The Sharks game last night was a lot of fun; the seats were row nine of the upper deck just above and behind what ended up being the home ice goal. The great thing about the Shark Tank is that there really are no bad seats in the whole place and we had a nice view of the far side of the ice as well as some really great visuals of the near goal.
Of course the enjoyment of the game was helped by a 2-0 Sharks victory in which Nabokov looked as solid as I’ve seen him play in about three years. This was Nabby of old and near the end of the game the crowd was in a fever pitch chanting “Nab-by! Nab-by!” to spur him on to complete the shutout. He had some help from some solid defensive play including some nice physical work by HB‘s favorite whipping boy, Kyle McLaren.
I was also impressed to see the same play that Cheechoo and Bell scored on in the season opener work again for the Sharks second goal, it’s good to see that even when Cheech isn’t really finding the net that well he can still help out with some setups. It’s kind of surprising where all the points are coming from this year: The Sharks have one of the highest Goals For totals in the whole Western Conference (I think they’re actually tied for first with—of all people—Chicago) but Joe Thornton hasn’t scored one, Patrick Marleau has been pretty quiet on the scoring front and aside from that one freaky game where he nailed a natural Hat Trick, even Cheechoo hasn’t had any goals. Instead they’re coming from guys like Mihalek and… the defense.
Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t complaining. The Sharks are going to need contributions from everyone this year if they expect to be legitimate Cup contenders, and it’s nice to see that they aren’t having to rely on their top two lines to do all the offensive work. I just hope they keep it up; one thing that has stunted some good Sharks teams in the past has been the fact that whenever their top scorers go on the schnide for a while there has usually been no one around to pick up the slack. It looks like that might not be so much of a problem this year.
The one thing that has me a bit worried is this whole goaltender controversy. The problem as far as I’m concerned is that right now they’re both playing well and feeding off of each other to compete for the top spot. But the danger is that if it goes on too long they might both come to the conclusion that there is no top spot to attain and they’ll sort of give up trying as hard and figure, “We’re splitting the duty so I only really need to work half as hard.” Then you end up with two mediocre/underperforming goaltenders that you can’t deal anywhere. So the ideal would be to trade one of them as soon as possible.
So which one? That’s really tough in my mind because some people (I’m not saying me, I’m just saying some people) might argue that the last time this situation came up, the Sharks made the wrong move by sticking with Nabokov and dealing Kiprusoff. So do you fear making that same choice again and stick with Toskala even though you just signed Nabby to a pretty big contract extention last year or do you stick with your only Rookie of the Year and popular hometown netminder? How much weight do you apply to performance last year? Granted, Nabby was hurt and playing through injury a lot last year but it was really Toskala that got them as far as they did in the playoffs. What about performance this year? So far Toskala is unbeaten but Nabokov has two shutouts and his one loss was in a really wild, flukey kind of game.
My personal opinion is hard to sort out because I think I desperately want Nabokov to be the guy, but I worry because he’s had a lot of chances to be that guy and he’s dropped the ball more than he’s stepped up. I’ve never really been sold on Toskala’s panicky playing style and I can’t shake the feeling that he only plays as good as he does when he has something to prove. I worry that with Nabokov out of the picture as the number one guy, Toskala would flounder lacking the proper motivation. The Sharks have a great goalie system and the third stringer/future backup Nolan Schaefer looked really solid in very minimal play last year but I think if you held a gun to my head I would say I’d rather have him backing Nabby than Vesa.
Truthfully, I kind of want to keep them both but I understand that generally speaking that’s pretty pointless in the long run. So the real question becomes: What can we get for whomever we get rid of? I’m thinking if Raycroft sucks in Toronto (which he probably will), what about Bryan McCabe? He’s older but wouldn’t have to play as much in San Jose as he does in Toronto since the rest of the team is so young. Of course I would absolutely love to steal Dion Phaneuf from the Flames but I doubt they’d have a need for Toskala unless Kiprusoff got very badly hurt and I’m sure they’re fine with Jamie McLennan as a backup (not that Toskala would be too hip on going from one second-string spot to another, he’s going to want a #1 job). Plus I’m not sure I’d be too thrilled with handing one of our goaltenders off to a division rival again which is why I’m looking to the East.
Ideally Denis in Tampa Bay won’t work out and the Lightning will start shopping for someone to help save their fanbase and be willing to deal playoff-hero-turned-last-season-goat St. Louis whom I think is struggling less with his play and more with his club and would fit in nicely on the Sharks roster. Still, I think St. Louis probably still has too much name recognition in Tampa to be a realistic option (and I’m sure no one is going to repeat the debacle of the Thornton trade by giving up a franchise player to San Jose) but Fedotenko is pretty good and might be a nice replacement for Steve Bernier whom I like but I feel like should be playing more with Smith and Grier on a grinder line than the talented second line as a finesse guy. In any case the Sharks problem really isn’t offense but defense and Tampa Bay is pretty light in that category. My ideal trade would be to the Flyers who are struggling with a goalie controversy of their own, only theirs is between two mediocre players in Esche and Niittymaki. In return for Toskala we’d get Joni Pitkanen and Jeff Carter.