Sharks

Only thing wrong with ending of Sharks-Oilers Game 5 was that it ended

Only thing wrong with ending of Sharks-Oilers Game 5 was that it ended

The beauty and the problem with Thursday night’s Stanley Cup first round game between Edmonton and San Jose is that as indisputably and manically entertaining as it was, it disappears almost immediately as the audience searches for a better overtime game, and the sooner it happens, the better.

And before anyone starts getting snippy about the outcome, Edmonton winning was the right outcome based on the state of play and especially the state of the overtime. David Desharnais’ winner 105 seconds from the beginning of a second overtime ended a period in which the Oilers outshot the Sharks, 14-2, won twice as many faceoffs, spent almost the entire time in the San Jose end of the rink and made Sharks goalie Martin Jones work like a rented mule. What should have happened, did.

The only thing that was wrong with the ending was, well, that it ended. This deserved multiple overtimes. This deserved, well, a minimum of three . . . oh, the hell with it, five. And then Desharnais could finish it off.

The difference, of course, is that people talk about five-overtime games the next day, and the day after that. Maybe it’s mostly pretending to be torqued off that they couldn’t stay up for all of it because of anemic excuses like needing sleep or working the next day or getting to the hospital for the birth of their first child.

They’ll forget this one, as indisputably good as it was, because there’s usually another one right down the road.

This was the 13th overtime game of the playoffs, in only nine days and 35 games. It’s the most in any first round since 2001, and there are still six series and a potential 13 more games still to play if those series all go seven.

Which I grant you is unlikely.

Still, the gentlemen are well on their way to breaking the single-season OT record of 28, set in 1993, and since we can agree that Stanley Cup hockey is among the finest forms of entertainment ever granted us by the Watchers of the Universe, this can only be good, right?

We-e-e-l-l-l-l-l-l-l . . .

Only one of the 13 games, Toronto-Washington 2, has gone to a second overtime. That’s simply insufficient because, as we know from our research, tension builds exponentially with the onset of exhaustion. There’s a mathematical formula for this; trust us on this, or go ask a math major, or make up one of your own.

But the point of an overtime is that it takes something good and makes it better by making it last an excruciatingly long time. Conversely, a game like Boston-Ottawa 2, when Dion Phaneuf scored for the Senators after only 1:59, seems hardly worth the trouble of the Zamboni ride.

The fact that we haven’t had more than one multiple-overtime game with so many candidates from which to choose is frankly a disappointment for which there is no real recourse. I mean, you know NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s not going to do anything about it, what with being too busy trying to convince people that hockey in Phoenix can work and pretending there’s no brain trauma issue in the sport and all.

So we’re simply going to have to hope that the players can take matters into their own gloves and provide what we all know we really want – hockey all night. Even if it means Mike Emrick’s larynx shoots out of his mouth from sheer exhaustion, or Sidney Crosby gets stuck trying to climb over the boards because his leg muscles have cramped from overuse. It’s the price they must be ready to pay for our late-night/early-morning amusement.

As for those folks who worry about things like deadlines – you know, those creepy media types we all hate – pipe down. You signed on for this. If you want to be home early, go cover golf. You should want to serve the higher and more noble purpose of the game that never ends. Let baseball worry about pace of play; hockey has all the pace it can possibly handle. It just needs more play.

So it is that there are a minimum of six games this weekend. Surely one of them can go deep for us, if only so we can say “We stuck out that Canadiens-Rangers game that went until 2 a.m. in the east (which is 11 p.m. in the civilized world).”

And even if the multi-multi-multiple overtime game is Oilers-Sharks 6, which begins at 7:30 Pacific, well, laissez le bon temps roulet. Because here’s the real secret about long hockey games that nobody, whether they be players, coaches, officials or fans, really wants to admit.=

It isn’t like you have anything better to do.

As Joakim Ryan returns home, Sharks reunite with a former top prospect

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AP

As Joakim Ryan returns home, Sharks reunite with a former top prospect

When Joakim Ryan suits up in his first NHL road game against the New Jersey Devils Friday night, he’ll do so in a familiar place.

Ryan, a New Jersey-born Swede, played for the Devils’ youth program and nearby Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in high school. In fact, he’s already played at the Prudential Center, skating in the state championship game with CBA in 2009.

He’s not the only one due for something of a homecoming, as the Sharks may see a familiar face line up on the opposing blueline.

This is the Sharks’ first matchup against New Jersey since trading 2013 first round pick Mirco Mueller ahead of June’s Expansion Draft. Mueller was once considered the future on the San Jose blueline, a smooth-skating defenseman with size to boot.

The Swiss defender never fulfilled his potential, in part because his development was rushed from the start. He made the NHL roster as a rookie in 2014-15, almost by default. Other than Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the only defensemen ahead of him on left side of the depth chart were a far past-his-prime Scott Hannan and regular scratch Matt Irwin. Such was the nature of the Sharks’ “step back” that year.

Mueller finally got regular playing time, albeit in the minors, during his second professional season. By then, he was pushed down the organizational depth chart by the team’s acquisitions of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak, and the development of Dylan DeMelo. David Schlemko’s signing last summer kept Mueller there for most of 2016-17, but it was Ryan and Tim Heed that ensured Mueller’s NHL future would lie elsewhere. The Swedes surpassed him, and emerged as perhaps the AHL’s best defensive pair in the process.

It’s fitting, then, that Ryan and Heed will be in the lineup tonight, and Mueller may not, as the fresh start he needed hasn’t quite panned out. He’s averaging a career-high 18:44 in ice time, but has been scratched in three of New Jersey’s seven games, including Thursday night’s overtime win in Ottawa.

So Ryan comes home to New Jersey under much happier circumstances than Mueller will reunite with the Sharks. One prodigal son returns, and the other is simply trying to save face.

It’s still early in his Devils tenure, of course, and Mueller may yet emerge as a regular on the New Jersey blueline. His Sharks reunion, though, will serve as a reminder of what once was, what could have been, and what is now San Jose’s future on defense.

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

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USATSI

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.