Preseason Playground

Yes, that’s right…it’s yet another lowly preseason blog…go ahead, roll your eyes. You can actually just close this window if you’d like (or just your eyes…whatever)…we all know how many people think so highly of preseason action. To many it means nothing…just a means to waste time before the real season begins, but to the select few of us devoted fans…fans who have been waiting with bated breath just to see their renovated teams in action for the first time, it absolutely hits the spot.

The preseason is the time to really see how the offseason changes have affected our teams. Its the time to witness the chemistry on the ice, the new players’ talents, and make our own predictions…tonight was my first preseason game as a hockey fan…and it did not disappoint.

First of all, before I get into game analysis, I will say – the Tank was buzzin’ last night. It was so fun to see everyone get reacquainted with their old “home away from home”…you could tell how happy we all were just to be there…and smell that “hockey” smell (spilled beer, pretzels, roasted nuts and vomit I’m pretty sure)…There were tons of folks there nice and early, just ecstatic to be walking the concourse again. The feel of the game itself was almost (very mildly) a playoff feel…the energy of the crowd coupled with the impressive and energetic new roster created lots of noise at the Tank. (I’m sure the fact that we were playing a division rival didn’t hurt either)

One of my favorite things before the game – the warm-ups – was completely amazing. We were able to settle in directly behind Nabby’s net and caught a great glimpse of Greiss too. The drills were drastically different from last season. Much more formal, more choreographed and deliberate…not that the drills were lax last season, it was just nice to see the change…something that clues me in to how McLellan will be impacting our team.

Thornton, Marleau, Grier, Clowe, Murray and Blake were some of the big guys who we didn’t see last night. I am assuming that they might show up for the Canucks game tonight but who knows. Honestly – very honestly – I didn’t miss them…the guys who did play really showed their true colors. If preseason games don’t mean much, they sure as heck didn’t get the memo. The dynamic on the ice was fierce! I was totally blown away by our new talent as well as the rejuvenated talent from last season (mark my words – Pavelski will have a rockstar season…) One word came to mind while watching the ice – synergy.
They were grinding it hard out there, gave Perros a run for his money, and kept the puck in the Ducks zone.

Campbell who? Oh, yeah that guy that plays for the ‘Hawks right? Yeah, don’t know him. All I do know is that our blue line rocked my socks last night…Rookie hopeful Jason Demers (60) left me speechless as he hustled the blue line from the get-go. He was rewarded with a lot of ice time and did a fantastic job with takeaways and puck control. This kid very well should find a way onto this team IMHO…he was an integral part of keeping Anaheim out of our zone.

Speaking of takeaways, it was very, very nice to see the improvement in Christian Ehrhoff. He blew me away. While last season his puck control was crappy at best, he was crisp, clean and smart last night. When Ehrhoff does well, he absolutely kills it. Yet when he trips up, he usually costs us the game…I could definitely tell (knock on wood) the latter version has gone far far away…hopefully never to return again.

In keeping with the HUGE performance of our blue line last night, Dan Boyle was warmly welcomed to San Jose. He left us all in awe by his effortless speed and ability to keep the puck. It was only a matter of time until he found the net, and the Tank just erupted. He loved every minute of it…I don’t know the last time I saw a player smile like that after scoring a goal. This guy could literally skate circles around Campbell…thank you Doug Wilson.

While there was definitely a little clumsiness on the ice, (i.e. crashing our own goal tender) all of our new guys really impressed me with their eager spirit and willingness to drop the gloves. It was great, no one got pushed around out there…

Speaking of dropping the gloves…Jody Shelley.
Ah, Jody…I’ve loved this guy since the day we got him (one of my very favorites actually) – back in January last season. Only thing was, Wilson played him as an enforcer…and that was it. Now while he is great at that, (just ask Perros…wait, maybe you shouldn’t, I think he still might be at his mama’s house recovering) the guy can skate and has no qualms about taking the puck to the net. Last night we saw him hustling hard and skating with the puck way more than we ever did last season, and I really hope this is a sign of things to come for him. I believe he is going to have a great season with us.

Our “top line”…Michalek, Pavelski and Cheechoo…couldn’t wait for them to impress me. Where Michalek kind of “fell off” during the post season, he has picked up with intensity and grit…his signature breakaways were heart-stoppers last night! And the real shocker was to see how physical he became during the few scuffles that broke out (nothing compared to that Penalty game in Dallas at the end of last season, where both teams spent more time in the box than on the ice).

Pavelski – as I previously stated – will not disappoint this season. He was on fire last night and I believe, will only get better. We are lucky to have him on our side, I’ll just say that. He is a force to be reckoned with and he scores impossible goals…thank you Joe, for our first goal of the night last night.

Cheechoo seemed to be there, everywhere, but didn’t really make any headlines. Which doesn’t bother me, we’re all pretty confident in his abilities and skill, but I think more than anything he was there as a leader on the ice last night, much like JR…they weren’t really playmakers so much as they were support for the guys who were making the plays. I think it put the spotlight on the younger players to show us what they are capable of and they definitely pulled through.

The goal tending was of course, stellar. When we played in Anaheim on Wednesday, Greiss was in net against Giguere. Not the fairest of match-ups but I’m proud of Greiss none the less. I think you could count the amount of NHL games he’s started in on one hand but still, I commend him for a great job. Now putting Hiller up against Nabby was quite a different story. Hiller started in what, about a quarter of the games last season? I remember him being quite good actually…but last night he seemed a bit off his game. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here only because I know what Anaheim’s goal tending is capable of. Regardless, Nabby gave all of us fans what we wanted when he made a huge save on Corey Perry. The crowd went wild far beyond even a goal celebration! But really – did we expect anything less???

All in all, to say I was impressed is an understatement. The improvements made during the offseason seem to be working so far…it was great to see McLellan behind the bench. I feel that we are in great hands…and that’s nice. Tonight will be an interesting game against Vancouver. I am anxiously hoping I will get to see Bernier play, as we haven’t see him since he left us for Buffalo on our road trip last February.

So for all of you who think there is nothing to write home about when it comes to the preseason, I guess I proved you wrong. This is my longest blog yet…so come on, stop rolling your eyes now…oh wait, you’re not rolling your eyes are you…you’ve slipped into a comatose state by my rambling on and on…and, you’re drooling…