Tim Thomas

Head games: While Luongo’s psyche is in question, is Thomas in Canucks’ heads?


One thing that traditional writers love (and stats-leaning bloggers often despise) is the concept of the “mental game” in sports. While it seems like a lot of people grossly exaggerate ideas like “choking” and “being rattled,” the undeniable fact is that human beings are involved. (Yes, even the seemingly robotic Sedin twins count in that category.)

Sometimes that brings about the most fragile of human emotions, factors that are seemingly playing a big part in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

It’s tough to deny the pivotal moment of motivation that came for the Boston Bruins after that ugly Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton, whether that motivation was manifested in sheer anger, bold inspiration or a combination of the two.

After being outscored 12-1 in those two mind-blowing beat-downs in Beantown, it’s reasonable to wonder about the collective psyche of the Presidents Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks too. The questions naturally begin with their probable Game 5 starter Roberto Luongo. Some goalies have the mindset to shake off every mistake as if they never happened, but Luongo occasionally falls into a habit of letting a soft goal or two to derail him like a train in a middling popcorn movie.

Justin Goldman captured Luongo’s seemingly frail psyche in his NHL.com column.

From the drop of the puck, I could see Luongo’s body language was off. His legs looked heavy. Instead of exuding confidence, he appeared passive and complacent. It was not an easy start to Game 4 for either goaltender though, as choppy plays and missed chances forced both goalies to battle hard to track the puck and stay square.


On Peverley’s goal, Luongo proved that solid technique is an extension of solid confidence. Without the poise and patience of a confident goalie, Luongo’s technique appeared flawed. A strong mind is the source of a strong save.

In a game where there’s simply no time to appear fragile, Luongo relinquished three more goals that proved he was not alert or attentive enough to bounce back. This is where things went wrong for Vancouver’s leader — he simply failed to play with the confidence he had in Games 1 and 2.

While Luongo’s miserable play inspires all kind of questions from Vancouver fans – and plenty of confidence for Boston shooters – the opposite is true of Tim Thomas vs. the Canucks. Thomas allowed just one goal in two games at home after being mostly stout in Vancouver (he only allowed five goals in the first four games of this series). Even in defeat, Thomas has been a tough nut to crack, inspiring many to wonder if the highlight reel machine of a goalie is in the Canucks’ heads.

Naturally, they denied the idea.

“Not at all,” Daniel Sedin said when he was asked if Thomas is in the Canucks’ heads. “There are a few games left. There is nothing like that going on. We have to find a way to solve him. He’s not in our heads, but we have to find a way to solve him.”

To some extent, I believe Sedin for a simple reason: I don’t think expectations or opposing goalies do much to alter the Sedin twins’ style. For better or worse, Henrik Sedin will almost always pass and the duo will almost always create nice scoring chances. The key is for Daniel Sedin to get to the slot and for the two (along with Alexandre Burrows) to penetrate the defense rather instead of floating on the perimeter. They managed to have their way against the San Jose Sharks, but tighter checking defenses have given them fits with discouraging frequency throughout the playoffs.

Maybe Thomas isn’t in Vancouver’s heads, but could the bruising, opportunistic Bruins be as a whole?

Whether they win or lose this series, we’ve already seen that Boston will roll with the punches. Despite overcoming serious challenges already, the Canucks are once again placed in a situation where their toughness is in question. We’ll learn a lot about Luongo and this Vancouver team as this series boils down to a best-of-three. It doesn’t take a strong mind to figure that one out.

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

Connor McDavid
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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told NHL.com. “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

Connor McDavid
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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”