game behind them and prepare for this afternoon's affair with the Blue Jackets.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sharks 2, Blackhawks 1

Chicago rookie Jonathan Toews scored his first career goal on his first career shot in his first career game, but that didn't prevent the San Jose Sharks from dominating on the shot clock and turning in one of their more complete performances of the young season.

Milan Michalek potted two power play goals, the second of which he tipped past Nikolai Khabibulin with just 3:31 remaining in regulation time to give the Sharks a 2-1 win over the youthful Hawks. Definitely a far better all-around performance from the Sharks than their 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche Sunday, but the Sharks are in dire need of getting more traffic to the front of the net, which they finally accomplished on Michalek's game-winning goal.

Joe Thornton seemed to be laboring somewhat in this game, but no word of an injury whatsoever. He's gotten off to a bit of a slow start by his lofty standards, with two goals and an assist through four games but there's no doubt he'll rebound. One facet of his game that he's improved tremendously however is faceoffs at 73.9%.

Three Stars:
1. Milan Michalek: 2G
2. Jonathan Toews: 1G, +1
3. Craig Rivet: 2A, 22:56TOI

Sharks split up top line

Well that didn't last long.

The experiment of placing Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau on an uber-stacked top line has officially been put on hold, as Ron Wilson is now utilizing the intriguing combination of Ryane Clowe, Thornton and Cheechoo on the team's No. 1 unit, with Marleau centering Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier for a familiar trio that dominated in the 2006 playoffs.

While splitting up the three is definitely part of the answer to the Sharks' problems in Denver Sunday night, the placement of Clowe alongside Thornton and Cheechoo doesn't make too much sense to me. While Clowe has tons of skill and is big and physical, it has been proven time and time again that a fast left winger works best with the Sharks' dynamic duo. That line needs a natural left wing (i.e., not Marleau) who can open up space for Thornton and Cheechoo. Michalek is obviously custom made for this role, but Wilson, for whatever reason, has yet to play the Czech forward on the big line.

Now Clowe could still be a palatable option if he uses his size to clear room for Thornton and Cheechoo to work their magic, and the trio was actually reasonably effective for a brief stretch last February following an injury to Marleau. According to the afore-linked Working the Corners blog, Joe Pavelski centered Torrey Mitchell and Mike Grier on the third line, while Jeremy Roenick was inexplicably placed at left wing on the fourth line alongside Marcel Goc and Curtis Brown, presumably making Pat Rissmiller the odd man out when the Sharks face Chicago tomorrow. Honestly, the early stage of the season is partially about trying different combinations, seeing what works and finding chemistry. And for that very reason, I would be much obliged if Wilson fulfilled my pipe dream by putting Mitchell on the second line with Marleau and Michalek, instantly giving the Sharks the fastest line in the NHL. Pretty please?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Avalanche 6, Sharks 2

As Sharks commentator Randy Hahn astutely noted on the telecast, not since the Coyotes drubbed the Sharks 8-0 last December has a Sharks loss been this embarassing. San Jose was able to use that rout as motivation to turn their season around, and it paid off in a big way last year as the team posted a great record down the stretch. Hopefully they can put the same positive spin on this 6-2 loss to the Avs.

There's definitely not much I liked about the Sharks this game. Their power play was atrocious as the team simply refused to shoot the puck with the man advantage. The defense persistently turned the puck over, with Craig Rivet in particular having a lackluster game on the back end. Up front, the Clowe--Pavelski--Bernier unit was the only Sharks line with any semblance of offensive pressure, an issue Ron Wilson certainly seemed to notice when he swapped Jonathan Cheechoo with Torrey Mitchell on the top line.

Everyone knew it would be a tough road stretch to open the season for the Sharks, but for a team many have pegged to win the Stanley Cup, they sure haven't been dealing with adversity very well. They'll have a bit of a break after playing three games in three different states in two different countries in four nights, with their next contest Wednesday against the Blackhawks, which should help the team focus. Wednesday also marks the first day training camp tryout Sandis Ozolinsh will be eligible for signing. The offensive-minded defenseman traveled with the Sharks to Denver and with the recent power-play issues, it's entirely plausible that Doug Wilson inks him to a bare-bones contract similar to the one Jeremy Roenick signed in September.

Overall, a brutal game for the Sharks, but kudos to the Avs who can more than mask their mediocre goaltending and defense with contributions like this from Paul Stastny, who is quickly making a case to be considered alongside Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin as the league's next breed of stars. Hopefully, the Sharks can learn from this early-season experience that talent doesn't immediately translate into wins and play a more well-rounded game from here on out.

Three Stars:
1. Paul Stastny: 1G, 4A, +3
2. Milan Hejduk: 2G, 1A, +3
3. Ryan Smyth: 1G, 1A, +3

Week 1: NHL Power Rankings

Unless I get lazy, I'll try and post power rankings of the 30 teams each Sunday. This week's rankings are obviously a bit premature, but I've ranked the teams weighing their record and strength of opposition and have presented who, in my opinion, has been the team's MVP thus far.

1. Nashville -- So what if Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg, Tomas Vokoun, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell are gone, Steve Sullivan and Shea Weber are injured and the very status of the Predators' formerly-completed sale is in question? The Preds haven't missed a beat, outscoring Colorado and Dallas 9-1 and going 2-0 in their first two contests. MVP: Chris Mason

2. Ottawa -- Averaging upwards of 24 minutes a game, captain Daniel Alfredsson has been downright beastly, scoring four goals in the team's first three contests, the latest a convincing 2-0 win over the Rangers on Saturday. MVP: Alfredsson

3. NY Islanders -- Many in the hockey blogosphere, including this blogger, mocked the Islanders for replacing their top line of Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake and Alexei Yashin with Ruslan Fedotenko, Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin. Well, look who's laughing now: The trio has combined for five goals and eleven assists as the Isles swept Buffalo in their season-opening home-and-home series for a 2-0 record. MVP: Comrie

4. Washington -- Very convincing wins over Carolina and Atlanta, the Caps are showing many why they will contend for a division title this season. Also, Alex Ovechkin will be the fastest player to hit 100 career goals since Eric Lindros if he scores in the next 15 games. MVP: Ovechkin

5. Tampa Bay -- For some reason, Vaclav Prospal has alternated between mediocre seasons and awesome campaigns for the last five years or so. Coming off a dissapointing year, Prospal has three goals and four points in two games as Tampa Bay has gone 2-0 with wins over New Jersey and Atlanta. MVP: Martin St. Louis

6. Edmonton -- 5-3 victory over Philadelphia almost as impressive as shootout win against Sharks. With a speedy, youthful forward corps and an underrated defense, the Oilers might surprise people this year. MVP: Ales Hemsky

7. San Jose -- Shootout loss to Oilers was ugly, but once the Sharks got their legs under them, they were able to steamroll the Canucks in Game 2. MVP: Joe Thornton

8. Minnesota -- Yeah, they've got four points, but a pair of one-goal wins against Chicago and Columbus are nothing to write home about. MVP: Brian Rolston

9. Montreal -- Choked on a third-period lead against the Leafs, then couldn't capitalize on two OT power plays before losing on a man-advantage goal against. Still, they're 2nd in their division. MVP: Saku Koivu

10. Detroit -- Did they really blow a three-goal lead against the Havlat-less Blackhawks? Their shootout win over Anaheim is also looking less impressive by the day as the Ducks stumble. MVP: Henrik Zetterberg

11. Toronto -- Pushed Senators to OT in opener, then lost by only one in Game 2 before OT win against Habs. MVP: Mats Sundin

12. Chicago -- Despite Havlat injury, defeated Wings in shootout. MVP: Nikolai Khabibulin

13. Columbus -- 4-0 win over Anaheim doesn't look as good anymore, but still impressive. Didn't look bad in 3-2 loss to Minny. MVP: Rick Nash

14. NY Rangers -- Yeah, they lost to Ottawa, but Chris Drury sure looked good against Florida and a team with this much skill can't stay down for long. MVP: Chris Drury

15. New Jersey -- Didn't look bad in loss to Tampa and blew Panthers out of the water. MVP: John Madden

16. Philadelphia -- Nice win over Calgary to start the season, but a poor showing against the Oilers. MVP: Daniel Briere

17. Vancouver -- Were terrible for the most part against San Jose, but found a way to win in Calgary. MVP: Daniel Sedin

18. Pittsburgh -- Pens looked listless against Carolina, and looked porous defensively despite a win over the Ducks. And where is Sidney Crosby? MVP: Petr Sykora

19. Colorado -- 4-0 loss to Nashville drags down the Avs, but an OK showing against Dallas to start the season. MVP: Paul Stastny

20. St. Louis -- Showed resiliency against the Kings, but loss to Coyotes really drags this team down. MVP: Erik Johnson

21. Carolina -- 4-1 win over Pittsburgh nothing to scoff at, but the Canes looked bad against Montreal and worse versus Washington. MVP: Eric Staal

22. Boston -- Yeah, they won a game, but it was against Phoenix and they looked terrible against the Stars. MVP: Marco Sturm

23. Phoenix -- This is the last time this team will be .500 this season. I guarantee it. MVP: Shane Doan

24. Anaheim -- Oh, how the mighty have fallen. 4-0 loss to Columbus -- are you kidding? MVP: Corey Perry

25. Los Angeles -- Started season with impressive win over Ducks that doesn't look so impressive now, followed by a bad loss to Anaheim which looks even worse now and finally a blown lead against St. Louis which looks bad no matter how you look at it. MVP: Anze Kopitar

26. Dallas -- One win in three games, and that was against the Bruins. MVP: Philippe Boucher

27. Calgary -- Only team in West without a win. MVP: Daymond Langkow

28. Buffalo -- They could have really used Drury and Briere in two-game sweep at hands of the Islanders. MVP: Jaroslav Spacek

29. Atlanta -- Showed little pulse in losses to Washington and Tampa. MVP: Marian Hossa

30. Florida -- A preseason darling, Panthers have been listless thus far. MVP: Nobody

Friday, October 5, 2007

Sharks 3, Canucks 1

Now that's more like it.

Jeremy Roenick took a quantum leap toward No. 500, scoring twice as the Sharks exorcised any demons that lingered from the team's shootout loss to the Oilers the night before.

Stifling defensive play, exceptional goaltending from Nabokov and keenly capitalizing on their chances lead San Jose to a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks, placing the Sharks (albeit prematurely) first in the Western Conference. There's still room for improvement, however, as the team's power play -- its strong suit for much of last season -- looked poor, going 0-for-7, although Roenick's first goal was less than a second after a four-minute man advantage. San Jose could also be accused of taking the foot off the gas early in the 3rd period.

Torrey Mitchell registered his first NHL point on that Roenick tally, and has easily been one of the team's best forwards through two games, even with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau playing excellent hockey. Douglas Murray has also cemented himself as the team's 6th defenseman. After displaying his physicality during a fight with Raffi Torres in Edmonton, Murray registered a career-high two assists against the Canucks, along with his patented brand of gritty play.

Looking towards Sunday's contest against Colorado, the Sharks will probably looking for Jonathan Cheechoo, who has so far been the weak link of the team's phenomenal top line, to contribute a little more on the scoresheet. Milan Michalek's production should also improve if his linemates Mitchell and Roenick continue to make an impact.

Three Stars:
1. Jeremy Roenick: 2G, 0A, +1
2. Evgeni Nabokov: 22S, 1GA
3. Douglas Murray: 0G, 2A, +3, 20:20TOI