Johnson credits Roy for ditching ‘chip-it-up-the-wall’ hockey


At 14-3-0, the Colorado Avalanche continue to be the surprise of the season, finding success with a mix of speed and aggression that was absent in previous seasons.

One of the biggest benefactors from this change — defenseman Erik Johnson — says his new head coach is the guy to thank.

“A lot of it has to do with Patrick [Roy],” Johnson told the Denver Post. “You know, I’m a player that can make plays. You go out there and make a mistake and go back to the bench and he’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it. That’s a great try. Go out and do it again next shift.’

“In the past, we played a lot of D-to-D, chip-it-up-the-wall kind of hockey. Now, there’s a lot of flow to our game, where we come out of the zone with speed. We’re really utilizing our best asset, which is our speed.”

If this change in philosophy/strategy sounds familiar, it should. The Minnesota Wild — who have won eight of 10 — loosened the reigns from their conservative approach this season and have achieved great success.

“We weren’t going to take the next step, become a serious contender, unless we changed the way we played offensively,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “I have bit my lip a couple of times on the bench … but we’re going to live with the risk to get more reward.”

The big difference in Minnesota, though, is that the change in attack didn’t require a coaching change. Yeo acknowledged that if the Wild were going anywhere, it would have to be with a more aggressive mentality.

To achieve a similar new mindset, the Avs had to part ways with Joe Sacco, who repeatedly preached a conservative approach during his four years on the job, driving a wedge between him and his players.

“There were very few people in this (dressing) room who were happy. Our style of play, it wasn’t right for this team. We knew it would fail,” Matt Duchene told the Denver Post in late October. “That was the hard part. We knew (any) success was going to be short-lived. It was hard to really be excited about it.”

Johnson agreed. From the Post:

Under coach Joe Sacco, Johnson said, he would have been told, “What are you doing, not chipping it in?”

“Patrick has just given me that leash, and I just have a belief in my game right now. When the coach has belief in you, it makes a big difference.”

Related: Duchene: Avalanche players knew Sacco’s style of play ‘would fail’

Panarin impresses ‘Hawks with his preseason debut

Artemi Panarin
AP Photo

Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.

Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.

“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.

The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.

Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.

Gustavsson secures one-year contract with Bruins

Jonas Gustavsson
AP Photo
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There was stiff competition for the backup goaltending job in Boston, but with a signing this afternoon, it seems likely that the matter has been resolved.

The Boston Bruins announced that Jonas Gustavsson has agreed to a one-year, $700,000 deal. It’s a one-way contract, according to the Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin.

That contract is still small enough that the Bruins could bury it in the minors if they so desire, but it does set him apart from his last competitor for the goalie position, Jeremy Smith, who has a two-way deal. The fact that Boston went this route seems to imply that Gustavsson will serve as Tuukka Rask‘s understudy, although both netminders attended Sunday’s practice.

In Smith, the Bruins would be getting a 26-year-old goaltender who was dominant with the AHL’s Providence Bruins last season, but has no NHL experience. By contrast Gustavsson, 30, has played in almost 150 NHL games.

Boston sent Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban to the minors last week, but an argument could be made that either one of them is worthy of the backup job. However, both of them have a lot of potential and it’s not surprising that the Bruins felt they were better served by staying in the minors where they can play regularly and focus on honing their game.