In 1814, General Andrew Jackson led a legendary defense of the City of New Orleans during what would be the last major battle of the War of 1812. Outmanned by at least a 3 to 1 margin and outgunned against a superior British fighting force, Jackson nevertheless harnessed a ragged detachment of U.S. Army regulars, militia, pirates and Native American fighters to defend the city, and eventually, sent the Brits packing. The legend of “Old Hickory” was born, Jackson was lauded as a savior, and just over a decade later, would be sworn in as the 7th President of the United States.
To compare the state of the Coach Todd McLellan‘s San Jose Sharks to Jackson’s motley band of defenders would seem downright impossible, unless you consider the Sharks’ current resemblance to the outmanned, outgunned and ragged part. Although in McLellan’s defense, at least Andrew Jackson had legit blue-liners to work with and “Old Hickory” also didn’t have to deal with his veteran Army regulars taking battles off…skipping through the meadows while the bullets flew and the rockets were red and glaring.
The San Jose Sharks are thin on their blue line, and that is a liberal interpretation of the word thin. Out are Jason Demers, Kent Huskins and the unofficial winner of the Shark’s “Movember” contest, Niclas Wallin (Hon. Mention: Ryane Clowe). In are rookie defensemen, Mike Braun and Justin Moore, possessing a grand total of 7 games of combined NHL experience between them.
Even with Doug Murray returning from the classically murky, “lower-body injury” to provide some assistance, a major part of the game found our freshly-hatched robins out on defense against two of the best forwards in the NHL in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. That battle was a decisive bludgeoning in the Detroit Red Wings’ favor, as Zetterberg and Datsyuk ended up combining for seven total points, and gave the rookie defensemen an education in playing on their heels all night.
The Sharks seemed to be playing in quicksand for the first two Red Wing goals, the first by Dan Cleary, and then a great tally by Pavel Datsyuk a few minutes later. That second goal was an absolute showcase of skill meets futility, and the Sharks’ young defense was was put on garish display, as Datsyuk hid the puck in their own skates before skating by them and scoring.
Thing is, as bad as they started the game, the Sharks seemed to rouse themselves after that second goal, and before you knew it, they were beating Red Wing players to the puck and swarming like the old-six-months-ago days. After Dany Heatley nicked home a Joe Thornton shot on net a couple of minutes later, a goal that honestly felt like an eventuality considering how much pressure they were putting on the Red Wings, San Jose was back in the game.
The second period opened up with a Zetterberg goal putting the Red Wings up by two goals, but that deficit was quickly cut back to one by a great Benn Ferriero finish, and the Sharks were charging again. It was looking like they were going to go into the third period only down by a goal, when all the oxygen was let out of the Shark Tank courtesy of a Patrick Eaves goal for the Red Wings with 11 seconds left on the clock. That one hurt, and the heretofore re-energized San Jose squad limped into the second break, with the hopes of a comeback slumping right behind them.
When Zetterberg scored again almost halfway through the third period to put Detroit up 5-2, hopes were officially dashed. And, although Ryane Clowe would answer later in the period with a meaningless goal, the Sharks goose had been officially cooked, and the final score read 5-3.
The real surprise of the evening would actually come during Coach Todd McLellan‘s post game interview session with the press, not so much at his receiving a bevy of the “was your young D overmatched by Zetterberg” type of questions, but his response to them. McLellan expressed on more than one occasion that the “young guys had held their own”, but tacked onto his answer a biting stab at “three or four” picnicking veterans who had taken the “night off”. Not just this night either, he was clear to point out, and McLellan, expressed in a tone of pure annoyance, stated that the Sharks had been “missing” a few key veteran players for a couple games now.
Regardless of the merits of McLellan’s attack on the anonymous Sharks’ slackers, if San Jose doesn’t get some overcompensation and help from their experienced front line, their inexperienced defensemen will be laid bare and totally exposed by the next team’s version of Zetterberg and Datsyuk. Rinse and repeat.
To paraphrase McLellan, mistakes by rookies are baked into the game before you even start, but you can’t hope to match a perennial elite team like the Red Wings when the veteran leadership on your own squad, has decided to mail it in and avoid the battle altogether. Like Andrew Jackson versus the British, the bad guys were also wearing red last night at the Tank, but instead of repelling the enemy’s incursion, Coach Todd McLellan’s seasoned artillery brigade was off catching butterflies.
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Topics: Benn Ferriero, Dan Cleary, Dany Heatley, Detroit Red Wings, Doug Murray, Henrik Zetterberg, Jason Demers, Joe Thornton, Justin Braun, Kent Huskins, Mike Moore, Movember, NHL, Niclas Wallin, Patrick Eaves, Pavel Datsyuk, Ryane Clowe, San Jose Sharks, Todd Mclellan