Hockey

We joke a lot around here. Mostly it’s to keep from crying. It’s certainly better than thinking about anything you’ve seen seriously with this team the past couple seasons. Anyway, if you’re somewhat new or just missed it, we refer to “Magic Training Camp” because every excuse for the Hawks last year seemed to get back to the fact that Jeremy Colliton didn’t have a training camp. It’s why the penalty kill sucked. It’s why they were defensively awful. It’s why Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook essentially un-velcro’d from the season. And we could keep going. It asked us to ignore that the fact that Colliton had five months in charge to install…whatever it was he was trying to install. The problem is we don’t really know.

So tell me, is this good?

Now it’s only two games. But it’s two games against one team that isn’t any good (Flyers) and another that wasn’t particularly interested in anything other than maybe getting their coach fired but couldn’t turn down the gifts the Hawks felt it mandatory to hand them (Sharks). So yeah, this is a problem. There’s all the time in the world to fix it, but it is a problem.

If it makes you feel better, the Hawks don’t have the worst PK in the league. Yet. The Devils have killed less than half their penalties. So we have that going for us. But still, batting 50% over two games, wherever they fall on the calendar, is less than ideal.

We probably all have a theory on why the PK sucks, and the thing is they’re probably all correct. Talent-level is an issue, Crawford probably could have made a save or two more, structure, entries, whatever. It’s all a problem. Ok, the goal on the PK against the Flyers was a fluke that bounced off Koekkoek, so let’s not hold that against them.

To me, the entries for the Sharks last night were way too easy. Again and again, the QB–generally Karlsson–would skate up to around the red line, hit a man along the boards on the blue line, and that player would immediately pop it to a charging teammates at the line through whatever Hawks forward thought it was a good idea to go charging out to the boards on the PK. Not only were they in the zone, they had possession and speed. From there you’re always chasing.

The first goal was off a scramble, but look at how it starts:

Somehow, Kampf ends up with three guys to cover. Karlsson at the point he’s fronting, then LeBanc on the wing, and Kane in the middle. Murphy and Toews both go out to Couture at the point. Now I’m no expert, but two guys covering one when you’re down a man already is a Custer-esque strategy. Maybe that’s just an individual goof…but when you’re fresh out of training camp–that got something of a bonus week thanks to the schedule–shouldn’t individual goofs not be a thing that happens? Also Keith never moves here, though never really takes anyone either.

So to the second PP goal against:

Again, another ridiculously easy entry, that has the Hawks chasing. Zack Smith (who is awfully close to the Bobs question of “What is it, you would say, you do here?”) chases Gambrell (who?!) far too low in the zone, and because he’s slow he can’t get back to the point to cover for Karlsson’s shot. Seabrook and Maatta can’t recover from the rush from Gambrell, then trying to get set up for the point shot, leaving all sorts of free sticks everywhere.

There were times last night when it also looked like the Hawks were moving out of the way of shots on the PK, which is…a choice. The idea of any kill is to front the point-men, force the puck to the wide areas and block off the cross-seam pass. You want the shots coming from beyond the circles from that angle. It’s easier to block off whoever’s in front of the net there. There is far less net to shoot at. The angles are easier to cover up. And yet it feels like the Hawks never force the puck there.

The other excuse I’m supposed to give you is that Calvin de Haan hasn’t played. That’s cool, but Calvin de Haan is Calvin de Haan. He’s not Larry Robinson circa ’77. He’s also not all that quick, so if everyone else is getting pulled out of position–or not in one to begin with–there is little he can do.

Not exactly the start they were hoping for.

Hockey

OK, so it certainly wasn’t dull. That’s one thing I can definitely say about this home-opener-legit-season-opener since the Prague game felt like a weird extra preseason game. There were goals, there were changes to the lines, there were shameful defensive breakdowns—a little something for everyone. But at the end of the day, the Hawks lost to a struggling team they should have beat. Let’s jump in, shall we?

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

–There was a lot to unpack with the forward lines here. First of all, Saad-Kampf-Kubalik looked outstanding in the first period and Kubalik opened the scoring while in total that line had 11 shots. They had the puck constantly when they were on the ice together—an 87.5 CF% at evens. So everyone was thrilled and of course Coach Cool Youth Pastor had to go changing it up by the second period, moving Kubalik to the top line. Now, Kubalik played really well and he replaced the hapless Alex Nylander (more on him later), but once that happened Saad and Kampf basically went dark. They had precisely zero shots in the second period and not much more than that in the third. So while I understand the desire to stack the top line, there is also the “if-it-ain’t-broke” side of things to consider. And messing with what’s working so suddenly may not have been the mark of true leadership.

–Also, can we just have Top Cat-Strome-Kane on a line please? The give-and-go that they had on the fourth goal was a thing of beauty. It does not take a hockey genius to see this. And the argument (if there was one) for keeping Kane and Toews together is backed up by nothing. They had a 14 CF% together and generated no shots. Seriously. If CCYP is going to shake up the lines reflexively, then he should at least follow the empirical evidence with the second line, maybe keep Kubalik with Toews and put Shaw with them. Of course there may be better answers but it’s not some great mystery the world can never solve.

–So back to Alex Nylander for a minute, who didn’t make it past the FFUD over/under of being on the top line through the second period. Essentially he just sucked, I’m not really sure how else to say it. He gave up turnovers in the defensive zone and at his own blue line, he whiffed on a wide open shot in the high slot, his passes were off the mark, and to top it all off, he brought DOWN Saad’s and Kampf’s production. He was like the Cone of Ignorance around Bart Simpson. I realize we may be subjected to watching this fool for a while longer but it’s going to be really cruel really soon, especially given the state of the defense, which is acquisition only worsened. Switch him out for Brendan Perlini—equally lazy, can’t be any worse?

–And yes, Andrew Shaw scored two goals. And yes, the crowd loved him and cheered wildly during the pregame. And yes, he took dumb penalties and no I am not convinced he’s worth the money or will actually help the team. All that “scrappiness” the broadcast likes to go on about didn’t score at the end of the game when he had a point-blank chance and couldn’t finish. I know, I’m motherfucking this guy into a 100-point season and if that’s the case, so be it. But he’s not “my guy,” despite what my esteemed colleagues may say.

–The defense was…what we both feared and expected. Erik Gustafsson and Slater Koekkoek on a pairing should be a war crime, and it led directly to the Sharks’ winning goal as Gus practically stared at the puck while it was being taken from him, and Koekkoek was somewhere out in the boondocks near where I live, that’s how far he was from the play. Beyond that, most everyone was bad anyway, the lone exception being Connor Murphy who was above 50% in possession and had a few key break-ups of passes. Ya know, playing defense, as is his job description. Yet, he managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for a deflection that led to one of the Sharks’ goals, so even though that’s not his fault (he was in position in front of the net), that’s how things went. Olli Maatta and Brent Seabrook were, shall we say, not the top defensemen that they were made out to be in the preseason. The argument (if there was one) against having Boqvist up here is looking flimsier by the minute.

–Honestly the Sharks weren’t that good tonight, but it’s pretty damn sad when a guy older than me can score multiple goals on you. Just sayin’. What they were able to do was convert on their power plays, which is just another way of saying the Hawks’ PK is as putrid as where we left it last season. They managed to kill off one penalty! This is where we’re at.

–On that note, the Hawks got nothing on the power play and they were mostly just chaotic. Granted they only had two chances, but their first one was nothing but bad passes, an offsides on a messed-up zone entry, and not pulling the trigger when a shot was open. So it wasn’t their typical issue with standing still and waiting for Patrick Kane—it was more of a clusterfuck that came to nothing.

Corey Crawford had an .853 SV% tonight, which is not exactly inspiring, but honestly a number of those goals can’t be pinned solely on him. Still, he should have had at least the fifth one. His team didn’t play well enough in front of him and you know I’m not going to throw him under the bus, but it would be nice to see a stronger performance.

Well, we’re underway for real now in 2019. There were flashes of brilliance, potential for things that will actually work, and there were cringe-worthy mistakes. Pretty much like we thought there would be. Buckle up for the rest of it. Onward and upward…

Beer de jour: Odell Oktoberfest

Photo credit: NHL.com

 

Hockey

For most of last year, if you paid attention to the underlying numbers, or metrics, or analytics, or whatever other scrabble word you use, you knew that the Sharks were one of the best teams in the league. In fact, by those measures they were basically blowing away the Western Conference, and somehow losing the division to the Flames was basically a crime. They always had the puck and were creating most of the chances.

You also knew that they were being let down by simply horrific/comedic/surreal goaltending, with Martin Jones putting up a .896 SV% on the season. Aaron Dell wasn’t any better, and all the good work the Sharks skaters were doing was undone a lot of the time by Jones and Dell whiffing and whatever puck was half-heartedly flung in their direction, with opponents apologetically celebrating the goals they never saw coming or considered were a possibility.

There weren’t a lot of options for the Sharks at the trade deadline, and you could see why they stuck with Jones as well. In his three years as the Sharks starter previous to last season, he had never been below .912, and also had been dynamite in the playoffs. In San Jose’s run to the Final in 2016, he was .923 in 24 games. The following season he was .935 in a first-round loss to the Oilers, and then .928 as the Sharks went out in the second round. The policy of keeping the faith made sense, or at least was defensible.

Still, Jones wasn’t very good in the playoffs last year, and had he even been average perhaps the Sharks find their way past the Blues (GRRRRRR….). Again, the options in the offseason weren’t exactly shiny and must-have. Perhaps they should have put in a call to Robin Lehner, as Sergei Bobrovsky would have been out of their price range. Perhaps they wanted to give Jones another half-season to prove he can come back to what he was. And only at the next trade deadline will they pull the trigger if it’s warranted.

Still, it’s hard to find a comp of a goalie that fell apart at 29 and then rediscovered it. As a warning, these should always be taken with a grain of salt, because Jones is his own man and whatnot. His season won’t be affected because of what other goalies did in the past. As Fifth Feather would say, it’s like deciding what the next hand of a blackjack will be because of what’s going on at another table. The odds say one thing, but they don’t actually force certain cards to be turned over. Still, let’s take a look.

Since the great Lockout of ’05, Jones’s season last year was the 12th worst for goalies 28 or above who made 40 starts or more. Ben Scrivens had a worse season at 28 after being pretty good, and was out of the league in less than a year. Marty Turco struggled out of the lockout at age 30, posting a .898. He recovered a very little, posting a couple .910s but never coming close to the Vezina form he had before. And really that’s about it for comparable age and falling off a cliff at said age.

The Sharks would happily take that .910 Turco put up after his stumble, as given what else they are capable of that would be more than enough for another 105-110 points. If Jones can’t get there, and he is indeed this broken bumper car now, the options again aren’t great. Would they take one of the Hawks’ goalies if they indeed have to sell at the deadline (or would even admit to)? If the injuries to the Penguins become too much, would Matt Murray be available? Laurent Brossoit from Winnipeg? These are all reaches in terms of availability.

The Sharks clearly don’t have much time. Even with Joe Pavelski put on his bike, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns are all over 30. Erik Karlsson will be soon. They probably can’t toss away another spring on the hopes that Martin Jones finds it for no reason other than HOCKEY.

The opening signs aren’t encouraging. Getting blitzed by Nashville and Vegas twice isn’t exactly shameful, but those are the teams the Sharks will have to get through come springtime. It was a rough opening for sure, but the Sharks might have liked it if Jones had stood tall in any of the games. And he only faced over 30 shots in one of them.

This is a game of chicken the Sharks are playing with themselves. Someone is going to have to swerve or the whole thing is going to pieces.

Hockey

Slightly tweaked feature this year. Instead of the Douchebag Du Jour, we’ll list a couple doofuses on the opponent that night. 

Evander Kane – Always the king, one of the bigger scumbags in the league, and now comes equipped with a victim complex that somehow justifies pushing and slashing referees. There isn’t a manhole deep enough for him to fall into.

Brent Burns – Looks like a jackass, mostly plays like a jackass, but no one seems to notice until he gets his hairy ass scorched in the playoffs by any team that bothers to notice he can’t play defense. This man has a Norris, people.

Pete DeBoer – Yet another coach who has passed over young players to play genuine turds like Michael Haley last season. It wasn’t the only season that he was fascinated by Haley or some other drooler who needed help tying his skates. Holding the Sharks back.

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

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

Full disclosure at the top: Everyone here, whether you’re writing this stupid blog or reading it, finds the happenings last night in St. Louis utterly hilarious and maybe even life-affirming. I cannot wait until the Blues meltdown the next two games and lose this in five games, maybe to the tune of a combined score of like 11-2. I will almost certainly think of these days during the next bout of mediocre sex. Good, now that’s out of the way.

So right, there’s going to be a lot of teeth-gnashing about what to expand replay review to and what not. It seems simple to add this instance to the list of things that can be reviewed, but it isn’t. And it’s a prime example of why you don’t react to things in the moment or try to correct one mistake, no matter how egregious.

Because what will be the standards for reviewing a hand-pass? Right now it’s if it goes straight into the net. The easy answer is to amend it to “directly leads to a goal” but what is that? Say Binnington makes the save on Karlsson but Meier or Nyquist pots the rebound? Can you go back that far? What if the puck circles back out to the blue line and the goal is scored 20 seconds later? It’s still a hand pass, and because of it the play kept going, but did it lead directly? What’s the definition there?

Would you restrict it to if it’s the primary or secondary assist, as Meier ended up being? That could take place out in the neutral zone. And the answer you’ll find is that there is no answer, at least not until some officiating AI is created that can see everything and instantly call everything.

Unless you’re in a blind rage from last night (and we’re laughing at you if you are because it’s what we do), it’s pretty easy to see how that got missed. The ref closest to it was moving from around the net, had at least Robert Thomas and possibly Nyquist in his way. It was an instant, and there’s every reason to believe he was blocked off. The other ref would have had multiple bodies in his way, and the only linesman who would have been looking might have had the same problem. And that deep in the zone, it’s not really his call. This is just where the challenge of how fast hockey moves is insurmountable right now.

This is where the challenge system is stupid, and it seems pretty fair to say just have a replay official who can call down when something screwy happens and tell the refs what went down. But again, how far back does that go? Common sense tells you what leads directly to a goal and what doesn’t, and we went through this with offsides reviews, but you try telling some coach or team that gets a bad call in a playoff game about common sense. Everyone is going to want a hard line or two, and I don’t know if they’re possible.

Hockey’s greatest fear, and I wrote about this with soccer too, is that every goal will be met with a “Did it count?” feeling. You get it in football now, where after every catch we wonder if it actually happened or not. And because hockey is a goal-sport, the one thing the NHL doesn’t want to do is erode the explosion and excitement of a goal being scored. That’s why we’re all here after all, what all of our enjoyments is predicated on. Losing that and really what is your fan experience? Certainly greatly diminished.

But like I said in that earlier post, this is just the unfortunate part of being in the middle of the process. One day, there will be an instant check on offsides and other calls, and we won’t need to take a pause to find out. I don’t know how that comes about, but it probably will. Same for other infractions leading to goals. But in the meantime, how do we help the refs get more of these calls right?

One idea the NHL explored a while ago, and then never went anywhere with, was moving a ref off the ice. They sort of had this platform above the penalty boxes. It sounded ridiculous, it looked a little silly, but the more I think about it the more sense it makes. If you ever watch the refs during a game, it’s a little startling how much time they have to spend moving around players and also avoid getting a puck in the teeth. They do a remarkable job of it, but there is a lot of time when the ref isn’t watching the play but maneuvering himself out of the way of play (Hilda…I have invented a maneuver!). The two-ref system was supposed to solve this, but the other reft is outside the zone and that might not help all that much when the puck is in the corners.

So why not move the refs out of the field of play? NBA refs stand out of bounds. Four of the seven football refs do, and the other three are way off where they aren’t really affected by play. Hockey is unique in that there is no out of bounds, but would the ref have seen that hand pass if he didn’t have to worry about moving himself out of the way of the action while still officiating the action? All he’d have to worry about is watching the play.

It never got past their developmental camp, and perhaps owners and the like would be worried about some of their highest priced tickets having a referee platform in the way. It doesn’t have to be above the glass, but raised enough above to see everything. It would also have the added benefit of opening up some more space in the offensive zone. The trouble there is that no one would be able to get around to the net for scrambles there to see if the puck went in or not. It’s whack-a-mole.

It’s not going to happen, and because of this we might just have to live with this in-between world. I think soccer is on the right track, with a separate official watching the game on TV can calling down if he thinks something was missed or gotten wrong. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s probably better than the one we have.

But there are no definite answers. Just as there were no definitive answers without replay at all. These are the same debates we had then with just different elements. Those aren’t going away.

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

Before the playoffs, SinBin.Vegas (a Knights blog I’ll check out when I need to update myself on said team) wrote a post about how Brent Burns was actually an advantage for them in their series against the Sharks. I thought it was yet another product of unearned arrogance for a team and fanbase that hadn’t even been in existence for two full seasons yet, even though I’ve never really rated Burns defensively either. I figured he could out-produce and out-push whatever mistakes he makes in his own end, as he pretty much does during the regular season.

This has been Burns in the playoffs:

Last night was especially gruesome if you’re a Sharks fan, and truly rewarding if you’re into absurdist theater. Let’s start with Colin Wilson’s goal that pretty much ended Game 4 as a contest:

When Rantanen loses the puck into the slot, you’d assume that Burns would just slap it away on his backhand or smoothly let it roll to his forehand and then skate it out. Instead he attempts…I don’t even know…a Cruyff turn? The result is him banging it off his skates and leaving it right there for Rantanen to get a second bite at it, which left him the space for that incredible pass to Wilson.

That wasn’t Burns’s only hiccup that turned into an aneurysm, in even that period. On Carl Soderberg’s mystifying miss in the 3rd, Burns follows Matt Nieto into the corner with all the passion of getting his license renewed, and then just kind of skates around back up to the circle like a little league outfielder, while Soderberg is just standing at the side of the net waiting to y’know, score. There were at least two or three other instances in just the 3rd period last night where Burns got scorched, or was just loitering around begging for change I assume like North Shore kids in front of The Alley (sky point), or actively running away from where he was supposed to be.

The highlight had to be Sam Girard coming down the middle on a 3-on-2, and Burns on the right side of the two  turning his back on Girard to cover the stationary winger along the boards, who somehow was calculated by Burns with whatever broken slide-rule covered in mustard is in his head to be the bigger threat. Girard faked that pass by like, kind of looking over there and suddenly Burns gave him a runway to the net that O’Hare would pay millions for. It was like when you fake throwing the tennis ball for your dog and they go charging off for five steps and then can’t figure out what they’re doing.

And it’s been like this all playoffs long. All the shit that Erik Karlsson used to get yelled at by red angry men on TSN in the past Burns was actively doing last night and the past three weeks. But because he’s a good Canadian boy it’s rare that this ever gets pointed out. This motherfucker has a Norris! I hate to say Drew Doughty was right, but my lord.

It’s like watching a child lost in the supermarket. You feel sorry for him but at the same time you can’t wait to see how he tries to solve this puzzle. And Burns is just charging through the produce shelves hoping to just run into mom’s knees. You’d think it’s impossible to get this lost in a contained space but Burns seems to find space where there didn’t look to be any space or creates more of it, and all in the wrong way.

It’s honestly been the most fascinating watch in the playoffs. Where will Burns charge off to next? Is he going to be at the circles when the puck is behind the net? Vice versa? Is he going to choose to cover the beer vendor? Will he actually light his beard on fire? You can’t rule any of it out!

It’s just about as freeing an experience in the playoffs. Anything could happen. There is no impossibility when Burns is on the ice. I bet you thought there would never be a rip in the space-time continuum. Buddy, let me tell ya, it could happen. His brains could literally spill out of his ear (which I assume would result in another major to Cody Eakin). He might just leap against the glass like Ron Obvious trying to leap the English Channel. It’s honestly a bucket of rainbows.

Erik Gustafsson must watch Burns and do a Joker impression. “And I thought my jokes were bad.”

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.