There are numerous advantages to being in front. At a crowded restaurant, being at the front of the line means you’ll get served sooner. A front row seat at most sporting events and concerts will get you up close and personal with the performers.
For someone who plays forward in hockey, staking claim to the space in front of the opposing goaltender is very advantageous.
Just ask right wing Ryane Clowe
Clowe has been one of the biggest benefactors in new Head Coach Todd McLellan’s philosophy of getting pucks to the front of the net. Through games of March 15, Clowe was among the team leaders with a career-high 22 goals. He was also among the National Hockey League’s top-10 in power play goals (11).
So when someone asks Clowe what he thinks of McLellan’s approach, his answer is simple. “It’s worked,” Clowe said.
“You’re not going to score every time when someone is in front,” Clowe added, “but when you’re in front and the goaltender is having trouble handling a rebound, you’re going to get the puck back.”
|Clowe has posted career bests in goals, assists, points, plus-minus and shots this season. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) |
At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Clowe won’t be scoring a lot of goals on breakaways and from brilliant coast-to-coast dashes with the puck. He’s the guy who’s going to cast a shadow on the opposing goaltender all night. He’s the guy opposing defensemen love to cross-check. Just think of Clowe as the guy one would probably see on that Discovery Channel show, “Dirty Jobs.”
Sounds like the M.O. of forward Tomas Holmstrom of the Detroit Red Wings, doesn’t it?
Holmstrom is one of the NHL’s best at stalking the other team’s goaltender. So before the start of the season, Clowe asked for video on Holmstom. What Clowe saw was someone who did whatever he could, legally, to put the puck in the net.
“He kind of drives the line between a little goalie interference,” Clowe said. “But he’s right there. He’s in their face.”
If anyone knows anything about Holmstrom, it’s McLellan, who coached him for three years in Detroit, along with Assistant Coach Jay Woodcroft.
“When you’re in front, what they (San Jose coaching staff) want us to be is a bad goalie,” Clowe said. “Make sure you don’t stop the puck, but make sure they don’t see it. Sometimes, it’ll go in off you and you’ll get a couple (goals) like that. But they don’t have to be pretty.”
Clowe can leave the finishing details to his two linemates on San Jose’s No. 2 line: left wing Milan Michalek and center Joe Pavelski
. Michalek has the speed and stick handling skills while Pavelski has hockey smarts and a knack of scoring big and pretty goals (remember last year’s overtime game-winner in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals vs. Dallas?).
While the No. 1 line of Patrick Marleau
, Joe Thornton
and Devin Setoguchi have made plenty of headlines this season, the No. 2 trio has quietly been consistent. While Clowe has topped 20 goals, Pavelski achieved a career high with his 20th on March 5 vs. Minnesota and Michalek got his 19th on March 14 vs. Los Angeles .
McLellan formed this line earlier in the season and despite occasional slumps, he’s kept this line together – which has benefitted Clowe and his linemates.
“That’s helped build chemistry,” Clowe said. “In the last couple of months, we’ve hit our stride as a line. We compliment each other pretty well.”
Coaches put lines together that immediately mesh. Some lines need a little work and lots of communication between teammates. According to Clowe, the latter two applied to his line.
“Some lines that are put together have instant chemistry. Other lines have to find a way to read off each other. That was our case,” he said. “We had to work it through and get to know each other out there.
“A lot of our success has to do with communication,” Clowe added. “’Pavs’ and Milan do a great job of communicating and they’re very vocal on the ice. That makes the line jell pretty quick. Now, it’s just more read and reacting and knowing each other’s tendencies.”
There’s no doubt that Clowe’s success this season has taken a lot of the hurt and disappointment away from what happened last year. The 26-year-old missed 67 games after tearing the ACL in his right knee. He finished the regular season with eight points (three goals and five assists) in 15 games.
Clowe took out his frustrations on missing most of the regular season during the playoffs as he shared the team lead with five goals and was second with nine points.
The most important thing through last year’s playoffs and this season is this: Clowe’s knee is fine.
“I’ve been pretty happy with how it’s holding up,” Clowe said about the knee. “It hasn’t been too bad at all. There’s still some scar tissue in there and after games, it feels stiff and sore. I stay on top of maintenance (on the knee). It’s getting later in the year and we’ve been playing a lot of games. That’s (maintenance) is key.”
“Maintenance” means lots of groin and hip stretching. Clowe’s knee will also get massaged
You’re not going to score every time when someone is in front, but when you’re in front and the goaltender is having trouble handling a rebound, you’re going to get the puck back." - Ryane Clowe
before games. In addition, Clowe will ride the stationery bike before and after games to keep the knee loose.
All of that hard work has paid off.
“The knee (injury) isn’t in my head,” Clowe said. “I don’t even think about it. It feels real strong.”
That’s good news for the Sharks. With less than a month remaining in the regular season, San Jose’s immediate thoughts are turning towards being the top seed in the Western Conference. They’re going to need healthy bodies to face teams who will be bringing their “A” game every night.
“We realize teams have us marked off on their schedule,” Clowe said. “They’re going to bring their best every night. We have to be at our best every night.
“It gets so hard, especially towards the end of the year,” he added. “Teams are pushing for the playoffs and we’re pushing for the top spot. It’s a great challenge for us.”
And when April comes and the playoffs begin, just remember how Clowe defined the postseason during last year’s run.
“Intensity. Desperation. Obviously, a whole lot of fun,” he said. “What I think about is seeing how guys step up their game. There’s always someone in the playoffs that unexpectedly raises their game to a new level. A lot of times, a playoff performance can propel their career.
“I got back for four games in the regular season (last year),” Clowe concluded, “but those games didn’t have nowhere near the intensity of the playoffs. I play my best hockey when the games are intense and physical.”
Especially when he’s up front.
Tony Khing is publications manager for Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment.