Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 04/02/08 at 04:50 PM ET
Today, the Minnesota Wild’s head coach Jacques Lemaire was made available by way of a NHL teleconference. With 95 points the Wild sit in first place in the Northwest Division, two points ahead of Colorado and three ahead of the Calgary Flames, who they host tomorrow night. A victory would guarantee a division championship and home ice in at least in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Here’s the transcript of Lemaire’s Q&A session.
Q. Jacques, one of the things I noticed about your team is how good your record is in special teams play and how important that’s been during the regular season. I’d like you to comment on the power play. You’re eighth best in the league, penalty killing second best in the league. How much has that influenced your success this season and how important will it be in the playoffs versus the regular season?
JACQUES LEMAIRE: Well, first of all, it will be very important. You know, when you look at the stats, sometimes they’re true and other times they’re not.
On our part, we’ve been satisfied only at different times of our power play. Lately it’s been going well. We had sequences of maybe four games, five games, six games, something like that, that the power play was going well, and we needed to win games.
The thing is when you’re playing five-on-five and your team is good five-on-five, you do not need the power play as much. When you’re not good, your team is not good five-on-five, or just average, then the power play turns out to be really important.
In the playoffs it seems like, you know, the five-on-five game is pretty equal. Every time will go on, and you see a difference on the special teams pretty much every game.
So for us it will be huge. We have the tools. We have the talent to score goals on the power play. It’s only to put it together, moving the puck around, getting the right shot at the right time.
Penalty killing has been good all year, though, pretty much. We’re quite happy with that. At times we use different people there, but everyone seems to do a pretty decent job.
Q. I know in the past you’ve always been very complimentary of Barry Trotz. Wondered if this season with the talent they lost last off-season if you think this is one of the better jobs that Barry Trotz has done with the Predators.
JACQUES LEMAIRE: You know, when you look at what happened at the start of the season at a time there when they had all these top players leaving the team, you know, a lot of people were saying, Hey, it’s going to be a tough year for them, really tough to make the playoffs. And he’s right there right now. You got to tip your hat because it’s not an easy job when you’re losing three of your top players, you know, trying to convince the other guy that we’re as good. It’s a hard task.
I think he’s done a tremendous job with that team.
Q. I noticed that you picked up Chris Simon this year, Derek Boogaard is there, and Todd Fedoruk is on board. Are you going to play them all during the playoffs?
JACQUES LEMAIRE: I think it will depend on the team we’ll be facing. We got Simon because we felt that at a time we weren’t sure Boogaard would come back with the team. It was more a safety in getting Simon. But now that Boogaard is here, sometimes it’s hard depending on the team you’re playing, as I said, to play all three of them.
Q. Is this sort of not a ploy but a method of combatting the Anaheim Ducks?
JACQUES LEMAIRE: Well, it’s a method of combatting any team that is very aggressive and that plays an aggressive game. So you know as well as I do that you can have all the talent in the world, and if you don’t have that aggressiveness that other team has, it’s going to be hard to match. So you need a good balance. You need a good chemistry on your team. These guys are part of the chemistry.
Q. When people talk about the Western Conference playoffs, generally they look at Detroit, Anaheim. Those are the two teams. And San Jose made some significant moves at the deadline. Is it better to fly under the radar or would you rather be lumped in the group with them as sort of a favorite in the west?
JACQUES LEMAIRE: Favorite? If we finish ahead of the other teams, you’ll be favorite, and you have to accept that. If you don’t, then automatically you’re not.
You know, I know that there’s better teams than our team in the playoffs. But I always say the games are played on the ice. In the playoffs, I’ve seen a lot of times a lot of disappointment and I’ve seen teams that went a long way that maybe they shouldn’t, teams that beat better teams because their players played harder, you know, they were on the good run for that moment. That’s the whole game.
If we’re there with them, well, we want to be there.
Q. A lot of players have had a good season this year. That’s always necessary. Three guys I want you to comment on. I’m looking at Brent Burns, Brian Rolston, then Marian Gaborik having his best season. Can you talk about the importance of those guys to your team.
JACQUES LEMAIRE: If I start with Burns, last year and a half he’s been climbing to become a top player, a top defenseman. He’s a young guy, but he’s got tremendous talent. He’s got great ability, great skills. He’s a big kid. He’s strong. He’s got a great shot. Offensively he brings a lot to this team. He turned out to be, even at his age, our top defenseman. So we’re quite happy with what he achieved so far. I’m telling you that I feel that this kid has another step to make and he will be among the top defensemen in the league in the next two years.
The other one is Rolston. Rolston has been a real solid player. He’s a player that, you know, I knew Rolston from New Jersey and I was quite happy when we got him to play here ‘cause he’s a guy that comes to play every night. He’s been with us scoring 25 goals and more every year, playing the power play, killing penalties, making plays against top lines at times. So we can’t ask more from Rolston.
And Gaborik, a young guy that is still getting better. I feel that he still has a lot to learn. I feel that, again, this kid could be really a great, great player in a couple years, as soon as he will get all of his game and have confidence in a certain way of playing the game. He’s more an offensive kid, but he can play as good defensively as he can offensively.
You know, we’re quite happy with all three of them.
Note 1: a transcript of Mike Keenan’s related-interview was posted earlier today on KK.
Note 2: for a deeper profile on Jacques Lemaire, check out this article from Keith Youngblood in today’s Star-Tribune
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