Sunday, April 24, 2011

Los Angeles Kings 3 at San Jose Sharks 1 - April 23, 2011

I planned this roadtrip long before the NHL playoffs had been decided, but the hockey gods smiled on me and scheduled a game while I was in town. I actually saw San Jose's first ever home playoff game in 1994 (I also saw their first game in franchise history in Vancouver in 1991) so it wasn't a must-see game for me. When I went to the box office for the AFL game the night before, I also checked the ticket situation for the hockey game. They had a slightly overpriced single in row 4 of the upper bowl. I usually like sitting there so I splurged, but it turned out to be a mistake.

HP Pavilion

Located just on the edge of downtown San Jose, the HP Pavilion was opened in 1993. It was built to house the city's new NHL team, the San Jose Sharks, who had started play in 1991 and were using the outdated Cow Palace as their home. It was originally called the San Jose Arena, until Compaq bought the naming rights in 2001. When HP bought Compaq a year later, the arena was given its current moniker, which also is one of HP's computer models.

The central location means that street parking is available and you can avoid the $20 lots. I noticed people walking over to the Alameda, which is a continuation of Santa Clara Street, where parking was plentiful and only 10 minutes away at most.

The arena has two seating bowls and only one concourse, which is still wide enough to accommodate a sell-out playoff hockey crowd. Concessions are widely available although I didn't try any as usual. The carvery located on the mezzanine behind section 110 seemed to be the best option with tables and TVs tuned to the other playoff games.

As you walk around the concourse, you will notice the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame along the walls. It honours athletes and coaches who were associated with the area in some way. Below are the plaques for former Sharks' goalie Arturs Irbe and Bruce Jenner, who trained at San Jose City College before winning the 1976 Olympic decathlon.

When the arena was built, luxury suites were only included above the lower bowl. I remember coming here to watch the Sharks first home playoff game in 1994 and sitting at the very top of the rink in a folding chair. Those cheap seats have been replaced by a new row of luxury boxes encircling the upper bowl.

With only one level of luxury boxes,the upper bowl seats are quite close. Unfortunately, as you can see above, there are some obstructions that block parts of the ice for some seats in the first few rows. What is insanely stupid is that you are not supposed to lean forward to avoid the obstruction. I couldn't believe this, especially during an NHL playoff game, when you should be on the edge of your seat. But it's true, everybody politely sits back in their seats, even when the play gets exciting. No wonder the Sharks never win in the playoffs, the intensity of the stadium is not what it could be. To me, this is just terrible arena design and should be addressed by someone who is actually a fan.

To avoid this problem, don't buy the obstructed view seats. I wasn't told that my seat had an obstructed view when I bought the ticket (it was printed on the ticket but I didn't notice until the next day and it wouldn't have changed my mind anyway) so if you want to see the whole game, choose a lower bowl or end zone seat. Or just watch it on TV.

The Game

If you've been following the playoffs, you'll know that San Jose came back from 4-0 down to beat LA in game 3. Antti Niemi (below) was pulled in that game and Antero Niittymaki backstopped the Sharks to the victory. But Niemi played game 4 as San Jose won easily 6-3 to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

So the fans in San Jose were expecting a clincher tonight. Instead, they got a replay of the first half of game 3. The Sharks broke down defensively on two occasions in the first few minutes and Niemi wasn't able to save his mates. First Wayne Simmonds tipped a Kyle Clifford deflection just 3:36 in, and 3:38 after that, a San Jose giveaway at the LA blue line resulted in a 2-on-1 with Simmonds and Clifford. Simmonds took a hard shot and Niemi saved it, but the puck bounced out of his glove and right to Clifford, who banged home the easy rebound. Just 1:28 later, another San Jose giveaway, this one in their own zone, allowed Dustin Penner a weak wrister from the high slot that somehow beat Niemi and left the fans in stunned silence.

Niemi was pulled having given up 3 goals on 4 shots, the only save being the rebound that Clifford scored on. Niittymaki came on and much like game 3, the Kings again went into a defensive mode. San Jose attacked for the remainder of the game, constantly testing Kings' keeper Jonathan Quick, but this game they could only beat him once when Patrick Marleau (below) converted a goalmouth scramble early in the second.

The Sharks kept coming but were denied again and again by Quick (and at least once by the goalpost). San Jose finished with 52 shots, which was a Kings' playoff franchise record for shots against. Quick was fantastic and his 51 saves are the best in the playoffs so far. He's been inconsistent in the first 5 games, but his performance yesterday will certainly be giving the San Jose players something to think about.

Kings' captain Dustin Brown leads his team onto the ice

The final score - check out the shots


The game didn't have much to write about, so I include this section as an excuse to post more pictures (I took very few given the problems with my seat location).

The Sharks have three ex-Leafs, including Ian White (above) and Jamal Mayers (below). They were part of the Phaneuf trade but both escaped Calgary and ended up here (White also spent a short time in Carolina). White seemed confused to be playing hockey in late April for some reason.

The Sharks also boast Calder candidate Logan Couture (below).

Sharky came to visit our section and had the crowd cheering. Despite the early deficit, the fans stayed positive and almost nobody left early, which was a good sign. Of course, their team had already completed one incredible comeback, so there was hope in the air until the final whistle.

I think Niemi is exhausted after winning the Cup last season and playing 60 games this season, but the Sharks plan to use him again in Game 6, so we shall see what happens. Regardless, after watching this game, I can safely state that neither of these teams can be considered Cup contenders. I'm sticking with my Boston/Detroit prediction.




  1. You've got quite the history with the Sharks, mate. As for their playoff chances, I think they'll come out on top vs. LA, but, like you say, it's tough to bet against Detroit. Especially considering Zetterberg didn't play in the Phoenix series. At the same time, I like the Sharks, especially Joe Thornton. To live and work and play hockey in the Bay Area seems like a pretty sweet deal. And Thornton produces. He reminds me of Mike Modano; he won't get the ultimate respect until he wins the ultimate prize. And I hope he does. Thornton's one of the best.

  2. Thanks for your comment Navin. Been waiting for Detroit to win one before replying, but not sure that's going to happen now. Looks like my analysis of Niemi was a bit off, he's doing what it takes. Thornton certainly produces, another massive assist tonight.