SAN JOSE - On the morning of a recent Sharks-Oilers game in Edmonton on March 30, coach Todd McLellan popped out of a side door for his daily pregame media availability.
Before getting started, though, McLellan made sure to shake hands with and in some cases give a big bear hug to some members of the Sharks’ team staff and broadcast personnel with which he had spent seven years.
It was only a brief moment in time before McLellan was all business in answering questions from the press pool, but there’s no doubt that the Sharks’ all-time winningest coach still has emotional ties to the organization that gave him his first chance as a head coach. It’s easy to recall McLellan fighting back tears in San Jose last season when asked was his emotions were before his first game as a visiting bench boss at SAP Center.
Now, of course, McLellan wants nothing more than to end the Sharks’ season while advancing the Oilers to the second round. His first playoff opponent happens to be his former team, and it’s a valid question whether that gives him an advantage in preparation. There are still a dozen players on the Sharks’ roster that at some point played for McLellan, and assistants Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft, before they were all fired on April 20, 2015.
McLellan downplayed that suggestion to the Edmonton Journal.
“Nah, it’s equal,” McLellan said. “That group of players in San Jose understands our mannerisms, too.”
“I stand behind the bench and maybe I sweat a bit, but I usually don’t get hit or have to block shots. The groups will go out and play. They’ve got a really good staff and team, too.”
From the Sharks’ perspective, it was posited to captain Joe Pavelski that perhaps the reverse could be true – the Sharks know how McLellan-coached teams play, so perhaps San Jose has the edge in a playoff series.
Not so much.
“I don’t know if it does or not. I’m sure they are doing a few things differently,” Pavelski said. “Those guys studied the game and they look for different trends and they have different players.
“At the end of the day I don’t care how well you know your opponent, it comes down to a shift-by-shift nightly thing, commitment. You have to be willing to sacrifice to win. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, who you know – if you go in with that [sacrifice] mindset, it gives us a chance.”
What the Sharks will likely have to draw on in the series, especially early in what will surely be a raucous Rogers Place, is their own playoff experience against an Oilers team that is lacking it.
For the Sharks to prevail, they’ll almost certainly have to take one of the first two games in Alberta and plant some doubt in the minds of the young Edmonton players that finished the regular season on a tear with 12 wins in 14 games. Let those that have never gone through it before know that the playoffs are an entirely different animal.
Pavelski was diplomatic when asked if experience is an area that the Sharks could exploit, though.
“I don’t know if you take advantage. Home ice is always nice. It’s not the end of the world,” said the captain.
“But right now, playoffs, postseason – it’s what we play for. … As a player these atmospheres you go into, whether its home or away, it’s something special. It pulls out the best in players. We’ll look forward to that, and not get too wrapped up in it, but stay within ourselves.”