Third Man In is a feature that reminds the world that PITB actually has three writers and occasionally, that third writer comes flying into the fray with his gloves off, looking for a piece of the action. Usually on Friday.
Remember last season, when people said Alain Vigneault was “outcoached” by Joel Quenneville? Many Vancouver fans, Team 1040 callers and even members of the media insisted this was the case, while skeptics wondered out loud what being “outcoached” would really look like.
Wonder no more. Todd McLellan has made some horrible decisions over the last few days, and Alain Vigneault has made some great ones.
Like his use of the Ben Eager incident to combat accusations of diving? Clever. His playing the Sedins against Thornton in Game 1? Good thinking. His saying “the league will do the right thing,” so when Eager wasn’t suspended, Canucks players might show the same angry determination tonight as they did last game? Downright shrewd. Vigneault handles problems so well it’s hard to notice they were even there.
Todd McLellan, on the other hand, has managed only to deflect blame from himself, and possibly at the expense of his team.
The San Jose Sharks have a reputation for phoning it in come postseason, but this time around, that reputation is undeserved. They’re not showing too little passion, they’re showing too much. They’re getting away from their game.
The Sharks team that earned the reputation as playoff underperformers is largely gone. The only holdovers from those days are the likes of Marleau, Pavelski, Thornton and Clowe — guys who have shown, this season or previously, that they don’t care too little. Still, McLellan called his players out, saying they aren’t giving it their all. It was one of many untrue things he said after Game 2.
McLellan called the Bieksa goal the game’s turning point on Wednesday, but in this case, the true turning point was the obvious one. In the dying minutes of the second period, the Sharks were down a goal. Patrick Marleau is one of the few Sharks to show any offensive life in this series, and he challenged Kevin Bieksa to a fight. This fight accomplished two things. First, it took one of the best offensive weapons of the sharks off the ice for five of the remaining 22 minutes of hockey. Second, it gave the Sharks something else to focus on besides scoring a goal. This mistake was indicative not of a player who isn’t trying hard enough, but the opposite: Marleau was trying to do too much.
The game got out of hand at that point, and we’re all very quick to blame Ben Eager for it, but after his hit on Daniel Sedin, he never should have seen the ice again. Eager demonstrated with his hit on Daniel that he had lost focus, and cared more about retaliation than he did about the game. He was taunting the bench and chirping as well, and then the period ended. Todd McLellan had a chance to talk to his team, to refocus them on evening the score. The top scorers should have been rolling for the third, with the fourth liners benched. The Sharks killed off the Eager penalty and could easily have turned their play around and poured on for the remaining 19-or-so minutes.
Instead, he put Eager back on the ice. Every minute he was on the ice was time taken from a more-skilled forward, but McLellan didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t mind, either, that Eager’s antics drove a lack of focus that put the game gradually further and further out of reach. After the game, he praised Eager for his determination and passion. When you see a guy acting foolishly, costing the team by taking penalties, and also stealing their focus, you don’t hold him up as an example. Thornton challenging Kesler to a fight, Marleau fighting Bieksa… these are things the Sharks need less of, not more.
The Sharks are trying to do too much, and the worst way to remedy that is by accusing them of doing too little. We’ll see tonight how the Sharks respond, but either way, the blame for last game’s collapse should rest largely on Todd McLellan’s shoulders.
There’s a poll on the San Jose Sharks web site, asking not who will win the series in how many games, but how many games it’ll take the Sharks to eliminate Vancouver. Of the three options, “Five,” “Six” or “Seven,” the leading choice is “Five,” with 42.59% of the vote. Interesting choice, given it’s mathematical impossibility, but remember it was just last series that the Sharks seemingly forgot how many games it takes to eliminate a team. They should learn from their mistakes, or at least stop tempting fate with the kind of hubris that would make even Oedipus Rex say, “Hang on a minute…”
Our Fourth Line Still Sucks
It was generally agreed during the regular season leading up to the deadline that the Canucks needed to re-tool the fourth line. The five-or-so minutes a night the line played were seen as the Canucks’ single glaring weakness — a clear sign that Vancouver fans will never ever be happy. Gillis went out and acquired Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre. The moves were clearly good ones, as Lapierre now centers the third line to fill in for an injured Malhotra, and Higgins has found a spot on the second line in place of Samuelsson, who recently underwent surgery.
The problem is that while it was shrewd of Gillis to acquire an extra 2nd and 3rd liner, he was supposed to acquire some 4th liners. Cody Hodgson’s doing a fantastic job, but I thought all of Vancouver had agreed that a Glass-Hodgson-Oreskovich 4th line wasn’t sufficient for the playoffs. In the spirit of never being satisfied, I’ll come out and say it: it’s clear that the Canucks will never go the distance until Mike Gillis acquires a big-bodied 4th line center to win faceoffs, fights and puck battles, and who can score at least 20 goals (a game) while arm-wrestling a gorilla. Have people forgotten to complain about the 4th line? What gives?
Maybe The Canucks Are Just Better
It was suggested some time ago that maybe — just maybe — the Canucks weren’t outcoached, didn’t choke, and weren’t playing injured last season. What if the Blackhawks were just better?
McLellan deserves a lot of blame for the way Game 2 ended, and several Sharks could be doing more (or better yet, less), but when it comes down to it, it’s possible that the Canucks are just the President’s Trophy winners this season, are at the top of the league in faceoffs, special teams, goals for and against, and other relevant categories, and are just plain better.
If the Sharks lose, there’ll be more talk about faltering in the playoffs, and maybe the Detroit series took too much out of the Sharks, and the like, but in reality, the Sharks entered the series as underdogs, not because of their shortcomings, but because the Canucks are just really good. Maybe that’ll be the story at the end?Tags: McLellan, Outcoached, superstition, Third Man In, Vigneault