The San Jose Sharks have been a fairly regular disappointment this season, yet that’s opened up a refreshing opportunity: to play the role of the underdog. Considering Todd McLellan’s comments to CSNBayArea.com’s Kevin Kurz, it seems like they’re relishing the chance to play with house money.
“St. Louis is a hell of a team,” McLellan said. “They were competing right to the last day for the President’s Trophy. It hasn’t been very many series [we’ve been] the underdog, and we certainly will be that.”
“We also understand the pressure they’re under. We’ve been there. We’ve been the President’s Trophy winner, and the expectation that’s put on you is very high.”
Well played there, Todd. Well played.
The good news is that the pressure is on the Blues, who didn’t exactly finish their season on a high note. The bad news is that St. Louis has been a brutal matchup for the Sharks in 2011-12. The Blues swept the season series, collecting two shutouts while outscoring San Jose 12-3 overall.
Then again, Ken Hitchcock could spin this series in an interesting way, too. For all the wins they racked up this season, they do carry an “unproven” label that could come in hand, too.
After watching the league-leading Minnesota Wild fire a measly two shots against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first period, I couldn’t help but think a sad thought. If you like exciting hockey, then more often than not, you should root against the underdogs.
It might not be a leap to say that cheering for the “little guy” is downright natural for sports fans. It’s why Rocky needed an increasingly ridiculous set of villains to off-set Sylvester Stallone’s increasing mass.
In a sport like basketball, it’s downright exhilarating to root for many dogs, especially when those teams commit to a full-court press or fast-break offense. Unfortunately, when you’re talking about the modern game of hockey, less talented teams usually institute the spiritual opposite of those techniques – whether it’s a true “trap” or just passive play. (Sorry, Mike Yeo.)
The 1994-95 New Jersey Devils didn’t invent the neutral-zone trap, but their shocking upset of the Detroit Red Wings certainly popularized its usage. Only the staunchest supporters of quicksand defense will argue that the Dead Puck Era was a good thing for the league, but the bottom line is that these defense-first (second and last) strategies help lower budget teams keep pace with exciting, usually expensive ones.
Soul-crushing strategies aren’t scary just because they’re boring. They’re scary because they work.
I don’t mean to single the Wild out – their offense is showing some pulse in the second period. Still, if you don’t have a horse in this race and just want exciting hockey, then you should pull for the Blackhawks blueprint. In other words, as wrong as it feels, you should root against the tortoise and for the hare.