Kukla's Korner

Petshark: Talking Stick

Kick the cat, or the goalie

Of ending Detroit’s record-setting home win streak, Todd McLellan said:

“There have been a lot of teams that came in and tried to do it. Some have come extremely close, others haven’t,” McLellan said. “We’re going to take our kick at the cat and see what we can do.” -Working the Corners

Was Todd McLellan’s peculiar choice of words a malapropism or a Freudian slip? Could it be both?  Cats, unlike cans, are famous for quick, evasive action. There’s a high likelihood that the cat is unharmed and the kicker ends up on his caboose.  Is that what McLellan is trying not to think about?

Beating Detroit will not be easy, it hardly ever is with or without a winning streak on the line. McLellan has been slow to say who the starting goalie will be. I really don’t think it matters right now.

As I watched my Twitter feed grind up goalies last night and again this morning, I remembered the rule about “last clear chance” in discussions of liability. The specifics of the rule have faded from memory but it’s something like Joe forgets to block his trailer tire, the trailer rolls down the hill, hits an old barrel, the barrel rolls down the hill into the road, where Douglas is driving.

Douglas hits the barrel and stops, gets out to check the damage and set up flares because Douglas is Responsible Guy, he carries flares. While he’s rifling around in his trunk, Bob is driving the other direction. He’s leaning over trying to reach the passenger side floor because his phone slid off the seat and it’s ringing now.  Bob swerves and hits Douglas’s car and kills Douglas.

Whose fault is all this? Is it Joe because he set off the chain of events? Is it Douglas because he shouldn’t be standing behind his car while it’s stopped in the road? He’s Responsible Guy, he should know better. Or is it Bob, who had the last clear chance to avoid the accident? What about Taylor, who was calling Bob’s phone?  Most people will blame Bob, the goalie. But really you have to blame Joe and Douglas too, because Bob wouldn’t have killed anyone if they hadn’t done what they did. If either of them had done the right thing, Bob’s negligence would have been a non-issue.

Lots of people still blame the goalie most of the time. I see it from fans of both of the teams I follow. Maybe that’s because play stops after a goalie fails, giving angry feelings time to catch up.  I think Niemi will pull it together sooner than Bryzgalov, but the Sharks can’t wait for that, no matter how long it takes. They need to press on, let him catch up when he’s able.

Coaches and players talk about leadership. Captains are supposed to lead, young and old.  Teams also talk about “veteran leadership,” because it is different from being ready to yell “charge” and leap into the fray. The veterans are the ones who know where the pitfalls are and they’re the ones who should be able to haul the less experienced out of the quicksand. They carry ropes and flares and know how to get you out of a mess. They’re like Douglas.

The problem is, sometimes people don’t realize when they’ve crossed over from Bob status to Douglas status. Sometimes they’re like Joe, they forget that even in the little things they do, they will be held to a higher standard. Niemi isn’t really a youngster but he hasn’t quite reached veteran leader status either. We can’t expect him to hold the fort when everyone else is falling down around him.

We can blame him for making mistakes but we shouldn’t blame him for more than his share, which should never be more than everyone else’s put together. Even when he gives up a bad goal you could argue the puck should have been at the other end to begin with.  The goalie sits there in his special outfit, framed by the blue paint and posts, he is very easy to see.  He’s still only one in a group of players who all have a job to do: get the puck out of your zone.

The goalie will always have the last chance, often he will have the best chance to prevent a goal, but he doesn’t have the only chance.

Goalies make excellent scapegoats. That’s why most teams go out of their way to protect them with their public statements at least. It is way too easy for fans and observers to pile on the guy tethered to the crease. We would all like the world to be fair, for coaches to call out the goalie when he deserves it, for us to be reasonable and know it isn’t always the goalie, even if sometimes it is. The world isn’t fair, so observers will continue to be too hard on goalies and teams will continue to be overprotective. Maybe the opposing forces of unfairness cancel each other out.

When the goalie starts thinking of himself as a scapegoat… well, that’s why I think Niemi will bounce back sooner than some other struggling starters. He may not be Atlas but he is no moper. Bryz needs to cowboy up and cancel the pity party. I don’t think Nemo even drew up a guest list.

I think it would be hard to blame anyone on the ice for injuring Douglas Murray. I do think that him being out right now is not optimal. The happy possibility that Demers could be back improves matters. As far as who is supposed to be carrying the flares, the map and the compass, most of those guys will be in Detroit: Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe. I hope they have their gear because there are a lot of guys on the team ready to leap into the fray. Their leaders need to support them and keep up.  One Joe shouldn’t be wondering where the hell the other Joe went when he’s trying to make something happen.

Oh, and leave the cats out of it. The Sharks haven’t had much luck kicking them around anyway.

Go Sharks!

Filed in: , San Jose Sharks, | Petshark: Talking Stick | Permalink
  Tags: antti+niemi, douglas+murray, goalies, joe+pavelski, joe+thornton, malapropism


Rdwings28's avatar

Detroit 4, Sharkies 2. This is ONE team I would hate to see end the streak. Go Wings.

Posted by Rdwings28 on 02/19/12 at 11:36 AM ET

petshark's avatar

They sent McCarthy back down. Now I’m in a bad mood.  That and the fact that the Sharks never do what I expect, they’ll probably win.

Posted by petshark from Nor Cal, and on Twitter @petshark47 on 02/19/12 at 02:55 PM ET

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About Petshark: Talking Stick

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net

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