FGD: The Sinking Sharks

 

 

As early as a month ago I wouldn’t have circled this date on the Flames schedule. The Sharks have been a perpetual powerhouse in the West since the lock-out and there was little reason to doubt that reputation until recently. However, the hockey gods are fickle as ever, so as it stands Calgary and San Jose will be battling for the 8th and final playoff spot in the WC tonight.

While San Jose’s plunge down the standings has some already declaring their fall from grace a permanent one, I’m personally far less convinced the Sharks current blip is indicative of their true talent level. All of their fundamental results are excellent or better: no team generates more shots on net per game (34.5), no team outshoots their opponents by more per game (+6.2) and the Sharks are still the best club in the league at getting shots on the man advantage by a sizable margin (65.7 per hour. Vancouver is second at 58.0).

Those aren’t the underlying numbers of a rapidly fading super power. San Jose’s problems right now are the fleeting but temporarily insurmountable kind – mediocre finishing coupled with abysmal goaltending. Excepting their win over the Oilers last night, the Sharks even strength save percentage over their last 13 contests was just .902 (league average is about .920). Their even strength shooting percentage over the same span was south of 7%. So although they were routinely putting more pucks on net than their foes, the wins weren’t coming. Their PP remains appropriately potent (20.7%, third in the league) but when your goalies can’t stop a beach ball and most of your shooters are ice cold, everything becomes harder.

At some point the bounces will rebound and the Sharks will start winning much more than they lose. For the sake of Calgary’s playoff hopes, however, Flames fans have to hope that doesn’t start tonight. 

The Lineup

Although Blake Comeau is back skating and likely a game time decision, the Flames lines remained unchanged at practice this morning.

Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Tanguay – Stajan – Iginla
Baertschi – Nemisz – Kostopolous
Desbiens – Horak – Kolanos

Hannan – Giordano
Sarich – Bouwmeester
Smith – Babchuk

Sutter re-jigged his defense pairings somewhat in the absence of TJ Brodie, dropping Smith back with Babchuk and elevating Sarich to play with Bouwmeester. I suspect this has less to do with promoting Sarich and more to do with balancing each duo with at least one mobile defender. Sutter has consistently sought to have one guy who can move the puck on each pairing for a couple of years now and given he thought of Sarich and Babchuk together (even if they were sheltered), it’s hard to disagree.

The first couple of lines are scoring again, in part because Tanguay continues to play some inspired hockey inside the offensive blueline and in part because Curtis Glencross is currently the King Midas of the NHL. The team still gives up too many shots and chances against for my liking, but at this point the Flames have to try to ride any wave that comes along.

Kipper is in net of course. If Comeau returns, expect him to replace someone like Desbiens or Kolanos.

The Opponent

Martin Havlat has been out forever, creating a bit of a hole in the top of the rotation for San Jose. They added depth options Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi at the deadline, but those guys aren’t quite in the same league as Havlat, Pavelski, Thornton etc.

Couture – Thornton – Pavelski
Winnik – Marleau – Clowe
Mitchell – Moore – Wingels
Feirrero – Desjardins – Galiardi

Vlasic – Boyle
Burns – Murray
Braun – Demers

Even with Winnik on the wing, the top two units remain terrifying. And let’s not sell Winnik short – although he can’t seem to finish, he’s something of David Moss quality player – a guy who makes very few mistakes and always helps the puck travel in the right direction.

The Sharks defense pairings were all over the map in Edmonton yesterday with Brent Burns spending as much time at ES with Vlasic as with Murray and Braun skating with Boyle more than anyone else, so take the above duos with a pinch of salt.

Obviously one thing the Flames have to do tonight is stay out of the box. The Sharks have struggled against bad percentages at 5on5, but for my money they are the best overall team in the league with a man up. Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Boyle, Burns, Clowe, Couture…they can put two dangerous units out on any given night.

The Story

From here on out, every game is the most important game of the season. That’s true tonight as well, for both the Sharks and the Flames. Expectations and pressure is even higher in San Jose than Calgary since the team was forecast by many to be a cup favorite prior to the start of the year, so you can bet everyone from the GM to the athletic trainer will be fighting tooth and nail to make the dance. Calgary wil have to match that desperation in order to have any hope this evening.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    “While San Jose’s plunge down the standings has some already declaring their fall from grace a permanent one, I’m personally far less convinced the Sharks current blip is indicative of their true talent level”

    Exactly – all of this talk on the radio about how their window has closed seems a little bonkers to me. I think they went through a bit of a rough patch last year too, only earlier in the season.

    Flames have to play these guys like their one of the top teams in the conference. That has to be the mind-set.

  • everton fc

    It sounds like the Sharks are due for breakout of some sorts. I hope the Flames don’t play slumpbuster tonight. Maybe the Oilers played that role last night. Go Flames.

  • Sobueno

    When you look at some of those stats, it seems like they’re the mirror image of Calgary in some ways. High talent level and ability to drive the play, but poor golatending vs us with our relatively weak top end players (in terms of possession) but good goaltending overall. Now both teams fighting for 8th.

    If they sneak into one of the bottom slots, whomever they face best not take them lightly in the first round, that’s for sure! How satisfying would a first round KO of Vancouver be? Especially since I’m living in Van now for school lol.

    • Vintage Flame

      It’s getting to the point in San Jose that if they fall short, and in fact miss the playoffs, then Wilson should be one that might want to start worrying about his own job as well.

      San Jose has an aging team, still lots of talent to burn, but the Vets are getting near burn out.

      • The Sharks lowest point total since the lock-out? 99 points. Otherwise they’ve been 100 points or better since 2006. Only Detroit has been that consistent over the same period. In addition, the Sharks have one of the best success rates in the draft in the post-lock-out NHL under Wilson.

        If they fire him because the team underachieved in one season (and entirely due to bad percentages) they will immediately regret it. I’d say Wilson is one of the best active GM’s in the league.

        On the other hand, if the Sharks did axe Wilson, the Flames should immediately move Feaster into a president type position and hand the reigns over to Wilson.

  • Vintage Flame

    Well this could be a close one, both teams are desperate, however that 8 goal onslaught at the hands of the sharks(or was it more) a while back still has me scared. Heres to hoping we continue our trend and help bury the sharks a little more.

    Also, read that article on Canucks Army you linked to Kent. Here’s an Idea Kent, Trade Kipper at the Draft, acquire assets, retrade an asset or two that was acquired to reacquire our own 2nd round pick. If Vancouver hasn’t re-signed or traded Schnieder by July first, offer sheet Scheinder with a 3.1 Million over 3 or so years(enough to get him to UFA). Vanoucver is in the disgusting position of either matching the offer and paying their goalie tandem almost 8.5M in Cap space or letting their rival have him. If they match they’ve eaten a good chunk of their cap space and we’ve stopped them from upgrading their other positions. If they don’t we have a very capable 1a guy to match with 1b in Irving. And we only gave up a 2nd round pick.

    • Vintage Flame

      Trade Kipper at the Draft, acquire assets, retrade an asset or two that was acquired to reacquire our own 2nd round pick. If Vancouver hasn’t re-signed or traded Schnieder by July first, offer sheet Scheinder with a 3.1 Million over 3 or so years(enough to get him to UFA). Vanoucver is in the disgusting position of either matching the offer and paying their goalie tandem almost 8.5M in Cap space or letting their rival have him. If they match they’ve eaten a good chunk of their cap space and we’ve stopped them from upgrading their other positions. If they don’t we have a very capable 1a guy to match with 1b in Irving. And we only gave up a 2nd round pick

      Pretty good plan Colin. I don’t mind that at all. What a novel idea, planning for the future before the 11th hour…

  • Vintage Flame

    Forgot to add, if they do match, we can just pick up a free agent goalie afterwards, there are always a bunch left over, or use that 2nd to trade for another goalie.

    • Vintage Flame

      I bet someone puts an offer sheet to Schneider for more than $3.1 million.

      Price got $2.75 million
      Mason got $3.2 million(oh Scott Howson)
      Halak got $3.75 million
      Niemi got $3.8 million
      Fleury got $5 million (but that might have been a UFA deal, mental note to hit widget on NHLnumbers.com)

      I wouldn’t be surprised if a desperate team inks him to a $4 million offer sheet, if Vancouver doesn’t just sign him to trade him.

      • It’s entirely possible someone else does. I just use 3.1 millions because I don’t want to give Vancouver a first round pick, that number will most likely go up to(based on average salaries for the year I think), any higher than 3.1 million offer we would have to give up a first and a third or more if we go really high. I just think Vancouver is not going to give him anywhere close to 3 million and 3 years is a good term cause it should take him to UFA where he can strike it rich. Also in Calgary he will be an instant starter as well, should we be able to move Kipper. This plan is also contingent that Scheinder takes the offer(he very well may not) and that he’s not traded before July 1st(I thinks that’s the most likely scenario).