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.

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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

Rewind: Sharks show no rust from layoff, fall to Sens anyway

Rewind: Sharks show no rust from layoff, fall to Sens anyway

SAN JOSE – Against Ottawa on Wednesday night, the Sharks showed no ill effects from their recent respite. They controlled play in the offensive end for long stretches, earned six power plays, and outshot and out-chanced the Senators for the majority of the three periods. 

There was no rust to speak of despite no games since Friday and no practices or meetings on Saturday or Sunday. From the opening puck drop, the Sharks were the better team.

It didn’t earn them a win, though, or even a single point in the standings. Justin Braun couldn’t prevent a bouncing puck from getting past him with about one minute left in regulation of a tie game, and Chris Kelly squeezed a shot through Martin Jones while holding off Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The Sens added an empty netter, beating San Jose for the fifth straight time, 4-2.

Braun offered his perspective of the game-winner.

"It was just bouncing in the neutral zone,” he said. “I feel [Kelly] coming on me, and I'm trying to whack it over to [Joe Thornton and] miss. Miss with my feet. … You want to have that one back. Other than that, I think the boys played pretty well."

While Braun could have played that one differently, the Sharks probably deserved better than to be tied at 2-2 at that stage. They outshot Ottawa, 37-17, and out-attempted the Senators a whopping 78-36.

Despite a strong first period, they fell behind 2-0.

On an early power play, Mark Stone was the beneficiary of a deflected puck in front of the net, when Mike Hoffman’s shot hit both Paul Martin and Brent Burns before squirting to Stone. Erik Karlsson increased the lead to 2-0 with a wrist shot through a screen a few minutes later.

“Take a penalty, they get a lucky bounce, they score a goal, [then] they go up two on a shot through traffic,” Logan Couture said. “I thought we had most of the chances in that first.”

No one had better chances throughout the night than Joe Pavelski, who was the best player on the ice. The Sharks captain was robbed in front of the net twice late in the first period, rang a shot off the crossbar in the second on a breakaway, and in the third his desperation attempt on a loose puck just outside of the blue paint was snared by Ottawa goalie Mike Condon.

Pavelski finished with a game-high seven shots, and 10 shot attempts altogether.

“That’s the way it goes,” he said. “We’ve won games 2-1, 3-2. Tonight we didn’t find that extra one, and some of the chances we had, we have to get it.”

The power play got one in the second period, courtesy of Couture, but could have had more on its six opportunities. That 1-for-6 stood out on the scoresheet to coach Pete DeBoer.

“I thought the power play maybe could have won us the game,” he said.

Even with wins in six of their last seven entering Wednesday night, though, the Sharks are still struggling to score. They have two or fewer scores in eight of their last 11 games, although they’ve managed to go a respectable 6-4-1 over that span.

They continue to get goals from the usual suspects like Couture (seven goals in 10 games) and Brent Burns, who had the game-tying goal in the third period (his fifth in eight games), but the depth scoring just hasn’t shown up nearly one-third into the season. It’s clearly becoming an issue as evidenced by DeBoer’s constantly shuffling his lines, which he did again late Wednesday.

The coach downplayed a suggestion that the depth scorers aren’t holding their water, though.

“We've been managing to find ways to win games and get enough goals to win,” DeBoer said. “Just didn't happen tonight, even though the shots and most of the play was in our favor. We just didn't win."

While the shot and scoring chance discrepancy was encouraging, the last minute loss meant it was all for naught.

“You’re never happy when you lose, especially [when] you give up a late goal, you want to at least get a point out of that game,” Couture said. “I thought we were the better team, start to finish. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t find a way to get the third one.”

Instant Replay: Sharks' streak snapped by Sens in final minute

Instant Replay: Sharks' streak snapped by Sens in final minute

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – Chris Kelly scored with a little more than a minute left in regulation, pushing the Senators to a 4-2 win over the Sharks at SAP Center on Wednesday night.

On the deciding goal, Justin Braun misplayed a puck at the defensive blue line, and Kelly raced ahead on a partial breakaway before chipping it through Martin Jones at 18:54.

San Jose outshot Ottawa 37-17 for the game, and out-attempted the Senators 78-36, but lost for just the second time in their last eight games (6-2-0).

Ottawa won its fifth straight against San Jose, improving to 1-1 on its four game road trip.

Despite a lopsided advantage in shots and shot attempts throughout the night, the Sharks trailed 2-1 to start the third period. Brent Burns got the equalizer in a four-on-four situation, though, ripping a wrist shot from the top of the circle through Mike Condon at 6:30.

The Sharks had the better of the scoring chances in the first period, but it was Ottawa that claimed a 2-0 lead after the opening stanza.

Mark Stone’s power play goal at 3:42 opened the scoring. A shot by Mike Hoffman deflected off of the skates of Paul Martin and then Burns before Stone found it in front of the net.

Three-and-a-half minutes later Erik Karlsson made it 2-0, wiring a wrist shot through Jones after the Sharks were caught running around in their own end. Jones appeared to be screened by Tom Pyatt on the goal at 7:19.

Condon made some clutch saves later in the period, including a pair on Joe Pavelski, who was denied on a Sharks power play with 4:30 to go and then again at even strength with 1:52 remaining before the break. Pavelski was around the net all night, finding the post on a breakaway in the second period and getting robbed by Condon’s glove early in the third.

The Sharks kept pressuring the Senators in the middle frame, finally breaking through on the power play. A laser from Couture at 8:19 cleanly beat the Ottawa goalie for his seventh goal in the last 10 games.

Couture was playing despite minor surgery on Saturday, when he had a screw from a previous operation that had been bothering him removed from his right ankle.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau had an empty net goal to cap the scoring.

Special teams

The Sharks finished 1-for-6 on the power play, and are 6-for-25 over their last eight games. They generated 11 power play shots against the Senators in more than 10 minutes of power play time.

San Jose surrendered a power play goal against for the fifth time in the last six games, going 9-for-14 over that span. They came through late in the third with 3:58 to go in regulation when Patrick Marleau was issued an interference minor.

In goal

Jones was making his first start against Ottawa as a member of the Sharks, as Alex Stalock played both games last season. He took the loss with three goals allowed on just 16 shots.

Condon improved to 4-1-1 on the year with 35 saves.

Lineup

David Schlemko did not play due to injury, and is day-to-day. Dylan DeMelo played in his third game of the season, all coming within the last two weeks.

Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan returned after missing the previous three games with a finger injury. Goalie Craig Anderson was not with the club for personal reasons, as his wife is battling cancer.

Up next

The Sharks will visit Anaheim for the first time this season on Friday. The Sharks are 1-1 against the Ducks this season, both at SAP Center.

San Jose hosts the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday for its second game in as many nights.