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Crunch's Methot taking care of business

by Lindsay Kramer

After two AHL seasons, Marc Methot has developed into a shutdown defenseman.
As hard as it is to imagine now, there was a time when Syracuse Crunch defenseman Marc Methot felt most comfortable when he was getting rid of the puck.

During his formative rookie season two years ago, Methot was most noticeable for treating the puck as if it was radioactive. He’d quickly send it flying down the ice, or, on many occasions, flip it high into the air like he was hitting pop flies.

How things have changed.

Methot now has a variety of puck-related skills, and, more importantly, knows when to do what. He can carry it through the neutral zone and into the attacking end, creating some opportunities. He’s good at making quick flicks at it, deflecting shots or ticking away opponents’ passes.

Most impressive, he has developed the aggressiveness and smarts to separate it from opposing forwards. It’s that nasty skill that could signal the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Methot’s readiness for a more permanent position at the next level.

“I think I’m not panicking as much as I have in the past,’’ Methot said. “I’m hanging onto it, waiting for options. You always have more time than you think. I’m starting to understand that.’’

That comprehension is a large reason why Syracuse has reached the North Division finals against Toronto. Methot has developed into a true shutdown defenseman, No. 1 or 1A along with Dan Smith as the team’s most reliable defenseman. Going against the top lines of Manitoba in a first-round series and now the Marlies in the North Division finals, Methot is most noticeable for the ton of minutes he’s logging instead of any game-changing mistakes.

“He’s always been a very steady, hard-nosed defenseman. He’s smart. He competes hard,’’ said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert. “He’s a tough guy to play against in his defensive zone. He’s always in good position.’’

Methot’s pro renaissance began with a personal low. Two years ago, in a playoff series against Manitoba, he was a healthy scratch for one game. The organization was growing frustrated with his reluctance to throw around his body as much as his size indicated he should.

“If anything, it helped me. It was a learning curve. It’s not going to be given to you,’’ Methot said. “You have to work hard and stay competitive to be in a competitive lineup.’’
That hasn’t been an issue since.

Methot, a sixth-round pick by Columbus in 2003, has always been an eye-catcher because he’s a powerful, technically strong skater. Once he combined that with the confidence to play more physically on the defensive end and to treat the puck as a prized possession, Methot became a borderline NHLer.

He skated in 20 games with the Blue Jackets last season and nine more this season. While those stays were relatively short, few players on the Crunch have been as motivated to develop by the promise of what could be as the quick-learning Methot.

"That’s what two years will do. Gaining that experience will make you a better player. That skill set is always there. It’s the way you use it,’’ Methot said. "I may not be much different (physically). All in all, it’s mental. Everything becomes more automatic. I want to play in the NHL. I will be there eventually. It’s just being at the right place at the right time.’’

Much like the position he’s learning to play so well.

Aubin making best of it -- Veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin didn’t get too upset when he was basically traded from Los Angeles to Portland at the NHL trade deadline.

After a strong finish to the regular season in Portland, Aubin has truly answered the team’s call for a No. 1 goalie in the playoffs. He has won seven straight playoff games, and all of the victories have come by one goal. The Pirates currently hold a 3-2 edge against Providence in their Atlantic Division finals series.

I guess with experience, you learn how to focus on the right things. At this stage of my career, it’d be great to go to the finals. - Jean-Sebastien Aubin
“For me, it’s just a matter of being in there and making sure the soft one doesn’t go in,’’ said Aubin, 30. “I guess with experience, you learn how to focus on the right things. At this stage of my career, it’d be great to go to the finals.’’

And then, a little bit farther down the road, back to the NHL. One reason Aubin has been such a godsend for Portland is that he realizes although he’s in the AHL now, scouts still know how to find their way to the arena.

“It’s not easy to go back in the AHL when you’ve been there and you know maybe you shouldn’t be there,’’ he said. “But at the same time, it was a good opportunity to play some more and show teams I’m not going to shut it down because I got sent down. I think anybody who is competitive, it doesn’t matter where you play, you want to play well. I’m sure there’s a lot of scouts in the stands for our games, and hopefully they see it.’’

Learning how to get dirty -- Toronto Marlies rookie wing Jiri Tlusty looks at what could be a temporary return to the AHL as going back to finishing school to learn how to finish in a different way.

Tlusty, the Maple Leafs’ first-round pick in 2006, has some dazzle. That’s evident by his 10 goals and six assists with the Maple Leafs and seven goals and 11 assists in 14 games with the Marlies earlier this season. What his first pro playoffs could highlight is the importance of learning how to dig up those greasy, postseason types of points that come in handy no matter how skilled you are.

“It’s not a wheel-and-deal game. He has responsibilities with the puck, and he has responsibilities without the puck,’’ said Marlies coach Greg Gilbert. "Playoffs are a good testing ground for young players. The ugly goals count just as much as the pretty ones. He’s got to learn to continue to score in the playoffs. It takes time. You can’t rush it. It’s like anything else. A player has to build confidence doing it.’’

That scaffolding is coming along slowly but surely. Through his first 10 playoff games with Toronto, Tlusty chipped in with two goals and five assists.

“It’s kind of exciting, high-tempo, everything is different,’’ Tlusty said. “You can learn lots of things every game. It’s a great opportunity for me. Hopefully, I can use them next year in the NHL playoffs.’’

Around the AHL -- At their annual spring meeting on May 5, the AHL’s Board of Governors unanimously granted approval of the transfer of controlling interest in the Rochester Americans franchise to Arrow Express Sports. Arrow Express Sports is owned by Curt Styres, a businessman from Ohsweken, Ontario. The Amerks still need to line up a new affiliation agreement and a lease to play in Blue Cross Arena. ... Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Philadelphia are meeting in an East Division final while parent clubs Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are squaring off in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals. That marks the first time in six years that two sets of NHL and AHL affiliates met each other in playoff series at the same time in both leagues (Toronto/N.Y. Islanders, St. John’s/Bridgeport, 2002). ... Game 3 of the Pens-Phantoms series May 5 had an odd offensive flow. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton put 19 shots on net in the first period to take a 3-0 lead but managed just eight shots the rest of the game. The Phantoms were blanked after putting up just seven bids through the first two periods but scored twice on 19 shots in the third. ... After killing off all 20 short-handed situations in the first round vs. Houston, Rockford gave up three power-play goals in the Wolves’ 4-1 Game 1 win May 1. ... Since joining the AHL in 2001-02, Chicago is 8-0 in series after winning Game 1. ... Chicago’s Darren Haydar has 49 career Calder Cup playoff goals, moving him into second place all time. He is two behind leader Jody Gage. He also has 103 playoff points, good for fourth all-time. ... All of Chicago forward Jason Krog’s 11 points this postseason have come via assists. ... Wolves defenseman Boris Valabik has three playoff goals after netting three markers in the previous 121 contests of his professional career.

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