Opening Night

First off, serious congratulations to Barry Bonds for hitting #71. Now, bud, relax and see how high you can take it. (let it be noted for the record, also, that Bonds did it in the midst of a nasty pennant race, while both McGuire and Maris had nothing to play for but the record). Jesus. I’m still typing this, and he just hit 72. I need to type faster!

Opening night. Detroit. I like that — both because the Sharks start off with strong opponent, and because it looks like opening night keeps a lot of season ticket holders from selling the seats to the idiot red wing fans. Down where we are, it was quite timid. (the downside, I now realize, is that those stupid wings fans were all moved up into 226 where they hit critical mass — but perhaps a little barbed wire and a firehose?)

Last night, I saw two teams eyeing each other, and thinking “this is a team we have to beat in the playoffs”. It’s not often you see teams feel they have to make a statement on opening night, but both teams clearly did. In my preseason projections, I picked Detroit in the west. Let me rephrase that slightly — my god, the Wings are a damn scary good team. Better than I thought they were. Much. When you start seeing Hull and Robataille on the third line; whoof.

The BIG risks at detroit are injuries and tired legs. If they can stay healthy, if Bowman can spread the minutes around so this team isn’t dead in April, watch out. Those aren’t SMALL risks, either — but never bet against Bowman.

What *I* took out of last night’s game, however, was that as good as Detroit was, the Sharks played them well. Not their equal, but the Sharks seemed better than I expected, too. Even more surprising, they kept showing signs of a power play, something Shark fans aren’t used to.

Losing 4-3 in OT to the best team in hockey? Giving the best team in hockey a legitimate scare?

I’ll take that.

Maybe I’m not an idiot for picking Los Tiburones for third in the west. I liked what I saw last night — pride, determination, and a pretty damn good hockey team.

My three stars: Shanahan, Ricci, Sundstrom.

Referees: Billy McCreary (B+), Kelly Sutherland (B).

McCreary is a veteran ref, and seems to have good rapport with the players. He’s more than willing to discuss and explain things. The league is cracking down significantly on a number of things, especially any contact of any kind to the head with anything. Another one is delay of game; this nailed Todd Harvey, who fell on the puck and instead of a whistle, got a double-minor. This is to keep players from taking the lazy way out to a whistle and a faceoff, and speed up the game. I’m all for it. Amusing side note of this — after the Harvey penalty, Sundstrom was in the same situation and basically flopped onto the puck, and suddenly remembered the rule and did a great example of a cat falling in a pond; he bounced up and got off the puck quickly (and humourously….) to avoid the call.

McCreary called a good, solid game last night, fair to both sides, fair to the new interpretation of the rules. If they call it this way all season, I’ll be happy with the changes.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Sutherland ref before, but he comported himself well. Unlike some junior refs, he didn’t sit in a corner and watch (to his credit, unlike some SENIOR refs, McCreary didn’t tell the junior guy to shut up and get out of his way; of course, some of the junior refs, that’s how they’re most effective). He made a couple of tough penalty calls at key moments, when many refs (senior ones, too) would have swallowed the whistle. And he made the RIGHT call on them.

One instance here — Sutherland made a call down in the crease (the Chelios slash). As you know, Chris Chelios has never taken a penalty in his life, and he disagreed a bit. Sutherland was calm and firm, and Chelios went to the box (whining, but not to the point of a Robataille or Hull, who are hall of fame whiners). As the teams were lining up for faceoff, suddenly I head a “hey! hey!” — it turns out it was McCreary, who got Sutherland’s eye, and did a quiet fist pump. The meaning was clear in context: good call, gutsy call, right call.

Lots of senior refs don’t support their partners that way. The good ones do, and that’s how you encourage the young refs to become good, veteran refs. Kudos to the zebras.

As I talk about the reffing, I’ll only discuss linesmen when something really good or bad happens. They do a good job, they’re generally quite competent, and it’d get boring saying that all of the time. The place where there’s the most variability is in face-offs. Last night, I noticed they were allowing a huge amount of cheating; the lines they added a few years back for foot placement are being routinely ignored now. Might as well paint them out. A couple of times the cheating got so bad McCreary stepped in and yapped at players — in both cases, he was ignored and they kept cheating. Go figure. (linesmen, FWIW, are in a no-win situation. They really shouldn’t allow too much cheating, but they get yelled at for throwing players out of the face-off circle and/or refusing to drop the puck. No win situation for them…)

Jillson impressed me. He’s young, he’ll make mistakes, but he didn’t look too out of place — and it was the Wings. Hannan is no rathje, but he did okay (he was also -2, though). Suter was too aggressive, which bit us a couple of times, for instance the Shanahan shortie on the 2 on 1 against Jillson. Suter needs to be more careful there and not get caught and hose his partner. His partner did what he could.

Up front, Nolan was -3, Selanne -2. Offense from thornton, Matteau, harvey, the offensive studs. (in reality, I think this says more about who our first line was up against than how they performed; take this as a very GOOD thing, that when the opposition shuts down our studs, our role players step up and contribute. We need that)

The sharks sagged a little after the first shortie, faded a bit in the third as Detroit hit its stride, and really did a great job coming back late. The OT goal was a fluke bounce. I’ll take it.

Other notes —

I thought I was mostly over crying during the anthem. Dennis’ rendition proved I’m not quite past that. Not complaining, you know, just noting.

I like the new organist. Laurie, I think, called it right — he’s NOT an organist. He’s a keyboardist. I liked Sealy — this guy’s good, in different ways. I think he may have more flexibility down the road as he settles in.

The sharks have made a few changes in the arena. Most notable — they now have projectors in the ceiling that shine down on the ice, and when they do, they show what’s on the jumbotron. I found that a cute touch. I like it. Sharkie’s pre-game video wasn’t up to the caliber of some of his classics, but was pretty good. The other video, however, kicked some serious butt.

I don’t miss the fireworks one bit (if you haven’t heard, the league has banned pyrotechnics in the buildings, because of the post 9/11 concerns)

Finally, a few notes around the league:

Watched opening night in boston, where the bourquester’s jersey was retired. A good ceremony, except that every time Sinden’s name was mentioned, everyone booed. Now — I’m no fan of Sinden — but there’s a time and place for everything, and THAT IS NOT THE TIME. My god, let Bourque enjoy his time. Fortunately, Bourque finally told them to shut up (they did), and reminded them that Sinden was responsible for the two most important decisions in his career: to make him a Boston Bruin, and to allow him to leave Boston to win a Cup. Soemtimes, folks — just shut up and let people enjoy the moment. Show some class.

Watched an early Sabre’s game, too. They’re a shadow of themselves. Not going anywhere folks. And the Rangers: tonight, they sucked big-time. If THAT is the Rangers, it’s a long, long season in the city. Berard, by the way, is wearing a 3/4 visor, but not a full face shield. Definitely more than a standard visor, though. And Fleury came back from rehab down about 10 pounds and ready to roll. Let’s hope he can handle the tedium and stress of a full season.

One major mea-culpa: in the summer, I strongly criticized the rehiring of Pete Stemkowski. Well, I listened to the radio broadcast last night, and I thought he did okay. Not great (he’s no Drew; but few are), but not bad. IF that’s how Pete’s going to talk this season, and IF he can sustain it and IF the Sharks can work to keep him working like that with Dan (admittedly some Ifs, I thought he started okay last season and faded, but there were clearly extenuating circumstances) — I think he’ll be okay. So I’m going to shut up and see what I think in 15 games, and give him the fair shot I didn’t give him this summer. He’s clearly worked on it; Dan and the Sharks have clearly worked with him, and I’m going to give him the chance to make it work.

Finally, some personal notes, for those silly enough to still be reading:

After last season, I made some changes and took some time off. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and struggling with what I want to do, what I’m actually up to doing (there are days when the burnout looms heavy, and days when it doesn’t. There are fewer of the bad ones now, though, so things are getting better), and what’s good/appropriate for the list.

I’m still feeling my way around all of this. I do know I want to avoid the “yes he did no he didn’t” stuff, since I feel that’s where I create the most hassles for the list. I also have wanted for a long time to focus more on longer pieces, things that explain and hopefully illuminate. So I’m dusting off an idea I’ve wanted to do for a long time, which is Teal Sunglasses, which is me talking about what I think deserves talking about. Sometimes it’ll be sharks-centric and I’ll post it (as well as post it on with my other babblings). Other times it’ll be hockey-centric and I’ll post a pointer to it on I think I have the time and energy to try to do this — whether it’s proven out, we’ll see. If you like it, let me know. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. And if you have stuff you want to hear my babble about, I’m open to suggestions.

And always remember, it’s only my opinion. Just because it’s mine doesn’t make it right, or make it better than yours. I put a lot of time into watching and studying hockey (and I’m lucky enough to have Laurie as a resource — trust me, most of the time, when I sound smart, I’m channelling here, folks — the rest of the time, she probably worked late….) but that doesn’t make me right, or better, or anything but someone with a remote and an opinion…..

Since I’ve started dipping my toe back in the list, AT LEAST fifteen of you have either sent me e-mail or tracked me down at the arena to tell me you were happy to see me back on the list. I can’t tell you folks what that means to me — it’s made deciding to get involved again a lot easier, and it’s given me the motivation to try to find a way to be involved that I enjoy and want to do, and which makes this a better place. And hopefully, when I screw up, you’ll tell me that, too. But — thanks. I just can’t say what it meant for you folks to do that, because you didn’t have to, and nobody asked you to. It means more than you would believe.

Hey! It’s hockey season, and the Sharks don’t suck. What more can we ask?

Drop the friggin’ puck already!