Ottawa Senators (13-7-4) at San Jose Sharks (18-6-4), 7:30 PM PST
Man, is it already almost 2010? That means it's been almost a full five years since 2005, the first half of which had no NHL and the second half of which Jonathan Cheechoo began his crazy post-Thornton tear to the Rocket Richard trophy. Ok, so technically, it's the four-year anniversary of when all that nuttiness happened, and while Jonathan Cheechoo has become an afterthought in today's NHL, that was a pretty awesome run, wasn't it?
Well, our old friend Cheech and our semi-old friend Milan Michalek come back to their old stomping grounds. The roles are a little reversed, as Michalek is earning his ice time with some pretty good stats while Cheechoo is always on the low end of ice-time stats. There aren't too many players where you can point to one injury that jacks up their entire career, but Cheechoo's dramatic fall from NHL glory seems to come almost exclusively from his double-sports hernia surgery following the 2006-07 season. He's just never been the same after that.
It's too bad, too. Cheechoo's a likable, humble guy off the ice and a damn hard worker on the ice. His total lack of pure skating ability always made him look like something that would fly out of a cyclone, and I think that was kind of endearing to many fans. He busted his ass, whether Mike Ricci or Joe Thornton centered him, and you can always appreciate hard work, even when the numbers diminish.
I don't think I'm alone in wishing a career revival for Cheechoo, and I'm kind of surprised that he's not getting it done. Last season, you'd see those brief flashes of those hands or that one-timer, and you'd wonder why didn't he do that more often. A big part of it obviously stemmed from the lack of core strength following the sports hernia surgeries, as that affects your ability to push through traffic to get into those open spots. But he's still got those hands, and it's quite a shame that he's just not putting it together.
If you asked him about it, though, I doubt you'll sense any cries for pity. One of the great things about Cheech has always been his humility--he knew that playing hockey for a living, let alone playing in the NHL, was an absolute privilege, and he never complained about anything. Personally, I'd love to see a 4-3 Sharks win with three Sens goals by Cheech.
Both Cheechoo and Michalek told the Ottawa media that they thought the reaction from the San Jose faithful would be "interesting." While Michalek will probably get warm applause, I'm guessing an outpouring of affection for Cheechoo, including the return of the famous "CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH" call and perhaps a few train whistles. You bust your ass for us, we'll always have your back.
The Senator I'd Like On My Team: Um...uh...well...damn, this is a hard one. The Senators are woefully thin compared to the team that made the Cup final against some team that some cartoonist-blogger likes, so I suppose I'll go with veteran Daniel Alfredsson, a guy I've always respected for his all-around complete game and generally classy demeanor.
Prediction: Sharks 4, Senators 3. Sharks goals by Boyle, Marleau, and Heatley (2). Sens goals all by Cheechoo, and a few hats come out for old time's sake. And speaking of old times...