Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 05/29/08 at 03:42 PM ET
Q. Mike, you have a younger, bigger team than Detroit. Brooks was up here earlier talking about how you had hoped to make this a long series, and if so, that you thought you could pound them a little bit and take advantage of the fact that they’re an older team. Can you talk about that a little bit?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: There’s no doubt we want to be physical. And we’re both here to play a physical game. But honestly, we’re taking - the way I see it, we’ll take it game by game. And we’ll see at the end where the result’s going to be.
One thing for me that I see, our team, first of all, is getting better every game. Our team is getting more comfortable every game. Our team’s got more confidence every game.
And that’s a good sign. And I think it’s normal, a little bit, too, as well, because we’re such a young team. And everything is brand new for them to be in the finals.
So the more the series will go on, the more we’ll get better.
Q. I wanted to talk about Marian Hossa. There was a period where he was dominant in many ways, hard to knock off the puck. Seems like he’s struggling a bit to get back to that, have the puck down low. How important is it for him to play that way, to be so hard to take off the puck, to have possession?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: Obviously Hossa, he’s an elite player. For him to be successful he’s got to move his feet. He’s got to protect the puck. He’s making plays. And they feel more comfortable together. And I thought yesterday they were great. And they protect the puck. They got more poise to the puck.
That goal was the confidence, too. And looking around the series so far, the first game, everyone was nervous. The second game, I think our work ethic was there, but our concentration was not there.
Obviously yesterday our work ethic was there, but our concentration in the meantime, it was a lot better. This is what we approach with our players. We got a player system. We’ve got to make sure we’re focused. If you’re capable to bring depth, with our work ethic we should be fine with the results.
Q. Another question about Petr Sykora. We talk a lot about Evgeni Malkin, but it seems when that line is really going, it’s Sykora finishing. Are you concerned about where he’s at with his game, it’s a bit more physical for him and maybe hasn’t been in the mix as much?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: He’s a goal scorer. He won’t need about 10 scoring chances to put the puck in the net. That’s a good thing. I liked Malkin’s game yesterday. I thought it was his best game in the final. Even if he didn’t score, I thought he generates a lot, he was skating well. We could see that he was going - he’s going to the right direction. So that’s a good sign for him.
Q. Where does the challenge lie for you now as a coach, with your young guys, after the first two games maybe their confidence was a bit shaken. It’s now come back up. They had a great game, you feel good about yourselves. But at the same time, there’s a lot of work ahead, you don’t want them to be complacent.
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: I’m not worried about that at all, honestly. And I think confidence, it’s a big part. And having that first win, that was a must-win for us yesterday. It was a huge challenge. And this is one thing that we approach with our team.
Like the next game, that’s going to be another huge challenge for us as well. We’re in the same position like we were yesterday. But in the meantime, that team, when they get confidence, they could accomplish a lot of big things. And this is what we’ve proved so far.
And they proved that to themselves, too. That’s important that they’re capable to prove to themselves that when they’re playing the way we ask them to play, they’re going to get rewarded. And I think yesterday we deserved to win, and it’s going to be - they’re going to feel good about themselves. And they’re going to enjoy their day off today, because it was an emotional three days, for sure. And come back tomorrow to work and be ready for Saturday.
Q. Ryan Whitney commented, in the third period yesterday, he said there was no panic even though the Red Wings were buzzing, outshooting you, they had a late power play, one goal away. Can you comment on what you saw there?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: I thought we were playing really well when we got the lead 3-1. And after that they really opened up the game. And they were playing a high-risk game.
And we were concentrating about playing well defensively, not open up too much, make sure we’re making the right decision with the puck. Don’t get cut out of position. All those little details that you’ve got to play well when you have the lead. Obviously Marc-Andre did some key saves at the right time.
But we’re comfortable. We’re comfortable when to play with the lead. And you’re looking at the record through the course of the season, through the playoffs, when we’ve got the lead, we’ve got a pretty good record.
Q. Everybody sees the roll that Maxime Talbot plays on the ice. But you talk to the teammates about this guy off the ice, sounds like he’s got a substantial role there as the goof ball. As the serious head coach, can you talk about Maxime Talbot, the goof ball in the dressing room and the role that plays?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: The way you see Maxime Talbot play, he plays with a lot of energy. He brings energy to the team. And this is exactly the way he is in the dressing room, and when he’s surrounded by his teammates.
For me he’s a good, young leader. And you need those type of players on a team. And definitely he’s a guy that brings energy to the dressing room.
He’s an upbeat guy. The road for him to the NHL, it’s not always easy. He’s a late pick. He’s not 6’4”. He makes the NHL because of his hard work, his desire to play the game, his passion to play the game. And he’s a good example for his teammates. And I really like the energy that Talbot could bring.
Looking down to his career, he was one of the youngest leaders, captains, when he was playing for AHL, Junior, make the World Championship for Team Canada. He’s not a Sidney Crosby. It’s all about his passion and his work ethic. This is the reason why he’s in the NHL. He’s an important guy to our team. I could give him different roles. He’s able to contribute defensively, but he’s an in-your-face type of player, kills penalties really well. So we’re more than satisfied from that young leader.
Q. Michel, what did you think of Gary Roberts’ impact and performance in Game 3?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: He’s got a huge impact. And he’s a tough guy to play against. I’m glad I have Gary in my lineup and not playing against him. Because you look at the winning goal, he’s the one that put the pressure to the defenseman. We ended up picking up the puck. And he’s been there. He’s got experience.
The young guys rely on him a lot. They ask him a lot of questions. He’s a good leader. Always has a good attitude regarding his team.
So you need those type of players. And last night I thought he played really, really well for us.
Q. Is there a difference between Ryan Whitney over the last six to seven games in terms of confidence, both his own confidence and your guys’ confidence in him, than there was earlier in the playoffs when he looked a little bit unsure of himself?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: We do have a lot of confidence in Ryan Whitney. And personally, I really have a lot of confidence in him. I’ve been with that kid for almost five years and see him play. Even if he was not in the NHL playoffs, I saw him play in the American League for the team in Wilkes-Barre, and he was always able to bring his game to another level in the playoffs.
And right now, since the playoffs start, the consistency in his game is there. And this is what we’re looking for from him. And he’s solid defensively. Number one thing we’re looking forward for a defenseman is to make sure that they play really well defensively, in good position. Some of those players will get the ability to bring some offense to their game. Some don’t.
But that’s okay. But a guy like Whitney, such a young defenseman. We want to make sure that, first of all, he concentrates really well on his number one job is to be a good defenseman. He’s got a good stick, and he’s capable to make a good first pass.
He competes. So the consistency in his game is there right now. This is what we’re looking for. And he feels good about himself, and we feel good about him the way that he’s playing right now.
Q. The way the playoffs have unfolded, the first three rounds this team got off to 3-0 starts in all three series. And the perception was maybe they hadn’t reached that level of facing a situation where they absolutely had to win a game. Do you think you passed that test last night, or is that a test you have to keep passing through the Finals?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: Like last night, it was a challenge. And obviously you don’t want to be down by three games. And I approach it to the players, that the same way I approach the other team, the last round when we played Game 5. Even if you’re up 3-1 in the series, you end up losing that Game 5 at home, you don’t want to go back there for Game 6. You know it’s going to be really demanding, yet you could lose momentum of the series really quickly. So that’s the way I approach it with our team.
And the number one reason I want our team and our players to feel comfortable and confident about that challenge ahead of us. And like I told our team, we always respond really well to challenge, all season long.
And during the regular season it was a huge challenge. In the playoffs there were games that were a huge challenge.
And you want to put your team in the position that they feel good about themselves. And yesterday it was a challenge. It was a big challenge yesterday. And I thought they responded really well again. In the meantime it won’t be any different Saturday. It’s going to be another huge challenge game for us.
Q. Talk about the defensive play of Hal Gil and the defensive play of Darryl Sydor, who played his first game in the playoffs, how he played also?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: Hal Gill, he’s bringing a physical presence with the defensive group. I thought he played really well. We changed our defensemen, that him and Scuderi played against Zetterberg yesterday. I thought they did a good job. Obviously, took two penalties. I thought the first one, he deserved it. The second one was borderline. I believe players have to battle from the net, especially against that team that like to stand in front of their net. But in the meantime we changed our approach for the defensemen.
Him and Gil and Scuderi, I thought they did a good job. We want to have Gonchar bringing more offense because we were struggling to score, get some scoring chances. I thought it worked well. I thought Gonchar had a fantastic game.
And Darryl Sydor, it’s not - it’s not the same situation with Darryl than Gary when he was ready to play. Darryl had a good season with us. We finished the year with those six defensemen that we got. And that group of six defensemen did a great, great job. They were one of the reasons that we were to the Stanley Cup Final. And it was tough to change that chemistry with the defensemen.
Obviously we’re down by two games. And we figure Christopher Letang, his game went down a little bit. It’s demanding for 20-year-old defensemen to play in a Final. You learn a lot. It’s not like we’re not satisfied, but you could see his game went down just a little bit. But we’ve got depth. And Darryl Sydor, he’s a good leader. He’s always got a great, great attitude with his teammates.
He’s working hard. There’s good communication with Darryl and the coaching staff. And we told him when we see the opportunity, we’ll put you there. And we believed that was a good opportunity for Darryl to be back in our lineup, use that experience that we need at this time of the year.
Q. The Orpik shift you talked about last night where he made the four hits. First, is that the best shift you’ve seen from him in your time that you’ve had him, his best shift in terms of physical presence? And everyone talks about, excites the crowd, excites the bench. Does it excite the coach, too, to see that?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: There’s no doubt. And with Orpik, the way that that defenseman is coming along the last three years, I’m really excited for him.
There’s players that you end up starting coaching them. You see where they were, and you see where they are right now. We always know that Brooks Orpik was a physical defenseman. He needed to learn when it was time to be physical.
A couple of years before you get the tendency to be out of the position. Right now he understands more about his position. He knows the play is going to come in front of him.
We’ve got so much confidence in that guy that we’re paring him with Sergei Gonchar, and most of the time they play against top players, because we know that he could punish those top players. And without getting cut out of position. So that guy, from a coaching standpoint, I’m so pleased about his development the last three years. He worked really hard. He’s a great teammate. He cares. And he makes some big, big strides regarding the way he plays right now and the way that he was about two, three years ago.
Q. Can you talk about the importance of the first goal? Not in last night’s game, but in the League, whether it’s in the playoffs or the regular season, why does the team that scores the first goal have pretty well the same winning percentage as they did five or six years ago with other rules?
COACH MICHEL THERRIEN: Well, obviously, give momentum to your team. But I don’t pay too much attention to scoring the first goal. Because if you do, and you don’t score the first goal, that means you could have 15 minutes to play the game, and you’re going to end up quitting.
That’s not my philosophy. Honestly, my philosophy, you need to score three goals to deserve to win a hockey game. So that puts your team in a position to play on their toes. Because you know what, the first goal could be a bad break. If you’re giving up that first goal, it could be a bad break, could be a bad call. Could be a lot of things.
So you can’t always focus about that first goal. Obviously, when you have it, it gives confidence. It’s nice to score that first goal, especially in the playoff.
But you just can’t just focus on that first goal. Because it’s sometimes still a lot of good hockey to be played.
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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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