Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 31-30-8   SHA-ARKS 29-35-5

PUCK DROP: 7:00 p.m.

TV: NBCSN (WHAT A TREAT FOR THE NATION)

FLOTSAM, JETSAM, AND CHUM: Just follow @ItWasThreeZero

We’ll have our thoughts on The Maven’s well-deserved departure from this thing he created early next week. For now, the show must go on.

For all of our thrashing, wailing, and gnashing of teeth about this year, it’s nothing compared to what’s happened in the Armpit of Silicon Valley. Whereas some of us dummies unironically picked the Sharks to not only make the playoffs but also represent the Western Conference in the Finals, the Sharks may end up finishing with the worst possible outcome of all.

The Sharks currently sit in the bottom five in points, among other luminaries like the Red Wings, Senators, Kings, and Ducks. Though they’ve been a decent-to-good possession team all year (50+ CF% as a team), they simply can’t score. They’re bottom five in goals for. Their GF% is only better than Detroit’s. Shit, the Sharks are one of only about five teams to not have a single 50-point scorer thus far. Even Detroit has one of those.

Injuries have played a role. Erik Karlsson’s skeleton made of boogers Danse Macabre’d his season, as he’s been out since middle February with a broken thumb and won’t return this year. Tomas Hertl’s been out since January with an ACL tear. Logan Couture missed more than a month with a fractured ankle and might have a case of the dizzies tonight. The Sharks are seriously icing guys named Nikolai Knyzhov and former Blackhawk Brandon Davidson. Not great.

And the Sharks you do know have sucked. Brent “Glorified Erik Gustafsson” Burns is tied for second-most points on the Sharks with 45, which isn’t enough to cover for his disgraceful efforts in his own zone. Timo Meier is having a down year following his My First Real Contract signing last off-season, though he leads them in points. And though he’s been somewhat better recently, goaltender Martin Jones still has a sub-.900 SV% in the Year of Our Lord 2020, with a simply horrifying .863 SV% at evens.

And to top it all off, the Sharks were, in hindsight, pantsed and ass-slapped raw by Pierre Dorian in the Erik Karlsson trade. Despite likely finishing in a place that would give them lottery hopes, the Sharks will not have a chance at the lottery, having traded their 2020 first-round pick to the Senators as part of the Karlsson package. Though it’s hard to blame them for doing it then, it’s super easy to laugh at them for doing it now.

For the Hawks, the playoff run that never really was drags on. Though this is a Sharks team they should beat—based on the better top-end talent and real goaltending they have—we’ve often seen that, to quote Coach Cleft Asshole, the effort isn’t there against teams like this. Which, ironically of course, falls squarely on Colliton’s narrow and increasingly slouched shoulders.

Adam Boqvist will likely be out with a concussion after “Hacksaw” Oskar Sundqvist’s forearm shiver on Sunday, as will Lucas Carlsson. So, you’ll likely spend a third of the game peeking from behind your couch, as Nick Seeler, Olli Maatta, and Slater Koekkoek continue to be justifiably in a situation they’d rather not be in. On the plus side (?), we may get our first look at Brandon Hagel, thanks to Drake Caggiula hurting his hand in a fight. Here’s what Coach Gemstone said about him in January, according to Ben Pope:

“He brings something similar to [Matthew] Highmore in just his work ethic,” Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton said in January. “He’s a great skater, he wins races, he plays with a little edge. He’s got a little bit of rat in him, and we like that.”

Well, fuck.

We’ve said it all year: The only way this team has any hope is by Air Raiding and hoping their goaltending can be otherworldly. But too often, this team turtles at the first whiff of trouble. Or when they have the lead. Or when it’s tied. It doesn’t seem to matter. But this is a Sharks team whose defense might be as soft, if not softer, than the Hawks’s. If they come out with a KEEP FIRING, ASSHOLES game plan, they can continue ruining any shot they have at a lottery pick in a vain attempt to save everyone in the front office’s job. Because that’s the One Goal they have now. But if we’re looking for a reason, do it for Crawford. He deserves better than this.

Let’s go Hawks.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 4-6-3  Sharks 4-10-1

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THE BUBBLE BURST: Just follow @ItWasThreeZero, but it’s a little blue

I bet you didn’t think that a month into the season, we’d be sitting here with the Hawks with more points than the Sharks. And yet, that’s where we are. It has all gone pear-shaped on the Teal, while this is pretty much what the Hawks are. Is this what the Sharks are? They’d better hope not, because they have a lot of money committed to not be.

There isn’t one clear reason that the Sharks are currently using circles of paper. They tried to solve their goaltending issues from last year, which were some of the worst on recent record, by simply hoping that Martin Jones would become what he had been the previous three years through simply kindness from the gods. That has not happened, as he and Aaron Dell have been just about as bad as they were last year. But this time around, that’s not the only problem.

While the Sharks are one of the better teams in the league in the amount of attempts they give up, they’re one of the worst in the types of chances they give up. Quite frankly, their defense is Cottonnelle-esque. You might not be down in their end all that much but when you are you can get to the prime areas easily and fire away.

On top of that, the Sharks just aren’t generating nearly as much as they were, both in terms of attempts and chances. Erik Karlsson isn’t the engine he was, either through age or injury or still trying to find him the right partner. And the Sharks’ depth has eroded. It wasn’t just the departure of Pavelski. Valuable seat-fillers like Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist also made for the exits, and the kids that have come into replace them just haven’t lived up yet. They’ve needed more from the likes of Marcus Sorensen and Melker Karlsson and they haven’t got it.

That doesn’t mean their vets are off the hook. Logan Couture has been woeful, Joe Thornton can only do so much, and their half-court shot of bringing Patrick Marleau back has only revealed that he might not have a pulse. If Evander Kane and Kevin LeBanc weren’t scoring, they’d probably already be done. On the back end, they’ve missed Justin Braun, which is probably akin to missing Connor Murphy. Good player, adds to your team, shouldn’t pivot around him. Marc-Eduoard Vlasic is doing a fine Seabrook impression these days and is on the third-pairing.

What they can do about it is questionable. They obviously need a goalie if they’re going to make anything of this season, but by the time they can identify one they can have they might already be toast. They’re all the way capped out, so how they’d cram in a veteran goalie and/or a forward or two is a mystery. They’d have to get Martin Jones off the roster as a starter, but the line of teams willing to pick up a goalie who now resides in a bucket and has to be put there via damp sponge isn’t all that long. They don’t have much else to shift.

This is a team built for now, and the now is passing them by. Look for a big move, even beyond firing coach Pete DeBoer, if this continues much longer.

To the Hawks. They were mostly ok against the Ducks, so you can probably look for the same lineup aside from Crawford swapping in for Lehner, The former had his first really good game against the Kings, and even still that saw him give up four goals. The Hawks will need to get both goalies going at top speed if they’re going to make a run, or just turn to Lehner full-time which is another headache they don’t need.

The Sharks are one of the few teams that can’t leave severe windburn on the Hawks. They used to be able to dominate them by just having the puck all the time, but they aren’t doing that either right now. Both teams let you get wherever you want in their defensive zone, so this one will have chances and likely goals. The only known threat from the Sharks right now is the Hertl-Kane axis, so if Jeremy Colliton wants to get cute he can keep changing on the fly to get Kampf out there against them. But that might be a bit adventurous for the first week in November.

It might not have been pretty, but if the Hawks can get this one that’s five points on this trip which is one below the max. And that would be good, even if a total mirage given the method. They need anything they can build on right now. And right now, the Sharks are a very fragile team that you can fill with head-goblins early in the game. Then again, the Sharks probably think the Hawks are the slump-buster they need. Catch the fever.

Hockey

Evander Kane – As always. But it’s a conspiracy against him, don’t ya know?

Erik Karlsson’s Effect On The Media – Should you be completely bereft of something to do, watch a Sharks game through the opposing broadcast. Because it won’t be much more than 5-10 minutes before the color analyst or studio one gets in a shot at Karlsson’s defensive play or paycheck or both. The grumpy old men or wannabe grumpy old men that comprise hockey analysis still can’t seem to wrap their minds around that Karlsson has always been a different type, and overall still one of the best in the league because he keeps his team out of its own end. Yeah, he might not play a 2-on-1 well, but he also is almost never in one because of his skills. But anyone who makes a big check and isn’t a good ol’ Canadian boy is the enemy. If they really need fodder, they only need to look to…

Brent Burns: Maybe the most overrated player in the league. He racks up points, and then when he plays any team with a plan and skill he gets rolled over. The definition of a flat-track bully who avoids criticism because he’s Canadian and at least hints at having a personality. Which up there only means to not have all your teeth. Seriously, walking around like that makes you teflon to the hockey media.

Hockey

It’s not often a team loses its captain and its leading goal-scorer and is still considered among the conference favorites. But such is life in the West where no one has really jumped forward aside from the Colorado Avalanche. The San Jose Sharks return Erik Karlsson, which if he can remain upright for even 60 games and more importantly the playoffs, is about half the battle in itself. While Joe Pavelski may be gone, they still return a host of nifty forwards who can fill the net on at least three lines. Brent Burns might be overrated by a factor of 12, and losing Justin Braun may turn out to be nearly as big as Pavelski. Still, this team never felt like it clicked for very long last year and ended up with 101 points and in the conference final (WHERE THEY FAILED US ALL MISERABLY AND SHALL NEVER BE FORGIVEN). Can they do it again?

2018-2019

46-27-9  101 points (2nd in Pacific, lost in conference final)

3.52 GF/G (2nd)  3.15 GA/G (21st)  +31 GD

54.9 CF% (1st)  54.3 xGF% (4th)

23.6 PP% (6th)  80.8 PK% (15th)

Goalies: The only reason the Sharks didn’t end up with 110 or more points last season was their goaltending. Martin Jones was simply awful, Aaron Dell wasn’t any better, and the Sharks had to overcome it most nights. And most nights they did. Doug Wilson has bet that Martin Jones simply can’t be that bad again. And with good reason.

In the three seasons as Sharks starter before that, Jones never had a SV% below .912. That’s the thing with the Sharks, they don’t need Carey Price back there. They don’t need a Vezina finalist. They just need league average. Jones couldn’t even manage that in the playoffs and they still got to the conference final. Jone will turn 30 during the season, so it’s hard to imagine last season was the begin of age-related decline. It feels like a very weird and ugly outlier, and the Sharks need to hope so. Dell isn’t going to ride in like Mighty Mouse if Jones is coughing up his esophagus again, which would mean Wilson would either have to look for answer at the deadline or close his eyes, clinch a towel between his teeth, and hope his team can plow ahead dragging Jones along.

The Sharks always have the puck as well, giving up the least amount of attempts last season and in the top half in expected goals against. The job is just about as easy as it can be for a goalie. And they merely need to pass on a pass/fail course. Do that, and the Sharks can take this division.

Defense: That doesn’t mean they’re without questions. The first is will Erik Karlsson ever finish a season healthy? His groin having all the gremlins doomed them in the playoffs (NEVER FORGIVEN), and he missed large chunks of the season. He hasn’t managed a full slate of games in four seasons. They’re nowhere without him, so expect him to get a regular slate of games off to try and preserve him for April and May. When he’s on the ice he still dominates, as his metrics were seven or eight points ahead of the Sharks as a whole, who again, were one of the best possession teams in the league. He’s still otherworldly when on song.

After that though…Mar-Edouard Vlasic loses his main defensive running buddy in Braun and there isn’t an obvious candidate to take the hard shifts with him or to cover for whichever of Burns or Karlsson Pickels doesn’t. Brendon Dillon is a post. Tim Heed and Dalton Prout are seat-fillers at best. Jacob Middleton is a kid that will get a look, but coach Peter DeBoer famously hates any young d-man. One outside candidate is rookie Mario Ferraro, but he’ll also have DeBoer to overcome.

Burns was completely exposed as a runway in the playoffs last year, and there’s no reason that won’t be true this year. He’ll pile up a ton of points again, which will be close to empty calories. This unit could use some buffeting at the deadline too, because Burns can’t really be trusted with anything than a third-pairing yahoo deep in the playoffs.

Forwards: Losing Pavelski is a ballsy call. This is still a team that features Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Evander Kane. It shouldn’t hurt for goals, it just might not have a wealth of them as it did before. Kevin Lebanc stepping up into a top-six role would help the cause, and maybe they think he’s ready for that. Joe Thornton is back for another go-around, and while he can still make a play here and there his days of being a genuine top-two center on a team are gone. Luckily, Couture and Hertl don’t require him to do that. There are enough foot soldiers to fill out the bottom six without standing out. But the Sharks always seemingly round out their bottom six with pieces from their system.

Prediction: It doesn’t feel like the doomsday machine they could have been last year but fell short of. The loss of Pavelski and Braun will be somewhat canceled out if Martin Jones can escape from whatever pod person took over his body last year, but not entirely. They look short a top four d-man and maybe one forward.

But there’s more than enough here to win the division and conference. The Flames haven’t gotten away from them, and whether the Knights want to admit it or not they have the same questions in net and on their blue line. Another 105-110 points seem on offer if Karlsson can manage 60-65 games or more. The bet is that Couture and Hertl at center can take some wingers with them even if they’re not Pavelski. Perhaps. But nothing the Sharks do will be judged until they get into April again. They could be in any kind of shape by then.

Everything Else

It was never likely, as the Hawks were under the impression they didn’t need him or couldn’t afford him, but it was also a good plan. Erik Karlsson has re-upped with the San Jose Sharks for $11M a year for eight years, pretty much getting the “max” deal we didn’t think his exploding red crotch dots wouldn’t allow for. Sure, it’s too many years, but this is Erik Karlsson after all. The Sharks are all about the next two years right now, you’d think, and Doug Wilson probably isn’t around anyway when Karlsson’s age becomes something of an issue. Not that Doug Wilson will age, because he can’t.

With Karlsson off the market, that means there’s basically nothing on defense in free agency. We’ll go over these again I’m sure next week after the draft, but Tyler Myers sucks, Dion Phaneuf is even worse, Alex Edler is old and useless, and Jake Gardiner is like, a person who stands behind the forwards. You can probably talk yourself into Jake Gardiner, but the acquisition of Maatta makes any acquisition of Gardiner nonsensical. Which is maybe why the Hawks would do it.

So it’s either a trade or nothing, then. Though god, can’t we see the Hawks being smitten by Myers’s size? You can see it, can’t you? I’m going to see how far I can get this spoon down my throat.

Which does put a slightly different take on the draft, though doesn’t alter it that significantly. The Hawks are saying that what their pick an do next season isn’t really a factor on what their choice will be, and that’s fair. A pick this high should be around for a decade and that’s the view you take. Still, immediate improvement on the blue line, if the Hawks even conceive that they need it, basically can only come through another trade or Byram now. That shouldn’t be the only factor, but if they can’t split Byram and Turcotte, perhaps it’s a deciding factor?

As far as trades, it’s hard to believe the Hawks think they’re done. But as we’ve said all season, and last season, and will probably be saying all summer, we have no idea how they view the upcoming season. It it urgent they leap back into the playoffs? Do they see it as one more developmental season before Boqvist, Mitchell, Jokiharju, maybe Kurashev and others are ready to make a real impact in ’20-’21 and beyond? Do they know? Are Keith, Kane, and Toews willing to toss away another season in a limited amount of them left? Have they talked to them? Have the players talked to the front office? Was last season a developmental one or a massive cock-up from a team that doesn’t know how to build a defense? We’ve been asking these questions for about two years and we still don’t know.

Maatta’s arrival means making a move for Ryan Murray is a touch redundant, as they do the same thing (though the latter far better than the former, and we don’t even know if the latter is all that good either). Calvin de Haan was another name mentioned, but that’s the same again. And even if the Hawks have called the Canes about de Haan, or Faulk, or Dougie, the Hawks don’t have what the Canes need, which is frontline scoring (not wanting to use Schmaltz to get Faulk last summer is looking a real swift decision now).

So even the trade targets are limited. I would think HAMPUS! HAMPUS! is worth a phone call, but after the hiring of a new coach it’s hard to know what the Ducks think they are doing, and they may be more interested in trying to stick you with Perry or Getzlaf and that spoon is only getting deeper now.

You can’t force what’s on the market, and teams get in deep trouble making moves for the sake of making moves. It’s starting to look like the Hawks might have to readjust whatever their sights were. Then again, they just made one bad trade, so who knows anymore?

Everything Else

You had one job to do.

Let it be known forth that the San Jose Sharks are the only Bay Area organization that can only wield its location and power to fuck itself. Whereas everyone else stationed there slowly (or not) takes over the world and is influencing their various spheres and others, the only sphere the Sharks can influence is the inside of their thigh with a warm, yellow, and constant stream. And now it’s well and truly over for them. This generation of this team, one that promised so much, is done. Charred. Finished. Fertig. Verfallen. Verlumpt. Verblunget. Verkackt. Whatever hope they might have had for beyond went out the window with Joe Pavelski’s sense of direction.

This is probably their most spectacular crash yet. They got the best defenseman on the planet for nothing. A song. They added him to a team that already had three scoring lines, one of the best d-men around (Vlasic, not Burns). And it seemed that despite their best efforts, it would work. They had a goalie doing the lindy hop in net all season. Didn’t really matter. Their coach was insistent on continually lighting a fuse of playing Brenden Dillon more than Joakim Ryan. The Sharks kept putting it out. Joe Thornton could barely move. Fine. Hertl moves to center and no one cares. Perhaps they picked the lock.

They had miracles on their side. They trashed everyone’s favorite overhyped darling in the first round. They benefitted from Gabriel LaxativeLog’s lazy ass in the second. They had perhaps the only team that’s a bigger collection of failures and stomach-acid-pukes than them waiting. They got more bounces. They had an entire city on the verge of meltdown (to be fair, that’s St. Louis’s natural state, thanks to the dangerous levels of methane that surrounds the place emitted from every resident every four minutes).

Cue faceplant.

And now it’s all ash. Peter DeBoer proved that any idiot can get a team to a Final, even twice. Hell, he just got beat by one. How did icing Michael Haley in the playoffs instead of…oh I don’t know, any kindergartner with two legs work out? Speaking of which, Dillon spent most of the playoffs looking like said kindergartner sprinting for the Sesame Street phone at playtime, and yet he played more than Ryan. Hey, did getting Karlsson back for those five games in February feel worth it? You were given the best toy in the whole league and you broke it. Fine work all around there.

This was a team that had a whole division basically fall in front of it, and still let Calgary’s line and a half plus a d-man waltz by it for the title. It was the first to contain two Norris winners in a decade, and then Brent Burns spent a month proving why his Norris should be melted down and poured over his head, if only to rid us of his hideous beard. If Burns came from Omsk instead of Canada Don Cherry would have beaten him with a 2×4 by now and they would have made that the Canadian flag.

Much like the Raiders, the Sharks probably need to be thrown out of the Bay Area now. Everyone else gets it. The Warriors are the best team in their league’s history. The Giants, inexplicably, created a dynasty out of hilljacks and sex fiends. Though the A’s trophy cabinet may be empty, they still stand for all that is progressive and cool about their sport despite drawing only parole board hearings to their games and playing in a literal sewer. The Raiders didn’t do shit, and have been sent off to where rejects go…off the strip in Vegas. Sadly, that’s not an option for the Sharks. Maybe Reno would work better.

They’ve left us with this curse of a Final. Just like they left us with Vancouver and Boston once upon a time. The Sharks have launched a bunch of plagues upon the hockey world through their incompetence. The Hawks dynasty started by running them over. The Canucks in ’11. We could have been rid of the Ducks sooner if the Sharks didn’t blow a #1 seed by trying to out-belch them. The narrative that Sidney Crosby would never get it done again was solved by a week with the Sharks. A Kings affirmation could have easily been snuffed out at the first possible hurdle. The Sharks turned it down four times.

The Sharks are everything bad about Silicon Valley, leaving the rest of society to clean up their mess without any of the benefits. They are the bubble-burst without the bubble. Somehow, they still leave the sticky residue all around without ever having put anything together. And “Sharks” is one syllable, you illiterate fucks.

Heretofore, the Sharks will be symbolized by both Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, their two greatest ever players who will never win a Cup, even when they flee trying to do so. You know what your problem is, Toronto? You’ve got San Jose running through you. They will soon be joined by Joe Pavelski, who definitely should have been playing and will definitely be able to identify his family in five years, and Logan Couture. Maybe Brent Burns, assuming he’s not facing the wrong way the rest of his life, which he most certainly will be.

It’s best if you just break it all up now. The happiest you will be is everyone forgets you for a few years while Hertl and Meier thrash about trying to constitute a first line. Thornton retires, Pavelski and Karlsson walk, maybe try and cash in on Vlasic and save him from the fate that awaits him. It’s not in you, Sharks. That much is clear. Like everyone else out there, you thought you had big ideas and could change things. But all you did was annoy the piss out of people and give way to something much worse. Oblivion is your only salvation.

Thanks for nothing, fucksticks. Now we have to deal with this.

 

 

Everything Else

Last night during the Sharks game, I had a Twitter debate with old friend of the program Al Cimiglia (he’s been our friend awhile, he’s not old, let’s clear that up before he makes a face at me again) about Erik Karlsson. As you all know, our main priority this summer is for the Hawks to sign Karlsson, even though the chances of that happening are infinitesimal. Al’s not a fan, and a big part of that is durability, which is a serious issue when it comes to Thunderkiss EK65. Groin and ankle injuries in the recent past might give a lot of teams pause about handing him seven years and the total boat of cash, and I wouldn’t really argue with that.

This started a much larger debate among more parties about what type of d-man the Hawks need to bring in this summer and over the course of the next few years. You’ll find a large faction that want steady, stay-at-home types that don’t fill their pants every time the puck is in their zone. And I can understand that feeling, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.

Then there’s people like me, who believe that the Hawks simply spend far too much time in their zone, and need more players who can get them out of it quickly either by skating it out or passing it out and go the other way. Because they currently have…none. Gustafsson’s too slow (and dumb), Keith doesn’t know his limitations and isn’t good enough with the puck, and it’s not Murphy’s game. Seabrook used to be able to make that first pass, but he’s become so immobile that he can never open a lane for himself. The Hawks have basically the biggest mobility gap to make up on their defense in the entire league.

For me, Murphy and what Henri Jokiharju projects to be are your steady, defense-first players, and both are mobile (I’ll still take some convincing on the Jokiharju). They should be paired with get-up-and-go types to balance. No, that’s not Keith anymore, but that’s a different, numbers problem.

This is the debate about Karlsson and has been for years, and it will be about Adam Boqvist whenever he arrives (if he’s not traded). Neither will be considered stalwarts in their own end, and both will make decisions that make your eyes twitch and an odd pressure/shooting pain in your forehead occur for a few seconds. That’s just the nature of the thing.

But when all is said and done, Karlsson and hopefully Boqvist get the puck to the other end. Their teams score more goals when they’re on the ice, they get more chances, they have it more. So really, should you give a fuck how they go about it? Fuck and no you shouldn’t.

For me, this sounds a lot like the strikeout debate in baseball from a few years ago. Yes, strikeouts are boring. Yes, they can be infuriating, and yes, there are times when you can’t have a strikeout. But if someone strikes out 25% of the the time and yet is getting on base over 35% of the time and hitting for power, do we really care how their outs come about? No, we do not. It’s an out.

No, Karlsson hasn’t been great this postseason, and it will be up to any possible suitor to figure out how much that has to do with his health, and whether that health is a long-term concern. The fact that he carried one of the best relative-possession numbers in the league despite being on one of the best possession teams around during the season when he was healthy is a big clue.

But if it isn’t, the results are the results. He gets the puck up the ice, pretty much better than everyone. A large part of the Hawks’ defensive problems could be solved simply by not being there as much. This is my argument with Boqvist, who NHL scouts are saying already has an NHL offensive game. If Boqvist can right now carry possession above water and get the Hawks more chances and goals while he’s out there than they give up, do I care if he’s occasionally going to get buried behind his net or sometimes look like he should have a glove on his head and picking flowers in his own zone? I do not.

The name of the game is still getting goals, and if you’re up the ice trying to get goals more often it means you give up less unless your goalie dies. And the Sharks goalie pretty much did die this year, and they still finished among the best. The days of the construction horse/atom-smasher are over. There aren’t that many Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s around, and none are available this summer (and really, Murphy is supposed to be a poor man’s Vlasic). You could fill the roster with guys who are all puck-movers for all I care. Yes, a balance would be nice, but the game is skewing to mobility. And the Hawks actually have the safer, base players here more than you thought.

If you’re getting more goals than the opposition, do I care how they go about it? I do not.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose, Saturday 7pm

Game 2 in San Jose, Monday 8pm

Game 3 in St. Louis, Wednesday 7pm

Game 4 in St. Louis, Friday 7pm

 

We’ve been here before. It was only three years ago. The Sharks roster is pretty much the same, though Erik Karlsson is a big change and younger players on that team have matured into stars now. The Blues roster is much different from that one. So I guess there’s no point in talking about it. Whoops. But past iterations of the Blues always matter. Because they’re the Blues. Hopefully we get the same ending. Will we?

Goalies: It would seem callous to say the shine has come off Jordan Binnington just a tad when he gave up all of two goals over seven periods-plus in the last two games against the Stars. But the Stars were terrified to cross their blue line until overtime of Game 7, so he wasn’t asked to do all that much. In Games 2-4, where Binnington saw more than 30 shots in regulation, he gave up 10 goals. So really, the expectation here is if the Blues expect Binnington to win this series by himself, he’s not going to. But he’s not going to lose it by himself either. Still, this is not a Jets team actively quitting or a Stars team that’s afraid of its own shadow offensively. He’s going to see more than 30 shots in regulation pretty much every game, or so you’d think. We’re in un-chartable territory for him. He’s going to be asked to do more, let’s say.

There was a handsome and charming blogger who predicted that Martin Jones would be this year’s Braden Holtby, and cast aside a woeful regular season to come good in the playoffs. I wish I could remember who that was. Since the start of Game 6 against the Knights, Jones has been at .921, and that includes a couple heaves against the Avs. He hasn’t been the problem all of San Jose was praying to Yahweh to fix. He’s still capable of a clanger, but while the Blues have done it through a collection, they don’t have any force like MacKinnon or Rantanen or even some of the Knights. And they’re more conservative. The Blues have only managed more than 35 shots in regulation twice in any game yet this spring.

It wouldn’t have seemed like it before the playoffs started, but this is a pretty even matchup now.

Defense: We have our blindspots here. The Bruins depth, Freddie Andersen in general, the supreme being that is Teuvo. And another thing you’ll never get us to believe is that the Blues’ defense isn’t complete shit. It’s slow and dumb and not all that skilled. And yet it was enough to repel the Jets, whatever their focus level, which should be one of the bigger arsenals in the league. It barely survived the one-line attack of the Stars, but it survived. Pietrangelo has carried the play, whether paired with Vinnie Bag Of Donuts Dunn or Carl Gunnarsson or whoever. And the rest were able to remain competent against the Stars. But I don’t buy it. When the Jets bothered, Mark Scheifele tore Colton Parayko and Joel “This Tastes Funny” Edmundson to shreds, they just didn’t try all that hard to get matchups. The Sharks are rolling with three lines scoring at the moment and I find it hard to believe that Parayko and Edmundson and Gunnarsson are going to be able to hide for a whole series. Call me crazy.

This should be a big advantage for the Sharks, but it hasn’t played that way. Brent Burns has been exposed as a complete jabbering nincompoop in his own zone this playoff run, and Erik Karlsson (however healthy he is) hasn’t been much better. The metrics suggest both are getting kind of domed. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been marvelous, but his coach keeps saddling him with Brenden Dillon who is an onion in the sun for two weeks. Joakim Ryan is good and can’t seem to find the ice, except in Game 7 overtime against Vegas which sends all kinds of mixed messages. The Sharks haven’t had any time to rest to heal up Karlsson, and Burns is Burns, so this is at-best a white-knuckle ride that breaks even for them.

Forwards: I’ll do my best to fight my biases and say the Blues are getting help across the board. I even noticed Robert Thomas for once in Game 7, even after all Blues fans kept assuring me he’s the second coming of Muhammad I’m Hard Bruce Lee instead of another word for Nick Schmaltz. Tarasenko was pretty much irrelevant against Dallas, but with the more open space San Jose will provide he probably will show up at various points. Jaden Schwartz is on a heater before something falls off of him again. Ryan O’Reilly hasn’t really been all that good in these playoffs either. You can count on continue playoff production from David Perron and Tyler Bozak if you want, I’ll just be over here pissing on my shoes.

The Sharks have the greater star power, but they’ve also been getting the same depth of scoring. Logan Couture went supernova from Game 7 in the first round on, and provides the kind of scoring-from-nothing that the Blues don’t have if Tarasenko can’t be bothered. Hertl has been just as good, and Meier, Labanc, Nyquist have all pitched in. Pavelski is back, though if he in fact knows where he is is another question entirely. Thornton’s line has been getting punched in the groin possession-wise, but they’ve managed to produce to balance that out. You just worry about the collective age here, though more at the back.

Prediction: If there was ever something about the Blues that made you thought this was the team to punch through, now is probably the time. Here’s the other thing about the Blues: they’re the Blues. There’s nowhere I can point to and say they’re definitely better than the Sharks right now. What they do have going for them is they’re younger, so the lack of rest for either probably affects them less. But still, while the San Jose power play hasn’t caught fire yet other than that one time, you know they’re going to get plenty of chances with this collection of unbathed nitwits and fuckwads running around. Parayko, Edmundson, and Perron are probably good for one killer penalty each this series. I don’t really believe much in Pete DeBoer, and he needs to stop pairing Karlsson and Burns together except late in the 3rd when the Sharks are behind. So maybe the Blues have an edge there? You’ll have to go a long way to convince me that Craig Berube is General Cornwallace during a game, though. And if Karlsson or Burns or both can actually start turning things up the ice, those are weapons the Blues just don’t have.

You can’t run from your nature. Sharks in six. 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose – Tonight, 9pm

Game 2 in San Jose – Sunday, 6:30

Game 3 in Denver – Tuesday, 9pm

Game 4 in Denver – Thursday, 9pm

This is where the Sharks are supposed to be, just not how they’re supposed to be here. It took a miracle, they somehow overcame Martin Jones, the NHL’s favorite pet, and various injuries. Do they have anything left? The Avs are here because they have the player who might be playing the best hockey in the world right now, and that their goalie was also as good as anyone. The Sharks benefitted from Marc-Andre Fleury rediscovering his 2010-2013 form. They won’t get such benefits here. Can they overcome a good goalie with less than their full compliment of scorers?

Goalies: While MacKinnon stole all the headlines, along with Mikko Rantanen, Phillip Grubauer was becoming what the Avs thought they were getting when they traded for him in the summer. He put up a .939 against the Flames, who don’t lack for snipers. He only had to work hard a couple times, but giving up 10 goals in five games is a football in the groin. Grubauer has been galactic since February 1st, and it should probably be a given at this point that he’s going to be good.

What to make of Martin Jones. Swinging wildly between really good and slapstick comedy with almost no in-between against Vegas, Jones looked to have tossed away all that the Sharks are with that poor goal from Pacioretty in the 3rd period of Game 7. The Knights’ bed-wetting saw that wasn’t the case, but it wasn’t the stirring performance the Sharks would hope they can build on. He was excellent in Games 5 and 6 when he had to be, but the Sharks can’t have any idea what they’re getting. And they’ll be seeing MacK and Rantanen, who are better scorers than anything the Knights cough up, despite what they tell you.

Defense: The Avs got a boost from the addition of Cale Makar, but this is still a teenager playing his fourth game ever. They were much better than you would have guessed against the Flames, who kept falling apart in front of them. Tyson Barrie was everywhere, and they didn’t pay for having Zadorov and Nemeth on the team. I still won’t buy Ian Cole or Erik Johnson, or Zadorov and Nemeth, but they’re here. There’s more depth they have to deal with from San Jose than Calgary, and if anyone is going to expose them, it’s the Sharks.

The Sharks would have a bigger advantage if Erik Karlsson‘s groin didn’t sound like trying to pull the rack out of an oven that’s never been cleaned right now. He’s moving maybe at 60% of his usual grace, and that’s a problem. Still, it was enough to barely outlast the speed of the Knights, and the Avs aren’t any faster. Brent Burns is a disaster waiting to happen at any moment, But that’s why you have Marc-Edouard Vlasic around. Peter DeBoer finally figured out that Brenden Dillon blows, and was actually playing Joakim Ryan in OT of Game 7. That should continue, but won’t because DeBoer has his idiotic tendencies. Again, they got through the Knights, and here they really only have one line to deal with.

Forwards: This is easy. The Avs have one line, and probably the best line left in the West, and it was more than enough to kick the Flames’ dick into the dirt. Nathan MacKinnon isn’t going to be stopped, and he’ll bring Rantanen and ThreeYaksAndADog with him. But beyond that, you can have it. Yes, they were enough against the Flames, but Colin Wilson and J.T. Compher and Matt Nieto will return to their own level. There’s a collection of nice players under the top line, but no game-breakers here. The top line just might be enough, though.

The Sharks would have a big advantage here if Joe Pavelski was going to play, and we have no idea if he will. Without him, Logan Couture lacks wingers. Sure, there’s still Hertl, Kane, Thornton, Meier, and Nyquist and a few competent bottom-sixers. They’re still deeper than the Avs without Pavelski, but that gap is monumental with him. I think it’s doubtful he shows up, but this being hockey, who can say for sure?

Prediction: Tough one. The Sharks are much deeper than the Flames, and won’t have their top center just completely go Copperfield on them like Sean Monahan did. They should, should, expose the middle and bottom pairing of the Avs, which even with Makar isn’t up to this. And with Pavelski, I’d be much more assured that happens. But Grubauer over Jones makes up for that, or most of it. The Sharks might want a rest. They won’t get one. But they’re just a better team, especially if they get a Pavelski return.

Sharks in 7. 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose tonight, 9:30

Game 2 in San Jose Friday, 9:30

Game 3 in Vegas Sunday, 9pm

Game 4 in Vegas Tuesday, 9:30

I suppose I should stand my ground, as I’ve believed in the Sharks all season, until their late-season pants-filling without Erik Karlsson. The fact that they finished where they did and their metrics are where they are despite having the worst goaltending in the league is a testament to how good they actually are. All they need really is league-average goaltending and not only would they come out of the West, they’d probably amble or mosey out of it. And yet the universe seems intent on shoving the Knights down our throats even though it took their GM less than two seasons to completely bork a blank cap situation and no one cares. Mark Stone showed up, everyone lost their mud, and he scored at a 22-goal, 50-point pace, which is fine, except it’s not fine  for the $9.5 MILLION DOLLARS HE’S GOING TO GET PER SEASON WHY AM I THE ONLY ONE FLABBERGASTED I MUST BE ON THE WRONG DRUGS!!!

But Stone’s contract doesn’t have much bearing on this series. His play does. And boy does this seem a nightmare for the Sharks, and could potentially swing the direction of the entire organization.

Goalies: Before we get to the disaster that is the Sharks’ net, Marc-Andre Fleury is reasons 1-4 the Knights made it to the Final last year. While some want to attribute it to magic dust or a genius front office or a secret style of playing or Ryan Fucking Reaves, just about any thrown-together bunch of fuckwits can win a series or three when their goalie is going .945, as Fleury did in the first three rounds. When he stopped doing that, you’ll notice the Caps dispatched them tout suite.

Fleury was a tick above league average, with spotty health all season. He was marvelous in five March starts, and bad in three April starts, so current form is hard to diagnose. Fleury’s playoff pedigree is also hard to figure, as there’s just as much buffoonery as there has been brilliance. If anyone thinks he’s a sure bet just because of the last two seasons, you’re not paying much attention. It would not be a shock if he’s terrible. He was just a short time ago February.

That still makes him a better bet than Martin Jones, who was just woeful this year. The Sharks had the worst goaltending at evens this year, and in fact were the only team lower than .900. You can’t roll into the playoffs with that and expect to do much. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that Jones’s playoff pedigree is rather strong. In three tries with the Sharks he’s at .926 over 42 games. At 29, he really shouldn’t be in a career abyss. Maybe the fresh start of the playoffs lets him reset everything mentally. That’s the only thing the Sharks can be counting on right now.

Defense: You’ll never get me to buy into the Vegas defense. But I’ll also readily admit they basically take them out of the equation, by just asking them to get the puck up to the forwards as quickly as possible and not much else. They don’t get a ton of scoring from there but they don’t have to. And the forwards have the puck so much that they don’t have to do that much defending. But the Sharks have the puck a ton, too. And the more you’re asking Colin Miller and Brayden McNabb and Deryk Goddamn Engelland to do in their own end, the more likely it is they’ll turn back into the players we’re fairly sure they still are. Because I have to believe eventually things return to as they are, no matter how much of a fantasy land Vegas is of dreams and money and tits.

If Erik Karlsson is healthy, then the Sharks’ blue line is way better. He appeared for the last game and says he’s ready to go, but premature returns from a groin injury have sent him back to the darkness twice already this season. With him, the Sharks boast three pairs the Hawks would honestly kill for. Maybe Vlasic and Braun are a touch slow to deal with the speed of the Knights over a long series, but they know how to take the dungeon shifts. If they can keep the roof from leaking, Karlsson and Burns can get up in it. And they do the scoring the Vegas’s back end doesn’t. Yes, the Knights have four lines, but the Sharks are the rare team with three pairings. If anyone’s equipped…

Forwards: I still may be in denial or not “get it,” but there’s a reason the Knights are here again. They just have a lot of speed and depth. Wild Bill may have crashed back down to Earth, but it’s a real boon to have a second line of Stastny, Pacioretty, and Stone. The Ginger Ninja lurks on the third line with Alex Tuch, and somehow Bellemare and Reaves and whatever other jackass they punt out there come up with big goals. And there’s never a break in pace. It’s so much to deal with when it’s on song.

But again, if you sift through the mishegas, the Sharks have the same depth, but better. The Sharks boast six forwards with 55 points or more. The Knights have two. There are four 30-goal scorers in teal. The Knights don’t have one. They can annoy the piss out of you too with Meier and Sorensen. They could even match center depth by moving Pavelski back to the middle if they so choose. Nyquist performed at the same pace Stone did in Vegas and yet I didn’t see anyone erecting statues of him in their publications like they did with McPhee and Stone. Starting to get the impression the Sharks have better skaters?

Prediction: Last year’s series, after the 7-0 Game 1 in Vegas for the Knights, was pretty even. Fleury made a huge difference. The Knights are maybe better than they were last year, though without William Karlsson and Smith doing what they did maybe not? The Sharks definitely are. Jones could undo it all and they could be done in four. But the possibility of Fleury having a gasoline fight with him are higher than most think. But honestly, I’m tired of the Vegas story and I think the Sharks have just been twiddling their thumbs waiting for this. And once they snap into gear, everyone in the West should be awfully worried.

Sharks in six.