Ryan Kesler

Looking for a new way to play? Canucks take psychology seriously to get an edge


If there’s something we can recall about Vancouver teams from the recent past in their playoff losses to Chicago it’s how they always seemed to fall apart mentally against the Blackhawks. While Chicago found ways to frustrate them with their play on the ice and doing lots of chirping to get the Canucks to respond with dumb penalties or poor play, this year’s Canucks team has had a brand of cool about them that gives them a sort of Zen feel to their game, especially after their comeback win in Game 2 against Boston to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup finals.

No more do we see Roberto Luongo throwing his defensemen to the wolves after a bad loss nor do we see the harsh acting out from Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. These Canucks are calm, cool, and collected and there’s a good reason for that. Vancouver’s getting the assistance of a Boston University professor and sports psychologist to help them better prepare.

Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe tells us about Len Zaichkowsky and the magic he’s been working on the Canucks to help them better prepare for games.

“We try to quantify everything, measure stuff as well as we can,’’ Zaichkowsky said. “There are some things that are hard to measure, but it’s hard to argue with the success of the team. You can’t make attributions to any one thing. I think it’s a lot of things, starting with getting good players and good coaches and then we try to add value in everything that we do, in preparation and in their playing.’’

Much of the work Zaichkowsky does is making sure players know “the importance of total preparation in both mind and body.’’ It’s something, he said, that is always talked about, but is not always done. It’s his job to change that.

This kind of in depth attention to detail can be key and Zaichkowsky’s work has clearly paid off this year for Vancouver. The Canucks aren’t as distracted by things these days and it’s obvious. Even the Alex Burrows biting situation didn’t force the Canucks to change their demeanor or how they’ve prepared for the series. With that sort of circus surrounding the team, it’d be easy to lose your focus but the Canucks have stayed strong no matter what. Should the Canucks go on to win the Stanley Cup giving Zaichkowsky a Stanley Cup ring would be more than worth it.

Goalie nods: Niemi expected for Stars against Penguins

Antti Niemi, Jonathan Toews
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Talk about getting thrown into the fire.

Antti Niemi is expected to be the starting goalie tonight in Dallas when his Stars host Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Niemi has, not surprisingly, been given the assignment over Kari Lehtonen, the latter of whom struggled badly during the preseason, allowing 15 goals on 84 shots.

Not that Niemi was razor sharp himself. He allowed eight goals on 65 shots, for a save percentage of .877.

Considering the Stars have a combined $10.4 million in cap space tied up in those two veteran netminders, it’s no wonder the number-one question facing the club is whether the goaltending has indeed been fixed.

We’ll start to find out tonight.

Marc-Andre Fleury will undoubtedly be in goal for Pittsburgh, though that hasn’t been confirmed.


Craig Anderson, the goalie the Senators decided to keep, versus Robin Lehner, the one they traded to the Sabres.

Cam Ward will start for Carolina when the Hurricanes visit the Predators, who will obviously go with Pekka Rinne. The consensus is that Eddie Lack will eventually supplant Ward as Carolina’s starter, but that apparently hasn’t happened yet.

Brian Elliott goes for the Blues versus Cam Talbot for the Oilers. Elliott was excellent in the preseason, stopping all but two of the 57 shots he faced, while Jake Allen allowed six goals on 60 shots.

Steve Mason for the Flyers versus Ben Bishop for the Lightning.

Ondrej Pavelec for Winnipeg versus Tuukka Rask for Boston.

Devan Dubnyk likely for the Wild versus Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.

Flyers want to prove doubters wrong

Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux
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Jakub Voracek totally understands why nobody’s expecting much from the Philadelphia Flyers. When a team finishes 14 points out of the playoffs the year before, that’s typically going to be the case.

“We weren’t good enough last year, let’s face it,” Voracek told CSN Philly. 

So, no, it doesn’t upset him that the Flyers aren’t considered among the Stanley Cup favorites.

That being said, “it makes you feel you want to prove them wrong.”

The Flyers get going tonight with a tough game against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. They also play Saturday in Florida against the Panthers, before a rematch with the Panthers Monday in Philadelphia.

“My biggest concern would be getting off to a good start,” GM Ron Hextall said. “That’s one thing that we need to do.”

That’s something they didn’t do last year. In fact, they won just once in their first six games. By the end of November, they were 8-12-3 and in a big hole — one that proved too deep to climb out of.

Related: Flyers to start season with seven defensemen