Unless you’ve been sipping the Conspiracy Theory Kool-Aid a little too much, you would probably agree that the San Jose Sharks have the Detroit Red Wings’ number. It’s pretty tough to deny, as the Sharks dispatched them in five games in the 2010 playoffs, won three out of four games in the 2010-11 regular season and hold a 2-0 lead in their current series.
What isn’t commented on very often is the “master vs. pupil” matchup between Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and Sharks coach Todd McLellan. Before McLellan took the top spot in San Jose, he was an assistant coach for Babcock in Detroit.
While savvy general managing accounts for some of the similarities in the two teams’ rosters, the similar puck possession-happy systems should come as no surprise.
It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the two coaches can occasionally predict each others’ actions, either. Babcock announced one lineup change – Kris Draper will take Drew Miller’s spot – and confirmed the separation of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The most interesting part of his commentary came in the form of a slight jab at his cohort, as he also predicted how McLellan would react to split up of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. To be fair, McLellan didn’t totally deny the possibility, though.
“We’ll practice with 93, 13, 96 (Johan Franzen, Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom), 44, 40, 11 (Todd Bertuzzi, Zetterberg and Dan Cleary), 8, 51 and 26 (Justin Abdelkader, Valteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler) and 33, 43 and 17 (Draper, Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves), and he’ll counter with moving Logan Couture onto (Joe) Thornton’s line and putting (Patrick) Marleau in the middle.”
To which McLellan smiled when asked if he could confirm Babcock’s announcement and said, “Maybe.
“If I did that,” he said, “it’s just size and strength down the middle. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are obviously skilled, but they’re also very strong. Marleau is 6-3, 230, 225, in there, not that Logan Couture couldn’t do the job, because he has.”
In other words, “We might.”
As McLellan later pointed out, strategies only take you so far. A coach’s moves make an impact, for sure, but not on the same game-changing level as in the NFL. There are too many moving parts to control everything, so you just try to put the right players in the right situations to succeed.
We’ll see if McLellan can continue to do so against his former mentor.