NHL Playoffs 2012: 3 Keys to a San Jose Sharks' Turnaround

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NHL Playoffs 2012: 3 Keys to a San Jose Sharks' Turnaround
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Ken Hitchcock talked hockey on the Paseo de San Antonio in San Jose

My paying job is at a theatre a short distance from Bijon Bakery in San Jose. After paying for a couple of their very tasty croissants, I turned around to see coach Ken Hitchcock exactly as he has looked behind the bench for the St. Louis Blues.

Wearing my leather San Jose Sharks jacket (apologies to those sensitive to use of animal hide, but it was a gift from a dear friend) despite it being far too warm for a Wisconsin native, I said hello and offered, "Your boys are playing really well."

"It's a long series. There's a long way to go," he said as though he were talking to a peer. I did not have the heart to tell him that he should not have the Stanley Cup he was awarded while coach of the Dallas Stars.

The cashier asked him if he was getting it for here or to go. He looked at her and then at me and said, "Here, I guess."

Seeing he was being conversational, I felt I could get a little material. "It's anybody's series, no doubt." But what to follow up with?

The first thing that popped to mind was the rough stuff. I feel fighting is an inevitable byproduct of escalating bad hits, not just in this series, but throughout the league.

That is not a problem unless the NHL proves they think it is by making the punishments prohibitive: Suspending Raffi Torres for the same hit he delivered in the conference semi-final against the Sharks is a step in the right direction, but the elevated frequency of dirty hits and gratuitous fights in this year's playoffs shows it is not enough.

No time for a conversation about that. Too complicated.

How about the Sharks PK? Right, like he is going to tell fans how to solve the problem his opposing coach cannot. I decided there had been enough pause, so I added, "It's tough here, with a team always on the cusp," (I might have said edge).

Before I could make it into a question, he replied, "This is a tough place to play." He made reference to things like the building, fans and team, and then was handed his food.

Wanting to show San Jose in its best light, I left the man to his own. I reiterated his boys were playing hard and he thanked me for the sentiments. As I left, I noticed he was seated outside and gave him a smile. He smiled back and rose his glass.

On the way back to work, I started thinking about how Hitch (that's what his good friends call him!) said very little, but communicated so much. That makes for good coaching. The student can focus on the basics, learning them better and then moving on.

That kind of simplicity would serve the Sharks well down 2-1 in the series. If they can solve the following three keys based on Hitch's remarks, they will have success:

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