|Gaborik getting more ice time after squaring off with Wild coach Lemaire|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 18 January 2008 12:02|
The tough coach, who won eight Stanley Cup titles as a player with the Montreal Canadiens and another behind the New Jersey Devils bench in 1995, knows what it takes to be a champion. He wants to bring out the best in his players, especially the team leaders, and doesn't mind calling them out.
Marian Gaborik has seen that firsthand.
After scoring five goals in a win over the New York Rangers on Dec. 20, Gaborik saw his playing time decrease. He was on ice for 20 minutes, 36 seconds, that night but was down to only 14:28 five games later because of his poor plus-minus performances. In the 12 games since his scoring outburst, Gaborik received 20 minutes of ice time just twice and dipped below 16 three times.
Gaborik didn't enjoy having his playing time cut. Lemaire said it was done for the simple reason that he felt Gaborik wasn't playing well enough to get more action.
Lemaire is the only coach the Wild have had in their seven seasons of existence, and he has taken the club to the postseason twice. They made a run to the Western Conference finals in their third year and first playoff appearance.
``He's the only coach I've experienced in the NHL,'' said Gaborik, now in his seventh season with the Wild. ``He's done a lot for this team and for myself, as well. You know, we had a little bit of some arguments sometimes, but it's all good. He's a good coach, and he wants to try to get the best out of any player. That's how he is.''
The motivational methods might not be the most familiar to Gaborik, or the most pleasant, but the star forward is adjusting and trying to stay above the media fray. That kind of prodding wasn't what Gaborik experienced in his days back home in Slovakia.
``I try not to pay attention to the newspaper and all this stuff, or any kind of motivational thing or anything,'' Gaborik said. ``I knew I had to change some things myself, and especially when you're minus for a couple games. So I try to do that.''
Following his five-goal performance, Gaborik was minus-2, minus-3, even and minus-2, in the next four games. He was plus or even in six of the next eight games and his playing time increased.
``Between me and him, kind of it happened, that media stuff that happened with that, and it was kind of public and basically it seemed like we passed through the media,'' Gaborik said. ``But I knew what I had to do.''
HITCHING THE WAGON: Ken Hitchcock has been the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets for a little over a year. Now that the team has a legit chance to make the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's seven seasons, he sees a shift in the attitude of the skeptical fans.
The Blue Jackets entered this weekend in ninth place in the Western Conference, one point behind the Colorado Avalanche and the playoff cutoff, and just five points out of fourth.
Behind the offense led by Rick Nash (25 goals, 16 assists) and goalie Pascal Leclaire (2.03 goals-against average and NHL-leading seven shutouts), people in Ohio are starting to believe. The Blue Jackets are the only one of the league's 30 teams to have never qualified for the postseason.
``They can sniff it,'' Hitchcock said. ``At the start of the year, I know they were waiting and saying, 'Let's see what you guys can do.' Even when we won games, it was like, well, that's nice, but what are you going to do the next game? Now when it's on the line, they're dug in right with us. That's a really good feeling. Hopefully it keeps up.
``We know we have a lot of work ahead of ourselves but it's pretty exciting for our team and our players to know that we're in the middle of this race and we're in the middle of this mess with everybody else.''
And that is part of the problem. Although they are just a few points away from the center of the postseason chase, the Blue Jackets came into the weekend only six points ahead of 14th place in the 15-team Western Conference.
``We're right in the battle here to go up the ladder if we can continue to play well, but one bad week and you're really behind the 8-ball,'' Hitchcock said. ``I think it's going to be like this the rest of the year.''
What compounds the problem is the three-point games that come up when contests go to overtime, guaranteeing each team at least a point. When you are chasing, nothing is more disconcerting to see two teams ahead earning points in the same game.
``You have certain teams you're cheering for. Like all of us are cheering for Los Angeles and Edmonton,'' Hitchcock said of two of the West's bottom teams. ``But then the three-point games just disgust you. ... You die with those. Those are killer games for us.
``Those games just drive you nuts.''
STASTNY'S PAIN: The first sign that Paul Stastny's first All-Star appearance was in jeopardy came in the form of an e-mail.
Less than an hour before the young Colorado Avalanche forward was slated to take part in a media conference call to discuss his selection to next week's showcase event in Atlanta, the NHL announced in a brief e-mail that the call had been canceled.
No reason was given. No rescheduled time provided.
It didn't take long for the picture to become clear. The 22-year-old center didn't feel well Thursday, and instead of talking to reporters, Stastny underwent surgery to have his appendix removed.
That was enough to shelve him for two-to-three weeks and force him to miss the All-Star game. Just a few days earlier he anticipated joining father Peter as the seventh father-son duo to play in the NHL All-Star game.
Stastny hadn't missed any games in his one-plus NHL seasons, having played in 82 as a rookie last season. His 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) in 46 games led the Avalanche this season.
SHOOTING BLANKS: It took 12 rounds for the Washington Capitals to finally outlast the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout on Thursday night.
The length was surprising enough, and nearly record breaking, but the fact that only one of 24 shooters scored was stunning. Matt Bradley, who had only two traditional goals in 41 games this season, called his own number and got the Capitals a win.
Bradley hopped over the boards before coach Bruce Boudreau could stop him and send someone else out to shoot.
The 24 attempts were the third most in an NHL shootout since the league adopted the tiebreaking format in 2005. The record is 30 attempts by the New York Rangers and Capitals on Nov. 26, 2005, and the second-highest total is 26 by the Rangers and Philadelphia on Oct. 7, 2006.
Washington has taken part in four of the seven shootouts in which there were at least 20 shots, winning its first long one on Thursday.
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.