some thoughts after the Sharks/Blues series:
Overall, I think the better team won. The Sharks don’t necessarily have the most talented players — but in aggregate, it’s a very talented team. Chris Osgood continues to show that his Stanley Cup ring was because he played behind a team so dominant that all it needed was pretty good goaltending, and that more or less sums up Chris Osgood: he’s pretty good, but not a franchise goalie.
Chris Pronger can be a dominant force, but — much of the time, he’s at best a mixed blessing. I felt he played very conservatively much of the time, where he was very slow to enter the offensive zone, very quick to back out and defend — he wasn’t so much playing defense as free safety, and that seriously limited his effectiveness. Since the Blues were depending on him to eat so many minutes — he focussed mostly on eating minutes, not on impacting the game. If the team wants to use Pronger properly, he needs his minutes cut so he can be more active and dominating — I don’t think he was all that well used in this series, because he couldn’t waste energy on significant plays or physical work, he acted like he was tired and had to save his energy for staying on the ice.
In that case, the lack of depth on the Blues is a serious weakness. I’ll take the Sharks top four in a minute over the Blues top four, and this is, as much as anything, a great example that hockey is a game of teams, where individuals can’t win games without a solid support crew with them.
Here’s what I saw in St. Louis — I give them credit for really trying — but I didn’t see a team that was selling out to win. If you use the “Spinal Tap” scale, they played at 10.25 tonight, not 11. There were a couple of exceptions (Mellanby, Sillinger), but from watching them, I saw a team (especially in the early part of the third, before they rallied for one last try) that looked tired, and seemed to be thinking that even if they won tonight, they weren’t going to win three.
If you’re wondering what I think was missing — think about every shift Todd Harvey and Mark Smith got tonight. Now, ask yourself who on the Blues played like that. It’s a short list.
That said, I think the sharks brought their A- game, and the blues their A game. And it wasn’t enough. But I think it ties back into my thoughts on attitudes and excuses. If the fortunes were reversed, do you for a minute doubt that everyone in teal would be on the ice blocking things with any body part necessary? So why weren’t the blues? The Blues were serious and desperate tonihgt, but could have been even more desperate; but they weren’t.
major credit to the blues: they knew how to beat the sharks, forcing them out of their gameplan and making them grind and dump instead of fly and wheel — but they couldn’t sustain that kind of play, and the sharks were able to at least hold their own playing the Blue’s game, until they won momentum back; as long as the Sharks could skate, they skated around the Blues. Dallas Drake and his line were mostly ineffectual, except in game 3, mostly, I think, because you can’t hit what you can’t catch, and Drake was having trouble catching anything.
I was most impressed with Sillinger and Mellanby; they both played like there was no tomorrow, every game. Without them, this would have been a shorter and more embarassing series. If I’m the Blues GM, I worry a lot the next few weeks if I want to build a team around a 30 minute a night defenseman with such a short fuse and an inability to avoid stupid retaliation/temper penalties; I’ve never been a fan of Tkachuk, and I wonder where Dougie Weight was most of the time. And I have to find a goaltender, the one they have isn’t the answer.
This, by the way, is the difference between the high-priced player and the star, and the star and the legend. A lot of it comes down to coaching and the attitudes brought from above, too.
Think about the Blues: been in the playoffs for 25+ years straight, and what have they accomplished? Could it perhaps be because, at the core of their attitude, they and their coaches have accepted excuses for losing? If the ref is “out to get you”, it’s out of your control, right?
Those tiny, subtle aspects of motivation and attitude are the difference between teams that win and teams that are winners. And where that separates out is at crunch time.
my favorite example of this is the SF. giants. Remember back when they really, really sucked, and were playing in Candlestick? And everyone hated it, and whined and moaned and talked about how terrible the place was? Then they hired a guy named Roger Craig to manage, and he forbid the players from talking about how they hated the park, and pointed out that opposing teams hated coming and playing there MORE THAN THE GIANTS did — and that the Giants ought to use that advantage. And under Craig, they did. Instead of “god, it’s cold, it’s windy, this place sucks”, it became “you have to beat us AND our ballpark. Bring a parka!”
From discussions on TSN, Joel Quenneville got fired because, ultimately, he didn’t hold his elite players responsible for stupid penalties and bad attitudes (but he did his 2nd tier and depth players). You see that in the team now: guys like Weight and Tkachuk and especially Pronger eating huge minutes, but taking stupid penalties at key times and whining about things instead of rising to the challenge and finding ways to win.
Unfortunately — if you depend on Pronger to play 28 minutes a game, and your replacement is Eric Weinrich (no offense to Weinrich), it’d take a really strong, self-confident coach to tell whineyboy to sit on the bench and watch the rest of the game. But do you think for a second that Wilson would hesitate? I don’t. If ANY shark pulled the kind of stunts pronger’s pulled this series, they’d be watching Todd Harvey skate their shifts; every shark knows that, too — so it doesn’t cross their mind to try.
With the Sharks, it doesn’t matter what happens in a game, it’s just part of the challenge that’s needed to win. With the Blues, if things don’t go their way, the frustration and excuses start, and as a team, they’ve already explained the loss as out of their control, and once you start excusing losses instead of challenging yourself to win, you allow losing to be an option. Elite teams never let it be an option. If you listen to the Blues, when they lose, that’s, well, it happens. When you listen to the Sharks, when they lose, it’s — hey, this is the playoffs. you just suck it up and find a way.
that’s why these teams, which are actually fairly closely matched (IMHO) are 3-1 sharks, and 2 and 7 seeds.
That is, ultimately, what makes Mark messier Mark Messier: there are no excuses. There are only barriers to be knocked down. And winners knock them down, they don’t complain about their existance.
One of the things I’ve been watching all season is how the blues team chemistry would work out. If you look at Keith Tkachuk’s history, wherever he’s gone, teams have had a tendency to be underperform expectations. He’s a hugely talented, powerful and important player — but he’s also a loose cannon on the ice, and there are always questions of team chemistry in the locker room (especially in Phoenix, where he and roenick were, well, always in competition for first to the hydrant). On the other hand, I’ve always been impressed with Dougie Weight, both as a huge talent and as a good chemistry guy and a postive team player. Then you have Pronger, a million dollar talent with a nickel brain — and Al MacInnis, one of the true class players. So I was curious from pre-season how the chemistry would go here, whether MacInnis and Weight would override the chaos and negative aspects and control the outbursts of guys like Tkachuk and Pronger.
and once MacInnis went down — it was all over. he was, I think, the only guy on the team, including the coach (previous and current) that could (and would) tell Pronger to sit down, shut up, and play hockey. And the chaos of Tkachuk and Pronger ended up winning the fight here — and as you see from the results from this series, costing them the playoffs. A good argument could be made that if Tkachuk and Pronger weren’t taking penalties that were completely unnecessary, this series could well be 3-1 Blues. Just think about the key goals scored JUST on (or after) Pronger penalties.
And even Weight has bought into the “we can’t win when the refs are against us”, which shows you how insidious these attitudes are and why coaches like Sutter and Wilson are such bastards about any hint of them in their players. If you allow for any doubt — these attitudes will kill you.
And that’s why the Blues are going down, and why I was convinced from game 2 it’d happen. Because it was clear in game 2 that they were letting outside factors give them excuses, not challenges. And the Sharks take on challenges, they don’t make excuses. And even when the Sharks lost game 3, it was clear to me the Blues couldn’t sustain the kind of play needed to beat the sharks. They had *A* game in them; but not a series. They were already making excuses for a series loss in game 2, and once you convince yourself you can’t win — you’ve lost.
This series could well be a 7 game, pick-em series. But it’s not even close, because the Blues early on they wouldn’t win it. And if you asked each athlete in the blues locker room, they’d all deny that and believe what they say — but listen to what they say and think about what it implies about their attitudes underneath, and you hear a team that’s accepting of losses. And a team that WANTs to win will never win out against a team that HAS TO.
The overall attitude of that locker room is one writing the exit speech, not one denying they might exit.
And with the attitude the Sharks have — they won’t be beaten until they meet a better team that also has the same tough-nosed attitude about winning. So they have a chance to dance for a while…
How about Marcel Goc? first NHL game, and I thought he handled himself really well. Very good ice and peripheral vision, good speed, not afraid to wheel a bit, seemed very mature for the situation. I’m impressed.
I want Scott Parker in a game, though. he’s earned it.
As to our second round opponent: I don’t care. Bring whoever on.
(from the St. Louis view, see Jeff Gordon