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Get to know every coach's favorite catch phrase

Friday, 02.13.2009 / 10:00 PM / Columns

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

Catch phrases. Jingles. TV commercials that have you repeating the lines, sometimes even tapping your feet to the music. You just can't get them out of your head.

Like the Energizer bunny ... it keeps going and going and going. Verizon's ... can you hear me now? Wendy's ... where's the beef?
But if you're an NHL coach, one of those famous, can't-get-it-out-of-your-head lines was repeated often enough last spring as the Detroit Red Wings rolled to their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years: "When you look at that team, you notice right away that their best players are also their hardest workers."

In this case, the message was clear: Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg. Nicklas Lidstrom. Hard workers. Leaders. And, well, the rest of that team just follows, not by osmosis or luck, but because that's been the Red Wings' way of doing things through their remarkable run of success that has covered way more than one decade now.

"Pav and I came into the League and looked around the locker room and saw Hall of Famers all over. Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek," Zetterberg told me recently. Then he laughed and continued, saying, "You learn to keep your mouth shut and your ears open ... work hard ... and just wait for your chance to show off your skills."

"Those two are game-breakers at both ends of the rink," teammate Dan Cleary said. "They work so hard, you just have to work as hard as they do.

"Can I see other teams trying to find the kind of formula we have where I best players are also our hardest workers? You bet. You don't have to look any farther than Chicago, where Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are their hardest workers and leaders."

Can you hear me now? Good.

A quick peek at some of the more meaningful games we've seen in the last couple of weeks -- Detroit at Pittsburgh, San Jose at Boston, Washington at New Jersey, Chicago at Anaheim, Philadelphia at Boston and then back in Philly -- have shown us that more than a smattering of coaches are smart enough to have followed that better-players, hardest-workers message.

Boston's Claude Julien inherited stars Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard and he's made them and the rest of the Bruins better by hammering away at Chara and Savard how the team needs them to be the hardest workers and then the likes of David Krejci, Phil Kessel, Michael Ryder, Blake Wheeler, etc., will follow. Look at the remarkable heights Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and newcomers Dan Boyle and Rob Blake have helped San Jose reach with coach Todd McLellan bringing Mike Babcock's message from Detroit.

Washington's Bruce Boudreau is a smart cookie, and you can see the Red Wings' mentality in the performance of Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green and the rest of the group every day, can't you? Ditto Philadelphia coach John Stevens and the energy he seems to draw from with young centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Chicago? Joel Quenneville has stepped up the learning curve and given YoungStars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith the green light to be creative and show the rest of the NHL where's the beef.

Best players are also the hardest working players. Think about it for a moment. It's not a complicated formula. In fact, it's a simple philosophy for the coaching fraternity.

And bottom line: Detroit has proven it works ... and the rest of the NHL seems to be trying to copy that successful formula.

A different Joe, well -- Joe Thornton still makes those great passes. He still uses his “Jumbo Joe” body to his advantage when he needs to. But Thornton's successful San Jose 5-2 win in Boston on Feb. 10 may not have looked any different to Bruins fans who wanted that power forward mentality from Joe all the time.

"He's different this year," Sharks defenseman Rob Blake said. "Oh, we still yell at him to shoot more, but he's been a great, great leader for us. But he's not always along with the sideboards now making those great passes. He's showing more net presence, particularly on power plays. He's got a lot more movement to his game -- and it makes him a tougher player to play against."

From Ottawa with love -- GM Bryan Murray wasn't with the Senators when they let defenseman Zdeno Chara go to free agency and Boston a few years ago. Sounds like that's the one move Ottawa regrets the most now.

"A player like ‘Z’ gives you a presence that is irreplaceable," said Murray. "He has toughness, size, and great mobility. He is a fitness fanatic. He can play 20 or 25 minutes a game. He's one of a kind. His leaving was pivotal."

Defense of a different kind -- Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green extended his goal-scoring streak to seven games with a pair of third-period goals in the Capitals' 3-1 win over the Panthers on Feb. 7 and two more in a shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Feb. 11 -- tying the NHL record for defensemen set by Mike O'Connell in January 1984. At the same time, Green reached the 20-goal plateau in his 42nd game of the season. Only three other defensemen in NHL history needed no more than 42 games to hit the 20-goal mark in a season: Bobby Orr (30 games in 1974-75, 37 in 1973-74), Paul Coffey (37 in 1981-82, 41 in both 1983-84 and 1985-86) and Denis Potvin (42 games in 1975-76).

Said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, "It must be a little bit like a baseball player that's in a groove, just hitting everything they throw to him."

More than 30 reasons -- When Marian Hossa scored 30 goals for the seventh time in his 11-year NHL career, he only briefly considered he might have a chance to reach 50 goals for the first time before changing topics.

Said Hossa, "Thinking 40 or 50 is kind of a bonus. But that's not why I came to Detroit. I came here to win a Stanley Cup."

A chemistry lesson? -- The $5.6 million free agent experiment with Mats Sundin looked dismal until coach Alain Vigneault put the veteran center between former centers Pavol Demitra and Ryan Kesler. Voila! The threesome combined for 8 goals and 14 assists in consecutive victories against Carolina, Chicago and St. Louis.

"It's weird, sometimes you have chemistry with guys and sometimes you don't," said Kesler, who went from checking center to scoring right winger and accounted for 4 goals and 8 assists in those three games. "With those two guys, they see the ice really well and they're strong down low. It's an easy game to play when we're all working hard."

Turning a new Leaf -- Earlier, Toronto GM Brian Burke said he wouldn't ask either Pavel Kubina or fellow d-man Tomas Kaberle to waive their no-trade agreements. Burke, however, says that Kaberle's agent told him he'd be getting a list of teams that Tomas would agree to be traded to.

The obvious follow-up to Burke? Any untouchables?

Said Burke, "If someone offers me 10 first-round picks for Luke Schenn he is on the next plane. But he is as close to an untouchable as we have."

Check the birth certificate -- For those who wonder how much pressure kids can take in this free-flow game, look no further than Columbus, where rookie goaltender Steve Mason leads the NHL in shutouts with seven and fellow rookie Dan LaCosta made just his second start and backstopped the Blue Jackets to a 3-0 victory against Colorado on Feb. 10.

"Mase is day to day (recovering from mononucleosis) and I'm day to day," said LaCosta, who 14 months ago was rehabilitating a badly damaged right ankle after a bus crash involving the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. "When you get a chance, you've got to run with it."

The Jackets' eight shutouts by rookies are the most in one season by an NHL team since Montreal had eight, all by Ken Dryden, in 1971-72.

"It must be a little bit like a baseball player that's in a groove, just hitting everything they throw to him."
-- Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, on defenseman Mike Green

Things that make you go hmmmm -- Face the facts, the Florida Panthers went into this weekend with a League-leading 37 goals this season from defensemen -- including at least one goal by a defender in 12 of the team's 16 games since Jan. 1. Now, unless another team blows GM Jacques Martin away with an offer he can't refuse, why would he trade Jay Bouwmeester and upset the best thing his team has going for it during the playoff run? ... Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke says all avenues of talent procurement have to be investigated to rebuild a team like Toronto. Three names you might not be familiar with are Tyler Bozak, Matt Gilroy and Christian Hanson -- all undrafted college seniors who are about to become free agents. Bozak and Hanson (the son Dave Hanson of "Slap Shot" fame) are forwards at Denver University and Notre Dame, respectively, while Gilroy is a defenseman and Boston University. ... What do Brooks Orpik, Matt Greene, Mike Komisarek, Mike Commodore, Jan Hejda, Anton Volchenkov, Toni Lydman and Jason Smith have in common? All have a distinctive double-double going on -- all have more than 100 blocked shots and 100 hits. ... Bet you would have never guessed that of the 50 members of the Toronto Maple Leafs since 1990 who had scored 20 goals or more with their previous team, Jason Blake is about to become only the 13th to repeat the feat in a Leafs uniform. ... Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen is often accused of playing too much of his game on his knees. But no one has been criticizing his results of late -- he stopped 40 of 41 shots to earn a 3-1 victory against the Lightning in Tampa on Feb. 10, the third time in Lehtonen's last four games that he faced at least 40 shots and allowed no more than two goals. That's half as many such games over the past 11 days (three) as Lehtonen had in his career up to that point (six). ... New Jersey's David Clarkson may be thought of just for his fighting prowess and hard-working checking ability. But Patrik Elias told me he's never played with a kid who wants to know all the secrets to be better both offensively and defensively. And -- don't look now, but David's got a career-high of 11 goals -- and he's about to join St. Louis' David Backes and Colorado's Cody McLeod as the only players in the NHL with 10 or more goals and 100 or more penalty minutes. ... Nashville coach Barry Trotz says he sees the magic beginning to come out in the hands of winger Steve Sullivan, after he missed all but 11 games in the last two seasons. To get to that end, Trotz put Sullivan back on his old line with Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont. Stay tuned. ... Cory Clouston's first positive influence in Ottawa? A pair of home-and-home wins against Buffalo on Feb. 7 and 11. ... Ottawa defenseman Filip Kuba said he would not agree to waive the no-trade clause he has in his contract. ... Calgary GM Darryl Sutter said he made his moves during the summer and he has no irons in the fire before the March 4 trade deadline. In other words, no veteran goalie to replace Curtis McElhinney. ... A move that's already been made might seen a little curious to some, but not those who follow the Carolina Hurricanes and have seen the resurrection of the careers of Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu. This time it's Jussi Jokinen, acquired for forward Wade Brookbank, defenseman Josef Melichar and a fourth-round draft pick. Said Jokinen, "I felt unwanted. Now, I'm got a clean slate."

The Petr Principle -- Pittsburgh's Petr Sykora has proven he can put up numbers whether he's playing in New Jersey, Anaheim, with the New York Rangers, Edmonton or the Penguins. He's tied with Jarome Iginla for the most consecutive 20-goal seasons by an active player. He had 28 goals last season and should top 30 for the third time in his career this season. Knowing of his latest success, it would seem unlikely that Sykora would want to test the free-agent waters with the magic he and center Evgeni Malkin have had with the Pens the last two seasons.

Said Sykora, "Geno and I worked pretty good together, no?"

 
Practice makes perfect -- Practices can be boring, especially if you are serving a four-game suspension and can't participate in the game preparation with the rest of your team like Anaheim's Corey Perry had to do recently. Perry said he had time to shoot more pucks in practice. It must have worked, because since his return, Corey scored 10 goals in his first 14 games back. That's how many goals Perry had in his first 39 games. ... Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer is starting to pick up his offense. His two-goal game Feb. 11 sparked a 3-2 overtime win against Calgary and gave Niedermayer eight goals this season -- the first seven of which all came on the power play. ... Chicago winger Patrick Kane admitted he rushed back after missing two games with a nagging high-ankle sprain -- and that resulted in his recent one-goal-in-17-game stretch. Said Kane, "It's tough for me to watch. When you’re in the press box, you realize how much you love the game and how much you want to be out there." ... High-ankle sprain, fracture in his ankle, nerve damage as well. That's the hat trick of ankle problems St. Louis center Andy McDonald had that kept him out of the lineup for 37 games until he returned to the lineup with one goal and one assist against Vancouver on Feb. 10. The 18 points McDonald had in 16 games earlier this season proved to Blues management that they didn't want to let the speedy veteran get away -- and paved the way for the free-agent-to-be to get a new four-year, $18.8 million deal. ... Power? Yes, Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk is the epitome of power on his skates and with his shot. His goal Feb. 11 in a loss to Chicago represented his 100th career power-play goal. Since he came into the NHL in 2001-02, that total tops all NHL players. Second is Ottawa's Dany Heatley with 95. ... Philadelphia's wacky version of Who's on First continues with the up-and-down play of goaltenders Martin Biron and Antero Nittymaki. Nittymaki, who had five wins in six games and a much more eye-appealing salary ($1.375 million) than the free-agent-to-be Biron ($3.5 million), will likely get his chance to take the ball and run with it for the next few weeks. ... You can't say the same about Phoenix's goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov makes the most of what he can get from the young and inexperienced offense and defense of the Coyotes. His 1-0 victory against Dallas on Feb. 11 was his sixth shutout in his two seasons with the Coyotes. All have been by 1-0 or 2-0 scores -- and he has faced an average of 32 shots in the shutouts. ... You can't blame the Minnesota Wild for patting themselves on the back for their offseason move of signing free-agent winger Antti Miettinen. His 12 goals, three off his career high set last season in Dallas, and a career-best 23 assists, look better than the numbers that veterans Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra have in New Jersey and Vancouver, respectively. Those are the veterans the Wild let go before signing Miettinen. ... With season-ending surgery for Lubomir Visnovsky, defenseman Tom Gilbert should get more power-play time. He's been itching for an opportunity to get more involved in the offense like this. ... Chris Stewart, David Jones, Cody McLeod, Cody McCormick, Ian Laperriere. Not a bad way to put together a gritty, hard-to-play against team for the future. ... From the sometimes-things-do-work-out department of mystery. If not for the injury to Brenden Morrow and Sean Avery's gross misconduct, James Neal would not be getting the kind of important ice time he's getting in Dallas. Neal has a power forward's body and his 18 goals tied the team's rookie record set by Jussi Jokinen since the Stars moved to Dallas.


Quote of the Day

This is a big year for us in a lot of ways. You can see Garth and management really trying to find that solution to get us into the playoffs and consistently have that. The pressure is great. You have to enjoy it. It just means there's a great opportunity ahead of you.

— Islanders captain John Tavares