It's August. Most people's attentions have gravitated towards next season, towards training camp and Captain's Ice and oh my gosh when are the Sharks going to sign Willie Mitchell??? But as it is in the doldrums of the hockey off-season, after the draft and the initial free agent signings but before camp starts and teams do their last-minute trades and signings, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to take a look back at what could be considered the San Jose Sharks' best season since the lockout.
And by "take a look back at," I mean compile a top ten list of what I consider to be the best moments during the 2009-10 season. So enjoy.
10. Douglas Murray's pre-season hat trick
When you search for "Douglas Murray hat trick" on YouTube, the first result is the music video for "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley. Whether it's some joke made by a Sharks fan YouTube programmer or unintentionally hilarity, it doesn't matter. It fits so well.
However, on September 25th, in a pre-season game against the Anaheim Ducks, Douglas Murray scored a hat trick against Justin Pogge, thus ensuring that Pogge will never be an NHL netminder. It was a wholy unexpected event - at that point, Murray had one NHL goal to his name. Yet, there it was, a hat trick. It also spawned a lot of jokes about Murray as an offensive threat from both the fans and his fellow teammates. Now former Shark Manny Malhotra was the first to joke, offering this quip to David Pollak:
We always talked about it in pre-game meetings. We were aware of Douglas Murray’s offensive abilities.
9. Logan Couture ends the season with a win
For the first time since 2004, the Sharks end their season with a win. There are many parallels between that win and the 2010 version: the game was against a division rival - the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes respectively, and it looked like the Sharks had less than a fifty-fifty shot to win (the 2004 game because they were down by two goals with thirty seconds left, the 2010 game because the Phoenix Coyotes were one of the best shootout teams ever). The 2004 team went on to the Western Conference Finals, and the 2010 team went on to the Western Conference Finals.
But what made this moment special was that it was after the inital three rounds of shooters, and coach Todd McLellan decided to go with the rookie to try and win it (and put themselves in a position to be the Western conference Regular Season Champions). So Logan Couture took the opportunity, pulled off a sweet deke, and essentially won it for the Sharks. It was a gutsy move by the kid, and ended up being the right one.
8. Evgeni Nabokov's 50th career shutout
This entry is a bit bittersweet, but it needs to be said. Evgeni Nabokov, the stalwart in goal for the entire 21st century up to this off-season, recorded his fiftieth shutout of his career. That ties him with Chris Osgood for 24th of all-time, and 3rd of all active goaltenders.
It took him 138 days from his 49th shutout to his 50th. One hundred and thirty eight days. If you watched ESPN at all this summer, you'd know that they were freaking out about Alex Rodriguez taking thirty-something days between his 599th and 600th home runs. That it took over four months for Nabby to finally reach that milestone was agonizing. There was talk (albeit jokingly) that the NHL had prohibited the Sharks from recording a shutout. But he finally did it, against the Dallas Stars, no less.
There were other milestones that players reached this season, like Patrick Marleau's 900th game, but the shutout mark seems more substantial, more impressive. And I, for one, am glad that he was able to achieve this before he left the NHL this off-season. If he was stuck on 49, his departure would hurt that much more.
7. The Third Comeback
Three times in a row the Sharks had been trailing entering the third period. And, to set an NHL record, three times the Sharks came back to win it in regulation. The most memorable was the last; not because it was the last one, but because it was the most dramatic. On March 11th against Nashville, the Sharks entered the 3rd period down 4-2. They exited the period with an 8-5 win.
Six goals were scored in the third period by the Sharks, a franchise record for scoring in a single period. Patrick Marleau got his 40th goal, the first time he reached that mark, and Joe Pavelski had two goals and two assists, including a highlight reel game-winner. To quote the Nashville Predators' announcer, "Pavelski [was] a one-man wrecking crew this period." Or, for the opposition's point of view about this game, here's Preds goalie Dan Ellis via twitter:
6. Dany Heatley introduces himself to Sharks fans with a hat trick
Let me first admit that I was among Heatley's most vocal opposition. I wrote a fanpost back in the day that outlined why I thought the Sharks had no chance of acquiring him. So when it happened, and for home grown players Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo no less, I was less than pleased.
Then came the home opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Dany Heatley had an assist in the previous game, but not the goal scoring that people expected. But then he scored at 5:40 in the second period. And then he scored again at 19:48 in the second, while falling down. But the moment that sealed it was in the third period, 7:08 into the period. He was breaking in on the 2008-09 Calder winner Steve Mason when he was hauled down before he could get a shot away.
Penalty shot time. Heatley buries it. And the Tank erupts.
5. Dan Boyle responds to "Own-Goal"
Officially Ryan O'Reilly tipped the puck in behind Evgeni Nabokov, although that didn't matter. After the Sharks launched 51 shots at Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson while only giving up 17, they ended up losing the game on what was and still is considered a Dan Boyle own goal in overtime. It was the flukiest of goals, but no matter how fluky a goal is, it still counts. Boyle was visibly crushed afterwards, and the hords of media personnel focused on him for the next two days.
The next game, one minute and twelve seconds into the first period, Dan Boyle scores what can only be described as a cathartic goal. The Sharks went on to win that game and the series, not losing another playoff game until Game 4 in Detroit. While this goal wasn't the happiest moment, it certainly was the turning point, where the Sharks learned how to beat the Colorado Avalanche and then the Detroit Red Wings. It showed that the Sharks weren't going to lay down like they did against the Anaheim Ducks the previous year, but instead fight back. While the Sharks did not ultimately reach their goal, it was not because of a lack of heart or grit or whatever people were spouting off about the Sharks.
4. Patrick Marleau emerges from Captain debaucle better than ever
Following the 2009 playoffs debaucle, there were some trying times for Sharks fans. Trade rumors abound, the most notable being a three-way deal between the Sharks, Senators, and Kings with Heatley to the Sharks, Stoll and Frolov to the Senators, and Patrick Marleau to the Kings (that one was reported as a done deal, to the chagrin of many here). What took up most of the summer, however, was the discussion of who should be captain, as Patrick Marleau was stripped of that title.
Marleau could have pouted and put up stats similar to his 2007-08 season (when he was rumored to be not speaking with then-coach Ron Wilson), but he didn't. He could have demanded a trade to Los Angeles, but he didn't. Instead, he decided to score 44 goals (a career high) and 83 points while being the best defensive forward on the Sharks. Marleau was selected to Team Canada for the first time, helping them win a gold medal in Vancouver. He was responsible for the majority of the goals against Chicago in the Western Conference Finals. And he signed a four-year contract with the Sharks, beginning next season, which lays to rest the idea that he still had hard feelings about the captaincy.
3. Schnide, and how to get off it
On January 18th, secondary scoring was a bit of a concern. As in, for two entire weeks, the only forwards who scored were Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, and Joe Thornton. Dan Boyle and the offensive juggernaut that is Douglas Murray contributed a few goals as well, but the bulk of the offense was coming from HTML. To say that people were worried is somewhat of an understatement. Until, of course, January 18th.
Against the Calgary Flames, the secondary scoring decided to show up. All of it. At the same time. Eight different players scored, a franchise record. The final was 9-1, with three goals scored by the Sharks each period. The goal scorers were as follows: Joe Pavelski, Manny Malhotra, Scott Nichol, Jed Ortmeyer, Dany Heatley, Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi, Rob Blake, and Dany Heatley again to cap it off.
What makes this game so memorable (besides the score, of course) is Sharks play by play announcer Randy Hahn's almost excessive use of the term, "off the schnide." Of the eight Sharks that scored, six of them were what could be termed on the schnide - it had been at least 10 games since any of them had scored, for a whopping combined total of 102 games, as Plank calculated earlier.
Beating any team by a score of 9-1 is sweet. But beating a rival like the Calgary Flames is that much sweeter.
2. The emergence of Joe Pavelski
Entering the 2009-2010 season, Joe Pavelski was in the running for the most underrated player in the NHL. Oh, he made the US Olympic Training Camp, but most so-called hockey experts were slotting him in the fourth line center role, if he was there at all. He had that iconic goal once, but that was a one-off thing. He was known as Little Joe, the other Joe on the San Jose Sharks who wasn't as good as the more famous Canadian one.
But as the season ended with that handshake line with Chicago, Pavelski was "the Big Pavelski," an American hero with cult status among the hockey world. He was the second line center for the USA in the Olympics. He won the crucial final regulation draw in the gold medal game, kept the puck in the offensive zone, and set up Parise for the equilizer. He was the driving force behind the Sharks' series win over Colorado. He scored two goals and an assist in three straight playoff games, joining Joe Sakic and Mario Lemieux as the only players to do so. If the Sharks needed a goal late, there was Pavelski.
One of my personal pet peeves was how low Pavelski's value was around the league, that people didn't understand why Sharks fans considered him untouchable. They do now.
1. "This is going to be one of the sweetest handshakes the Sharks will ever have."
Honestly, there is nothing else that could be put into this spot. Before the series began, I said that if the Sharks beat Detroit, the season could be considered a success. It didn't matter what happened afterwards, even if they were swept the very next round (sorry, my bad), the Sharks beat Detroit. Their playoff demons would be expelled.
It couldn't have happened a better way: a close series that ended with the Sharks getting all the bounces to end it in five games. Joe Thornton emerged from the Sharks to be the leader in both action and attitude, brushing off choking accustiations like it was a bit of dirt on his shoulders. Beating Detroit. I'm writing this over two months after the fact and I'm still giddy about it.
There was a moment, when the both the Sharks and Bruins were up 3-0 in the series against the Red Wings and Flyers respectively, that people started talking about the potential comeback odds. It had only occured three times previously in history between the NHL, MLB, and NBA (the three major leagues that use a seven game series playoff format), but there was always potential for it to happen again. It was a time when people came out and said that if any team could come back, it was the Red Wings, because they're playoff warriors and the Sharks are known chokers. When the Sharks dropped Game 4 (whose score I've seem to forgotten), people were saying the collapse was inevitable. Instead, the Sharks wrapped up the series at home, and it was Boston who suffered the epic collapse.
Drew Remenda was right - it was one of the sweetest handshakes the Sharks will ever have. The Sharks beat the Detroit Red Wings in five games in the playoffs. I'm never going to get tired of that.
So, readers, have at it. What do you think are the best, greatest ten moments of the 2009-10 season?