Remember when I said that the 6-1 game against Edmonton, while awesome for the Sharks, was not a true indication of where the team actually stands because the Oilers are still in their “we suck right now but we are rebuilding so get back to us in two or three years” mode and while they are a professional hockey team, they just aren’t that difficult to compete against. I also said that Calgary would be a better indicator especially because they always play the Sharks hard. Well, last night’s game was no exception.
The Flames came out fast and strong, scoring 3 goals on 5 shots against Anti Niemi (you know, the guy who won the cup in Chicago and stonewalled the Sharks in the Western Conference finals) in like the first three or four minutes (that might be an exaggeration, but it is not much of one).
Sure Niemi seemed to be letting everything in, but he got absolutely no help from the rest of the team. The forwards were playing even more lackluster defense than they usually do (and Patrick Marleu has all but disappeared in the first six games of the season for the Sharks–come on Patty, come back and start kicking ass again, please) and the actual defense was slow, turnover prone, and not reacting to the speed or physicality of a Flames team that has set out to once again be dominant on home ice–which they totally were as indicated by the 4-0 final score. So the problem isn’t just Niemi, though it is clear that he is struggling and needs to vastly improve if he wants to see more playing time. (I miss Brian Boucher, even though this is the second season since left the team).
After the three quick goals Niemi was pulled and replaced by Niittymaki. Niitty saved the first shot he faced, but then allowed the second one in. It was a soft one, and maybe it took a strange path or bounce or something, but Niitty should still have had it. After allowing that one goal, though, he hunkered down and made 23 consecutive saves for a grand total of 24 out of 25 shots stopped. I am not saying that things would have been different had Niitty started the game–the Flames came out strong and dictated the game from the very beginning. It is possible that things would have gone differently if Niittymaki had gotten the start, but there is no guarantee, and the Sharks just couldn’t maintain possession of the puck, which limited their scoring chances and potential immensely, and you have to score goals to win games. So, Niitty probably would have allowed at least one goal had he started, and since the Sharks didn’t score a single goal the whole game, the overall outcome would not have been so different–they still would have lost.
The only thing is that they might not be feeling as bad if they lost 1-0 rather than 4-0. Still, it might be a good thing that the Sharks took such a shellacking. Why? Well because it could be seen as a wake up call. To fail so miserably against a long time division rival will hopefully wake the Sharks up and teach them the value of smart hockey play. Of course, with an old and slow and all around lackluster defensive corps, playing smart hockey might just be something that is out of reach for this team this season, though I hope not. It is still early in the season, they haven’t even played ten games, but it would be nice to see them play with some positive consistency, rather than the negative consistency they have shown thus far in the season.
Oh, and one final thought, Dany Heatley HAS to stop taking stupid penalties. I he “only” took two penalties last night, which is probably two too many, but is definitely one too many. The man is there to score goals and be a force on offense. He can’t do that while sitting in the penalty box. If it was just last night’s game where he took stupid penalties that would be one thing, but it wasn’t just last night. It seems like he has taken ill-advised penalties in almost every game this season, and I know he took some real stinkers in the series against Chicago. Heatley needs to get his head in the game and start playing smarter. I appreciate his attempts to get physical, but I would much rather have him on the ice shooting the puck and skating around the offensive zone than wasting time in the penalty box.
The Sharks play the Devils on Wednesday in what should be an interesting game. I wonder which Sharks team will show up, the one that smeared the Oilers, or the one that got smeared by the Flames.