Ratto: Sharks' McLellan takes aim at former mentor

May 4, 2011, 1:03 am
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Ray RattoCSNBayArea.com

DETROIT -- Todd McLellan is unusually respectful when speaking of the Detroit Red Wings, and particularly their head coach, Mike Babcock. And McLellan ought to be, because they got him his current job.But that was 10 meetings ago, and since eight of those 10 meetings have been won by the San Jose Sharks and McLellan, one cannot help but wonder if the two men are going to notice their paths beginning to diverge.RELATED: Sharks, Wings shuffle lines at Tuesday skate
Before your shorts start riding up, this is not one of those McLellan is outcoaching Babcock nonsensithons which are normally posited by people who not only dont understand hockey, but dont understand sports. Coaching is almost entirely a function of the players one has and their performances within games. Todd McLellan did not get smarter, and Mike Babcock did not get stupider.

But Babcock and McLellan are also highly competitive beings, and they have both noticed who has gotten the better end of whom in the last year or so. Babcocks body of work is deeper and richer, but McLellan has won eight of the last 10 games between the two sides, including Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.And the reason for that is probably no more involved than the Sharks having been built, adjusted and re-adjusted to play Detroit at its best. McLellan didnt initiate or sanction the snow showers on Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, but dont think he disapproves as much as he says he does. He believes Detroit can be knocked off its feet, and he has ratcheted up the body work from his forwards to see what Detroit wants to send back.RELATED: Game 2 notes: Sparks over Pavelski 'snow showers'
Its not an unusual notion; the Wings have seen this before. But McLellans approach is working because he has the personnel to carry out his instructions, and having broken them down in January after three and a half months of bad hockey, it has been easier for him to get the Sharks to do as they are told.Not consistently, mind you. The Sharks still have a bad player on their shoulders who likes to whisper, Fore-checking is for weenies; let the defensemen play defense. Its in the name, for Gods sake. Go on, take another neutral zone circle. Gliding is fun.But they do best with scares, and McLellan knows that. They got scared unnecessarily against Los Angeles, and they have decided that for Detroit, greater adherence to a harder-edged more physically engaged game is the only way to go.Again, a coaching decision that both coaches saw coming up Broadway.But this is where it gets interesting. Babcock has owned the Western Conference for years now, and having lost to those relentless underachievers from San Jose a year ago and now halfway to doing the same thing again, he is going to find the differences that separate him from McLellan when it comes time to finding summer fishing partners.There is plenty to draw from here, most notably when Bo Schembechler left Woody Hayes to seek his own fortune at Michigan, just up the road from here. Or Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight. They were close, then they let competition intrude, and then they werent for a long time.Ultimately, they are bound for the long term by the shared experiences, and they know that whatever enmity they will learn to deal with in the next few years while they fight for the same thing year after year, and more likely than not they will have to go through each other to get it.In short, their heartfelt howdies are going to get less frequent, and their gamesmanship will be more involved the odd snow shower or between-games line changes. If this was once mentor v. pupil, it is now near equals having at each other.We say near equals because McLellans Stanley Cup ring came from Babcock. Ifwhen he gets one of his own, this will get fun.

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