Detroit Red Wings (31-7-6) at San Jose Sharks (32-6-5)
7:30 PM, PST
If one was ever to assign the term "Statement Game" to a specific night in the Sharks schedule, this would have to be it. Tonight's tilt against those pesky Detroit Red Wings comes off the heels of the first regulation home loss, a game where strange officiating (interference, anyone?), bad bounces, and a poor effort from a few key individuals backfired. Stick in a Rob Blake injury (don't worry Kings fans, he'll be back soon) and now's the time to make a statement.
Of course, the first Wings/Sharks game was a statement game too. As was the second game. As was the game after that. As was the game after the beat-down in Calgary. So the whole idea of a statement game seems to be to assign it to the game that follows something bad.
And that's the thing with being a Sharks fan, at least this season. It just doesn't matter how good the regular season seems to be going because you're going to have those awful nerves that warn you it'll fall apart at any second. It's like having that annoying drunk uncle at your wedding who's on good behavior but you're just waiting for him to hit that tipping point where all hell breaks loose.
Does tonight's game hold a little more oomph than previous statement games. If you're measuring the amount of adversity going into it, I'd say yes. The past ten games have been an up-and-down journey, and while the overall effort was there against Calgary, poor decision making and bad habits crept into the fold. Specifically, I'm looking at Marc-Edouard Vlasic (who looked terrified on the power play) and Joe Pavelski (who forgot how to shoot).
I'm not sure why Vlasic folded. He's spent considerable amount of time on the power play this season but it looked like one of the Men In Black hit him with that flashy thing that caused him to lose his memory. Back during training camp, the notion of putting Vlasic on the point seemed like a bad idea. He bobbled the puck, held it too long when he actually caught a pass, and his shot seemed akin to my own wrist shot (that is, pretty freakin' bad). Somewhere around game five, Vlasic seemed to get it and became appropriately aggressive with his special teams play. Let's hope that the Calgary game was just a bad flashback.
As for Pavelski, he's probably going to see a few games at the point until Blake recovers after the All-Star break. Pavelski's been somewhat effective back there before, but so has Patrick Marleau, and I'd rather have him on the point. He's proven himself as defensiely responsible this season and he's one of the few guys on the team that can actually hit an effective one-timer. Here's how I'd compose the power play units while Blake is gone:
Unit 1: Thornton, Setoguchi, Clowe, Boyle, Marleau
Unit 2: Pavelski, Clowe, Michalek, Vlasic, Ehrhoff
So, a hurt blueline, perhaps a little bit of shattered confidence, and the Big Red Menace coming into town. It's just primed for a meltdown,right? Maybe for the old Sharks, but this is the new and improved Sharks, the team where Patrick Marleau looks like he could be a sleeper Selke candidate and Ryane Clowe is the second coming of John Leclaire. As Troy McLure once said, "Get confident, stupid!" -- and that's as much for the nervous Sharks fans (myself included) as it is for the team.