On Monday morning, Sharks head coach Ron Wilson spoke with members of the media on an NHL conference call regarding the Western Conference playoff race. The topics ranged from trade-deadline acquisitions to resting players and Wilson’s feeling about possible playoff matchups.
San Jose clinched the Pacific Division title on March 28 against Anaheim and trails the Detroit Red Wings by five points in the race for the Presidents Trophy, awarded to the NHL team that earns the most points during the regular season.
Below are the media's questions and Wilson’s answers:Q. Brian Campbell has made a difference in your lineup; in your mind, where has he had the biggest impact overall?
RON WILSON: Probably in our puck possession time. He's come in, and obviously loves to have the puck. It's just kind of changed our game, a little less dump-and-chase and forecheck. And more into a controlled attack through the neutral zone type of a game, where we'll still use our size up front and forecheck, but we have to dump the puck less. And you've seen a difference in the rest of our D-pickup that he does well.Q. In these days those puck-rushing defensemen, are they more important than in past years, and how important are they, just having guys that can make a play to get it out?
RON WILSON: Yeah, I think it's huge, and he skates things out of danger; he doesn't have to necessarily pass the puck.
And then that threat of the way he handles a puck, whether it's skating or passing, or his little spin-around move, seems to back the forecheck off and creates more passing lanes and openings for us to create speed through the neutral zone.
Q. Has he been the guy, the player, that put you guys over the top; can you say that?
RON WILSON: No, I can't say that. I think leading up to the trade deadline, we started to play some pretty good hockey, and kind of got some breakthroughs in how we were playing. He's certainly added another element that was lacking. To say that you've got all the pieces now is hard to say.
We are on a great role and we've got to continue it. Our confidence is where it should be, and we're playing the kind of hockey you need to to be successful in the playoffs.Q. You know how Anaheim plays with their physical and on-the-edge style; in a seven-game series, if you see them, do you almost have to match that to beat them, or does it really matter?
RON WILSON: I don't think it really matters. We just played them twice this past week, and I wouldn't say they were overly aggressive games. We had one in their building and one in our building.
Obviously they were missing a couple of pieces, but so were we. I thought we controlled the pace of the game, which is what we set out to do. I mean, if it gets physical, we have the size to be able to handle that.
So I think we're better equipped going into the playoffs this year than any other. They are a strong forechecking team which generally we are, as well, but I think with Brian Campbell and the way some of our defensemen have improved, like Christian Ehrhoff and Marc Vlasic and Douglas Murray
, that we are not as susceptible to being hemmed into our zone as we might have been in the past and in past playoffs.
I think that we'll be able to handle any game that any teams throw at us. Q. Any hesitancy that you're going to peak too soon? Don't you want to lose a couple of games before you get to the playoffs?
RON WILSON: That's for the people at the other end of the standings to worry about. We try and prepare to win every game. You don't plan on a streak like this. And I'm not about to tell our team to change; - that's when you get in trouble is when you have a rope pulling in one direction and you loosen the grip and sometimes it slips out of your hands. We want to keep playing our kind of hockey right now, playoff hockey, and see what happens. Q. Trading deadline acquisitions, you've been around for a long time, and is it your feeling that it's a toss up, 50/50 when you pick up guys at the trading deadline? You picked up Campbell, and he's done a terrific job for you but you never really know.
RON WILSON: Yeah, we won't know until we see how far we've gone in the playoffs. Obviously it's worked up to this point. You know, last year we picked up Billy Guerin, and we only lost one of our last 17 games. People forget that last year going into the playoffs, and we played great for six games and lost to the Red Wings. And that trade looks like our chemistry wasn't right; who the heck knows?
I feel confident that Brian fit right in on in our team. He's got a friendship that he's had in the past with Joe Thornton
, and he just seems comfortable with our group and there have not been any issues.
I think it's a little easier to fit a defenseman of that caliber into your lineup, and you don't have to worry about who you're pairing him with. He's been pretty capable of playing with any one of our six or seven defensemen that we've been using recently. He seems right now a best fit with Douglas Murray
. Q. Do you get a better feeling about your team right now than you did last year's team going into the playoffs? Do you have more pieces, or is it the same feeling that you had going into last year's playoffs?
RON WILSON: Oh, I feel a lot more comfortable with our defense. I think with the improvement in particular of Christian Ehrhoff and Douglas Murray
, two prime examples. Vlasic was always good last year, but Ehrhoff and Douglas Murray
have really improved. And I think the fact that it's a little bit harder to forecheck us because of some of the speed we have on the back end now, makes me feel a little bit better going into the playoffs.Q. Acquisition that slipped under the radar, picking up Brian Boucher, how important was that in terms of giving Nabokov some rest down the stretch? And did it also reinforce the message that, skaters, we feel you're Cup-ready and giving them peace of mind with an experienced guy in the event of a worst-case scenario?
RON WILSON: Definitely. We had seen Brian play a lot, obviously when he was in Phoenix; he played really well at times.
There was a time ten years ago when he was the hottest goalie prospect on the planet, and for some reason, things had not worked out for him. And we were just lucky enough that he was available, and he's done everything and more.
He's got a good attitude. I think more than anything, he understands what his role is in terms of supporting Nabby, and then he's followed up by playing very calmly and has really earned the respect and confidence of his teammates in front of him. Q. Wondering if early in the season, what they accomplished last year, was that used as inspiration or to motivate you guys; or does it help from the standpoint that now you only have to answer questions about your team and not about whether a team from the Pacific or California can go all the way?
RON WILSON: No, I think what they were able to accomplish last year has given us -- or it proves that it's possible with our travel schedule and so on and so forth that a Pacific time zone team can win the Stanley Cup.
We feel going into the playoffs, worst-case scenario, if we were to go all the way, if Detroit remains an obstacle later in the playoffs, we would have home ice all through the Stanley Cup.
So we have worked really hard to get to this point, but we realize that winning the division isn't our primary focus this year. It's just a feather in our cap, and an opportunity now awaits that we want to take advantage of. Q. Some pundits have raised the issue of whether the Ducks are considered a quote, unquote, dirty team, because of their physical nature, and you obviously see them quite a bit. Are those fair comments, or is it kind of, you know, garbage whether they are quote, unquote, dirty, or not?
RON WILSON: You know, the games that we've played against the Ducks, I've never considered -- I've never considered any of the games dirty. They are physical. There's an intensity there.
There will always be in the course of the game, whether it be your own player or a player on the other team where somebody may cross the line, and then it's up to the officials to recognize the situation. But I don't think I've ever felt in our games with Anaheim that I would classify them as dirty. They play hard, they play aggressive and they are successful doing it.
We have added some elements to our team like Jody Shelley, and we have Douglas Murray
on the back end that can hit with the best of them. I really don't believe they are dirty. They are aggressive and they are fun to watch. Q. Do you lose your sense of normalcy once the playoffs starts?
RON WILSON: My sense of normalcy? Q. If there is one -- like your lifestyle, how much does that get altered once the playoffs again?
RON WILSON: No, I try to stay -- I try to keep the same routine essentially, how we prepare for games so on and so forth.
What changes is that you can focus on one team. Once you're prepared, you make tiny adjustments. And to be honest with you, it's a little easier once the playoffs start, because your focus is on one particular team; which we don't know who we're playing yet and probably won't until the weekend. And then you focus on what you've done against a particular team in the regular season and what you think they might try to do in the playoffs; and you focus on what their coach likes to do in terms of matchups, or try to anticipate things like that.
And then during a series, you just are looking for little things that would give you an advantage, and it's a lot easier to do that when you're only focused on one team.Q. Being that you probably won't know who that team is going to be until this weekend, is that enough time to make all of those matchup decisions, all of those adjustments and all that, or do you start looking at it now, the potentials?
RON WILSON: To be honest with you, I'm just worried about the Los Angeles Kings game tomorrow. I hate to say this, but this isn't rocket science, and you know, I've been around long enough. I have an idea what I'm doing, and we studied these teams a lot throughout the season.
I have a great coaching staff; Tim Hunter and Rob Zettler watch tons of video and we have a good understanding. We'll have a meeting next weekend. We'll probably sit on the flight back from Dallas and talk about the team. We'll already have edited all of the DVDs and have it in our computers. That stuff will be broken down.
Generally we won't change the game plan from what we've used against a particular team in the regular season, and you just kind of make adjustments on the fly. When the playoffs start, you see what the other team is doing, and you respond accordingly. Q. Does it matter if you win the Presidents' Trophy?
RON WILSON: No, I mean, I don't think it's possible, but, you know, I didn't think it was possible for Edmonton to get to where they are today.
Q. Are you surprised, because they actually won a game in a shootout against you; one of the few teams that's got any points against you in the last little while.
RON WILSON: Yeah, that was kind of funny. Of all the games we've played recently, that was probably our best, and we lost a point.
But that being said I never would have thought six weeks ago that we could creep within five points of the Detroit Red Wings.
So I guess it's not impossible about, but very unlikely so we are not even thinking about it. At this point it's irrelevant. We want to continue to fine-tune our game and remain confident while not stressing the important people on our team. For example, last night in our game with Phoenix, there really was not one forward who played more than 15 and a half minutes in the game, and we still won the game. We still did the things that we needed to do. We still played hard but some guys didn't have to play as much.
And that's -- you know, I'm having this debate with some of our own reporters regarding rest; I use the word "rest" like I'm not going to play anybody. What we're doing is maintaining guys who have bumps and bruises; they won't play. But the other guys who are healthy are going to be in there; and just continuing to stay confident and do the detail work that you need to be successful in the playoffs.