2nd in Pacific Division
7th in Western Conf.
3rd in Pacific Division
T-9th in Western Conf.
Let the battle between the bitter and the battered begin.
The Sharks and Ducks renew the hottest rivalry almost no one knows exists this evening at the Pond (I could care less what the corporate name is now; it'll always be the Pond). San Jose brings into this game the edginess earned by having watched Anaheim skate around with the Cup held aloft this past season, something they had been told would be done in California. Northern California, that is. Normally such things would motivate a team, but given how many times the Sharks have already mailed it in before the season is even one quarter done, who knows.
Anaheim is currently suffering a massive case of Stanley Cup hangover. Their best defenseman (Scott Niedermayer) and leading scorer (Teemu Selanne) are both taking the first part of the season off while mulling over whether to call it a career. Niedermayer's agent just "happened" to mention the other day that his client has been practicing lately, so expect to see him rejoin his brother before too terribly long. Selanne is more doubtful to come back in lieu of officially calling it a day. With Dustin Penner and his twenty-nine goals from last year now languishing in hockey Purgatory, otherwise known as Edmonton (hey, you went for the money; you pay the price for greed), little wonder Anaheim is among the lower scoring teams in the conference. And without Niedermayer, one of the worst defensive teams.
It's not that Anaheim didn't try to address potential needs during the off-season, signing Mathieu Schneider for behind the blueline and Todd Bertuzzi for in front of it along with providing a one-two boo opportunity for everyone in the Tank given how Bertuzzi is now on the same team with San Jose Public Enemy Number One (Ever Since Theo Fleury Stopped Playing) Chris Pronger. However, Schneider has only recently returned from a broken ankle suffered during pre-season, and Bertuzzi who hasn't been the same anyway since his 2004 assault on Steve Moore has been out since mid-October with a concussion. Hardly a recipe for repeating.
And then there's the Sharks (deep pained sigh before continuing). Given how everyone in the NHL has figured out Joe Thornton is currently in one of his passive phases where he does little more than set up court near the outside of the near side faceoff circle and look for someone to pass to, goal scoring has become a scare commodity. Add that to the alarming trend of not showing any great inclination toward properly clearing the puck out of their own end when the opportunity arises, and... well, you get a .500 team that desperately needs a boot in the butt yet doesn't seem to be getting one from anyone.
Getting back to the Scott Niedermayer story for a moment, a full quote from same which originally ran this past Wednesday in the Los Angeles Times is eye-catching:
NHLer Jeff Friesen? Um, doesn't he play left wing? You know, that position the Sharks are rice paper-thin at? Yes, he's scuffed around the league ever since being traded away from San Jose. But he's only 31, and he has to be better than the patchwork which isn't working the Sharks are currently running out there. Um... somebody want to ask Doug Wilson if maybe he'd be so kind as to get Friesen to sign on the dotted line and get back in teal where he belongs?