Let’s hope this goes better this time around (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA Today Sports)
Pity poor San Jose. So close to San Francisco, and yet so powerfully, profoundly uncool. So flooded with tech start-ups and venture capital money, yet unable to afford anything interesting downtown. So little meth, so much meh.
The exception that proves the rule in this case is the San Jose Sharks. Even before the era of the awesome Todd McLellan, the Sharks were and remain perennial challengers in the playoffs. Their roster isn’t exactly packed with brand-name star power, but that hasn’t held them back any– this year or those previous. Hey, any team that takes the ice through the mouth of a giant shark while Metallica blares is OK in our book.
Both the Sharks and the Caps might enter tonight’s game thinking they’ve got a little something to prove. For our part, Sunday’s smothering by the filthy Flyers at Verizon stung– at least, we hope it stung enough for the Caps to step up their game.
Today we have the treat of hearing from David Pollak, who covers the San Jose Sharks like a blanket for the San Jose Mercury News, with his views of Todd McLellan’s squad, and how things might shake out at the Shark Tank tonight.
Pollak is one of the sharpest hockey reporters around, and better still, he didn’t make fun of us for our lame questions.
The Sharks are firmly mid-field in the league currently, although in the Pacific Division they’re pretty much on par with the amazing Ducks. What team right now do you think could give the Sharks the most fidgets– Vancouver? Calgary? Someone else?
When you cover a team, you tend to pass judgment on the opposition based on how they play against that team. So with Calgary beating the Sharks four out of five times — and doing it convincingly — the tendency is to see the Flames as the bigger threat than say, the Canucks or Minnesota.
Beyond that, I’m pretty confident that Los Angeles will be in the playoffs when all is said and done. That’s what they do. Not saying San Jose won’t make the cut. But the Sharks are far from a shoo-in.
The team seems to have been struggling a bit lately after a blistering December. Is that correct, and if so, what’s been happening?
That is correct. For that one stretch in December, you saw the potential that was here. But other than that, it’s been meh.
Credit the Sharks for playing their best against the NHL’s top tier. Ding them for going something like a combined 1-4-1 against Edmonton and Buffalo. GM Doug Wilson talked a lot last summer about the need to change the culture here, but on the ice, it pretty much looks the same.
Injuries are a problem and right now the Sharks are without their best two defense-oriented defensemen in Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun. Depth is an issue and now a lot — maybe too much — is being asked of young guys like Mirco Mueller, Matt Irwin, and Matt Tennyson.
As good as the Sharks are, it looks like Coach Trotz has sharpened the Caps possession and D. Combined with Washington’s scoring, what play do the Sharks need for a win?
First, that young defense needs to not show its age and inexperience.
Beyond that, the Sharks need to start aggressively and stay there, something that hasn’t been happening all that much lately. San Jose still has plenty of talent and skill. In fact, a newly formed third line of Tommy Wingels, Tomas Hertl, and rookie Chris Tierney gives them more scoring depth than they’ve had most of the season.
But too often the Sharks play as if they think they can turn it on and turn it off. And that hasn’t worked out too well.
What do you think Evgeni Nabokov’s return to the Sharks will mean for the team? Is that really what the Sharks are needing most right now?
Ah, I think you mistook Nabokov’s acquisition by the Sharks as a hockey move. It wasn’t. It was a nice, sentimental gesture by all involved to let Nabokov retire with the team that drafted him. Nabby played here for a decade, still holds nearly every career goal-tending record with the franchise and — when fans aren’t holding him responsible for playoff disappointments — was hugely popular.
We’ve got a great hockey writer at the Washington Post in Alex Prewitt. What do you enjoy about your beat, and what makes for great hockey writing in your view?
For me, it’s the hockey culture even more than the games themselves, though the two are obviously closely entwined. No sport matches hockey’s combination of grace and violence. No sport is more about the team and less about the individual.
Great hockey writing gets to the heart of the personalities as well as the action. As for the games themselves, there’s always the element of “what were they thinking?” when things go wrong on the ice. It’s not always easy and it’s hard to compete with the “24/7” access of those HBO and now EPIX productions, but you try.
Finally, care to offer any predictions about how you think this game might go?
When asked for predictions, my standard line is “I know enough about hockey to have no idea.” I’ll stick with that. But because the Sharks’ d-corps is so depleted, I won’t be surprised if the Caps come out ahead.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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