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RAMBLE RAMBLE RAMBLE

In Hockey on February 2, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Since the Super Bowl was a colossal disappointment tonight, I figured tonight was a good time to chime in with a few thoughts on the play of my beloved San Jose Sharks as of late.  Also, this is my first post under the influence of alcohol in quite some time, so if I make any grammatical errors, tough shit. I’m not fixing them

The Month of Death Meets Its Match
Today is Groundhog Day, which also means the Sharks are in the midst of a month that has seen them play some of their worst hockey over the last few years. Two years ago, the Sharks went 5-8-1 and tumbled from the top of the Pacific to outside the playoff picture. Last year, a 2-6-4 record during the month wiped out a promising 7-0 start and forced the team to make major (and helpful) changes to the team. Thankfully, the Sharks rebounded to make the playoffs before bowing out to those bastards from Los Angeles.

This year, the Sharks sit in second place in the Pacific with a 10-point cushion over the third place Kings (who are dealing with a scoring hex of their own). With a win over the defending champion Blackhawks already in the bag, the Sharks have three more games before the Olympic break. With only five games total in the month, there’s no chance of a long slide to happen again. And thank God. But is it important to finish strong before most of the team gets the month off? Yes it is. The chances of catching Anaheim are slim, but a few wins before taking some time off would be a nice boost heading down the stretch. Plus, it buys some of the injured guys a chance to get healthy. Speaking of which.

No More Body Bags
How this team has stayed competitive in a meat grinder for a division with all the injuries they have suffered is mind boggling. Sure, the injuries to Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl have put a serious dent in the offensive attack, but the worst thing it has done is deplete the effectiveness of the bottom six. Sure, they weren’t great to begin with, but sending out Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingles on the third line gives this team an advantage that several other teams don’t have.

I know injuries happen, but when Mike Brown is playing third line minutes, bad things are going to happen. That three-week break can’t get here soon enough so they can stop sending out the likes of Bracken Kearns and Eriah Hayes. It’s a testament to just how good the team’s top player have been this year. About them…

Two Contract Extensions Deserved
Holy shit have Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau been awesome this year. Even at age 34, these two guys have takes a team ravaged by injuries, thrown them on their backs and kept the team from falling off a cliff. I love Joe Pavelski, but his production as of late has been largely impacted by Thornton’s ability to get him the puck. Marleau has slid back to the middle on the second line and while he’s not scoring at the rate he was when Couture was centering him, #12 remains a player that teams have to pay serious attention to when he’s on the ice.

Look, I understand why people want to shit on a pair of contracts handed out to guys that are aging and have never won anything. But Thornton’s leadership and creativity is something that you’re not going to be able to replace immediately, even if he’s lost a step. As for Marleau, he still has great finish around the net and can still skate himself out of trouble, which is something that again players lose the ability to do. Throw in the fact that the contracts aren’t going to kill the team’s cap space and I don’t see where the vitriol comes from.

Then again, I can’t remember the last time Twitter reacted positively to a hockey player getting a new contract.

Doug, Go Get a Good Defenseman
The Olympic trade freeze is almost here and once the tournament is over, the NHL trade deadline will be upon us. No, the Sharks’ forward group isn’t the best right now, but getting healthy will be like making three or four trades without having to give up a damn thing.

On defense? Woof.

I like the nostalgia that I feel every time I see Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart take the ice in a Sharks’ sweater, but there is no reason for both to be in the lineup at the same time, let alone on the same pairing. I know that these guys aren’t easy to play against in the postseason, but when the Sharks run into a team with a third line that can put pressure on teams, these two are constantly getting exposed. If you can’t skate like you used to, staying in position is key and both (especially Stuart) lose their way in the defensive zone more than they should.

I’d love to see Doug Wilson flip one of the Sharks’ two second round picks for the Islanders’ Andrew MacDonald, but I have to think the Isles will want more than that for a rental player. But the Sharks’ GM is always aggressive, so it’s not out of the question.

The Havlat Conundrum
I can’t remember the last time a player for the Sharks caused as much outrage among fans as Martin Havlat. Maybe Brian Campbell. Whether it be for his contract, lack of effort, problems in the dressing room, health or God knows what else, the man has simply never been able to pick up traction since he arrived in San Jose. Now, he might have earned some of those criticisms, but as fans we don’t know what goes on in the dressing room and all we have is what we read online.

Has he earned the contract that Minnesota gave him? Not as a Shark he hasn’t. But a couple of freak injuries will do that to a guy. I know I’m in the minority, but I still think he’s a valuable member of this team for the remainder of the year. He’s probably not getting top-six minutes anytime soon, but he showed in the last few games that he can be effective on the third line. He was a puck hawk in the Edmonton game, but that effort isn’t always there.

Should this team get four of their five injured forwards back and healthy, sending out Havlat on the third line gives the Sharks an advantage other teams can’t match. Plus, I love the idea of keeping him around as a mentor for Tomas Hertl as he continues to adjust to life in North America. Plus, who knows more about rehabbing injuries than Martin Havlat?

*cries into pillow*

Net Presence
The last thing on tonight’s list is an ode to the two Sharks’ netminders. Last year, Antti Niemi bailed the Sharks out of a lot of games, kept the team’s head above water and led them into the playoffs. After a white-hot start this year, the Olympian started letting in soft goals and showing some old bad habits that were on display for the first two years of his time in teal. Since Nemo’s tenure with the Sharks started, he hasn’t had a backup to push him so he doesn’t lose starts.

Those days are over.

Alex Stalock has rebounded from a career-threatening injury to flourish in his first year with the Sharks. When Niemi was struggling, Todd McLellan made a ballsy move to send Stalock out against the Blackhawks a few weeks ago. The guy was sensational in a road win and went on to set the franchise record for the longest shutout streak. His play woke Niemi up and the Finn has been great over his last few starts.

The goalie is the most important position in the game and to for the Sharks to have two guys they can send out with confidence is something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. And with Niemi playing a ton of minutes over the last three years, having Stalock give him a breather once every two weeks will only help going forward. Oh, and having Niemi backup Tuukka Rask at the Olympics would be nice too.

That’s all. It probably sucks, but what can ya do? Stick tap to Battle of California‘s Megalodon and Alex Stalock’s number one fan (and future ex-wife) Stace from The Canafornians for the links above. They’re much funnier than me, so read them daily.

The handle on Twitter is @rthomas_22. Next time, I’ll be sober when I write. Maybe.

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