Sharks

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.

KURZ: McLellan -- The pressure is on the Blues

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.

RELATED: Sharks-Blues open series on Thursday

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

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

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Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

The San Jose Sharks woke up this Thanksgiving and found themselves in a playoff spot, albeit barely. 

They hold the second and final wild card spot by the thinnest of margins, edging out the Colorado Avalanche not on points, games played, regulation and overtime wins, but a single goal in the goal differential column. 

As early as it is, it’s a critical time to be in playoff position. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams in 2000, 79 percent of teams holding playoff spots on Thanksgiving made the postseason. 

If the Sharks avoid becoming a member of the dreaded 21 percent, they’ll have two players to thank, more than anyone else, for their good fortune: Logan Couture and Martin Jones. 

Couture, along with Joonas Donskoi, seems to be the only Shark unaffected by a team-wide scoring bug. Even as he’s cooled off slightly, his 11 goals are still tied for 10th-most in the league. 

He’s held a positive share of puck possession on the ice, despite starting the fourth-lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone among Sharks forwards that have played at least 50 minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey

Couture also leads the team in power play scoring with three goals, and is one of only three San Jose players that’s scored multiple times on the man advantage. It’s hard to imagine the league’s fourth-worst power play (15.1 percent) getting worse, but it undoubtedly would be without the 28-year-old.

While Couture has stood out among a hapless offense, Jones has led one of the league’s best defensive units. The Sharks are among the best teams at limiting shots and scoring chances across all situations, but Jones has not let them down. 

Although his .922 even-strength save percentage is 27th among 51 goalies that have played at least 200 minutes, San Jose’s given him a razor thin margin of error. He had the fifth-lowest goal support of any goalie entering last night, as statistician Darin Stephens noted, and his play has been good enough to keep the Sharks in games in spite of that. 

Jones has also led the way for the league’s best penalty kill, posting a .940 save percentage in shorthanded situations. That’s the best mark among goalies that have faced at least 80 shots on the penalty kill, according to Stephens.

The sustainability of Jones’ penalty kill dominance and Couture’s 20.8 shooting percentage is an open question, but their importance to the team early in the season cannot be overstated. They’ve helped keep the Sharks afloat, and in a playoff spot with history on their side at the critical Thanksgiving mark. 

The Sharks need to not only let them have extra helpings during their holiday feast, but find a way to give them more help on the ice too.

 

Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid

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Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Logan Couture scored another goal for San Jose but was happier to see the Sharks' top line get untracked.

"We've got to get those guys going to help us offensively," Couture said of teammates Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier after the Sharks' 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night. "We need them to produce."

Thornton opened the scoring for the Sharks, with Pavelski adding an assist, the pair's first points since November 8, a span of five games.

"I think with Timo with us last game it brought us a lot of energy and a lot of chances," said Thornton, who scored his first goal since October 26. "Me and Pavs really like playing with him."

Joel Ward added an empty-net goal with 47.8 to play for the Sharks, who snapped a three-game losing streak.

"We got enough offense to win," said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. "That's all that matters. I thought we played a good road game. I don't care how it looks."

Brendan Perlini scored with 7:37 to go, ruining Sharks goalie Martin Jones' bid for his second shutout of the season. The Coyotes saw their season-high three-game winning streak snapped and lost for the eighth time in nine home games (1-7-1).

Jones finished with 26 saves.

"We defended really well," said Jones, who was tested seriously only twice in the first two periods. "The first 10 minutes they had a lot of jump and were buzzing around our zone, but after that not as much."

Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta left at 14:37 of the first period with an upper-body injury. Couture had collided with Raanta more than four minutes earlier, earning an interference penalty. Raanta skated to the bench during a stoppage in play and retreated to the locker room.

Scott Wedgewood took Raanta's place and was in net for only five seconds before the Sharks broke through. Wedgewood stopped Brent Burns' long shot from the top of the right circle even after it deflected off San Jose right wing Timo Meier. But the rebound kicked to the bottom of the right circle, where Thornton swept in and beat the goalie with a quick wrist shot.

"He (coach Rick Tocchet) looked at me and said go," Wedgewood. "I was like, alright. That's the tough part. Then shot, top, goal. That was tough."

San Jose made it 2-0 at 4:56 of the second, taking advantage of Arizona's inability to clear the zone while the Sharks were on a line change.

Justin Braun fought three Coyotes for the puck along the right boards before Joonas Donskoi swooped in, skated to the goal line then sent a pass across to Couture. Couture deked Wedgewood to the ice with a forehand fake, then scored on the backhand.

Perlini cut the lead to 2-1 when he redirected Derek Stepan's shot from the top of the right circle past Jones.

"We had some costly mistakes," Perlini said. "We got back within a goal but there were too many mistakes."

NOTES: Thornton has 22 goals and 83 points in 82 career games against Arizona. ... The Coyotes, who had played seven of their past eight on the road, opened a three-game homestand. ... Raanta made eight saves before leaving and has stopped 98 of the past 105 shots he's faced. ... Couture's goal was his first in five games.

UP NEXT:

Sharks: visit Las Vegas on Friday

Coyotes: host Los Angeles on Friday.