Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 03/26/08 at 06:04 PM ET
Today, Montreal Canadiens head coach, Guy Carbonneau, was made available for questions via an NHL confererence call.
In his second season as head coach, Guy has guided the Canadiens to the top record in the Eastern Conference with 96 points. With Monday’s victory over the Ottawa Senators, Montreal has clinched a Stanley Cup record playoff berth for a record 76 times.
Q. Two quick questions: I was wondering if there was any particular game or trip during the season that you really think was essential for the team’s growth where you thought, maybe, this was more than just a playoff team, that they could win the conference?
GUY CARBONNEAU: Obviously, one thing we try to work at and started at training camp with was really kind of team chemistry and get the younger guys and the new guys together a lot. I think the core of the team was really strong from last year. We had about eight or nine new guys that joined the team in training camp, so our first thing was trying to get those guys as quick as possible on board.
But I really think that the biggest step for us was the trip at Christmas. Not because of the opponents that we had, but just because of what happened last year. I thought last year our team was really playing strong hockey. We were doing really well, and then the trip that we had starting just before Christmastime didn’t go the way we wanted.
Then from there it was really kind of a struggle right up until about three weeks from the end of the season where we couldn’t catch our breath, couldn’t catch anything. I thought this year we had the same start, kind of similar to last year.
We’ve had also a huge trip during that holiday time. I think everybody was kind of nervous about that trip. Then once we came out of it doing really well, I thought that was a big thing.
Q. With the success against Boston, your feelings, I’ve talked to people that talk of the Bruins countering style. You seem to have some success attacking them. Just wondered, any thoughts on your success, and will there be any trepidation meeting them in the first round, given you’ve had so much success against them?
GUY CARBONNEAU: It’s really hard to explain. There’s not one thing. I think as you look at the games that we’ve played against them, we’ve just been able to get to them. Most of the games they were there, they were playing hard, which is their style.
And they’ve also had a lot of injuries this year, so that makes it tough on them. But they battle every game. We’ve been able, for reasons that are hard to explain, we’ve been able to score more goals than other teams against Thomas. I understand that the success has been there, but playoffs is playoffs.
I know if we have a chance to meet them in the playoffs, they’re going to be a different team.
Q. I wanted to follow?up on the last question. You were talking about your perception, the team in training camp. I wondered if you felt at that point that you were capable of achieving what you have, or if this was maybe just another step in your way? What was your perception?
GUY CARBONNEAU: I wish we would have stayed healthy last year, because I think we would have been a different perspective during the summer. I understand that, you know, the media or the fans at the start of the year are saying that we didn’t have playoff contenders because of what happened last year. But I really thought that a month and a half that our team went to that injuries ?? well, a couple of injuries. Mostly being sick. That kind of threw us a little bit off.
I knew at training camp with the team that we have, the additions that we’ve had, that we’re going to be a better team. But so many things can happen during the course of the season.
I don’t deny that I’ve taken a lot of pride in trying to prove people wrong, but I also knew that there were a few things that had to happen during the start of this year to make these things happen.
You know, we’ve been lucky. We haven’t had that many injuries. Most of our players, their game has been constant. Our goaltenders have been solid, whether it was Carey or even Jaro.
We haven’t had a slump, so all of those things together, we kind of knew that we had a better team than what people thought.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Kovalev. You know, rarely do we see a player at his age has such a quantum leap. This is his best season, statistically anyway, in seven or eight years. I just wonder, does this reflect the success of the team, or is Kovy playing differently or doing some things differently?
GUY CARBONNEAU: Well, I think when the team has success, or any team has success, the injury loss, the team will have to do something really good. I thought Kovy last year had an okay season, maybe not to his standards or to our standards. I think that kind of really kind of got him thinking this summer, especially when Russia didn’t ask him to play in the world championship.
I think he reevaluated where he stands, what he needs to do. I can’t say that he had a different attitude or better attitude, but I think he came in with an attitude that, I’m going to prove to the people that I’m better than that.
The rest of the group has been a lot better this year, took some pressure off of him, off Saku, off a few other guys. It kind of reenergized those guys also.
Q. I wanted to touch on Kovalev, too. He had ten goals by your 19th game. I’m just curious to know the start, that move October, how important was it for him to just get off the schnide really quickly and have a hot start?
GUY CARBONNEAU: I think when you have that free time, especially in the summer, to kind of refocus, like I said, you call it new attitude or try to show people that they were wrong or all those things. There’s a lot of things that goes through your mind. I think you tend to work a little harder. Maybe work out a little differently.
Like talking with Kovy, he looked at tapes of when he was a younger guy, what he used to do, how much he loved the game. But put that aside, I think it’s important when you come back to have that kind of start, so it shows that you did this and it’s working.
Same thing when a coach tries to teach a team, whether it’s a system or a game plan, I think you think you have the right system, but if the first four or five games you play that system and you’re losing, it’s really hard to sell to those players. So I think individually it’s the same thing.
Q. There are a couple of key dates this season for Carey. Obviously the debut, when he got called back up and the trading deadline. I’m curious if you saw a change in his demeanor at all in any of those three dates?
GUY CARBONNEAU: I think every time that ?? as the year went, I think he gained a lot more confidence in what he can accomplish. I think there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that he had the talent to be a really good goalie at maybe the start, but there are steps that he has to go through.
Obviously the first game was huge for him after that, putting a few games together. I think there was a big surprise, probably, or a shock when Bob decided to trade Cristobal. But I felt like he’s ?? not that he’s been a different man, but he’s like the devil probably was gone. He didn’t have to fight against anybody anymore.
He knew that he was going to be the man that would go back in the net. He didn’t have to be superman. He just had to be Carey Price.
Q. You’ve got lots of defensemen. You’ve got some playing forward. Is that good? Because they’re probably playing out of position. And considering the playoffs coming up, you need lots of defensemen, so that must be comforting for you. And the other question I have for you, you saw the story with yourself and Patrick Roy. Do you think that sort of thing would ever happen in the NHL?
GUY CARBONNEAU: Well, first about the defensemen, obviously we enjoyed our depth at the start of the year. We were kind of lucky that last year we had a guy like Mark Streit that I really enjoy having him around and his vision. But we felt like having him on defense with Francis Bouillon, our defensemen were a little too small. So I asked him one day to play forward. He never complained and he did it really good.
We tried the same thing again this year, because we had some extra defensemen. Dandeneault was cut from the same rock, and they’ve been helpful. They’re guys that understand the game that helped our team at having the start that we’ve had.
We’ve been able, during the course of the game sometimes because of injuries and penalty?wise, to put them back on defense. You know, I think it’s just in their attitude. They’ve had a good attitude about it since the start. You know, we see now with Mike Komisarek being out, that it pays off to have those kind of guys around.
As for Patrick, you know, it’s unfortunate. I think those incidence happen at every level. Not the gestures. I think that’s what really kind of made the headlines. I think people have to understand when there is Patrick Roy involved, everything gets bigger. Fighting has been part of hockey for decades, centuries. I don’t know if it’s going to change.
But I think it’s more the two gestures, I think, that happened. I think when there is a guy on the ground that you shouldn’t keep punching. They had two incidents that happened in that game. I mean, you don’t want to see that at any level.
Q. Does it make it worse if it had been another player? Would it have been the same thing?
GUY CARBONNEAU: Well, I mean, obviously, when you have that involvement, I don’t think he thought of that that way. You never want to see anybody in that situation, let alone your son or your daughter. So, obviously, the two together made it a lot bigger than it should have been.
Q. Following up on Carey Price, he mentioned his meeting with you following the trade, that had really boosted his confidence. I was wondering what you said and how that meeting went?
GUY CARBONNEAU: Just normal talk between a coach and the players. I think as anybody ?? I think everybody was kind of surprised when Cristobal was traded. But, I think Bob had thought about that a long time and knew what kind of player we had in Carey, and also what kind of player we had in Jaro. I think the bulk of the conversation was just to make him realize that he didn’t have to be superman. What brought him here was being Carey Price, and all he needed to do was just to keep playing like Carey Price. I understand that he’s only 20 years old. I didn’t want to put more pressure on him than he had already. I don’t expect him to shut down the opposition every game.
For him, now, he’s being number one, he has to act like one that’s all. He wasn’t really a big, big deal, but just to make him feel more comfortable.
Q. There’s that pressure of playing in Montreal. Does he approach you at times to ask advice, to get advice on the pressure of playing in Montreal, and do you offer something to him?
GUY CARBONNEAU: Well, I think we have a group I’ve coached here that had the chance to play in Montreal, all four of us. Doug Jarvis, Kirk Muller, Rollie Melanson has been really close to the goaltenders. He’s worked with them every day. He went to Hamilton to work with Jaro, even when Carey was at Hamilton. Rollie was there to work with them. So he has a really good relationship with those guys. He’s the one that gets in contact with them pretty much every day.
But I think having guys that played here in Montreal that went through the, pressure, that won championships here, I think the players have more, you know, they can come to us for advice.
Not that they do it every day, but I think in the way we prepare the team, in the way we talk to them pretty much every day, those are the things that we’re trying to control.
Q. Can you just describe the importance of home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup playoffs? Obviously, teams want to get that home ice, but is it as important as it was, say, maybe five, ten years ago? It seems as though the road teams are having so much more success nowadays?
GUY CARBONNEAU: You know what, it’s a really hard question. I think that if you’re talking about organization?wise, I think home ice advantage is always important.
If you’re going to have a seventh game, I’d rather have it at home. But the league now, the parity in the league is unbelievable. It’s really hard to win anywhere. So you have to be prepared. I think it’s more about how your team is prepared to play than the ice advantage.
But I would rather start at home than starting on the road.
Q. Going back to the depth issue, you haven’t been shy this year of scratching some of the veteran defensemen. I wonder if we come to the playoffs and get to the point where the sort of experience factor gets a longer look given the fact you’ve got so many guys making their debut or who had those six games a couple years ago, or is it really important to get as many of these youngsters fully immersed in playoff experience?
GUY CARBONNEAU: I would say this we’re in the 76th or 77th game of the season now. There is not a lot of rookies left. Obviously experience has always been a factor this time of the year in the playoffs. We have five games left. I’m probably going to put ?? we’ve got Dandeneault to play. We’ve got a few extra guys.
So they might be in a couple of games until the end of the season. I would imagine the last two, three games the lineup that I wish is going to start the playoff is going to be in there for me. It’s about winning. It’s not about older guys or younger guys. I think the 20 guys that are going to help me win games are the ones that are going to be in the lineup.
Q. You talked about players and contributions of veterans and young guys. What’s been your contribution this year? How have you changed from a coach last year as the first year head coach and now second year head coach?
GUY CARBONNEAU: Well, obviously experience. I don’t consider myself a veteran in coaching. But I think the year that I spent last year has really helped me this year how to react, how to act.
I’m thinking more and I’m acting more as a coach now than as a player. Sometimes I’m thinking of when I was a player I used to do this, I used to do that. There is some truth to that. It doesn’t really work in the long?term, so I’m acting more as a coach now than I used to.
I understand more the impact of my decisions, so not that I’m trying to make those decisions, but I know how to prepare it a little bit before, maybe.
Now, obviously, behind the bench, quick decisions behind the bench, bench management. How to use the players. I understand now like last year, everybody that I used was kind of new for me. Like how they would act, how they would react. Power?play wise. Penalty?wise at the end of the game. Up one, down one. Now I have a better idea what I can use in those situations.
Q. Is there any piece of advice that you got after last year or before this season started, where former coaches or guys you’ve played with or talked to you about making that transition and jumping to the second year. Again, taking all of that with you, experience, and how to best use it.
GUY CARBONNEAU: Well, I’ve talked to a few guys in the summer. We’ve had a chance at the draft to have meetings with all the coaches, and you sit down with guys like and Ken Hitchcock, and, you know, Mike Keenan.
I think, I don’t know if you’re talking about it like more advice, because at the end of the day, I think we’re all trying to achieve the same thing, and we all have the same problems. It’s just different places.
You know, sometimes, some people are more experienced than I am. They went through a situation where they had one player that was unhappy, and how they dealt with it and things like that. That really helps and it will help me in the future. And I’ve been like this since I was a player, too, like that.
I really kind of watch our coaches react and interact with players. I think you take some good stuff and some bad stuff, and try to create your style with that.
Q. How good is Markov on defense? I get the feeling that people think all the good defensemen play in the west, and a lot of them do. But does Markov get the recognition he should?
GUY CARBONNEAU: I think a little bit more than in the past. Obviously, he’s not 6’4”, 6’ 5” and 240 pounds. But he’s been really rock solid since I’ve been here. He’s improved every game. I think he’s taking a lot more of a leadership role and interacts a lot more with us and with the players because of the language.
I think there is less of a language barrier now than there used to be. He’s somebody that really takes the game seriously. He’s been fun to have. It’s always good. I always say, if you ask all the coaches, that the less you talk about a defenseman, I think the more he does his job.
He’s been kind of that quiet guy. He doesn’t want any recognition. He doesn’t kind of go forward with the media. They don’t really talk about him that much. But he does a lot of the things right.
Q. The whole league has turned so young now. Does every team have to play their young guys? And every team seems to have six, seven, eight young guys now, and often they’re becoming core players.
GUY CARBONNEAU: Well, it is. Because they have energy and enthusiasm. You know, they want to play. I think the league now is a league that you cannot take a day off. You cannot take a week off. Where in the past a veteran team would start the season and have a good training camp. Maybe take two, three, four weeks to get going.
You can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to start from day one to the last day. They have that energy that maybe the veterans don’t have.
I think the enthusiasm, that’s what I see. The veterans maybe have to adjust more than the youth have to, where the veteran knows that it’s a long season. I’m not saying that they’re pacing themselves, you know. That’s the balance that you have to find.
Q. You were touching on the experience that you’ve gained as a coach. You may not think about this this way, but do you think of what the playoffs are going to be like now as a head coach how it’s going to be different than when you were a player and what not?
GUY CARBONNEAU: You know what, I haven’t been in the playoffs as a coach.
Q. Right, that’s why I’m asking.
GUY CARBONNEAU: I mean, it’s definitely going to be different. I think the preparation for me, when I was a player, I prepare myself for a long series. I learned you’re allowed to lose the first game, but you’re not allowed to lose the last. I think I go into it with the same thing as a coach.
There are adjustments that will need to be done game?to?game and day?to?day. I think I’ve been lucky. Everybody’s talking about me. But I’ve been lucky to have a great staff of guys like Doug Jarvis that have that experience. Kirk Muller that brings that enthusiasm. And Roland has been here a long time. We talk a lot. We prepare ourselves the same way every day.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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