St. Louis Blues -- the team you must force yourself to hate

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St. Louis Blues -- the team you must force yourself to hate

This is the segment of the show known as, Know The Guys You Have To Force Yourselves To Dislike, and it only happens at this time for hockey fans.

This installment is The Saint Louis Blues, a team that really isnt hateable at all, so youll have to put in extra work for maximum fan enjoymentdelusion.

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Sharks fans once hated the Blues . . . well, Chris Pronger. They also laughed at Roman Turek, but thats really about all the institutional memory they have. The Blues were once the Portland Trail Blazers of the NHL always in the playoffs, never for very long.

They went 25 years in a row making the playoffs, but only made the conference finals twice, and havent been in the Cup final since Bobby Orr jumped 12 feet in the air with the winning goal in 1970.

But this is their second visit in the past seven years, and as of December they looked just as dead as usual. But Davis Payne was fired in November and replaced by Ken Hitchcock, and the light went on. All that young talent finally absorbed what it was told, and went from 6-7 and done, to 43-15-1-10, from 12th to second.

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And how have they done all this? Hitchcockism!

Detail work in the middle of the ice. Scoring first and never letting the other team breathe. Goaltending and stubborn defending from the 18 in front. And no deviations.

Oh, Hitchcock has learned how to let the fellows have their fun in the room, but on the ice, they are Hitchcock through and through. Theyre a team that is hard to watch, but easy to like.

RATTO: Sharks may be hot, but hockey spits on momentum

Except of course for you. You dont have that luxury. So, Know Your saint Louis Blues.

T.J. OSHIE: First-line right wing, most likely to stir your ire because he doesnt mind making a nuisance of himself. Also a very good player so you can find him irritating even when he doesnt mean to be.

DAVID PERRON: Smoked by Joe Thornton last year from the blind side, missed the rest of the 2010-11 season and the first part of this one. Boo him for coming back from a hellish concussion, and youre kind of creepy.

ANDY MCDONALD: Was on the Anaheim team that took out San Jose three years ago. Very fast, and creates havoc in the offensive zone with that speed.

DAVID BACKES: The leading scorer, with 24 goals. Not a lot, true he finished tied for 60th with 40.9 percent of Steven Stamkos output but Stamkos isnt playing any more this year, Backes has more responsibilities than just floating about waiting for someone to put one on his tape, and he works just fine in the Hitchcock system.

JAMIE LANGENBRUNNER: Recently celebrated his contributions to the Spanish-American War effort. Still a smart player and a useful checker alongside . . .

SCOTT NICHOL: Former Shark, with a likable style not unlike that of Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones. Still, with McDonald, a very good faceoff man, and hell get a few warm cheers from the nostalgics among the crowd.

KEVIN SHATTENKIRK: Teamed with the equally imposing BARRETT JACKMAN on defense, well put it this way. His name is onomatopoetic for his playing style. For that matter, Jackmans is an exact description of his. And they block shots all day long.

B.J. CROMBEEN: Most likely to punch someone. Youd want to know that.

ALEX STEENPATRIK BERGLUNDVLADIMIR SOBOTKACHRIS STEWARTALEX PIETRANGELOROMAN POLAKKENT HUSKINSKRIS RUSSELLJADEN SCHWARTZ: Youll have to develop your own memories there. They all have gifts, they all have value. Huskins is the former Shark, Stewart is not the former Giant.

JAROSLAV HALAK AND BRIAN ELLIOTT: Theyre the same guy, trust me, and theyve both mocked the Sharks this year. Halak was the guy who couldnt be Carey Price in Montreal even after taking the Canadiens to the conference final two years ago, and Elliott got shoved out of a reorganization in Ottawa. Halak played more, but Elliott led the league in save percentage, and both shut out the Sharks.

HITCHCOCK: One of the smartest coaches in the NHL, and a lot less uptight than most of your Eastern Conference types he would buy John Tortorella a beer and have him laughing inside of 10 minutes. He knows his system inside and out, plays it unabashedly, and sells it better now than he ever did even in Dallas, where the Stars won their only Cup and got to the finals the following year. He even got Columbus to its only playoff berth in its history. Trust us, hell ask if you have two tens for a five, and youll give it to him.

As for who you should hate . . . well, its hard with this team. Choose your own favorite. But for openers, go with Pronger anyway, even though you all secretly know you would have killed to have had him yourselves. No matter where he is, he seems to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

SAN JOSE – To borrow a phrase from Chuck Woolery, Todd McLellan was back in two and two.

Saturday’s Game 6 between the Sharks and Oilers marked exactly two years and two days since the Sharks-McLellan love connection was broken up, as the coach and his staff were all essentially fired on April 20, 2015. But McLellan and assistants Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft quickly resurfaced with the Oilers a few weeks later, and now they’re moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the expense of their former employer.

At what was his home for seven seasons, McLellan took the press conference podium at SAP Center as the victorious visiting coach after Edmonton’s 3-1 win clinched the series in six games. Asked what the moment meant to him, McLellan preferred not to focus on himself or his staff.

“It’s not about Todd, it’s not about Jay or Jimmy. It’s about the Oilers and the group of players there that are growing up in front of us,” McLellan said.

“We’re part of this team now. I obviously have a soft spot for a lot of the players that are here in San Jose. They gave us a hell of a series. They helped us grow up by pushing us, and we’re lucky to get through. That’s an important thing for us.”

Amazingly, the Oilers managed to prevail with just one even strength point from Connor McDavid, who led the league in scoring in the regular season. That point came with less than a second remaining on the clock on Sunday when McDavid converted on an empty net.

The focus from the outside, among many of the Edmonton and San Jose media, was that the Sharks were doing an admirable job of defending the 20-year-old, who had 30 goals and 100 points in the regular season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, in particular, were keeping McDavid frustrated.

While that may be the case, McLellan said after Game 6 that he had no problem with the McDavid vs. Vlasic showdown. In his view, the Oilers could win the series elsewhere.

“There was a lot of talk in this series about us trying to get Connor away from Vlasic and Braun. Obviously we don’t want to talk about it during the series, but we had an eye on [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] against [Joe Thornton’s] line, especially since they put them together. That was a match we were looking for.

“You can’t get everything. When you’re a coach, the media experts find something and they keep going to it. But coaches have different plans sometimes. Peter [DeBoer] had his plan, we had ours. Ours wasn’t about getting Connor away from Vlasic and Braun, ours was getting [Nugent-Hopkins] on the ice against [Joe] Pavelski and Jumbo and Patty Marleau. For the most part, it worked in our favor.”

It worked, because as the stars on both teams were essentially neutralized, the Oilers’ depth players contributed just a little bit more than the Sharks group did and at more opportune times.

Zack Kassian had a pair of game-winning goals in games two and three; David Desharnais was the Game 5 hero with a game-tying assist and game-winning goal; and Anton Slepyshev posted the game-winner with a breakaway in Game 6. Not exactly big names.

DeBoer was particularly disappointed with Game 3, a 1-0 loss on Kassian’s third period goal; and Game 5, in which the Sharks had a 3-1 lead that they couldn’t protect. That the Sharks only got one power play goal in 18 chances not counting the Game 4 blowout was also one of the reasons for their downfall.

“If you had told me before the series we would have held McDavid in check, we would have won the special teams battle on paper, I probably would have felt pretty good about our chances,” DeBoer said.

Instead, McLellan will take his up-and-coming team to the next round, where it will face off with the Anaheim Ducks.

“For our team, we’re watching them grow up right in front of us, which is a great thing,” he said.

 

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.