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.
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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