Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tonight's Important Contest (and More!)

The battle of the current NHL elites starts tonight.

At 5:00pm PST, the puck drops in St. Louis, as our San Jose Sharks face the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center.  So far this season, both teams carry unblemished records: the Sharks with five wins, and the Blues with four wins – all of these wins occurring in regulation, with no games going to overtime.

This much is guaranteed: one of these teams will finish with a less-than-perfect record.  Therefore, this makes tonight’s game that much more of a “cannot miss” opportunity.

The Sharks started last season (2012-2013 NHL season) with seven straight wins, and subsequently dropped the next seven games, in what seemed a very unusual turn of events (although most chalked it up to the over-confidence the dominant first half of the season provided to the team).  Unlike last season, however, the team looks much better, with more visible talent and hunger to win.  Much has to do with the chemistry provided by the lines setup, in addition to fresh talent that may have taken some fans by surprise (i.e. Tomas Hertl). 

To support the former, the pairing of Joe Thornton with Brent Burns has done wonders for his productivity, turning Thornton from a finesse only player into one that has both finesse and a high work ethic.  Thornton has always been one of the League’s top centers, however his dominance has always been represented by his natural ability to pass the puck and set up plays, to a certain extent “without even trying,” because of how good he is.  Now, with Burns, a player who boasts one of the highest work ethics in the League, Thornton is now shooting the puck more, forechecking much harder, and contributing tremendously to  the Sharks’ current success.

It is also amazing to see some players with moderate success in prior seasons stepping up and adding to the score sheet.  Fans have to love Patrick Marleau coming back with a very strong showing, in addition to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who (as a defenseman) has already put up five points within the first five games.

In case some of you are superstitious and would rather not read an opinion on who is more likely to win tonight’s game, I will not provide it here.  I have watched both teams play this season (most of the Blues’ games and all of the Sharks’ games), and what I see are two incredibly well-balanced teams (i.e. both offensively and defensively capable), with the deciding factor coming to, “Who wants to win more?”

In case some of you are particularly interested in the “head to head” statistics, refer to the bottom of this blog post.

(Now, to update on some specific areas!)

Tomas Hertl’s Performance
Before the regular season started, few Sharks fans had no idea who #48 was, and even fewer before the pre-season (as his scoring touch definitely was felt there as well).  Now, the whole league knows who he is, winning the NHL's "First Star of the Week" for last week.  Already five games into the regular season, rookie Tomas Hertl is leading the league in goals (with seven) and second in points (behind only Sasha Ovechkin).  In quite amazing fashion, the young rookie scored four goals against the New York Rangers, finishing with this between the legs beauty, which already has been proposed as a potential “goal of the year.”  Hertl’s success is no fluke, either.  Every game he has played so far this season, his visible ability to score is quite incredible.  Within these five games, two of them were multi-goal games for Hertl, goals earned by his ability to find the open net and to get the puck there with his awesome stickhandling skills.  As long as he is well protected by his teammates, which he should be (as he has already been targeted with head hits by Alex Edler of the Canucks and Clarke MacArthur of the Senators), and is paired with Thornton and Burns, who can provide fantastic setup and passing.

As some of you may know, Hertl’s highlight-reel goal attracted some “controversy,” sinc e it was overly flashy, notably attracting the ire of current Washington Capitals coach and Hall of Famer Adam Oates, who called it “disrespectful.”  Perhaps Oates and those who think the way he does need to keep those comments to themselves, because they sound foolish.  (So, are we supposed to believe that ‘showboating’ is when a player does something nice that the fans like to watch?)

Joe Thornton’s Defense of Tomas Hertl
As the Sharks have consistently been the bane of the Vancouver Canucks’ fortune, winning the last eleven contests the two teams have faced off, it is no surprise the weasel media up in Vancouver would make any attempt possible to make the Sharks look bad.  Following up on comments made about Hertl’s flashy goal, Thornton engaged in typical “locker room talk” – any hockey player can tell you what this is – where he commented that not only does the media have no place to comment on Hertl’s flashiness (as they have never played serious hockey before), but had he scored the four goals, he would “whip it out.”  Granted, he was not being serious, and should have been kept to the confines of the team locker room, a reporter allegedly heard him say this and immediately reported to the Vancouver media.

The Sharks Look Like A Cup Winning Team!
Certainly, when the Sharks are hungry, they do, however it is far too common for comments to be made way too early in the season (such as Hertl being a Calder Trophy – for Rookie of the Year – favorite).  As the season progresses, given the Sharks play a steady stream of teams, that concept of course will be re-evaluated.

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