For all the Fear the Fin readers out there we have decided to mix things up for your reading pleasure. A great deal of time, energy, and thought went into this but for now I will cover the Sharks games from a slightly different angle. My takes on the games will be to comment on who showed up to play, and who went through the motions. In other words, who were the contenders who had a positive effect in the game and who were the pretenders who went through the motions.
Last night’s heavy weight tilt between the two best teams in the west was a difficult way to start this format because after witnessing one of the most exciting games of the year, it was difficult to criticize anybody who participated in that nail biter.
The Sharks started out in the first period rather slow and had a tough time establishing any sustained pressure against the mobile Vancouver defense. Cory Schneider got the start in place of Roberto Luongo for Vancouver and was lights out ALL night long stopping 44 of 48 shots, but also handled the puck with ease, which makes life easier for the defense. With solid breakouts, it was difficult for the San Jose to establish their fore check.
The Sedin twins are the last players in the league you can give time and space to in your zone and after watching the Canucks first goal go in over Niemi’s shoulder we know why. The patience and poise shown with the puck behind the net by Daniel Sedin before finding Alex Burrows in the slot was Joe Thornton like.
The Sharks struggling penalty kill gave up a Sami Salo goal from the point, which found its way past a screened Niemi with just over a minute and a half to play in the period, and just like that the Sharks were down a pair.
The momentum swung early in the second period in the Sharks favor with a fantastic three shot effort from Devin Setoguchi, the third one finding its way in past Schneider. Setoguchi’s puck persistence paid off , and less than a minute into the period the Sharks were on the board.
Ryan Clowe’s first goal of the game was a beautiful thing. Clowe is a different man when he plays with Couture and the last two games are proof of that. At 6’2 and 225 pounds, he is not known for his wheels but he used his big body on a power move along with a burst of speed to get around Ryan Kesler before and beat Schneider on a backhand shot.
Vancouver took their second lead of the game shortly after the Sharks tied things up but that did not change the momentum back in their favor.
The Sharks attack in the second period was suffocating as they out shot their opponents 19-9. After Cory Schneider’s performance last night Canucks fans must have been thinking, Roberto who.
The Sharks attack did not stop in the third either, again dominating the shot clock 14-7. We are not talking shots from the perimeter but quality scoring chances. The Canucks back up goalie earned the third star of the game but from where I sat nobody on the ice was better than number 35 in white.
The contenders on the night were many. Already mentioned is Cory Schneider but the Sedin twins also came to play. After living in the Vancouver area for the better part of twenty years, I watched the Swedish born brothers take plenty of criticism and for many years were referred to as "the sisters." The Sedins are two dynamic players and nobody in the league cycles the puck better than Henrik and Daniel. The brothers finished the game with two points each.
The Vancouver power play deserves its props for operating at 25% efficiency and we witnessed why they are the league’s tops in that category. Not to be out done by their penalty kill which was successful on all but one attempt, and that came while San Jose had their goalie pulled resulting in a two-man advantage.
Ryan Clowe broke down the game-tying goal with 0:21 left in the game this way "That’s my job, to get in front of the net and look for any garbage like goals but that wasn’t a garbage goal. That was a hell of a play from Heater to Jumbo who just one touched it over to me and all I had to do was get it over his pad." he also added "It was a tough loss but I like the way we played."
On the San Jose Sharks side the team as a whole deserves honorable mention. Three times, they came from behind to tie the hockey game and the last coming with only twenty seconds remaining on the clock.
If you were at the game what a treat, it was. If you watched from home then you witnessed reality TV at its best.
Torrey Mitchell’s tying goal was something special. Mitchell undressed four Canucks on his way to the net and found a way to get the shot off beating Schneider low on the blocker side. After the goal was scored with, just over two minutes left to play in the third period four Canucks had to reach into the rafters to find their jock straps.
He described it like this "they gave me a little space there in the neutral zone and I took advantage of it, there defense man came over and I was able to get under his stick and I don’t think Cory was ready for it."
Mitchell’s play has elevated the last few games and tonight he was rewarded for it. His fore check against the Canucks was very impressive and overall he has been the team’s most improved player in the last two weeks.
The pretenders against Vancouver were those who took costly penalties for San Jose and the penalty kill as a whole. As a team, they were lucky to come away with only two goals against while short a man and special teams have not been a strong suit for the Sharks as of late. This is something that they spent a lot of time on in practice yesterday and it is quite evident they still have some work to do.
Goaltender Antii Niemi, who I believe has been a major contributor in the Sharks turnaround in the last two months, has played better games. He cannot be blamed for any one goal in particular but has spoiled the hometown fans lately with spectacular saves that we did not see last night.
Another pretender for San Jose has to be Dany Heatley. Heatley was guarding Alex Burrows in front of the net when he scored the games first goal and was in the penalty box for the second.
At the end of the day, if there is such a thing as a good loss this was it. The sign of a good team is one that is able to respond and tonight San Jose did that. They out played, out chanced and out shot their opponent. There was never any quit in their game and they never gave up on each other.
Saturday night the New York Rangers bring their blue-collar style to the HP pavilion and continue to fight for a playoff spot in the tight Eastern Conference.
Keep your stick on the ice,