crawfordprovescriticswrong

Dallas Stars coach Marc Crawford proves critics wrong

If the Dallas Stars continue to follow the path they’ve laid out over a surprisingly successful first 31 games, a lot of people will be eating some Marc Crawford crow. I must admit that I would be a member of that group.

For a while, there was a slight feeling that Crawford was largely the right guy in the right place in the beginning of his coaching career. After all, he happened to coach a Colorado Avalanche team that boasted the likes of Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Rob Blake. How many coaches would fall short of the mark with a roster that includes those stars plus plenty of great support players, really?

After a nice (if ultimately a bit disappointing) run with the Markus Naslund/Todd Bertuzzi Vancouver Canucks, Crawford fell flat with the the Los Angeles Kings. After earning a winning record in 10 of his first 11 years as a head coach between Los Angeles and Quebec/Colorado, Crawford went 59-84-12 with Los Angeles.

It seemed to me that he was a coach who had either lost his touch or was lucky to be so successful in the first place and his debut season in Dallas didn’t dispel that, as the club missed the playoffs once again.

Yet the NHL’s 11th all-time wins leader among coaches is putting together one heck of a season in 2010-11. The Stars hold a paper-thin lead for first place in the Pacific Division right now and with 39 points on the season, they only trail the Red Wings for first place in the West.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News writes that maybe the guy can coach a bit after all.

But 31 games into this season, Crawford is looking a lot smarter. His players seem to be buying in. His system doesn’t look all that challenging after all. GM Joe Nieuwendyk has made some tweaks to the roster and added a nice complement to the coaching staff in Willie Desjardins. And, to be honest, Crawford has had a year to get his message across.

It might just mean that the guy still can coach a little. He tossed Tom Wandell up onto the checking line Thursday and was rewarded with a goal from the speedy and versatile forward.

There’s probably a lot of reasons the Stars are 18-10-3 this season, but don’t doubt for a second that Crawford is one of the biggest. He has handled the pressure well. He has kept a positive attitude. He has walked the line between motivator and supporter.

Crawford moved to 525-402-173 all-time. He has won a Stanley Cup. He has been coach of the year, he has coached in the Olympics … and it looks like he still has a few things left to accomplish.

Now, I might say that the combined brilliance of Brad Richards and Kari Lehtonen might rank a little higher than Crawford’s coaching, but let there be little doubt that Crawford has done an excellent job with the Stars. Honestly, I felt like the team’s defense was such a huge weakness that the team would be doomed, but so far they’re making it work.

Crawford deserves plenty of credit for that and other components of the Stars’ success. If he can keep this balancing act together to win the Pacific, then it’s quite possible that he might add another Jack Adams Trophy to his resume.

Yes, Thornton and Marleau have been dreaming of a run like this

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 07:  Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after Patrick Marleau (not pictured) scored the game winning goal against Kevin Bieksa #3 (L) and the Vancouver Canucks in overtime of Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 7, 2013 in San Jose, California. The Sharks defeated the Canucks 4-3 to sweep the series 4 games to 0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After seeing them suffer some ignominious playoff defeats, plenty of people are happy for Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton as they enter their first Stanley Cup Final.

The two veteran San Jose Sharks forwards aren’t playing coy about it, either; they’ve been picturing such scenarios for ages.

Both Thornton and Marleau seemingly uttered the same things as Game 1 approaches against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

“This is everything I’ve been dreaming about for a long, long time,” Marleau said.

It’s hard to believe that we are months removed from a time when it seemed like one or both of these longtime Sharks were in the thick of seemingly legitimate trade rumors. Marleau, in particular, sounded like he might be on the verge of moving on.

Instead, they’re as deep in the postseason as they have ever been and Thornton is talking about his beard.

Life is good.

Joel Ward believes NHL should retire No. 22 in honor of Willie O’Ree

RALEIGH, NC - MAY 15:  NHL ambassador Willie O'Ree talks with the Capital City Crew and the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association during a clinic, Hockey is for Everyone, sponsored by the NHL and the Carolina Hurricanes at the Cary Ice House on May 15, 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina.   (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images for NHL)
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Sometimes players wear a jersey number as a tribute to a childhood favorite. Sometimes it’s merely to mark their birth year and other times it’s merely what was handed to them.

For Joel Ward, his 42 has a lot of meaning, and it brings to mind black athletes who were pioneers in their respective sports.

Yes, indeed, Ward wears No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson. As the San Jose Sharks forward told ESPN, he’d love it if the NHL discussed retiring No. 22 in honor of its first black hockey player, Willie O’Ree.

“I definitely think Willie should be recognized for sure,” Ward said. “The league obviously does that with task force but I do think that Willie should definitely be a big part of the league for sure for what he did. It’s a no-brainer. Without Willie, it would be tough for me to be sitting here today. I definitely think Willie should be a big part of this.”

Sounds like a great idea, one that would echo the MLB doing the same with Robinson’s No. 42.

For more, check out that great ESPN story.

Sharks and DeBoer ready for Pittsburgh, ‘the fastest team in the league’

SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Head coach Peter DeBoer talks to his team during their game against the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center on October 10, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — The San Jose Sharks are one of the NHL’s best skating teams.

Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette, who watched his Predators get bounced by the Sharks in Round 2, said as much.

So too did St. Louis bench boss Ken Hitchcock, whose Blues were eliminated by San Jose in the Western Conference Final.

“They’re a fast team,” Hitchcock said. “They skate fast. They skate fast, they support the puck. They might look faster than they are, but they’ve got a lot of quick players.

“They’ve got a lot of aggressive skating players. They got a lot of guys that can motor.”

Yeah, the Sharks are quick.

But according to their head coach, maybe not the quickest.

During today’s Stanley Cup media availability, Peter DeBoer called the Pittsburgh Penguins “the fastest team in the league,” adding this series wouldn’t be just about skating, but the possession game as well.

“If you control the puck,” DeBoer explained, “it’s harder to create speed.”

And with that, the 2016 Stanley Cup Final blueprint took shape.

To be fair, the speed-versus-speed angle had already been established. Almost immediately after beating Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final, Pens captain Sidney Crosby was asked about his club’s looming matchup with the Sharks.

“It’s going to be fast hockey,” Crosby said. “Two teams that want to play the exact same way, that want to get their D involved (and) their power play is really dangerous.

“It’s going to be quite the series.”

On defense, both teams feature good mobility, highlighted by a star offensive defenseman: Brent Burns for San Jose, Kris Letang for Pittsburgh.

“Both have great shots and get pucks through,” Pens d-man Justin Schultz said, per the Tribune-Review. “Both are always jumping up. And great skaters. Both are very mobile.

“Tanger is for sure a lot smoother [as a skater]. But Burnsy is still fast. And more powerful, maybe. He’s a big boy, and he’s going to be tough to handle.”

Each respective blueline plays a big role in the generation of team speed. Both the Pens and Sharks have excellent transition games featuring quick, speedy forwards, so it makes sense — the defensemen, tasked with getting those forwards the pucks, need to be mobile too.

Up front, there’s speed across the board. Pittsburgh’s Carl Hagelin won fastest skater competition at All-Star weekend four years ago. Last week, Sharks d-man Brenden Dillon said 36-year-old Patrick Marleau is “still one of the fastest skaters in the league.” Phil Kessel and Matt Nieto can fly, too.

So when previewing the Stanley Cup Final, don’t be fooled when you read predictions of a “quick series.”

That doesn’t mean it’ll be over quick.

Just means it’ll be quick.

Related: Need for speed: Sharks, Pens brace for ‘fast hockey’ in Stanley Cup Final

Penguins or Sharks? PHT makes its Stanley Cup Final picks

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks skates on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 19, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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After 14 series, just one pick left — the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.

It’s a great match-up, with tons of talent on each side. However, we’d be lying if we said we saw it coming. (We didn’t.) The Penguins, who fired their coach halfway through the season, haven’t been this far since 2009. The Sharks, who missed the playoffs altogether last season, have never been this far.

Looking back on our conference finals picks, PHT staffers did fairly well, with both yours truly and James O’Brien nailing each series score (Penguins in 7, Sharks in 6) on the nose. Unfortunately, the virtual coin continued to struggle, as did the actual Ryan Dadoun.

Conference finals results (Overall record)

Brough: 2-0 (10-4)
Halford: 1-1 (8-6)
O’Brien: 2-0 (10-4)
Dadoun: 1-1 (6-8)
Tucker: 2-0 (10-4)
Alfieri: 2-0 (9-5)
Just Flip A Coin: 1-1 (6-8)

On to the Stanley Cup Final…

Brough: Sharks in 6

Despite what happened last season, I believed Pete DeBoer when he predicted a “big bounce-back” in San Jose. Because when a roster still boasts Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it shouldn’t be written off. That being said, I didn’t think they’d get this far. The one thing I was skeptical about was the goaltending, since Martin Jones had never been a full-time starter in the NHL. But he’s been solid enough. And besides, the Sharks have so much firepower, and they’ve been so committed to checking in these playoffs, that they’ve rarely needed their goalie to stand on his head. Obviously, the Penguins have been great too, but the Sharks look like an unstoppable force to me.

Halford: Sharks in 7

The Sharks either have incredible luck or a really good medical staff, because I can’t remember the last time a team came into a Stanley Cup Final this healthy. Right now, San Jose’s only injury concern is Matt Nieto‘s upper-body ailment, and it sounds like he might be back soon anyway. This is why I give San Jose the edge. I could honestly see Trevor Daley‘s broken ankle being the difference in a series between two such evenly matched teams.

O’Brien: Sharks in 6

Mike Sullivan’s turn with the Penguins has been both beautiful (in the exhilarating pace) and brilliant (in how that tempo leverages Pittsburgh’s strengths and camouflages weaknesses). The Sharks strike me as the antidote, however. If the pace is frenetic, San Jose boasts comparable firepower. If transition goes from lightning-fast to molasses-slow, Peter DeBoer enjoys a significant advantage on defense. Here’s hoping this series boasts the sort of thrilling hockey that can convert new fans. Either way … advantage Sharks.

Dadoun: Penguins in 7

There’s a lot of love for the Sharks so far and I have to admit I wouldn’t mind seeing Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau finally win a championship, but the Penguins shouldn’t be overlooked. This is a team that has the luxury of putting Phil Kessel on the third line, after all. That kind of offensive balance in the Penguins’ top three lines will make them the biggest challenge that goalie Martin Jones and the Sharks’ defense has faced yet. That depth is also the difference between this year’s Pittsburgh squad and the ones that have fallen short in recent years. Certainly there’s a lot of reasons to like the Sharks, too. This should be a great series.

Tucker: Sharks in 7

This series features the top scoring teams in these playoffs. The Sharks averaged 3.5 goals per game, while the Penguins averaged 3.2 goals per game. I expect this to be a thrilling match-up featuring some of the league’s most talented players on both sides. I think goaltending is going to be a huge factor. Can a 22-year-old rookie in Matt Murray continue his strong run of play in the biggest series of them all? He’s done well with every test so far, but if the Sharks get to him and force Marc-Andre Fleury into the series — or force Mike Sullivan to make that decision — I don’t think Fleury will be able to conjure a championship-winning performance against the lineup the Sharks possess.

Alfieri: Sharks in 6

At this stage of the game, there’s no doubt that these two teams are as evenly matched as can be. Offensively, the Sharks are led by Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, while the Penguins are led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. In goal, Martin Jones and Matt Murray have both had their moments of brilliance this postseason, but both have zero experience when it comes to the Stanley Cup Final. The biggest difference is on defense. That’s where I think the Sharks will win the series. San Jose is loaded with Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin, Justin Braun and company. The Pens, who area already without Trevor Daley, have Kris Letang, but the drop-off is significant after that.

Just Flip A Coin: Penguins in 6