The San Jose Sharks hosted the Ottawa Senators going for a fourth straight home win and sixth straight overall Monday, Jan. 18. The resulting overtime loss did little to rain on the parade that awaited as the team celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a Teal Carpet event Tuesday.
It helps that even the loss was in a good performance. San Jose’s dominance is more apparent in the event summary than the scoreboard: 31-24 faceoffs, 16-16 giveaways and 8-7 takeaways yet only a 24-26 deficit in hits that led to an 86-40 edge in attempts and 35-17 in shots; even the 13-25 deficit in blocks is actually a better ratio of shots allowed per block (1.21 vs. 1.4) and percentage of attempts (32.5 vs. 29.1) blocked.
However, backup goalie Alex Stalock took an ill-advised trip out of his net for the second consecutive start to give Ottawa the lead. Max McCormick was able to poke his second NHL goal home to give assists to Cody Ceci and Chris Neil 11:12 into the game. The guests extended their lead 4:08 into the second period when Mika Zibanejad advanced the puck from Erik Karlsson to Bobby Ryan for a shot that deflected off the stick of Brent Burns and past Stalock.
However, the Sharks answered eight seconds later when Joe Thornton got the puck from Burns and slid a pass to the slot timed perfectly for Tomas Hertl skating by to redirect home. Then after the final intermission, it looked as though the Senators would finally break.
In the first three minutes of the third period, Joel Ward moved the puck from Marc-Edouard Vlasic to Logan Couture for his first goal of the year. Then Chris Tierney started probably San Jose’s most impressive scoring play of the 2015-16 NHL season just over five minutes later by getting the puck to Joonas Donskoi. The Finnish rookie weaved through two defenders while dragging the puck between his legs to set up a pass to Matt Nieto that was taken to the backhand wide of Craig Anderson.
Unfortunately, one of the four shots the Sharks allowed in the last 28:29 of play tied the game. Zack Smith was racing in shorthanded when Burns took him down, leading to a controversial penalty shot that tied the game. It appeared the shot was drawn back in violation of penalty shot rules, but he put it past Stalock to wrap up scoring. Zibanejad was the only player to score in the shootout.
Still, San Jose climbed back into second place in the Pacific Division with the point. Even if that is because the division is weak this 2015-16 NHL season, this team is now in the top half of the league in point percentage past the midpoint and in position for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That may not have been enough cause for celebration, but it was certainly no reason to dampen the party for reaching 25 years Tuesday. The Sharks had management, every San Jose mayor since they arrived among its dignitaries as well as past and present players at the event.
Most were available for comment before the event that featured a dinner, video of the team’s history and speeches. Highlights below include media statements from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, owner Hasso Plattner, general manager and first team captain Doug Wilson, Hall of Fame forward Igor Larionov, former captain Owen Nolan and franchise player Patrick Marleau.
Marleau is the franchise leader in almost everything and spoke of being planted in the only home he has had as an adult: “Having kids in school, you get to meet a lot of people and become more a part of the community. …It would be nice (to finish his career in San Jose) obviously. I think I still have a lot of good years left in me.”
Larionov was detailed in his answers about San Jose’s first team to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, the cultivation and reception of fans so long after he played with the team as well as the need for consistency from Nikolai Goldobin below:
I like what I saw recently. To me it is all a condition of his style. …The great players always play the game the same way. Like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic…that’s the way to play.
Owen Nolan was happy to find out he was chosen as a first-team 25th Anniversary forward, calling it an honor. He talked about how early fans did not always know when to cheer but have become knowledgeable, recalling this about his “called shot” that gave him his hat trick in the NHL All-Star Game hosted by San Jose two decades ago:
It’s one of those things you take a chance. It wasn’t premeditated or anything like that. It just happened, it was in the home rink (and I) had two goals already. Take a chance—if it works, great; if not, no one’s going to remember about it after two weeks. To this day, people talk about it, so it panned out and was something fun.
For his part, owner Hasso Plattner was very upfront about the concerns regarding declining attendance and the challenges of appealing to a younger audience with more entertainment options. He laughed when asked about what it would mean to win a Stanley Cup (“Everything!”) and reminded the throng that he would drink champagne or wine out of it rather than German beer. (His loss.) He also said Wilson was doing a good job and that they talked a couple times a week.
Wilson received cheers when mentioned from the podium and was probably the most entertaining interview. He talked about his strongest memories of those first days, ways the team treated players and connected to fans, ownership’s love for the game and effort to build interest for the game in Northern California, the fan loyalty that followed as well as the struggles of the team in the first couple seasons:
(Owner) Mr. Gund’s love for the game, the odors of the Cow Palace. The closeness of the team (he lists many of his former teammates)…One of my favorite moments was Matty Tennyson being the first junior Shark to score a goal in a Sharks uniform.
It was like going to a gun fight with a water pistol. …(San Jose’s first head coach) George (Kingston) knew there was times, we’d play against Pittsburgh, Mario Lemieux hadn’t played in three weeks, he would fly out to play against us and get his six points and go fly somewhere else. (Laughing) We know, it happened, you can look it up. …The entire rest of the defense (other than Wilson) has six games of NHL experience…but I tell you what it was like being a pioneer.
Bettman was booed as he came onto the stage during the event and took it in stride: “Thank you for that warm welcome.” He continued his theme that success was a testament to the Sharks from the podium, speaking at length about some of the innovations of the franchise after stating the following to the media:
It’s great to be here to celebrate 25 years of Sharks hockey. I remember going to games in the Cow Palace, and this is really a franchise that’s become part of the community, part of the fabric of life in Northern California. …I don’t love the term “non-traditional” (to refer to markets such as San Jose). How about if we go with newer? Some teams are 100 years old, This one’s 25 years old and they’ve established their own traditions.
He later elaborated from the podium, citing the logo and team colors to skating out of a giant shark head and fans making the chomp gesture for the power play. He also pointed out the regional growth in hockey from expansion to San Jose: 26,000 registered junior hockey players in California (presumably more credit for that goes to the Los Angeles Kings) and more registered adults on the Sharks Ice network of rinks than anywhere else in America.
The event also featured Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News taking playful digs at Eddie Belfour for abandoning the Sharks, Joe Thornton for not shooting enough and of course, himself. There were lulls throughout most of the other speakers, it went well past the planned timeline and the television broadcast by Comcast Sports Net was downright boring 80 percent of the time, but it drew enough interest and it was clear the team cared about doing the best they could from management to coaches and players.