The Olympics are over and the NHL has resumed play. I did enjoy the Olympics but I am certainly happy to get back to Devils Hockey or at least if they start winning I will be happy to get back to them!!
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (37-21-3) at the San Jose Sharks (40-13-9)
The Last Devils Game: It was UGLY. Even the 2 week layoff didn't make me forget about the whooping the 'Canes put in the Devils thanks to Ray Whitney.
The Last Sharks Game: The Sharks also looked bad against the Sabres going into the Olympic break. It certainly makes me wonder if the Olympics were a distraction, especially to a team like San Jose who was sending SO many guys.
Tonight's Matchup: Lets just get the Olympics stuff out of the way. Could there be a Post-Olympic Funk that is felt league wide? Sure, why not. These guys are going from playoff calibre games back to (and I say this loosely) regular season games that have little meaning, especially this East v West matchup. I'm not extremely worried about the 5 Devils that played in the Olympics. Kovalchuk and Elias left the tournament kind of early and Brodeur got the bench after the 5-3 loss to the USA over a week ago. Parise and Langenbrunner played the most of the 5 and Parise is young enough to not really have this affect him so I guess I am saying it's just Jamie that I worried about having a Post-Olympic Funk. I thought Marty's comments yesterday were exactly where I wanted him to be at this point in time.
For all your San Jose coverage on the Bloguin Network, go visit our friends over at Couch Tarts, they do a really nice job over there. For my further thoughts on this game, please read on.
I had written a lot about the Devils needing the break to possibly disrupt the string of bad games that they had been having in late January / early February. That break has come and gone and now is the time for this team to come together and start playing the type of hockey this team is capable of. That's 60 minutes of hockey, not 40 minutes or 35 minutes...60 MINUTES. I thought that was the biggest problem going into the Olympics, that somewhere in the game, the Devils just stopped trying.
The San Jose Sharks are a powerhouse from where I sit. When it comes to face-offs, the Sharks lead the league with a 55.6% mark and Manny Malhotra, the Sharks face-off ace is rumored to be back in the lineup tonight. On top of that, the Sharks have the second best winning percentage in the league when TRAILING after the first period. That stat alone tells me the Devils MUST play a full 60 minutes.
I am worried about playing such an elite team the first game back from a long layoff but if the Devils do end up losing this game tonight, there can be such a thing as a moral victory. I certainly would love to win the game tonight in order to have fans start thinking that the losing streak prior to the break was more an Olympics distraction than anything else.
As part of my coverage since Devils fans may not pay close attention to the Sharks, I sent questions over to our friends at Couch Tarts and here are the answers I got in return..
1. Are you worried that having so many guys playing in the Olympics, which has turned out to be an extremely physical tournament, might negatively effect the stretch run?
Gray: Not really. Yes, the Olympics compressed the schedule down and add in some extra games, but the fact of the matter is the playoffs are going to be physical and I'd rather the Sharks get a taste of what's coming now than have them be shocked by it later. Maybe it'll get them ready for it.
AfroPuff: Not really that worried about the physical drain as much as the emotional. The earlier than expected bounces from Sweden and Russia and then the emotional rollercoaster of the Canada/US Olympic journey had me mentally exhausted and I was just watching! From what I've heard the San Jose coach seems aware of this and has stated that he tried to rest them before the Olympics and is aware of their possible fatigue after. I think our Canadian players will benefit from the feeling of winning the Gold and not winning the gold will just fuel the flames of Pavelski, Nabokov, Murray and Greiss
PrincessMinako: (She's got some LONG answers!!) I should be, but I'm not. For the guys on Team Canada, the Olympics provided just the kind of adversity that they are going to face during the playoffs. Having their backs against the wall, Team Canada put together 4 very solid efforts to win a well deserved gold and the Sharks players were a very big part of that. The continued knock on the Sharks is that they can't perform when they are in a desperate situation and eventually fail to meet expectations. Patty, Joe, Dany, and Dan were all able to be a part of a team that was able overcome that and I think (and hope) that they will come back to the Sharks as better players and leaders.
Even though the others Sharks were less successful (though a silver isn't half bad), Prior to this Olympics, Joe Thornton and Nabby were the only roster players with any Olympic experience. Getting to experience international play at that high of a level should be a great learning experience for those players who went home without the gold.
2. After Nabokov's performance the other night against Canada, are Sharks fans a little fearful of his ability in big games?
AfroPuff: I'm sure there are some fans that are worried, but I'm not. Most of his issues in the Olympics were from issues with the Russian Defenders, not necessarily his faulty tending. I'm sure he's disappointed and pissed, but I think he's been around the NHL and other International Competitions enough to weather the highs and the lows. I think it will interesting to watch both him and Brodeur after the Olympics and see how they deal with adversity and if they're able to regain their pre-olympic goaltending awesomeness.
PrincessMinako: Again, I should be but I'm not. I know the kind of goalie that Nabby can be in big situations, having had him steal games in big situations over the last several seasons. Did losing in the quarterfinals of the Olympics and going home without a medal suck for him? Absolutely. Were some of the goals in the loss his fault? Totally. Were they all? No. And I think that fact is going to make all the difference in the world for Nabby. He knows that the responsibility for all of those goals is not on his shoulders.
Like Brodeur, I think Nabby will have a bit of a chip on his shoulder for the rest of the season. With a large number of hockey "experts" questioning his play, Nabby is going to have a lot to answer for. I sincerely believe that Nabby has the skills and determination to answer his critics. Plus he has the advantage of a defense that has played more than half a season together instead of one that was thrown together from two different leagues.
Of course if he doesn't, the Sharks are pretty much screwed.
3. Any predictions for the first game back?
Gray: I have no idea what to expect. I was thinking it depended on where Canada placed, but since they won, and the only other remaining Sharks Olympian took home silver, and the other flames outed spectacularly, I'm not sure what sort of energy they'll be bringing to the game. Obviously the 5 medals winners should be feeling pretty good about themselves (or 4 will be and Joe Pavelski will when he has some time between him and the game). I'd like to see them come out with a lot of fight and spirit and win, but I've watched them long enough to know they could come out slow and tired too. The guys who were on vacation for a week should be ready to go, but, on never knows.
AfroPuff: I think the game may start off rough with everyone getting used to each other and regarding each other again as teammates versus as enemies as they have the past 2 weeks - I think it should be a good game with the 2nd & 3rd lines doing most of the scoring.
PrincessMinako: I worry about this game for several reasons. 1) Years of being a SF Giants fan has forced a healthy dose of cynicism into my system when it comes to sports games. 2) It's been a long time since the Sharks played hockey together, let alone a hockey game at home. 3) They have to face the Devils and Marty Brodeur.
The 3rd part is my biggest concern for a few reasons. The Devils have been one of the best teams when it comes to defense and controlling a game. Their goals against is 144. 144! Seriously, how is that even possible? With the Sharks being a team that relies on speed, this is going to be a tough match up. And despite the low number of goals for the Devils, Zach Parise spent the Olympics showing why he is awesome and really dangerous. (BTW, is there anyway we can work out a trade for that guy? Seriously, how would you like to have Kent Huskins? ^_^)
But my bigger worry and the thing that will keep me biting my nails all night long is Marty Brodeur. The guy is a class act, a tremendous goaltender and possibly the biggest reason for the Devils success (and my original Eastern Conference Hockey Boyfriend). On his best night, he will win the game outright and make a team's forwards look like peewees. And he hasn't played since getting embarrassed in the first USA/Canada match up 2 weeks ago. This is a huge statement game for him and I fully expect him to be on his game. Just like a hungry bear, an angry Marty Brodeur with something to prove is definitely something I don't want to face.
Thanks Ladies!! You guys rock!!