This week, I was able to sit down with Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, who as coach of the resurgent Colorado Avalanche is one of the great stories in the opening days of the 2013-14 NHL season.
He was great to talk to, and one word I would use to describe him would be "focused." Focused on his responsibility, which is coaching the Colorado Avalanche. It's not about him. He kept using the word "partnership," that he's in a partnership with the players. He's not above them, they're not above him. He's trying to help them improve. He wants to help them be as good as they can be. He was adamant about the fact that he views it as a partnership. That really impressed me.
And that message is being received loud and clear.
This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry doesn't just feature a classic matchup straight out of the old Norris Division. It also features two of the best teams in the NHL as the Chicago Blackhawks visit the St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Both these teams are off to good starts, but I'm especially curious about St. Louis. The Blues do a lot of things well to be a successful team in the League. The question is how close is this team to taking the next step? I believe the Blues are much closer, but where are they now in relation to the Los Angeles Kings or the Blackhawks? We just might find out Wednesday.
A major key will be the play of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who I expect will have a nice bounce-back year. He spent a lot of time in St. Louis working with their trainer trying to rehabilitate his injuries and get into better shape. Hopefully that will serve him well.
After all the waiting through the summer and training camp, the 2013-14 NHL season is finally here. And while many fans are just happy to have meaningful hockey to watch, the first week of the season can actually be pivotal for certain teams and players.
If you get off to a good start, you're feeling good about your team. It's just the vibe, just a feeling. Any athlete will tell you, especially one in a team sport, that there's nothing like getting on the plane or bus after a victory. Taking that feeling early, knowing how you got that victory, makes all the difference in the world going forward.
Enjoying that feeling right out of the gate is important.
This holds especially true for the New York Rangers, who are going to play their first nine games on the road during the last stage of the renovation at Madison Square Garden. That's going to be a huge challenge, but it's possible for them to enjoy great success on that brutal trip. Just look at the Chicago Blackhawks last year.
The expectation in Detroit is always to compete for a Stanley Cup. So you have to look at some of the additions they made this summer. They brought in Stephen Weiss, who was highly coveted in the offseason and played in the Ontario Hockey League for Plymouth, which is about 20-30 minutes from downtown Detroit. He's another center that can make plays, distribute the puck, be a pass-first guy.
Of course, we've got to talk about Daniel Alfredsson. Come on now.
I thought Rask was amazing in Game 5, but he has to be all-world in Game 6 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS). You can expect the Chicago Blackhawks to be unbelievable knowing that the Stanley Cup is on the line. I think Rask is going to have to be unbelievable and steal the game for the Bruins.
Boston as a team has to be really good defensively, and they've kind of gotten away from it in the past couple games. The Bruins have gotten away from some of the little things.
It is not just in the defensive zone, but starting there, it begins with sealing off in front of the net. Sealing out Chicago forwards in front of Rask, and making sure they front those guys, has to be a priority. They can’t allow the Chicago forwards two and three opportunities off an initial point shot or a deflection.
In Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the Chicago Blackhawks need to play the same game they played in Game 5 and the same game they played in Game 4.
No different -- no different offensively, no different defensively. On the offensive end, the hunger they've shown and the willingness to compete they've shown against the Boston Bruins has been remarkable.
You can pick any example from Jonathan Toews, but more importantly it is Bryan Bickell on that line doing exactly what he was doing before the start of this series. That opens things up. I call Bickell a space creator because he opens things up for Patrick Kane and for Toews to be able to make plays.
More often than that, if you look at the goals that line has scored in the past two games, Bickell will be there first and then Kane will follow, or vice versa. My point is, the Blackhawks are getting layered screens and layered traffic in front of Boston goalie Tuukka Rask.
Game 4 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final must be approached like a must-win for the Chicago Blackhawks.
When you are desperate, you have to do different things and you have to do more of the good things. For the Blackhawks, the first thing I'd say is they need to have 40-50 shots Wednesday at TD Garden on Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. They can't necessarily be worried about shot quality.
They might not get the ideal shots they want in terms of quality per se, but they need volume shots, shots from every angle, shots from the goal line, sharp angles -- put everything at the net.
Both teams have a lot of guys that are shoot-first guys. I think you can say Patrick Sharp is a shooter, Brent Seabrook is very much a shooter, Zdeno Chara is a shooter. Go up and down the lineup and there are shooters both up front and on the back end for both sides; there are a lot of skilled guys who can score.
Boston has the most goals by defensemen and the most points by a defense corps in the playoffs. That being said, what I liked about both teams in Game 1 is they were shooting to create goals. They weren’t just shooting to score goals.
There are two ways to score goals. You can shoot to score, or you can shoot in a way to try and set up a scoring chance for someone else. I saw guys shooting for the far pad a lot. Sometimes they would take a little heat off the shot hoping that the goalie couldn’t control the puck if it hit his low blocker and spit back out.
You have to look at not only the number of shots they faced, but a lot of those were quality shots. I think Rask had something like 38 scoring chances against. The number of quality chances both guys faced was crazy, and we’re talking Grade-A, point-blank shots.
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