Anthrocide is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

Archive for May, 2019

Sharks Assessment

I have adopted MIZZOU as my rooting interest in collegiate sports, but have clung to my Bay Area roots for the pro teams I support. While two of them have fallen on hard times of late, at least the 49ers and Giants have won championships in the past. The San Jose Sharks, however, are still hoping for their first Stanley Cup. I have rooted for them since the first game I attended back in their Cow Palace years (’91-’93), so that’s around 27 years of hoping. They are now in the NHL’s equivalent of the Final Four, so I’d like to make some observations. Not team observations particularly, but about the players that make up their current roster, line-by-line. For the few who follow hockey, and the even fewer who follow the Sharks, I’d like to hear your reactions.

It could be debated which of their top two forward lines is their “number one” line, but I’ll start with the Nyquist-Couture-Meier line.

Gustav Nyquist: For quite some time after his midseason acquisition, I wondered if he’d ever show why they got him. But late in the season he rounded into form and has played quite well in the playoffs. He’s one of those odd players who does a lot of things right, but rarely scores goals (at least for the Sharks). Lately he has proven valuable as an assist guy for his line-mates, has decent speed, defends pretty well, and is a good puck handler and passer. I’d give him a A- overall.

Timo Meier: He has been a bit streaky this season, but has really come on lately in the playoffs. He has size and can throw his weight around effectively. He’s fast for his size, strong on the puck, makes good passes, is an excellent scorer, and defends well. I’d give him and A.

Logan Couture: Let me make it simple; he is excellent in every facet of the game skill-wise, and is extremely smart. Arguably the Sharks best player. He gets an A+.

Next is the “other” top line of Kane-Hertl-Pavelski.

Evander Kane: Very simply, he is Patrick Marleau with attitude. Like Marleau, he is fast and a dynamite shooter. Also like Marleau, the odds of him passing the puck to a teammate or an opponent are about 50-50 on any play (and that might be too generous). Plus, for as strong as he is, he coughs up the puck much too easily. However, unlike Marleau, he does provide some grit. If there’s a fight on the ice, or a penalty against the Sharks, chances are pretty good Kane is involved. He also does a decent job on the penalty kill. Still, given his proclivity for turnovers, I rate him a B-.

Tomas Hertl: Nearly as skilled, smart, and valuable as Couture, but bigger and slower. It is flukey that during these playoffs he has been a scoring machine at home and shockingly quiet on the road. Nevertheless, he is one of the top players on the team. He gets an A.

Joe Pavelski: Not, perhaps, elite in any single category (except puck-tipping skills), he is nevertheless the heart and soul of the team. They’ve shown they can win without him, but boy are they more fearsome with him. He possesses an outstanding all-around skillset, is extremely smart; he is nearly always in the right place at the right time, and not by accident. I also give him an A+.

The third line is the Sorensen-Thornton-Lebanc line.

Marcus Sorensen: Decent speed, shooting, passing, puck-handling, and feistiness, he’s sort of the ideal third-line guy. He sometimes finds himself out of position on defense, something that hopefully will improve with experience. I give him a solid B.

Joe Thornton: One has to give Jumbo Joe all kinds of props for rehabbing from multiple torn-up knees and still being out there every game at age 39. Still, the honest truth is that he has slowed down (both skates and hands) considerably and, worse yet, his elite playmaking skills have dropped off noticeably. I am shocked at how often he attempts cross-ice passes that are easily picked-off, too often leading to odd-man rushes the other way (as his tied-for-team-worst playoff plus-minus of -5 attests). Also, when he’s got his engine running full-tilt, he can still be a force on the ice, but there are times when the engine is clearly stuck in a low gear. He does sometimes show flashes of that old magic, and even puts the puck in the net now and again. No doubt most teams would salivate at the chance to have him on their third line, but I’m thinking if it doesn’t happen this year, he may never get that Stanley Cup that has eluded him for more than two decades. Of course, there is the intangible of behind the scenes leadership illustrated by his “get three for Pavs” demand in game 7 vs. Las Vegas, that cannot be discounted. I give him a B-.

Kevin Lebanc: I have had to completely revamp my opinion of Lebanc recently. Earlier in the year I could not figure out why he was anything more than a fourth-line player nor why on earth DeBoer had him quarterbacking the power play. But as the season progressed, and especially in the playoffs, Lebanc has more than shown his worth. He handles the power play admirably, rarely makes a bad decision, a bad pass, or loses the puck, and, man alive, can he shoot! I recently read a hockey scribe who claimed that the best teams are those with the best third lines. Lebanc ups the value of this third line considerably. I give him an A-.

The fourth line is finally configured the way it should be, with Donskoi-Goodrow-M. Karlsson.

Joonas Donskoi: His assets are speed, niftiness, and energy, with his motor revved up to maximum rpms at almost all times. However, I’m not sure what the opposite of “strong on his skates” is, but whatever it is, that’s Donskoi. Honestly, I think he spends as much time on his back, knees, rear, and elbows as he does on his skates. He is easily pinned to the boards or knocked off the puck (and onto his posterior) and most defensemen are aware of this. Hence, when he has open ice he can be quite dangerous, but open ice can be a rare commodity in the NHL. Still, he is much more of a scoring threat than Michael Haley, so he is right where he belongs. I rate him as a C+.

Barclay Goodrow: He has good size and a decent set of skills including acquitting himself well on the penalty kill. A good all-around workmanlike player, I rate him a solid B.

Melker Karlsson: Excellent and fearless on the penalty kill, he also possesses a good set of offensive skills, but for whatever reason, has gone cold as far as scoring. Still, he and his line-mates make up a much more formidable fourth line than most teams have. He and Goodrow in particular, are able to accomplish the main purpose of a fourth line: keep the puck in the opponent’s zone throughout their shift. I rate him a B+.

As for defensemen, the top defensive pairing is Burns-Vlasic.

Brent Burns: Offensively, he is pretty much second to none. Given his blistering shot, the ability to hit a forward’s stick for a tip-in, thread the needle with a pass, stick-handle well, and hold the zone it’s not without reason that he is a perennial Norris trophy candidate. Defensively, he’s a bit of an enigma. He can be amazing with his strength and his long stick making defensive plays that leave one awestruck. Then there are those times when he makes a completely boneheaded play and/or commits a horrible turnover that often leads to an odd-man rush the other way and, like as not, an opponent’s goal. Also, for every stretch pass out of the defensive zone that sends a teammate on a rush, there are a half-dozen that miss and end-up with an icing call. In fact, the vast majority of his mistakes result from him trying to do too much; trying for the highlight-reel play rather than the safer, saner play. To his credit, he has done much more right than wrong, even defensively, in the playoffs (he’s +4) and, failings notwithstanding, he’s a tremendous asset to the team. He gets an A.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic: Speaking of enigmas, throughout most of this season, he has not been the characteristic shut-down defenseman Sharks fans have come to expect. But in the playoffs he has returned to form. The difference in the games the Sharks have played with him vs. without him (i.e. the two he missed against Vegas that looked like an arcade game) has been incredible. Apparently his presence was a major factor in mostly neutralizing the lightning-fast, highly skilled Nathan McKinnon. He is back to making the smart play and extinguishing the fire when things get hot in the Sharks defensive zone. Offensively, he provides support, but most of his shots miss the net or go directly into the goalie’s glove. Still, he provides the ideal complement to the offensive-minded Burns. He also gets an A.

The E. Karlsson-Dillon pairing.

Erik Karlsson: Like Nyquist, I was somewhat impatient for him to show himself worthy of the preseason acquisition and, just as he began to do so, he was injured. Now, however, he is pretty much back to full health and is playing excellently. Smart, skilled, solid defensively, fast, and top-notch at getting the puck out of the defensive zone, he is a tremendous asset. Like Nyquist, though, he has plenty of assist points but can’t seem to find the back of the net. I give him an A.

Brendan Dillon: Unlike most of his teammates, his game has regressed during the playoffs. For most of the season he seemed to be just a notch below Vlasic defensively and a notch above offensively, with a bit of attitude sprinkled in, all of which meant he was an above average defenseman. In the playoffs, though, he has not been up to par, as his -5 plus-minus would suggest. There are certain players that, when they have the puck you just know they’re going to do the right thing with it (Vlasic and E. Karlsson, to name two). Dillon used to be one of those but, so far in the playoffs, my stomach tightens whenever he handles the puck. Maybe as he gets more time playing with a now-healthy Karlsson, things will improve. For now, though, I give him a B-.

The Braun-Ryan pairing.

Justin Braun: Back in the day, when he was usually paired with Vlasic, he appeared to be pretty similar to his partner in defensive capabilities. However, perhaps playing with Vlasic makes anyone’s defense look better. All I know is that the stomach tightening referenced earlier happens much more frequently with Braun on the puck than it used to. One of the more frustrating things is that, while he is pretty decent at battling for pucks along the boards, he too often wins the battle only to immediately throw it to an opponent, or fail to get it out of the zone. Offensively, he can usually get the puck on net from the blue line, but his shot is not one that strikes any fear in the hearts of opposing goalies. I give him a B-.

Joakim Ryan: The season-ending injury to up-and-coming defenseman Radim Simek pressed Ryan into duty, perhaps before he was totally NHL-ready. He has acquitted himself decently (he’s +1) but, averaging barely 8 minutes of ice time per game, there isn’t a lot to go on. He does not seem lost out there, but neither does he inspire a lot of confidence. I’d say he’s doing about as well as could be reasonably expected and rate him a C+.

So, there you have it. I welcome your thoughts, and if you’d like to check any playoff stats, you can do so by clicking the image below.