It was Ron Wilson at his biting best/worst. As the Maple Leafs' penalty kill percentage sunk to ocean-depth levels during the past two seasons, he'd be asked, "How can you improve?"
Annoyed with his goaltending, Wilson would come back with some variation of, "A save would be nice."
Yes, the old cliché is that your goalie must be your best penalty killer, but, very quietly, the Maple Leafs are making an important philosophical change.
You might have to watch a few times, but what we're looking at is the stick use by Toronto's defencemen. On the Satan goal, eye Tomas Kaberle and Luke Schenn as Sidney Crosby turns at the top of the circle. Both are holding the stick with two hands, pretty tight to their bodies. See how much space Crosby has to pass.
On Sykora's, Crosby gets to a similar spot. Jamal Mayers reaches back with one hand, but the defencemen (Jonas Frogren and Pavel Kubina) each have two on the stick. Again, Crosby has plenty of room and time.
Assistant coach Rob Zettler once explained that if you're going to properly play the two-hand method, defencemen must turn the sides of their skate blades towards the passer. That creates an extra wall to block/deflect the puck. Watch Kubina. His blades are facing Crosby, giving him a hole to pass through.
Now, a couple of things are going through your head. One, that game is two years old. Yes, but it always stood out to me because Craig Simpson (who used to coach the Oilers' special teams) really did a great job of explaining why it's very hard to be successful playing that way. The ensuing 160 games proved him right.
Second, well, it is Sidney Crosby throwing those passes. All I can tell you is that I would periodically ask opposing players to compare Toronto's penalty killing with others. I was consistently told there were more available passing lanes with the Maple Leafs, and that the toughest teams to create against were those with very active sticks. (The best line I heard was, "I think (Nicklas) Lidstrom would choke (Mike) Babcock if he was told to play like that.")
Here's a non-Crosby example: About five seconds before Jay Bouwmeester scores, check out the Rene Bourque pass that just gets by Kaberle's reach. With one hand, does he deflect the puck away from harm?
Zettler, a really good person to talk hockey with, explained on the weekend that he spent a good chunk of the summer watching tape and decided to make the change. His defencemen will be given more freedom to extend their sticks, although I get the sense it he would still prefer two hands on most occasions.
(If you're wondering why, it's because having two hands on your stick means fewer penalties. Players aren't grabbing.)
It's a small change, but a potentially significant one, a recognition that the shorthanded struggles were not only personnel, but system. It could also help a player like Schenn, who played one-handed all his life before coming to Toronto. Some of his growing pains have to do with this, and, being given more freedom could really help him.
Been asked about this several times, and figured it would be best to explain what happened. I nuked my account after the Pat Burns fiasco.
That day, I was in Montreal, preparing to do a sit-down with Carey Price. While doing a live radio interview, the host told me about the report Burns had died (I didn't know about it) and asked for my thoughts. I told a few stories and we moved on to other topics. After the hit was over, I checked online; saw some pretty respectable people discussing it. So, I posted a condolence note of my own.
Well, we all know what happened. Ultimately, the responsibility is mine. It doesn't matter what anyone else wrote or said; I posted without checking. I was really annoyed at myself and decided to start fresh, with a new name - FriedgeHNIC.
1. I hope the parents in Laguna Niguel, California now understand exactly who David Frost is and what he's about.
2. Very curious to see what the Stars do with Brad Richards. Barring an ownership change - and last reports indicated January at the earliest - can they afford to keep him? Even though he's going to take a pay cut, it may not be enough. Richards is in the final year of a contract worth $7.8 million per. Right now, that salary is difficult to move, but, deeper into the season, he'd be a very attractive pickup should Dallas decide to abandon ship. He does have a no-trade, although he's already waived it once.
3. Don't know if I've ever had as many people disagree with me as with last week's Wade Redden column. That's cool; I enjoyed the give-and-take. I want to make clear, though: I have no issue at all with the Rangers demoting him. Let's just say, though, he re-discovers his passion for the game and his skill level. The contract makes it borderline impossible for him to return. That I don't like.
4. As for people complaining sending down Redden violates "the spirit of the CBA," well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the New York Islanders. The Islanders abuse it so badly that Amnesty International may get involved.
5. Last bit on Redden: There were reports his NHLPA brethren would be angry because his salary did not count towards the Rangers' cap, but still counted against the players' share of revenues. Not true. His cash no longer matters in the CBA formula. What I didn't realize is that Redden now longer has escrow money coming off his paycheque. An 18 per cent pay raise in the minors?
6. The Red Wings were furious Saturday night at this Colby Armstrong hit on Willie Coetzee. They felt it was exactly what the league wants to punish. The NHL disagreed. Playing in Toronto is going to be very interesting for Armstrong. Every hit will be heavily scrutinized.
7. To be fair, Armstrong's shot wasn't as high as Nino Niederreiter's on Mike Cammalleri.(Although both victims were very vulnerable, these were not direct shoulder-to-head hits). Watching Cammalleri chase Niederreiter around the ice made me wonder why the play wasn't blown dead before the Canadiens' winger really lost it.
8. This whole Nazem Kadri thing is insane. Since the lockout, here's how many games the seventh overall pick has played in the two years after his selection: Jack Skille (2005, 0); Kyle Okposo (2006, 9); Jakub Voracek (2007, 80); Colin Wilson (2008, 35). Jeff Skinner, taken in June, may beat them all, but Okposo is proof that not playing a ton by that point is no a big deal. Even Skille is still a prospect.
9. One Red Wing: "Did Kadri kill someone? Why is everyone all over him?"
10. Brendan Shanahan, to Patrick Kane, about defending the NHL title: You feel it's "your" Cup. After they won it, the Red Wings hated to lose it.
11. Nicklas Lidstrom admitted that when his son decided to return to Sweden this fall and attend hockey school, "I was thinking that I'd be going with him." (This was at the beginning of last season.) However, as the year progressed, Lidstrom gained a greater understanding of the living arrangements and setup. He was more comfortable with the situation and decided to stay.
12. Lidstrom also said he will continue to play "as long as I can stay consistent at the level I expect."
13. One more from Lidstrom: Jiri Hudler will be a major force. The captain said Hudler is so much more comfortable and confident after his KHL season. He played 22 minutes a night - in every situation - and it shows.
14. Hudler on the difference between the NHL and the KHL: "Here, you win eight games in a row and then lose one - no big deal. There, you lose that game and people are angry. You're not allowed to lose."
15. Jakub Kindl won't start the season in Detroit's top six, but could finish there. Mike Babcock is running out of patience with Jonathan Ericsson. "He's not a kid anymore," the coach says. "He can't make kid's mistakes." He's 26.
16. Mike Modano compared the Red Wings to the late-90s Dallas Stars. "The coach doesn't need to babysit this team," he said.
17. He added the off-ice culture is "intimidating" because the players are such workout freaks. (That's not the first time I've heard this from new Wings.) He also marvelled at the practices. "They're just 40 minutes, but an intense 40 minutes." Can you tell I went to Detroit this week?
18. Something to watch: Brad Stuart, a left-hand shot, is playing the left side this season. Last time you played there? "I don't remember." The Wings are splitting up Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Rafalaski wanted no part of the left side, so Stuart had to switch. Wings didn't let him know until he arrived at camp, so we'll see if there's an adjustment.
19. By the way, the Motor City has a new star: 6-year-old Ella Maltby, Kirk's daughter. She will play Topher Grace's daughter in "The Double", a spy movie due out next year. "She got the part after her first read," said the proud papa.
20. Saw Nathan Gerbe and was impressed at how much more broad-shouldered he is. However, when I asked what he really worked on this summer, he said, "Skating." Even the best skaters know that's the most important skill.
21. To that end, one thing Taylor Hall said I liked: If you improve by half a step each year, imagine how much faster you get over your career.
22. More on Gerbe: Lindy Ruff met with him last week; told him to stop overcompensating on his defence or attempts to hit people. Just score.
23. Last Monday, Ruff was the most relaxed I'd ever seen him in a post-game scrum. I mentioned it and he said, "That'll change in a week."
24. Courtesy Pierre LeBrun: Joe Thornton said he really likes having a right-handed shot to set up (which helps explains Jonathan Cheechoo's 56 goals). Didn't have one last year, as both Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau shoot left. Devin Setoguchi - who scored 31 with Thornton in 2008-09 - won't get a better chance to erase last season's disappointment.
25. NBA rookie Gordon Hayward, who will make $2.3 million, made news by choosing a Honda Accord as his car. The NHL has a similar case: San Jose's Cam MacIntyre. He'll make less as an AHL player (for now), but chose a used Prius.
26. If the Maple Leafs are going to survive October, Jean-Sebastien Giguere must be great. Get the sense he's the only goalie ready to go right now. The good news is that Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean says Giguere is moving as well as he has in years. "He looks healthy." Detroit would know, and for Toronto's sake, that better be right.
27. Thanks to the tweeters who pointed out Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan played together as three right-handed shots last season. Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg will start that way this year. Wilson hopes it will get Kessel moving to open ice without the puck, making him much more dangerous once he does it consistently.
28. Been awhile since a forward as creative as Versteeg was in the Toronto lineup. Jim Hughson was wondering why the winger uses such a long stick. He said it was on the advice of Jeremy Jackson, a junior teammate in Lethbridge. Jackson, listed as five-foot-10, had 102 points in 65 games during their only season together. He told Versteeg that a longer stick would give him better leverage on his shot and more options with the puck, especially for a smaller player. Good thinking.
29. The Maple Leafs will pass on Brendan Morrison, because they want size from any new centre added to the lineup.
30. Really nice touch in the 2010-11 NHL Guide. Any draftee who later made the NHL is listed in bold. It's easier to see which teams do well at drafting and developing.
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