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Coaches can't wait to get back to business

by Phil Coffey /
In the days leading up to the NHL's two-day Christmas break, it appeared two Northwest Division coaches were auditioning for roles as either Scrooge or The Grinch.

Minnesota's Jacques Lemaire and Edmonton's Craig MacTavish were both honest enough to say that the holidays and winning hockey games don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. And while it may not be a popular opinion, they're right.
"You know, the holidays, I don't like the holidays – in this game, never did," Lemaire told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Tribune. "I know it's a nice time to spend with the family and all that, but the holidays are killers for certain teams. Other teams, when you have a lot of potential on your team, you can be half-good as you can and you still win. But a team like us, we've got to play like it's a playoff game and it's hard to be there during these days. You've got people at home, you've got family, you've got friends, go to bed a little later, get up a little earlier, don't get the proper rest, eat too much, shop too much."

MacTavish seconded the motion.

"You get around the holiday season and everybody has family in and it's easy to get distracted," MacTavish told reporters. "You come in here and go through the motions, then you get back to your family to enjoy the festive holiday.

"The bottom line for me is that they're not giving goals away at this level. You have to work for them, you have to practice, you have to train," MacTavish continued. "You have to work on your game and develop confidence in practice. We don't have a lot of offense going right now, so it was just a reminder as to what we have to do to score goals."

Let's face it, coaches don't like distractions and do like routine. Even at the highest levels, there is practice, preparation and repetition. Anything that gets in the way is a distraction best avoided.

With their necks often on the firing line, I can't say I blame them. The good news for Lemaire, MacTavish and the other NHL coaches is the break is done. Back to work boys!

Better to be boring? -- Slow and steady wins the race, but isn't fun to watch. So, what do you want from your team? That was the debate around the Nashville Predators, who have been winning, but not necessarily in dramatic fashion.

In their past 13 games leading into the Christmas break, the Predators were 6-5-2 and had five shutouts. But offensively, the Preds scored only 22 goals and were held to one or no goals in seven games.

John Glennon of The Tennessean posed this question. Are the new-look Predators a defensive dream or are they boring? Should we consider them superbly stingy or sleep-inducing?

"We're a little bit of both, to be brutally honest," captain Jason Arnott said. "I'm sure fans might want to see us score more goals, but I don't think they want to see a 6-5 loss and say, 'Great, we scored five goals.'

"It's wins that get us into the playoffs and I think they'd rather come see a playoff game than have us end our season early because we played poor defensively but scored a lot of goals. It's a give and take."

"You can say it's boring, but if we were losing, you'd just say we weren't scoring," Trotz told Glennon. "You wouldn't be asking if it's aesthetically pleasing.

"We're playing the way we have to play because we haven't been scoring, and we're staying above .500 the last 12 games even though we're not scoring a lot. Not too many teams can average less than two goals per game and be over .500 during a stretch like that, but we're finding ways to do that.

"Quite frankly, if we get in the playoffs and we're winning 1-0, you're going to ask, 'Are you playing boring hockey,' and I'll say, 'No, we're playing winning hockey. We're playing effective hockey.'"

And no one would complain.

Back on the bus! -- As Dave Molinari pointed out in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the other day, riding a bus to work can get real dull in a real hurry. But for the Penguins, a ride on the old "iron lung" was quite the diversion.

The Penguins took a bus to Buffalo the other night because of bad weather that was causing havoc with air travel. So they piled on to a bus for the four-hours-or-so ride.

"That was awesome," Petr Sykora told Molinari. "It was like old-time hockey. You remember those times when you were a kid and you bused to a tournament and played three games, kept your gear on for the whole day. It was cool."

Not your typical commuter bus though. There were card games, a screening of the film Tropic Thunder and casual attire instead of the suites and ties required for normal trips.

"It was good for the boys, good to hang out like that," winger Pascal Dupuis said.

"I got used to it in juniors," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "We did (trips of) 20 hours, 15 hours, a lot. So that was a piece of cake."

Truth of the matter -- Cliches tend to rule in sports, Your normal postgame dressing room conversation is rife with "don't get too high or too low," "take it one at a time," and "we all have to pull on the rope."

Blues coach Andy Murray didn't delve into the cliché bag after a 6-3 loss to the Bruins Sunday night and that sparked a debate about whether Murray was too honest in his appraisal of things.

Murray said he wasn't pleased with the games turned in by Keith Tkachuk, Brad Boyes, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, Jeff Woywitka and goalie Manny Legace.

When you look at the stats, you can see why.

Backes, Tkachuk and Boyes were on the ice for Boston's first two goals, including a shorthanded goal, in the opening five minutes and the trio finished minus-2. Woywitka made a costly defensive mistake on Boston's fifth goal, and Legace allowed five goals on 23 shots. Yep, no highlight film material here.

But should Murray have "covered" for his players, giving us the old "we'll get them next time" and then dealt with his players in private?

"I don't do many things without thinking about it," Murray told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It wasn't a spontaneous reaction at a press conference. I thought we should have beaten the Boston Bruins. I thought it was an appropriate time (to make the comments) because they were the best team in the League coming in. I thought against that team, if we had everybody on board, we would have beaten them. I think we got the horses to get the job done, and I was disappointed that we didn't.  

"There's a difference between being demanding and being demeaning. I don't consider those comments to be demeaning. I think they were somewhat demanding in the sense that we need more. They weren't demeaning. I don't think I'll ever cross the line that way."

Tkachuk didn't agree.

"The last time I checked, we're all in this together," he told reporters. "We've got a young team. It's easy to put the blame on each other. I don't need the coach to tell me through the media, or any other player through the media … if that's what he's searching for, it's a very young and fragile team to be doing that right now in the middle of the season."

Staying put -- There was a time last season when the grist from the rumor mill said the Philadelphia Flyers were willing to swap Jeff Carter. Obviously, that didn't happen, and with 26 goals this season -- including four shorthanded goals and five game-winners -- it isn't going to happen anytime soon.

Carter is on fire for the Flyers, leading the NHL in goals. Guys like that tend to stay put.

"I always knew that I could score," he said. "I think this year I just started to play with a lot of confidence right off the bat, which has kind of helped me. I've been getting some good breaks, some good linemates, and things have been going well."

Carter is third in the NHL with 154 shots, so he subscribes to Wayne Gretzky's theory that 100 percent of the shots you don't take don't do in the net.

"When I grew up, my dad always taught me you can't score if you don't shoot, Carter said. "So I try to put it in the net every chance I get."

Excellent plan.

Carter also has found plenty of chemistry on a line with Joffrey Lupul and Scott Hartnell.

"Yeah, it's going great," he said. "I think, you know, we complement each other real well. 'Lup's' is a real finesse guy; he has a lot of speed, which helps my game out, too. 'Hartsy' just crashes and bangs, gets to the net, creates a lot of space for myself and Lups. So it's going well."

Wheeler rolling right along -- When Blake Wheeler signed with the Boston Bruins this summer, it didn't produce lots of headlines. But now, with Wheeler among the leading rookie scorers for the surging Bruins, his play figures to be of the headline variety for the remainder of the season.

"I'm sure at the end of the season I'll take a breath and look back on all that's happened (individually)," Wheeler told Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald. "Right now, I'm just trying to help the team win. When you keep goals as focused as that, it makes it easier to have success."

Coach Claude Julien has liked what he has seen of Wheeler and given him plenty of ice time and responsibility this season. Wheeler takes a regular shift on a line with the equally impressive David Krejci and Michael Ryder. He also earns time as a penalty killer.

"You work for the confidence and respect of your coaches and teammates - that's the most important thing," Wheeler told McAdam. "You want to show that you can get the job done in any situation. That's easier said than done, but that's what I've worked for. They've been putting me in those big situations and that's all I can ask for. I'm grateful for the opportunity."

"I think with Blake, you're seeing a very mature rookie," Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli said. "He's adapted to the two-way game very well, which Claude demands, and he's adapted from going from the middle to his off wing. All those things, he's handled well and that speaks to his maturity."

Nepotism? No, he's a Sutter -- The line of Sutters coming to the NHL shows no signs of abating. Already this season Brent Sutter's son, Brandon, has debuted for the Carolina Hurricanes and Darryl Sutter's son, Brett, is now breaking in with the Calgary Flames.

"Everybody makes a big deal about his last name, but there's been lots (of Sutters) before him and will be ones after him," Darryl Sutter told Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun.

Brett Sutter was chosen by the Flames 179th overall in the 2005 draft. His father was chosen by Chicago 179th overall in 1978.

On Dec. 23 against the Anaheim Ducks, Brett became the eighth Sutter to play in the NHL. He also scored a goal in his debut.

"It was a really big shock," Brett said of the recall. "I just flew home to the farm for Christmas and got the call. There's a bit of nerves, but at the same time you've got to keep yourself grounded and level-headed. Just focus on playing your game, not doing anything out of the ordinary. Just keep it simple and there you go."

That philosophy certainly has worked in the past for the family.

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