Tuesday, May 18, 2010

All Uphill From Here

The Sharks are in trouble, plain and simple. They were defeated for the 2nd straight game on their home ice last night by the Chicago Blackhawks, who have a commanding 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 series heading to Chicago.

The Sharks seemed to have no chance in this one. They were outplayed by the young and quick Blackhawks, who behind their red-hot goalie Antti Niemi looked like a team that could take the Cup.

From a Sharks angle, something has to change. After a game in which the Sharks were able to get the puck to the net at will, the complete opposite happened on Tuesday night as the Sharks couldn't get anything started, let alone anything to the net.

Evgeni Nabokov wasn't much help either. After letting a goal up in the 1st period, he let his guard down for a whole 3 minutes in the 2nd period, and the Blackhawks took full advantage netting 2 goals in that time span.

Nabokov would finish with 18 saves on 22 chances, definitely his worst effort that we have seen in awhile.

It's all uphill from here. The Sharks are down 2-0 headed on the road, a position nobody wants to be in. The good thing is that they will have an extra day off, with their next game being on Friday. It will give them an extra day to find out what in the world they can do to stop this Blackhawks team from rolling completely over them.

In Chicago, Niemi will continue standing on his head. But if the Sharks' goal coming into Game 2 was to put bodies in front of the net to get in the way of Niemi's vision, that didn't happen, at least from what I saw. Something needs to change because the Hawks look quicker, more skilled, and more prepared for this series than the Sharks do.

Do the Sharks have it in them to make a comeback in this series? We'll find that out on Friday, won't we? It won't be enough just to come out of the gates firing like the Sharks have done in these first 2 games. They will need to carry it throughout the entire game if they are going to defeat a Blackhawks team that seems ready for a Stanley Cup birth.

The only upside for the Sharks, the Blackhawks are 3-3 at home in these playoffs, which isn't saying much because they are 7-0 on the road, but we'll take it. The Sharks will take it. But they will take whatever they can right now in a series that is in their hands to keep alive.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Niemi Hot As the Sharks Fall in Game 1

If we found out one thing in Game 1, it was that this is going to be as exciting and gut-renching a series as we have seen in a long time. Another, a hot goalie is going to beat one that has been solid the whole playoffs 9 out of 10 times. It's just the way it is. Unfair if you're a Sharks fan, at least in this Game 1, but these NHL Playoffs have been unfair to many teams this year.

The final four teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are lopsided for each conference. In the West, you have the top 2 seeded teams, while in the East, you have the lowest-seeded teams. A little unorthodox but you cannot deny that these are the best 4 teams going. And in a series that boasts the top 2 teams for the West, we expected nothing different than a thrilling game to the final buzzer, and we got that in Game 1.

Disappointing is a good word to describe this game from a Sharks angle. 5 power plays and one result. That is 5 PP's more than Chicago had, which you can also take as a plus because that would mean the Sharks did not commit a penalty.

Still, the hotter goalie came out on top. If there was one lesson to be learned from this Game 1, play the full 60 minutes because if you are out of position for a second, as the Sharks found out on Dustin Byfuglien's game-winning goal, it will hurt you.

Respect Blackhawks' goalie Antti Niemi, though. The Sharks have run into another hot goalie, and that's all you can say. He out-dueled Evgeni Nabokov who was having himself a very nice game as well. But at the end of the game, the 1st star went to Niemi and the 2nd star went to Nabokov.

The Blackhawks are no joke, and neither are the Sharks, but Game 1 showed who was more prepared for this series, and it wasn't the team who had 5 PP's and didn't convert on any of them. Rusty.

2 things to take from this game for the Sharks, though. They managed to draw the 5 penalties while committing 0. Also, Nabokov is playing very well between the pipes, and 38 saves shows that. The only problem, Niemi had 44 saves. That remains the only difference in Game 1.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sharks/Blackhawks Series Preview

It's on. This is the way it was supposed to be, right? The two top teams in the Western Conference will face off in a 7-game series to decide who will go to the Stanley Cup Finals and be the overwhelming favorite.

That is true. No matter who comes out of the Eastern Conference, whether it's the Bruins/Flyers or Canadians, the team that wins the Sharks/Blackhawks series will be without a doubt the clear favorite to win the Cup.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Sharks are the best team going, the only thing knocking this team is the fact they have been at a stand still since they defeated the Red wings in 5 games in what feels to be a month ago. They want to get out on the ice while they're hot.

Honestly, the Blackhawks are the favorite in this series. They have recent momentum since beating the Canucks, plus they went 3-1 against the Sharks during the regular season.

But the Sharks have several things going their way that have not been talked about. How about the fact that Blackhawks' goalie Antti Niemi has never played against the Sharks? Or how about the Sharks are playing a much better form of hockey than they were in the regular season?

The tipping point in this series may be that one point that separated the Sharks as the #1 seed in the West and the Blackhawks as the #2 seed. The Sharks have home-ice advantage, and we all saw what that team and those fans can do once in their home arena. The "Nabby" chants start going, the Jaws music start playing. Everything is better at The Sharks Tank. Unless you're the opposing team, then that stuff just gets annoying.

Bottom line is this is going to be a series for the ages. Two teams who have similar styles of play, and just as much equal talent on the ice. The last time we saw this sort of match-up was, well, last series when the Sharks played the Red Wings.

One thing bothers me, though. I cannot help but think back to the game on November 25th when the Sharks and Blackhawks met up. The final score was 7-2 in favor of the Blackhawks in a game where the Blackhawks made the superior Sharks look ridiculous. They outhustled and outperformed the Sharks. Will there be a difference in how the Sharks prepare for this team in this series? There better be, they would have had 8 days between series to do so.

If the Sharks are to knock off the Blackhawks, they will need more contribution from their 1st line than ever. We saw this in the last couple of games in the Red Wings series. The Red Wings' primary focus was on Joe Pavelski since he was tearing them up in the previous games. In response, the Sharks' 1st line showed up and was the reason why the series didnt go to a Game 6 or 7.

Fasten your seatbelts for this one, folks. This is a series made for it to go the distance, and I don't doubt we will see anything but that.

My prediction: Home-ice will play a huge role in this series and the Sharks will be fortunate that they got that last point to get the #1 seed in the West and home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Sharks in 7.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Stick It, A-Rod"

Here you go A's fans. Despite the injuries that have plagued this team over the last several weeks after a strong start to the season, the A's still managed to hit the headlines yesterday in the form of A's pitcher Dallas Braden's perfect game.

There are several stories wrapped up in this one, which is why it is so intriguing. First, he threw the gem against arguably the best team going right now, the Tampa Bay Rays. Second, he threw it on Mother's Day in honor of his mother who had died when he was in high school. How about the fact that he was drafted in the 24th round, or that he has never pitched longer than the 7th inning in any big league start? How about that he is a native of nearby Stockton? How about that his grandmother told A-Rod to "stick it."

All these stories pail in comparison to the one that the national media has seemed to hook onto. The Braden/A-Rod Saga.

The dispute between the two was still hot going into Braden's start yesterday. His perfecto just fueled the fire a little more. Now it's out of control.

Was Braden right in calling out A-Rod? Eh, it's an unwritten rule that every ballplayer knows, and don't let them tell you differently, as Alex Rodriguez did. A-Rod knew exactly what he was doing. Don't forget, this is the same player who yelled at the 3rd baseman while trying to catch a pop-up, ans also the same guy who tried to swat the ball out of the 1st baseman's glove so he wouldn't be called out, thinking no one could see him. Ya know, the things kids who know him as the best player in the game should look up to.

The only problem I have with the whole Braden/A-Rod feud is who is Dallas Braden? Sure, the Bay Area knows him and now the nation is familiar with him. But before this, he was just some no name who wanted seemed to want some recognition for calling out A-Rod. Finally somebody did it, but it probably shouldn't have been Braden, or at least not made so public by Braden. It just made him out to look cocky by going after one of the best players on the planet, while Braden boasts 17 (make that 18) wins in his career.

Now, he is recognized, but for a much better reason, which is why this A-Rod feud carries so much punch now. And it will continue to carry punch until someone gets knocked out, or at least until the two players meet again. In which Braden will go head hunting for A-Rod's dome.

I honestly doubt the two will square off in the distant future. A-Rod will probably come down with the flu that day or something along those lines. He just seems like the kind of guy who would do that. And I wouldn't blame him. Hell, if a guy heaving 90 MPH wanted to decapitate me for breaking an unwritten rule that I clearly had knowledge of, I wouldn't want to be in that batter's box either.

But Braden will have to wait until the July 5th series in New York for that to happen, given it is his turn in the rotation. Maybe Braden will still be fuming on this matter, or maybe he won't, but he doesn't seem like a guy who lets things go easily.

All we know is this story suddenly has legs. Before the perfecto, Braden was just some looney trying to make a name, now he is the guy with the 19th perfect game in MLB history trying to right a wrong. It's crazy how a perfect game can instantly do that to someone.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sharks' Curse Not Over Just Yet

They're not supposed to be here. There is too much choking in this team's history to have any legitimate success in the NHL Playoffs. But the Sharks finally did it by beating the Detroit Red Wings last night and moving on to the Western Conference Finals.

When Barry Melrose of ESPN finally admits that the Sharks are a "really good team," you know they've done something right. Melrose was the man who was calling a possible Red Wing comeback in this series when they were down 3-0, and he went crazy when the Wings beat the Sharks in Game 4. But who wasn't? That Game 4 was so one-sided that why not give Detroit a legitimate chance of coming back and winning this series? You sound brilliant if they do. After all, the Sharks have always choked. Scratch that, at least for now.

Now that the Sharks have defeated the Almighty Red Wings in a playoffs series, can we finally put this whole choking matter about the Sharks behind us?

For the Sharks fans, yes, go ahead. But for the rest of the NHL world, they still know the team from San Jose as one that has fallen in their potential to win the Cup year after year despite being the favorite. Is a couple series wins in this year's playoffs going to change that? No, the Sharks are the #1 seed, they should be here. Which brings up the question, why do the critics keep picking the Sharks to lose each series? History is the answer.

For the rest of the NHL world, the Sharks' curse is still not over. It won't be over until they are hoisting the Stanley Cup over their head. They will be the underdogs in the next series and the series after, but if they are to relinquish that "choking" title from their name, they must win the Cup. Easy, right?

Sure, Sharks fans know that this a different team with a different attitude and different players, but the rest of the world does not understand that. Prove it to them. The Sharks are the best team still in the playoffs and anything less than a Sharks Stanley Cup victory isn't worth it, and surely won't be worth it to the rest of the NHL world.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Sharks Answering When It Matters, Up 2-0

Mission accomplished. The San Jose Sharks did what they were supposed to do on Sunday by winning on their home ice for the second time in this series and leading the best of 7 series against the Detroit Red Wings 2-0.

This was a total team effort that saw both teams gather momentum throughout the game. For the second time in this series and 5th game in a row, the Sharks came out firing, but this time only to be let down by a Red Wing goal midway through the 1st period.

But the Sharks showed something that we have not seen in playoffs past, but have seen several times already in this year's playoffs. That is a will to answer right back. The Sharks would answer with 2 goals in just over 2 minutes to go up 2-1.

The Red Wings would tack on another goal late in the 1st period to tie the game up at 2-2.

After a stalemate 2nd period, which saw the Red Wings hit the back of the net a 3rd time, pressure was on the Sharks to maintain their home ice against the mighty Red Wings. And they answered.

It is often the saying that it doesn't matter how you start, but how you finish, and the Sharks finished this one with emphasis.

They took to the offensive early and often in the 3rd period, and it payed off with a power play goal by that man again, Joe Pavelski, at 4:40. But they weren't done.

After both teams threatened midway through the 3rd, the Sharks had a 2 on 1 breakaway at 12:37 where Dany Heatley wristed a shot at goalie Jimmy Howard which bounced off Howard's chest and in front of the net to be tapped in by Joe Thornton. 4-3.

After that, persistent and pesky defense all but sealed it up for the Sharks as they took the first two games of the series at home.

No doubt, the Sharks have surprised many with how much they have continued to improve their game throughout these playoffs, and how not affected they are by recent disappointing seasons, which many thought they would. The consensus before this series was the Red Wings are too disciplined, too experienced, and too good for these underachieving Sharks. But looking at these first two games of this series, we haven't seen any of that. The Sharks' defense is playing great, their 2nd tier players are contributing more than the 1st tier, and their goalie is hot right now. The Sharks are peaking at just the right time.

Now, we will see if this carries over to Hockeytown. But the way the Sharks are feeling about their game right now is business as usual, the perfect attitude. They understand what they are doing is large, but they also understand that they belong somewhere further in these playoffs, and that they are by no means done. With the 1st line starting to sprout legs and walk, maybe this could be the start of something that the Bay Area hasn't seen before with this team.

All the pieces are there, but can they continue. It will be a real test in Detroit, but pulling out one win over there would be huge, the question is can they get that win?

The goal I set for this team so far in this series is win at home. Check. Next goal, take at least 1 of 2 from Detroit in Detroit.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sharks Come Out Firing, Get Game 1 Win

Is there any argument as to a better start to the series for the San Jose Sharks? The Sharks defeated the Detroit Red Wings at The Tank last night by a final of 4-3, giving them a 1-0 series lead.

Coming into the game, it seemed to be a nation-wide consensus that the #1 seeded Sharks appeared to be the underdog in this series, given their history in the playoffs and the way the Red Wings are playing right now.

But for a stretch of 1:19 in the 1st period, the Sharks looked and played like a favorite as they scored 3 goals in that span. This included another goal from that man again, Joe Pavelski, who is quickly losing his nickname of "Little Joe", and adding the "Big Pavelski" to his assortment of names. He would finish with 2 goals and an assist, including the deciding goal on a 5 on 3 powerplay at the start of the 3rd period.

But back to the jaw-dropping 1st period. For that 1st period, mostly the 1:19, the Sharks looked unstoppable like a team that was prepared, like a team that is the #1 seed in the playoffs, like a team that belongs there.

But you didn't think that would last long, did you? I sure did. Maybe that was what I wanted to happen or maybe that was because of what should have happened, but looking back, there was no way the Red Wings were going to throw in the towel after that 1:19. It would have been nice, but just simply was not going to happen. They are too good of a team for that, and don't expect in any of the other games in this series.

The Red Wings quickly rebounded and put up 2 goals before heading into the 2nd intermission. But back to the Big Pavelski, who again proved he is the best player going on this Sharks team, at least for these 2010 playoffs. He scored on that same 5 on 3 power play and the Sharks had another multi-goal lead. But you didn't think that would last did you? Well I did...again. The Red Wings would score another goal within minutes of Pavelski's goal, and the game was on yet again.

After that, it was a race to the finish, and the finish seemed like forever if you were a Sharks fan. The Sharks seemed to fall back on their aggressiveness in the 3rd and hoped to win by scoring those 4 goals, or so it appeared. But the defense kicked in and Evgeni Nabokov made clutch saves as the Sharks were able to hold off the Wings and get the win.

Although the Sharks won this game, the impression was evident that the Red Wings were the better team, except for that 1:19 of the 1st period. Give it up for the Sharks, though. They came out firing, and that payed off. The Wings were caught off-guard and were not able to stop the Sharks, whose 1st line finally showed up. That was one of the keys to this series, wasn't it? The 1st line? Dany Heatley had a goal and Joe Thornton made his first contribution to the 2010 NHL Playoffs with an assist. All this minus Patrick Marleau, who should be ready for Sunday's Game 2.

The Sharks got Game 1, but there is no doubt this series will go the distance. First priority for the Sharks: Come out with the same fire, and win Game 2 on home ice.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Game On: Sharks vs. Red Wings Series Preview

So the San Jose Sharks get the series no one wanted to happen. The Sharks will play the Red Wings in the Conference Semifinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Game 1 starting on Thursday at The Tank.

These two teams have met numerous times before in the postseason, but no one need mention what the Sharks record is in Conference semifinals or even how the Red Wings have faired against the San Jose Sharks in previous seasons.

This series has a different feel to it. The only stat lines that need to be mentioned are the ones pertaining to this season. The Sharks have the #1 seed in the Western Conference, the Red Wings have the #5 seed, the Sharks are playing some of their best hockey of the year, and so are the Red Wings. Game on.

Make no mistake, the Detroit Red Wings are only the #5 seed in the West because of injuries to their premiere players. This is a top 3 team in the West, maybe the best. We got to see that when they were healthy down the stretch, going 16-3-2 after the Olympic break.

Off the top of my head, I see at least one advantage for the Sharks. Jimmy Howard is a rookie goalie. The bad news: he is a finalist for Rookie of the Year.

The Red Wings are skilled defensively and have the players to score anytime they want. If the Sharks are to succeed, they will need help from not just the Joe Pavelski Line, as we have come to know it, but the 1st line as well. After all, they are the Canadian top line. If the 1st line has a series like they had against the Avalanche, granted they were hit with injury... but I dont't even want to think about it.

The main thing is that Evgeni Nabokov needs to continue to stop everything in sight, and the Sharks need to play with the same high energy that we saw in the last several games of the 1st Round. If they can limit their mistakes as well, that would be most beneficial, as the Red Wings are patient and take full advantage of the opposing team's mistakes.

In most people's minds, the Sharks are the underdogs. This could work in the Sharks' favor, or maybe it won't. But the Sharks have not faired well these last couple of seasons being the favorite, so maybe a change of rank will help.

The Sharks went 0-3-1 againgst the Red Wings this season, but that means nothing now. This is the 2nd season where everything gets turned around. Where #8 seeds can actually have a legitimate chance at beating the #1 seed, both in the West and the East. The Sharks main concern, first and foremost, win Game 1.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Giants' Offense Will Have Its Days

If last night's Giants game was any sign, this is going to be a long season. The Giants won last night 5-1, behind Jonathan Sanchez and, well, their offense. That same offense that was verbally bashed this week by everyone and anyone worthy of an opinion.

Last week, the Giants averaged something like 1.3 runs a game, and all panic broke out in the Bay Area. Sure, the offense, on paper, is nothing special. In fact, Brad Penny reminded us of that the other day, while he was pitching and after the game as well. But last night's offensive beating (in Giants talk, not true of any other MLB team) of ace Roy Halladay showed that this team will have its games. They can put the bat on the ball, occasionally.

Is it possible that Penny's verbal beating of the Giants' offense had something to do with their approach to the plate last night? It sure looked like it, and I wish to believe it played a part. There was a new approach going to the plate, and that was "Halladay is going to throw me first-pitch meat pies over the plate, and I am going to swing at them." Halladay's lack of respect (or so it seemed) for the Giants' offense actually worked in the Giants favor last night, and they took advantage early and often. Sure, the whopping 5 runs scored last night is nothing much, but give it up for a line-up that boasts no legitimate power hitters going up against Doc Halladay.

It's just going to be that kind of season for the Giants and their overanxious fan base and those who choose to comment on it. Panic when they don't score, relief when they do.

This week's main topic in Giantsland was when are the Giants going to get some big power hitter to save the team? Not never is what I say. It's not going to happen. Names being thrown out there were Carlos Lee and Jermaine Dye. Sure, it would be great to get another bat in the line-up, and I hope they do, don't get me wrong. But don't expect it. MLB hitters aren't as fond of AT&T Park as the fans that pack the seats every game are.

Honestly, the Giants are lucky they got such a dynamite pitching staff, otherwise this whole "lack of hitting" ordeal would stick out like a sore thumb, and then there really would be pandemonium in the Bay Area, instead of making a story out of nothing.

One week, they will hit great, the next week, nothing. It's a long season, don't panic. Wait until the pitching staff has a bad week, oh man. All hell will break loose. That might happen, although it doesn't seem like it will anytime soon. For now, enjoy the ebbs and flows this line-up will throw at you week in and week out.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Raiders and 49ers NFL Draft in Review

All in all, it was good day for the Bay Area's football teams. Both the Raiders and the 49ers got who they wanted, and no doubt will be improved in the coming season.


As quickly as the Raiders had their pick in, you would have thought that Rolando McClain was the #1 player on their Draft Board. He is a nice fit for the Raiders, and all those people who figured the Raiders would waste their pick like they did with Darius Heyward-Bey (me) were mistaken this year.

McClain is a 6'4" 254 lb. linebacker from Alabama where he won the Dick Butkus Award this last season as the nation's best linebacker. The Raiders had him extremely high on their Draft Board and were sure that he was their guy no matter who was on the Board. Some may argue that McClain was drafted a little prematurley by the Raiders, but the Raiders sure felt something special for this kid. He will fit in nicely.

The Raiders will hope that McClain turns into someone like a Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis, and although all three are built similarly, McClain is taller giving him a higher advantage point. One thing on McClain is that he is smart and will run that Raider defense from the moment he gets there. You will not hear many complaints about this pick, McClain will be a solid NFL player.


49ers GM Trent Baalke said it best when he said, "Happy Birthday to Alex Smith and Frank Gore." The 49ers were hell bent on improving their offensive line, and did they ever.

They played this draft smart. OT Anthony Davis must have been their 2nd rated OT on their Draft Board and they knew that #13 was not high enough to draft him, so they traded up to #11 to ensure that they got him. It was a great move. It seemed like they wanted Davis pretty bad and were not sold on the other OT's like Brian Bulaga.

Davis has some character issues, but I'm sure Mike Singletary will fix that right up if necessary. But this was a pick of the future because Davis may not be ready to start just yet. His upside and potential is through the roof and he will prove to one day play the blind side for the 49ers, if not this coming season. With Barry Sims aging, Davis may get his turn real soon.

While Davis may be an "if," Mike Iupati (pictured) is anything but. Iupati was an excellent draft pick for the 49ers. He combines size with shear strength and will no doubt be starting for the 49ers very soon. He is NFL ready with his 6'5" 331 lb. frame, the all-around biggest guy on the 49ers. Scouts say he is versatile enough to play Tackle later in his career, but for now, he and David Baas will make a good team at the Guard position. No doubt, Iupati will be a great NFL player for years to come, and with the additions of Davis and Iupati, if all pans out, the 49ers weak offensive line could turn special in these next few years.


Overall, both teams had great picks and addressed each of their needs. The Raiders were dead set on McClain and the 49ers were dead set on Davis and Iupati.

I'm not quite sold on Davis yet, but his potential could prove me wrong. Some are going to argue that Jimmy Clausen was there at #17 for the 49ers to take and that they should have taken him there. But obviously other teams also have some concerns about Clausen too because he was not taken in the 1st round. If Clausen is there in 2nd round when its the 49ers turn, they will have a hard decision to make. Honestly, I think they should go for it. He played in the Charlie Weis system at Notre Dame and knows the NFL offense well. It would be a nice pick, actually, for both the 49ers and the Raiders, as both could use some insurance at the QB position.