(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner, February 1, 2013)
It’s fairly unusual to have no assists given when a team scores four times in a game, especially when they are the only goals that team scored. It almost makes you think of the dread hazard: “playing like individuals instead of a team.” In the case of the Sharks last night, I don’t think that was the situation at all, though all of their goals were unassisted or shootout goals.
Yet none of those goals only belonged to the guys who got credit for them. Even the shootout goals were the result of the team making it through overtime. Couture’s goal was beholden to Scott Gomez, who successfully got the puck away from Whitney at the perfect time for Couture to take it. Joe Pavelski’s goal… well, yes, he did race up the ice, take the puck away from two players and put it in the net. But he had help getting that opportunity too: Boyle and Clowe closed on Yakupov at the same time. Boyle got the puck off the stick, and Clowe was in the way so the talented Edmonton forward couldn’t get right after Pavelski. “Unassisted” sounds so solitary, it makes you think a whole bunch of players are going uncredited.
Michal Handzus is a good example. I am vaguely fascinated by the indirect war going on between Sharks fans and Sharks commentators over the value of Michal Handzus. At every turn, it seems, Bret Hedican or Jamie Baker has something to say about how helpful Handzus is on the ice, while many fans take any opportunity to point out his faults. For example, during last night’s game, Baker tweeted this:
@Bakes_Jamie13: Handzus just broke up 3 plays in front of his own net – wily ol’ vet is smart. And Wily!
Don’t forget wily. Zus is very wily. The next morning I saw volunteer commentators saying things like:
@FTFsTCY: So Michael Handzus is worth 2 wins over replacement level shootouter? Am I doing that right, @fearthefin?
The need for fans to have a whipping boy on the team is obvious, sometimes people want more than one. Last season, Colin White was an easy target. The difference there was that I didn’t hear a lot observers, professional or amateur, defending White’s performance. The Handzus debate is much more two-sided. I wouldn’t say one side or the other is less biased, but the indirect back and forth is interesting.
I like Handzus for the team. I like the way he played season before last, I was glad when Wilson signed him, and I like what he’s doing now. I know he can give other teams a lot of grief and he has a whole lot of experience to help him do that. Lacking the vocabulary to better explain that opinion, I appreciate hearing people like Baker and Hedican give me details about what exactly Handzus does well.
Though Handzus scored in both, this shootout win was not like the last one. The Sharks had their hands full with the fast and improving Oilers, but they didn’t get rattled like they did with the Ducks. The mistakes made were just the sort you would expect from a fox and hound kind of game. Foxes might have the flashy rep, but you know who wins that contest when the fox can’t find cover. The Oilers sometimes acted too quickly to keep up with each other, the Sharks were sometimes caught off guard by that quickness. It was a close game, well played on both sides. Both teams deserved credit, deserved to get points. Which brings me to the how we think of those points.
Night before last, I heard someone mention in a broadcast that the Blackhawks were still technically “undefeated,” even after losing in a shootout to Minnesota. Of course the reference was to the Regulation and Overtime Wins column in the standings, which doesn’t show shootout losses. This peculiar concession to the long lost tie game is understandable. It is worthwhile to make a note of games that are decided by a gimmick, but still, the shootout either decides it or it doesn’t. Love or hate the exercise, if you’re going to say that the Blackhawks are “undefeated,” then how can you say the Wild won? How can the Sharks be undefeated, if the Oilers and the Ducks didn’t actually lose? Words matter.
Beneath the possibly disputable purity of the Sharks’ seven game winning streak is an indisputable improvement in their penalty kill:
@PollakOnSharks: Climb continues: #SJSharks penalty kill perfect again last night and now 10th in NHL with 83.3 percent success rate. #nosuchthingasjinxing
Unlike a news-worthy winning streak, a good penalty kill is something the Sharks can carry with them for the rest of the season. Is an increased focus on the penalty kill draining energy from their scoring system? Will they have to choose? I don’t think so. I think that each successful penalty kill takes pressure off that part of their game, and we’ll start to see a more balanced performance from the group fairly soon. That, or they’ll crash and struggle for a bit, in which case the points they have earned in this winning streak will be very valuable.
It’s pretty much the same team as last season learning some new tricks. As familiar as they are with each other, we are bound to see some hiccups in their progress. That’s just math, and that’s also why I hate math.