(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner, March 11, 2013)
One does not simply walk into the NHL. To get there, your confidence has to overcome challenges as pesky as orcs, possibly as ferocious as uruk-hai. Certainly there’s a spider big enough to suck the last drop of self-assurance out of you, you had to have seen her along the way. If a player makes it to the NHL, he has obviously lived to tell the tale.
Confidence is a funny thing, all made up of memories and habits and hormones, recent events and old. Oddly, it can be increased by the most ridiculous exercises. You can sit cross-legged on the floor, repeating things like “I am an attractive person, people will respond positively to me, they will help me achieve my goals.” That sort of exercise can actually make you feel braver and more confident, even if your logical mind thinks it is a load of horse-poop. But that’s all confidence is: a state of mind. If events from a week or a day ago can change how you see unrelated present events, isn’t that as ridiculous as chanting self-praise? Ridiculous and inevitable.
Kevin Kurz says the Sharks are taking baby-steps. They’re big boys, shouldn’t they be able to take big boy steps? I know, I know, we are all human, we are none of us immune to the confidence game. What in the heck is going on in the Sharks’ heads? Shhh… it’s a secret. They will keep the details of the crisis to themselves, only speak of it “in confidence.” I don’t blame them, I’m sure that telling us wouldn’t help.
Maybe baby steps are what they need to take to get a grip on this inconfidence. I know that’s not a word, but it sounds like incontinence, which is what this point-wasting mess of a streak reminds me of. They need to plug the leak because at this pace they might finish the race but they won’t place. But it’s so hard, to come back from such a long spell of disappointment, you can’t just do it in one game, just like that. I guess that depends on your mindset.
Saturday, the Bulls lost a third game in a row to the Alaska Aces. The Bulls had played well in the first two games but lost heart in the third. Logically speaking, the third loss shouldn’t have been such a downer. After all, the Bulls are struggling to hang on to a playoff spot, the Aces clinched like ten years ago and hardly anyone beats them. No matter how many games you play against them in a row, why should losing game three, close or not, be so much worse than losing one or two? That’s where logic is no match for the confidence gremlins. The Bulls were deflated, their play at the end of the third loss showed it. It was the first time this season that they lost by four to the Aces.
Disheartened or not, the Bulls came out swinging on Sunday and vented all their frustration on the Las Vegas Wranglers. The Wranglers had beaten the Bulls by more than four goals before. The Bulls still won. They scored four goals, something they haven’t done in a long time. They scored a power play goal, their penalty kill held up. Peter Sivak skated into the zone, slipped around some Wranglers, and with a carefully delayed shot, put the puck in the net. That goal was the kind of flourish you can pull off when you’re in the right state of mind. Aim for the scrambly, chaotic goals in the crease, but if you get the chance, take a moment to thumb your nose at your opponent too. It was only the second goal of the game for the Bulls, but it was also a shout: “we are going to win!” There was still plenty of time for the Bulls to lose, but they wouldn’t, you could tell they wouldn’t.
Which brings me back to the San Jose Sharks. Saturday, they lost at home to a team with a history of beating them, just like the Bulls. Just like their ECHL affiliate, they played Sunday. Before Sunday, the Bulls had lost four of five games against Vegas, the Sharks had won two of two against the Avs. The Bulls grabbed their next chance by the horns, wrestled it to the ground and put a foot on its neck. The Sharks didn’t do that.
Maybe the Sharks thought the task would be easier, but how long does it take to see your mistake? To shift gears and get back on track? NHL and ECHL, it’s like apples and oranges, or is it?
It’s not that I think the Sharks don’t care as much, it’s not that I don’t realize they are playing tougher competition with less room for error than their minor-league affiliate. I know all that. It isn’t that I don’t suspect the Avalanche are mainlining the best confidence juice there is after beating the Blackhawks. I do. Now that I think about it, someone should keep an eye on the Avs lest they start to think they can fly.
But these are grown-ups. A lot of them have been there, done that big time with the losing-winning game. If they don’t have a chant they can do cross-legged on the floor yet, something to kick their minds into focus, I don’t know how they got where they are.
You don’t have as much success as these guys have had without hitting some roadblocks and getting stuck in the roadside ditch a few times. They must have climbed out before, didn’t they make a note of how to do it? Heck, they’ve been here so many times before, they could have learned it, forgotten it and learned it again several times. Eventually you make a note, hang the key on a cord around your neck, leave bread crumbs, something.
I asked the Sharks to surprise me. They did, by blowing a 3-1 lead against the Blues and then chasing the Avalanche to overtime. The Avs aren’t a terrible team, but whether or not they just beat the Blackhawks, the Sharks should have known how to beat them. They have, many times, twice this season. How do you forget that?