Welcome to the 2012-13 NHL season! It’s really great to be talking about the sport of hockey, the NHL, and the pursuit of the Stanley Cup which begins for the Sharks on Sunday, January 20th on the road in Calgary.
At this writing, the Sharks are on the ice for their very first practice with Todd McLellan, Larry Robinson, and Jim Johnson directing traffic. From the start, a high-tempo, intense series of practices are scheduled, with lots of skating, little time for rest and recovery, and a few twisty surprises thrown in.
That’s the way it’s going to be for all 30 NHL clubs, beginning this week and sprinting all the way to June, and when I say “sprinting,” I mean it. The Sharks are going to have to party like it’s 1995, the last time that a 48-game schedule was played. For those who remember it, it proved to be a topsy-turvy year with many curves of differing cambers, straightaways featuring blazing speed, and surprises for which few could possibly prepare.
One thing that is different this time around is that the biggest unknown factor will be the existence of the three-point game and how it will affect the inevitable losses of momentum that occur in any NHL season. Back in ’95, the Sharks started the season 5-1-0, and then held on for dear life to make the playoffs with a 19-25-4 record, and 42 points. With a three-point game, it could make a standings turnaround all the more difficult in a shortened season.
If one were to extrapolate the last 48 games of the most recently played season, the Sharks would have a record of 24-18-6 and 54 points. Something tells me that mailing in that number right now would produce a result that will look pretty good in the standings, but who can really tell?
As training camp began, the Sharks had 28 players in camp, and the thin area appears to be on defense for the moment. With Brent Burns and Jason Demers not taking part in the first practice because of injuries, that left 15 forwards, 11 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders participating.
There really weren’t any surprises up front on the first day:
12 Patrick Marleau – 19 Joe Thornton – 8 Joe Pavelski
29 Ryane Clowe – 39 Logan Couture – 9 Martin Havlat
21 TJ Galiardi – 26 Michal Handzus – 57 Tommy Wingels
68 Frazer McLaren – 10 Andrew Desjardins – 37 Adam Burish
43 John McCarthy – 15 James Sheppard – 38 Bracken Kearns
On defense, the 8 skaters all switched around:
3 Douglas Murray, 7 Brad Stuart, 22 Dan Boyle, 42 Matt Pelech, 44 Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 52 Matt Irwin, 54 Nick Petrecki, and 80 Matt Tennyson all shared time on the practice drills. In goal, familiar standbys were wearing their sweaters: 31 Antti Niemi and 1 Thomas Greiss.
By now, you’re undoubtedly noticing that there have been a few number changes to the roster. Add in Demers changing to #5 and Burns donning his familiar #88, and you have the full contingent of skaters who are in camp.
One of the difficult parts of the camp schedule is that the participants from Worcester are departing their team in the middle of a season. Back in the AHL, that means that coach Roy Sommer was working with an entire defensive corps that was not in place at the start of the campaign, and a few valuable forwards out of the lineup. In part, that “crisis” has provided an “opportunity” for the likes of defenseman Michael Wilson and left wing Patrick Rissmiller, two former Sharks prospects who have returned to the AHL on tryout contracts in recent days.
Regardless of the length of the regular season, the playoffs have not changed, and the goal is the same: win the Stanley Cup. The Sharks have a few decisions to make regarding their roster, and like the other clubs, won’t have a significant amount of time to accomplish it. But they should feel very good about the core of their team, which has worked together for a number of years now, and should be able to synch right up and get going.
It won’t be a “normal” season in any way. Back in ’95, the Sharks finished with a 19-25-4 record and 42 points. They were seeded seventh and faced the heavily favored Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs. It was the year that Ray Whitney tipped a Sergei Makarov shot past Trevor Kidd in double overtime of Game Seven into playoff legend, and with goaltender Wade Flaherty making 56 saves, San Jose wound up getting that most dramatic victory.
Of course, the ultimate result in Round Two was the “Tennis Series” against the Detroit Red Wings, and I’m not talking about a series played entirely on the road because of the SAP Open. No, this particular playoff series gains that moniker because of the scores of the games:
Six-love, six-two, six-two, six-two, all in favor of the Red Wings.
That particular year, the Wings were exacting revenge for their defeat to San Jose the previous year. Detroit advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they were ousted by the New Jersey Devils, a team that had Martin Brodeur in goal, Jacques Lemaire behind the bench, and Larry Robinson on the coaching staff.
Hmmmm...a veteran team, with an excellent goaltender, playoff experience, great coaches, and lots of desire to win it all? That sounds like a recipe that Sharks fans can identify with as good old fashioned home cooking.
I think that we’d all mail that recipe in, if you know what I’m saying.