Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Penguins Game Three - "Reports of Their Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated"

Wow. What a great hockey game Detroit and Pittsburgh played tonight.

Starting with the aforementioned assumption that the Wings played to their potential (and the Pens did not) in games one and two, Pittsburgh needed to step up their game in order to have a chance of winning back in the Igloo for game three. Rest assured, they did step up and narrowly won a game against another consistent Red Wing effort.

This was the type of hockey game that could have been won by either team as it featured offenses driving to the net, excellent goaltending (Marc-Andre Fleury might have wanted back the 2nd goal allowed, though) and hard hitting all over the ice. The fact that the Pens were victorious was the result of a very good Pittsburgh effort coupled with a few more bounces their way than Detroit got.

A game like this fully demonstrated why it was so necessary for the Penguins to win should they have any chance in the series. Starting with talented opponents and assuming repeat occurrences of each team's effort, intensity and attention to detail, you would likely have a 50/50 split in wins and losses over a number of games.

The point being, if Pittsburgh had fallen behind three games to zero, it's next to impossible that they would have been able to take four in a row from Detroit with the way the Wings have played. In fact, Detroit has played well enough this series that I'd say to have a realistic chance, Pittsburgh needs to win Saturday as well. Reason being, should Detroit go up three games to one, the odds of Pittsburgh either greatly outplaying them or getting the breaks needed to win three of four are slim.

However, a win Saturday in game four would be simply holding serve on home ice and should the Pens pull it off, they could then completely disregard their shortcomings in games one and two and start in on a best of three series.

Here's to hoping the Pens do get it done Saturday as it would mean one of the most compelling Stanley Cup Finals matchups in recent memory would be living up to the advance billing.

Guest Blogging: "Wearing Black and Gold in Detroit on a Monday Night"

Below is a blog post provided by a virtuoso sports (and tertiary hockey) fan who visited lovely Detroit to take in Game 2 of the Finals betwixt the Red Wings and Penguins. Said fan / author is also the brains (if not the brawny) behind the website a very interesting account of his two month sojourn around the circumference of Australia with his 2 year old son.

Monday night actually started on Monday afternoon as a group of eight Penguins fans meandered around Detroit. We had a great meal in Greektown and checked out a microbrew pub near the baseball stadium. All in all, a good time. Then we took the cleverly named "People Mover" to the arena. The arena was packed with good natured fans of both teams. I do not believe it would be a stretch to say that 20% of the fans were in Pens gear. The arena may be older, but every seat had a good view if my seat is any indication. The photos give you a view of warm ups, as well as that damn octopus being raised back up.

As a Pens fan, I have been to a few venues for hockey: LA, San Jose, Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia, Columbus, and Nashville. Admittedly, those were not all Pens games so I have not experienced all of those venues as an "away" fan. With that caveat, let me say that Wings fans are the best fans in their treatment of "away" fans of any I have seen in the US side of the hockey world. Let me take that a step further and say that of the 41 Pro sports venues I have been to, none had a better combination of passion and civility. Given the excitement of the Stanley Cup and my relatively negative impression of Detroit from previous visits, I was expecting something resembling the away fan experience at a Raiders game or a Flyers game. To my amazement, we were not yelled at or taunted much at all. This was not just because there were eight of us - most of the time, I was working my way through the crowd with one friend wearing a very noticeable old school Ron Brown Pens sweater. In the interest of time and keeping this positive impression, we skipped the People Mover on the way back to the car. The only down note is that for "Hockeytown", it would be nice if one local news station led with the Stanley Cup Finals ahead of the NBA semi-finals.

Now, about the game. Dave has already reviewed it and he was spot on. As you know, being there you only get replays that serve the home team. Thus, I have no idea why when a Pens player is leveled and leaves lots of blood on the ice in the first period it was no big deal (and no power play). On the other hand, the fact that people in front of me stood up during the goals did not prevent me from seeing them a few times. While I did not appreciate any of the goals, I had to admire the balance and skill in Valtteri Filppula's goal. The fact of the matter is that Detroit simply has the better game plan and execution. Player for player, the Pens are as good as the Wings, but on the ice Monday night (and Saturday night) the Wings were just far and away the better team. The Wings knew how to take the puck down the ice, move it around, and score. Yes, the Penguins failed to capitalize on a few opportunities, but the blunt analysis is that the Wings had an answer for every Pens possession. Every time, the puck would be taken off someone's stick or the player would be directed away from the goal. Then the Wings would counterattack and hold the puck. Sure, Chris Osgood is playing well, but the story line is that the team in front of him is controlling the pace of the game to an astounding degree. The Pens came in with a hot offense and excellent play from their defense, but neither is performing well enough to win. The only statistic in which the Pens held an advantage Monday night was in hits (actually, they may have broken even in face-offs), but that is about like a football team leading in tackles - it was because the Wings were too busy handling the puck to hit the Pens. Some would say that the Wings were better at holding a lead. That may be true (we'll have to see if they are more submissive when down, if that happens), but the Wings were dominating this game from the word "go" and that did not change until the game was out of reach. Near the end of the game, the Pens chippy play seemed to either awaken their own animal spirits or throw the Wings off their game.

Pittsburghers may look at Games 1 & 2 and blame the stars like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. They may be reminded of how poorly stars like Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla played in the National League Championship series of 1990, 1991, and 1992. They would be looking to the wrong problem. This is more fundamental than the Red Wings scoring on their chances and the Penguins not capitalizing on theirs. The fact is that the Wings are winning with their scheme and controlling the flow of the game. Erstwhile Pens coach Scotty Bowman scouted the Pens in their series vs. the Flyers and helped the Wings plan for this series. Unless the Pens can break that scheme, this will be over in four games and those watching this finals will not see a single close game.

Jim Key

And now... a few images from within the Joe, provided by the good Dr Key.
Sweet Stanley Cup projection

Note the Octopus hanging from the ceiling (along with the banners)

Ready for period one action (at least for the Red Wings)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals Game Two - Rolling Red

Well, It was apparent to all that in order to have any chance whatsoever in game two, the Penguins would need to play a heck of a lot better than they did in game one. The Pens deliverable from the game showed that yep... they played better, but still not good enough to beat a rolling Detroit team.

This game was essentially lost in the first period with Detroit outshooting Pittsburgh 12-6 (with all 6 Penguins shots coming on the power play) and netting goals from Brad Stuart and then Tomas Holmstrom. As Pittsburgh played the Wings fairly well even in the 2nd and 3rd with no goals to show for it, it's pretty easy to point to period one as being the defining stanza of play.

Particular attention should be focused on the goaltender play and how it impacted this game. Chris Osgood was extremely solid in throwing his second shutout in a row and while Marc-Andre Fleury certainly wasn't the reason the Pens lost, he probably would like to have back one if not both of the goals that Detroit shot through him in the first. That said, the final score was of course 3-0 so there should be a greater amount of accolades heaped on Osgood than critique of Fleury.

So... the Penguins are down two games to zero, but should not be counted out just yet. While they can be criticized for some cheap hits at the end against Osgood and a recently returned to the lineup (from concussion symptoms) Johan Franzen, Pittsburgh did show signs of life with their surly play at the end (and pretty solid 2nd and 3rd period effort). They've yet to lose a game at the Igloo this postseason and if they can put together 60 rather than 40 minutes of solid hockey and have Fleury play as well as Osgood, game three is a chance to get back in this series.

That said, this matchup was billed at the start as experience (Detroit) against youth (Pittsburgh) and maybe putting together every single piece needed to beat experience is too tough a task for youth (albeit very talented youth).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

2008 Stanley Cup Finals Game One - Red Tide

Goodness gracious. Pittsburgh vs Detroit may still turn out to be a great series with the tandem of Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk & Henrik Zetterberg on the other, but tonight it was all Red Wings with a resounding 4-0 victory.

What made this game particularly scary if you're a Pens fan was the methodical nature in which Detroit outplayed Pittsburgh in all aspects of the game at various points.

First period: The action was back and forth, but the benefit of hindsight shows that the key out of this opening stanza was Detroit killing off four penalties in a row (with help from some excellent goaltending by Chris Osgood). Additionally, the Wings had a goal disallowed on a questionable goaltender interference penalty against.

Second period: The rink was tilted with Detroit outshooting Pittsburgh 16-4 and exiting the second 20 minutes with a 1-0 lead thanks to ex-Penguin Mikael Samuelsson.

Third period: Only three shots for Pittsburgh and the Wings slowly, and then quickly, put the game away with one early and two late goals.

So... at different points of the game, the Red Wings demonstrated their makeup as a complete team and the favorite in this series.

Early on they both held off the powerplay onslaught and overcame a tough call against them (note to the San Jose Sharks: overcoming adversity is a good thing to do). Then they poured it on with a high-powered offense (and contributions from an excellent cast of role players). And... oh yeah, they utilized both solid (see: Kronwall, Niklas) and spectacular (see: Lindstrom, Nicklas) defensive play to shut down the Penguins and start the break the other way.

One game is of course only one game, but the Wings looked very good in dispatching Pittsburgh. At this point it will be up to Messrs Crosby and Malkin to see what they can answer with.

Few people question whether the Pens will win a Stanley Cup with these two superstars, but whether they can do it in their first try, and against such a strong opponent, is definitely an open item.

Monday, May 19, 2008

That Pesky Four Games in a Row Problem

Well, what the San Jose Sharks ran into has resurfaced again... twice. Dallas and Philadelphia both had excellent playoff runs, but each went down 3-0 against quality opponents. The Flyers then won one game and the Stars were able to take two games against Detroit, but eventually... each faltered.

Just as San Jose found out in the prior round against Dallas, the odds of beating a good team four games in a row are simply too thin to realistically overcome. The twists of fate and bounces of good fortune will conspire 99 times out of 100 to give a good team victory in at least one out of four games.

So... it's done. The Eastern and Western Conference playoffs have concluded and given excellent representatives to the Finals. The Penguins and Red Wings should be a very good matchup between two very teams. More to say about said matchup later, but it's definitely something to look forward to.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's Not Always Fun Being Right

Ron Wilson "relieved of his duties" as coach of the San Jose Sharks... not a fun thing to have happen, but me thinks a necessary one. A lot has been written both here and elsewhere about Wilson's job performance, but he being let go is sad in that it speaks to the unfulfilled expectations to date rather than a clear signal of a great leap forward.

That great leap may well come under the helm of whoever takes over, but in the end it came down to a simple equation... what was being done wasn't working so you gotta change something. Time will tell whether the something to changed turns out to be the right course.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Round Three... Halfway There (Focus on the East)

And now... your 2008 Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals matchup: the battle of Pennsylvia featuring a pretty darn bitter rivalry in Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia Flyers
Expository Statement: The Flyers are a team that missed the playoffs by a wide margin in 2007 and despite them adding pieces and parts for the 2008 season, not many people expected much for this year. However, the Flyers have gotten excellent play from some key figures and have made it into the final four.

Players of Note (said key figures):
Offense: Daniel Briere has shown in the playoffs why the large contract him by Philly. The true offensive leader for Philadelphia, though, has been 22 year-old Center Mike Richards. Playing with a skill and ferocity that portends a long career leading the Flyers, Richards has been both the biggest offensive weapon and extremely solid on the backcheck.

Defense: The loss of defenseman Kimmo Timonen will be difficult to overcome as it leaves the Flyers relatively thin on D with Jason Smith and rapidly improving Braydon Coburn being backed up by the relatively ancient Derian Hatcher and a bunch of young 'uns.

Goaltending: One of the keys to the Flyers success this postseason has been the stellar play of netminder Martin Biron. In the first playoff action of his 9 year career, Biron was first steady against the Capitals and then spectacular against the Canadiens. For a guy born in the province of Quebec, this series win must have been particularly gratifying.

Pittsburgh Penguins:
Expository Statement: An excellent team that rolled through the first two rounds losing a sum total of one game. The Pens showed that they could either run and gun (as evidenced by their coming back to win game one against the Rangers despite being down 3-0) or play defensive shut-down hockey (see: game two against NY where they won 2-0 including an empty net goal).

Offense: Where to begin? Sidney Crosby is... Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin stepped up during Crosby's mid-season absence due to injury and showed himself to be a great player in his own right. Added to this mix at the trade deadline (at the risk of upsetting team chemistry with the departure of well-liked Kolby Armstrong) was sniper Marian Hossa.

Defense: the power play is quarterbacked by the very skilled Sergei Gonchar and beyond that, Brooks Orpik leads a fairly tough cast that often gets overlooked due to the Pens offensive prowess.

Goaltending: Marc-Andre Fleury has given the Penguins everything they could hope for this postseason and has more than adequate if-needed backup in the revitalized (and Anchorage, AK born and reared) Ty Conklin.

Forecast for the Series: Going into it, this matchup feels very similar to that in the West. You have a hard-hitting team that has gotten further than most expected (see: Philadelphia in the East and Dallas in the West) up against a highly-skilled team that most thought would reach at least this point (see: Pittsburgh in the East and Detroit in the West).

Just as in the West, the unexpected challenger (Philadelphia / Dallas) certainly could get it done, but it would be a surprise to this prognosticator.

So... expecting a Pittsburgh vs Detroit Stanley Cup Finals, but that's far from guaranteed. And that... is why they play the games.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Round Three... Halfway There (Focus on the West)

After two fun-filled rounds of the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs, we're down to the elite (see: really good and have played that way... sorry, Sharks) final four teams. This means that for whichever team eventually winds up taking the silver Cup, they're now... halfway. Crazy how much hockey is still left until it's all decided.

Let's take a look at the matchups and see what we may be able to expect (yes, a spot of cheating going on as game one has been played in each series.

Western Conference: Dallas at Detroit

Dallas Stars
Expository Statement: The Stars entered the playoffs with quite a few questions after not playing well the final month of the season, but have shown themselves to be a very solid team who took perhaps the toughest playoff road to get here... having defeated Anaheim and San Jose in rounds one and two.

Players of Note:
Offense: The top line is a force to be reckoned with featuring a "Jarome Iginla play-alike" in Brenden Morrow along with Jere Lehtinen and Mike Ribeiro. Beyond this, Brad Richards and Mike Modano are two of the best 2nd and 3rd line Centers in the league.

Defense: A historically smothering defense welcomed back maybe it's most important cog when Sergei Zubov returned during the San Jose series after missing several months of action. As I heard stated, "they must really know how to do sports hernia surgeries in Germany" because Zubov looks excellent out there. Beyond this, Stephane Robidas has been very solid and made up for the abcense of Philippe Boucher.

Goaltending: Marty Turco has quieted many of the naysayers (myself included) by putting together a stellar playoff run. One aspect of his play that has been fascinating has been his relatively conservative handling of the puck. Turco has often been the type of goalie who would make one horrible play for every two good ones handling the puck (usually outside of his crease). In these playoffs, though, you've seen a lot of the "good wandering" and little of the "bad wandering."

Detroit Red Wings:
Expository Statement: Many expected the Wings would be here in the Western Conference Finals and they haven't disappointed. An extremely complete hockey team that knows how to win.

Players of Note:
Offense: Offense the Wings have. Highlighted by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings can put the puck in the net in bunches. Additionally, Tomas Holmstrom seems to always be parked two inches in front of the opposing goalie (and gets results accordingly) and Johan Franzen has emerged as an unexpected scoring machine.

Defense: Nicklas Lindstrom and Brian Rafalski... almost certainly the best defensive combo west of Stadium Drive in Anaheim.

Goaltending: An interesting position for Detroit. Dominik Hasek went into these playoffs as the number one, but after four middling games against Nashville was replaced by Chris Osgood. Ozzie hasn't missed a beat and has the requisite experience to make Wings fans feel confident with him between the pipes.

Forecast for the Series: Dallas looked very good against the Sharks, but (to borrow an analogy from hopefully soon to be ex Sharks Coach Ron Wilson), the Stars have recently put the ingrediants together into the cake, and Detroit has been baking it for some time. I like Detroit.

Coming soon to a computer near you: random musings on the Eastern Conference Finals.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sharks Next Step... "Rejoice"?

A wise man once quoted a wise man who said "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

This statement fits well with the situation the Sharks GM, Doug Wilson, is in. He has assembled a team of skilled players with a healthy mix of young and old, speedy and tough(ish). Perhaps the 2007-2008 team might have benefited from a few players who had actually won Stanley Cups, but perhaps not. Regardless of what the change is, Wilson will hopefully be looking to bring some form of change to a franchise that has gotten close, but not close enough in the last few seasons.

This being said, let's revisit a post here from April 21:

Hail/Hire/Fire (?) Coach Wilson

Just frustrating. Not Exciting, not titillating, not nerve-racking, just frustrating that the Sharks and Flames will square off in a potentially epic (as are all of them) game 7 Tuesday night.

Let's revisit for a second the Sharks path to get here...

Three seasons ago: Facing a fairly solid, and extremely chippy Flames team, the Sharks get pushed around and eliminated.

Two seasons ago: Matched up against a less talented Oilers team, the Sharks get pushed around and eliminated... again.

Last season: 30 seconds away from a 3-1 2nd round series lead, the Sharks give up a game-tying goal to the Red Wings. One overtime goal and two listless games later, their season's over.

This season: Facing yet another not quite as talented opponent, the Sharks thus far have put up in order... a bad game, a good game, a bad game, a good game and then a bad game. Should the fans be excited for the aforementioned game 7 or should they wonder what's going on?

If you run with the assumption that the Sharks are more talented than Calgary, then you should say that they simply need to work as hard as the Flames to win the series. Given that the first six games of the series have been a "good Shark, bad Shark" story, the question has to be asked of why that's the case. Why can a talented team be up one game and then down another... and thus far, not learn from, but keep repeating the cycle?

Personally, I would look at the coaching.

If you look a couple of years back at the playoff eliminations against first the Flames and then the Oilers, the Sharks got taken out by physical play... fine, maybe that's a case of players, but maybe it's coaching.... tough to say. What isn't tough to say, though, is that last season against the Red Wings, the Sharks gave up a big game-tying goal. The disconcerting thing about that wasn't that they gave up the goal itself, but rather that once the goal was given up, things were game over. We heard from Coach Ron Wilson that two veteran players screwed up and were responsible. What didn't seem to happen, though, was for the Sharks to pull themselves AFTER the goal, or even after the lose in the following game. Players have to play the game (and ultimately determine who wins or loses), but the coach has to work with the collective psyche of the team.

Now, we're at this year... a whole new season. The Sharks are by pretty much all accounts stacked from a lineup perspective, but playing bad/good/bad/good/bad. Again, up to the players to show up, but the coach is supposed to be more than a figurehead. I'm not expecting that the coach should give a "greatest night of our lives" speech prior to each and every game, but c'mon... coaching isn't all just filling out lineup cards and throwing players out there shift after shift. If you've got good players aren't pulling themselves together after big adversity (see: last season) and who can't string together consistent effort (see: this season), one of the only things you can do is look at the leadership they're being provided day after day.

Let's go back for a second to the original notion of this missive. There's a game 7 tomorrow, something that should be exciting and the Sharks will either win or lose. Something that for Sharks supporters should be either thrilling or devestating... depending on of course the outcome.

The problem, though, is it's not exciting... because it's far from certain the Sharks have what it takes over the long haul. The playoffs are tough, there's adversity, there's injuries, and there's tough times. Teams that are gonna win it all have to meet those tough times times and still prevail. What the Sharks have done thus far is sometimes give the effort needed to prevail and sometimes not. What they would need to keep advancing through several rounds, though, is the effort to always be there. Assuming that, then they can work on working through.

If the effort's not there, it's simply not gonna happen. Maybe a game 7 win could come, but the odds of getting through subsequent rounds gets lower and lower. Could be that the effort will kick into high gear starting tomorrow night and then carry forward, but if not, then you have to question why not. That's where questions about Coach Wilson would have to be asked.

Well, at this point, the Sharks are done for the year and questions about Coach Wilson are in fact being asked. When one reporter began posing said questions, here's what the Coach had to say:

"We've achieved more since I've been here than any other team in the league, except win the Stanley Cup. We should be rejoicing."

Yikes... scary.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

2008 San Jose Sharks: Said and Done

Now that the Sharks season is officially over and a very solid (and more consistent than San Jose) Dallas team is moving on to face Detroit, let's take a minute to look back on what's previously been written about the Sharks here:

Post Date: Mar 4.
Summary: Sharks will need to be mentally tough.

Post Excerpt: San Jose - A very interesting team. Definite star power with Thornton and Cheechoo up front and Campbell and Rivet (well, maybe not a star, but solid) on the blueline. As a team that I've got a particular local affinity for, they've been absolutely maddening in their lack of a killer instinct. To steal a phrase from our dear President Bush, I'd like someone to "look into their eyes and see their soul," but... will have to see "it" to believe it.

Post Date: Mar 13.
Summary: Sharks will need to be mentally tough.

Post Excerpt: Resiliency. It's a tough thing for a hockey team to acquire, but when there, often separates the Stanley Cup winning teams from the skilled, but not quite over the hump, competition.

Post Date: Apr 6.
Summary: Sharks will need to be tough... mentally & physically.

Post Excerpt: This leads to the open question of how the Flames will attempt to win the series. Prediction here is that it's through pure brute force. It worked against the Sharks a few years ago as part of Calgary's run to game 7 of the Finals, but this year's Sharks team might be built of just a bit more solid stock.

Post Date: Apr 8.
Summary: I think the Sharks will be tough.

Post Excerpt: Calgary at San Jose: If the Sharks wanted an early test of their toughness, they certainly got it in a matchup against the Calgary Roughnecks/Flames. Much has been written and said about the Sharks wilting in the face of adversity in the last few playoff years and the Flames love to provide adversity... often in the form of a cross-check, slash or sucker-punch. Perhaps it's a case of drinking the local Kool-Aid, but I do think this year's Sharks team will be a year wiser, and a goodly amount tougher with the additions of Jeremy Roenick and Jody Shelley (who I really hope plays)... as well as the return from injury of Ryan Clowe (who has already been tabbed for the Joe Pavelski-Patrick Marleau line).

Post Date: Apr 9.
Summary: The Sharks weren't intent (i.e. mentally tough) enough.

Post Excerpt: Annoying one to watch in San Jose tonight. The Sharks appeared the more skilled team, but the Flames simply seemed to want the victory more. San Jose had flurries of passion (final minute as an example), but not in prolonged enough stretches to deserve the win.

Good thing to take out of this game is that it's only one game and assuming a more focused effort tomorrow night, the Sharks should be ok. Granted, it's cliche to make this point, but adversity such as this will reveal exactly who the Sharks are in this postseason.

Post Date: Apr 11.
Summary: The Sharks should win if they're as tough as Calgary.

Post Excerpt: My feeling going into the series was that it would be a tough series for the Sharks, but one they should emerge victorious out of as they have the more talented team and should be a bit tougher than past years due to both the experience of heartbreak lived through and new blood on the team this season.

After game 1 I was disappointed in the Sharks efforts and intensity, but still felt them the better team and that if they played the way they're capable of, they'd be fine. Game 2 is now in the books, and I'm of the same opinion. It's not going to be easy, but assuming that the (orange-rimmed) eye stays on the prize all game long, they should emerge out of a hard-fought series.

Post Date: Apr 13.
Summary: Maybe the Sharks aren't better than Calgary after all.

Post Excerpt: The truly disconcerting thing about this game is that up until these developments, it appeared the Sharks were the better team... and in control of their fate as simply matching the Flames effort and intensity would result in a series win. After watching this debacle, though, I'm not as convinced the Sharks are the better squad. Whether that potential "non-better team" status would be due to the aforementioned effort/intensity calculus or simply poor defensive play, I'm not sure, but I am concerned.

Post Date: Apr 18.
Summary: The Sharks should win if they're as tough as Calgary.

Post Excerpt: Going into this series, it seemed that the Sharks were a better team on paper than the Flames, but Calgary was a hard-working lunch-pail type crew that would keep coming at you... in some legal ways and others more questionable. The ramifications of this for the Sharkies being that they "should" win the series if they could at least roughly match the Flames in the effort/intensity equation.

Post Date: Apr 21.
Summary: Maybe the Sharks aren't mentally tough because of coaching.

If you run with the assumption that the Sharks are more talented than Calgary, then you should say that they simply need to work as hard as the Flames to win the series. Given that the first six games of the series have been a "good Shark, bad Shark" story, the question has to be asked of why that's the case. Why can a talented team be up one game and then down another... and thus far, not learn from, but keep repeating the cycle?

Personally, I would look at the coaching.

Post Date: Apr 24 (2 posts).
Summary: Sharks were inconsistent (i.e. mentally tough), but good enough.

Post Excerpts: You can (and I think should) quibble with the respective bad/good/bad/good/good/bad/good games that helped make this a 7 game series, but nary a quibble can be said about the offensive explosion that won this game 7 for the Sharkies.

San Jose over Calgary. Also took longer to decide than might have been expected, but the oft-mentioned inconsistency from the Sharks was a major factor extending this series to 7 games. Either way, Sharks advance.

Post Date: Apr 25.
Summary: Sharks didn't play well enough... against a good Dallas team.

Post Excerpt: Dallas played into the Sharks hands defensively. The Sharks didn't play with a sense of urgency (sound familiar?) and capitalize. The Sharks had two large defensive breakdowns and Dallas scored both times... and won.

Going forward, San Jose should be ok if they can repeat their opening series M.O. and follow up a weak game one with a more ferocious game two. If, however, they don't, the Stars are certainly a good enough team to continue current path and do enough to win. Let's hope San Jose rediscovers that needed sense of urgency.

Post Date: Apr 28.
Summary: Sharks didn't play well enough... against a good Dallas team.

Post Excerpt: Our much more worthy adversary this round is the Dallas Stars, a team bringing scoring punch in the persons of Mike Modano, Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro and last, but definitely not least, Brenden Morrow. Results of the series thus far could be best summed up by Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz... "we're not in San Jose anymore, and we're down 2-0."

These first two games have been interesting in their completely opposite nature from the Calgary series. Whereas that was smashmouth hockey that the Sharks fought through to victory, this (for the most part) is the fast skating end-to-end variety. Would certainly think that this style would play right into the strengths of San Jose, but... two critical weaknesses thus far: (1) that now familiar lack of driving to the net and (2) poor defensive zone coverage.

Post Date: Apr 29.
Summary: Sharks didn't play well enough... against a good Dallas team.

Post Excerpt: Dallas is playing well and has combined a stingy defense with exceptional offensive zone passing, but the Sharks have done nothing to help their cause. What should be occurring in this series is you should have two excellent teams trading punches (mostly metaphorical, but maybe a few real ones) over the course of a hard fought 6 or 7 games series.

What you have instead is a Dallas team doing their part and a San Jose team that has (1) not driven to the net (for the most part), (2) done a poor job of defensive zone coverage (both clearing the puck and covering the cross ice pass) and (3 & most appallingly) wilted when faced with adversity (personified by those Star game-tying goals).

Post Date: Apr 30.
Summary: The four games in a row problem (one game in).

Post Excerpt: Some people might not have thought so at the start of the playoffs, but the Stars are a good team. Fast skating, stingy D and (surprisingly) good goaltending. A good team such as this matched up against a good team such as the Sharks (regular season success being the determinate for this) should result in a back and forth series (with the aforementioned back and forth being determined in part by good breaks and in part by good play) likely tied 2-2 after four games.

Instead, what you have is a 3-1 series after four games that is only still going due to a solid game 4 effort (which led to fortunate breaks) from San Jose. They can, and hopefully will, show up for game 5 with similar zest and determination... the difficulty will be in having that result in wins three more games in a row. Unless San Jose plays 180 minutes of hockey like they did the final 30 seconds of game 4 against Calgary (tough to do) or Dallas plays significantly worse than they have to-date (tough to see occurring), the Stars seem likely to get the breaks needed to take one out of the final three games.

Post Date: May 2.
Summary: The four games in a row problem (two games in).

Post Excerpt: A great win by San Jose and while it's still hard to understand why they were so flat in the second period, credit has to be given for the drive they showed to tie the game in the third... and then get the victory.

Post Date: May 5.
Summary: The four games in a row problem (just short of three).

Post Excerpt: Such a shame... the San Jose Sharks now eliminated from the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

All of this comes down to describing the 2008 Sharks playoff run in fairly simply, and somewhat maddening) terms... good enough to overcome inconsistency against Calgary (thanks in part to Calgary's lack of depth) and not good enough to overcome inconsistency against Dallas (thanks in part to Dallas' play).

Tomorrow's post will take a look (in many ways another look back) at one thing that could be done about said inconsistency.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Four Games in a Row Problem: In Action

Such a shame... the San Jose Sharks now eliminated from the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

You can't say it was for a lack of heart in the decisive game 6, but rather problems that took place prior to that. As previously discussed, anytime you're up against a good opponent (of which Dallas certainly is), it's going to be difficult to get the breaks and bounces needed to win four games in a row.

Where the Sharks really lost the series was not in the 4th OT of an epic battle in Dallas, but in games 2 and 3 where they gave up 3rd period leads... and then went on to lose each game. In fact, the Stars provided an excellent counterpoint example of what should be done... they had a game 6 3rd period lead against the Sharks, gave up the tying goal, and then played just as hard as ever and eventually won. Had San Jose brought this same type of effort after allowing the tying goal in games 2 and 3, they likely would have won one of them and now be headed back home for game 7 Tuesday night.

Instead, it's all over. Watching Dallas play, I'm not 100% convinced the Sharks were better than Dallas and would have won that game 7, but I would have liked to see them have the chance. The Sharks simply played their way into a hole ("the four games in a row problem") too deep to climb out of.

Posted tomorrow will be the (sometimes expectant, sometimes sad) recap of what's been written here about the Sharks this postseason...

Friday, May 2, 2008

One at a Time

Goodness gracious sakes alive! The San Jose Sharks go into the 3rd period trailing 2-0 and then leave with an OT victory. Who'd have thunk it?

San Jose combined a solid first period with an abysmal second and a stellar third to force overtime and then won it with some excellent forechecking by Joe Pavelski, a seal-off by Christian Erhoff, another seal-off by Patrick Marleau and then a "twisted wrister" from Pavelski into the back of the net.

A great win by San Jose and while it's still hard to understand why they were so flat in the second period, credit has to be given for the drive they showed to tie the game in the third... and then get the victory.

Game 6 Sunday night in Dallas.