Sharks lack bite on home ice
Tuesday, January 8, 2008 | 04:36 PM ET
The San Jose Sharks reached the halfway point of the NHL season last week with a real sense of accomplishment.
Only the red-hot Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators had more points than the 52 the Sharks had earned after 41 games. While the Sharks have for the most part lived up to their own expectations, the way they have been winning games has left a lot to be desired for their 17,000 plus faithful fans.
Despite having the offensive firepower of former Art Ross Trophy winner Joe Thornton and former Rocket Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo, the Sharks are not a run-and-gun, exciting team to watch. Instead, coach Ron Wilson has his team playing stifling defence, and even on home ice, playing a very passive trapping system.
If ever there were a team that represents what critics despise about today’s defence-first mentality, it has to be the Sharks at home. Sure they are a successful team in the standings, but if you had to shell out $150 US a ticket to watch them 41 times a year, I’m not sure you would be a happy fan.
Defence might win championships, but boring defensive hockey on home ice does not sell tickets.
On the road, most teams in the league will play a more passive and cautious defensive game. After all, the road team doesn’t feel the responsibility to entertain the fans as much as they are trying to find a way to survive the onslaught of offensive pressure by the home team.
This season, the San Jose Sharks have played that defensive style to near perfection. They are by far the "Road Warriors" of the NHL. They have the NHL’s best road record at 16-3-2, and have allowed just 41 goals against in 21 road games. Offensively they are pretty solid on the road as well. As home teams get frustrated with the Sharks' trapping style, they take chances, and the Sharks have taken advantage, scoring at almost a three-goal a game pace. Not surprisingly, the other top teams in the standings, Detroit and Ottawa, own the second and third best road records behind them.
On home ice, however, most teams try to open up the game a bit, force the play offensively and create some excitement for their paying customers. Head coach Ron Wilson however, doesn’t seem to be concerned with his team’s entertainment quality, but rather is committed to his defensive scheme.
On most nights, fans in the Shark Tank are treated to only one man in on the attack, and four others waiting in the neutral zone to trap. Teams that are used to trying to “survive the onslaught of the first 10 minutes” on the road, find themselves trying to weave their way through five players in the neutral zone. Not much of a way to energize the home crowd, let alone entertain them.
For general manager Doug Wilson (no relation) the lack of entertainment bang for his season ticket holder’s buck may start to be a concern. Despite the relative success of his team in the standings, in the southern U.S. market, success is as much about entertainment value and selling tickets as it is wins and losses, and Shark fans haven’t been getting their fair shake.
For all their success on the road, the Sharks have been dismal at home. Their 7-9-4 record is a far cry from their road prowess. While Detroit and Ottawa are No. 1 and No. 5 in the NHL on home ice, the Sharks are a distant 28th. Red Wings and Senators fans are treated to almost four goals a game from their home team. In San Jose, fans are brought to their feet only twice a game.
In the end, it’s all about winning the Stanley Cup and Shark fans have that expectation of this team, and both Wilsons - Ron and Doug - know that all too well.
You have to wonder whether a team with the offensive talent the Sharks possess, who are currently struggling to score and win at home, can survive the long journey to winning the Cup. If they are going to win, the Shark Tank has to once again be a tough place for teams to come to play in. For that to happen, Ron Wilson needs to find a way to tweak San Jose’s style of play and get the offensive game going.
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About the Author
Former NHL player, coach and broadcaster Craig Simpson brings over 18 years of expertise to his analyst role on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada. Craig played 10 years in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Edmonton, capturing two Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1988 and 1990. He continues to hold the distinction of being the last Oiler to score 50 goals in one season (56 goals in 1987-88).
Injuries cut his playing career short in 1995, but the native of London, Ont., didn’t stray far from the game. Simpson worked for eight seasons as a hockey commentator with TSN, FoxSportsNet and Rogers Sportsnet and was an assistant coach with the Oilers organization for the past four years (2003-07) before joining CBC.
Simpson lives in Edmonton with his wife and three children. Viewers can catch Craig on Saturday nights providing analysis and commentary during the second game on HNIC. His blog appears every Tuesday on CBCSports.ca.
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