Shark-Infested Blogger

April 28, 2010 1:13 AM

Sharks Series Grades: Forwards

The San Jose Sharks forwards struggled at the beginning of this series, but stepped up at the end. It came down to doing the extra work in front of the net, both in terms of getting to rebounds and getting some deflections.

Once they reached the 190th shot on goal, Colorado goalie Craig Anderson was broken: He gave up just nine goals in the first 189 shots, but yielded eight goals in the next 50, plus the Sharks got three goals in six other shots including two empty netters.

This is the troubling thing about the Sharks: No matter how often they get schooled, they need a period of review.

Against the depleted Avalanche, they got enough chances to retake the test, and eventually passed. They will not get that chance against the Detroit Red Wings, who they will likely open against on Thursday and play again on Sunday, given the Eagles concert Friday and Saturday.

The Sharks best players better play their best (a factor in their grades below--obviously more is ecpected of stars than fourth-line players) in this series, too, because the Wings always get that. It is one of the primary reasons the Wings beat the Sharks in 2007, and the reason they have advanced to three consecutive conference finals, two consecutive Stanley Cup Finals, and captured the Holy Grail of Hockey that eludes San Jose.

Like with the grades for the defence, one must consider some variables in grading the forwards. Unlike their forwards, the Avs defencemen and goalie were healthy. But the defence came in mediocre (worst in the Western Conference and third-worst in the league among playoff teams) despite good goaltending because while they were good at blocking shots, they struggled in the regular season getting pucks out of its end.

Here are the grades for the Sharks forwards in the opening round against the Avalanche, from best to worst:

4462994667_df971cd1e3.jpgJoe Pavelski: A+

Without the Big Pavelski, San Jose would have been swept out of the playoffs and people from the locker room to the general manager's box would be putting their houses on the market. Pavelski scored the tying goal in the final minute of Game Two or the team would have faced a 3-0 hole going into Game Four, when they needed Pavelski's overtime winner to even the series.

He also scored the series-clinching goal and the first goal in that final game, had another to go with three assists in the series, and finished plus-six. He was in there for key faceoffs, power play, penalty kill, and to swing momentum. He was the everything-man and the standard by which all Sharks forwards should be measured in the playoffs, and better than any performance I have seen since adopting the home team in 2002.

Ryane Clowe: A

Clowe matched Pavelski's eight points and plus-six rating, taking Joe Thornton's place on the half-boards and in dishing out assists (seven). He was the only player to score in Game One, and while that goal did not come in a winning effort, the first goal of a series in which a goalie has a team's number cannot be overlooked.

He also was a physical presence, and when the Avs got a little Duck-y (in other words, taking liberties with their opponents when they could not compete with them), challenged their foes to tango. In other words, he was productive on the ice and a leader on the bench.

Devin Setoguchi: A-

Setoguchi had one game-winner in overtime of Game Two, and scored two more goals to go with three assists. At plus-four, he was tied for fourth on the team, and played with reckless abandon defensively, throwing his body around on the forecheck. With his performance in this series, Seto probably assured the Sharks will re-sign him, but also that he will get interest from other teams even though he is a restricted free agent.

Logan Couture: B+

Couture had the only other game-winner, and scored another goal to boot while acquiring a plus-two rating. His first playoff goal came by going to the net, something other forwards outside of the second line seemed unwilling to do, and it also was the breakthrough goal: Craig Anderson had a .952 save percentage before the shot and only .840 from that shot on. The rookie also knew enough to get the puck to Dany Heatley, and the two worked well together in ending each other's scoring droughts.

Scott Nichol: B

Nichol had a goal in the Game Two 6-5 overtime win, without which the Sharks may not have gotten to overtime. He also had an assist and was a key energizer and penalty killer throughout the series. As always, he was counted on frequently after one team or another scored, and for faceoff wins in the defensive zone; still, he finished plus-two for the series.

Dwight Helminen: B-

Helminen's goal may have been nearly meaningless--the third goal in a 5-0 blowout--but it did signal the end of the game. When a rookie who played only a handful of games for a team scores in that manner in the playoffs--roofed off the crossbar from a tough angle in a rare moment when the goalie who has stymied the team is out of position--it is a sign that the game is yours. While that was his only point and he was just plus-one for the series, he got the second least ice time among forwards.

Jed Ortmeyer: B-

Ortmeyer played sparingly because he was hurt and on the fourth line, but even with those disadvantages managed a point in two games and a plus-one rating. He provided energy on the forecheck and in the offensive zone, the job of every fourth line player--the assist was a bonus.

Dany Heatley: C-

Heater was brought in this off-season to give the Sharks post-season scoring, but failed to find the back of the net despite an open-net rebound opportunity. However, he did have four assists in five games and battled through a leg injury, and while he was a minus-one, that is the highest rating for any member of the Big Three.

Manny Malhotra: C-

Manny had a goal, no assists, and an even rating. While he contributed to the faceoff success of the Sharks, did a good job on the forecheck, and was energetic as always, he failed to have any real impact--he did his job and nothing more.

Jamie McGinn: C-

McGinn had no points but was plus-two on the fourth line because he was very involved defensively. He not only provided help on the forecheck, he even stepped in to defend his teammate on one occasion.

Torrey Mitchell: D

Todd McLellan speaks of Mitchell as having been an impact player once moved to the first line because of his speed, but all that move really did was put three centres and the two fastest Sharks on the same line, failing to spread the skill sets out. Mitchell finished with just one point and an even rating, and while he skated hard, he once again failed to close: Since his rookie season, Mitchell just cannot seem to do anything with the opportunities he creates.

Patrick Marleau: D-

Patty finally broke through for a goal, but it was almost as meaningless as an empty-netter--the fifth goal late in a 5-0 blowout against the backup goalie. He did have two assists but was minus-two for the series, and showed why the "C" was ripped from his sweater: Patty just does not have any passion.

Former teammate Jeremy Roenick asked the question on Toronto radio, "When is Patty Marleau gonna hit someone in a playoff game?" We'd all like to know the answer to that one, JR.

Joe Thornton: F

Is there a grade lower than F? Joe Thornton has been the exact opposite of Joe Pavelski--passionless, unproductive, and small in the biggest moments. He has just three assists in six games despite all the talent around him and is minus-four, and he only looks that good thanks to an assist and plus "earned" on an empty net goal in the series clincher.

He has been primarily responsible for two goals scored including Brandon Yip's go-ahead score in Game Six (he actually played Svatos' goal perfectly--it is not his fault Marek is faster and he got no help from Douglas Murray), and was fortunate enough to be bailed out by Dan Boyle and Pavelski...just like the entire series. He even was the least reliable guy in the faceoff circle when a big win was needed.

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