Deflated tires: Roberto Luongo has second thoughts on Tim Thomas Stanley Cup comments

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While most of us would switch places with a high-level professional athlete like Roberto Luongo in a heartbeat, it’s easy to ignore the drawbacks that come with that job. There are a lot of challenges – from physical pain to the pressure to win in a sport with a small margin of error – but one underrated task comes when players must address the media just moments after they win or lose.

Under normal circumstances, players are prepared to answer reporters’ questions with any number of cliches that pump up their opponents and how hard everyone worked. That being said, the beauty of post-game press conferences is that every now and then, a player lets his guard down and actually says something interesting (and maybe even inflammatory).

One of those moments came after the Vancouver Canucks beat the Boston Bruins 1-0 in Game 5 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, when Roberto Luongo critiqued Tim Thomas after the unorthodox goalie’s aggressiveness backfired for the game’s only goal. Luongo said he would have made the save on Maxim Lapierre’s goal (which happened after Kevin Bieksa bounced the puck off the boards on purpose to take advantage of Thomas’ aggressiveness) and also griped that Thomas hadn’t flattered Luongo during the series. Thomas responded by joking that it wasn’t his job to pump Luongo’s tires.

Those comments looked bad enough after that Game 5 win, but it seemed like a significant foot-in-mouth moment in retrospect. There was a stark contrast in the two goalies’ play in the last two games of the championship series; Thomas allowed two goals in Boston’s two wins while Luongo was pulled from Game 6 and allowed three goals in Vancouver’s Game 7 loss.

This must be a painful off-season for the oh-so-close Canucks, but Luongo received the greatest amount of blame for Vancouver’s crushing defeat. Canucks Army provides a translated interview that covers the goalie’s summer, including his regrets about making those comments about Thomas.

“I thought of the finals earlier in the summer, but now I think it’s a part of the past.” said Luongo. “I have good memories of last year, it was a very good season. But it sure hurts a little. I especially remember the last game in Vancouver. It’s hard to relive the final seconds of the seventh game in the Stanley Cup finals.”

“Fortunately, I spend my summers in Florida and it’s pretty quiet there,” said the 32 year old goaltender in consolation.

(snip)

Does Luongo regret the statement [about Thomas]?

“Yeah, for sure. If I could do it again, I wouldn’t say it. I didn’t want to create the buzz that it did. After the fifth game, I had never been so emotional and I got carried away.”

Luongo received a lot of abuse for his statements and struggles during that seven-game series, with much of the wounds being self-inflicted. Even if he’s had his low moments, Luongo had a great regular season and his fair share of strong playoff performances. If he can keep the media and fan criticisms from getting to him, he has a great chance for another standout season in 2011-12.

Luongo might want to be a little more careful about what he says from now on, though.

‘Dinosaur’ defensemen like Orpik survive in NHL by adapting

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

When John Tortorella compares Brooks Orpik to a creature that went extinct 65 million years ago, he means it affectionately.

”He’s a little bit of a dinosaur because he hits, and there isn’t a lot of hitting in this game,” Tortorella said.

Orpik, who helped the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup last season and played his 1,000th NHL regular-season game Tuesday, is certainly a rarity. Big, rugged, defensive defensemen are going the way of prehistoric animals, mask-less goaltenders, helmet-less skaters and enforcers, except the ones like Orpik who have adapted to keep pace with the speed of modern hockey.

”I think if you don’t adapt to where the league’s going, then you’re pushed out,” Orpik said. ”If you weren’t willing to adjust how you trained or maybe shed some weight, that would push you out of the league. … There’s that and there’s obviously more of an emphasis on being able to move the puck up quickly.”

NHL teams are looking for the next Erik Karlsson or Thomas Chabot, smaller, more mobile defenseman who can lead the rush and pile up the points. Slower, play-it-safe defensemen like 6-foot-7, 245-pound Hal Gill don’t roam the ice anymore, and those players must approach the game differently.

”I’ve heard people come up and say, ‘Hey, my kid plays just like you,”’ Gill said. ”And I’m like, ‘Well, you better change quick.”’

Tortorella, who coached Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup in 2004 and is in his fourth season with Columbus, sees value in big ”miserable” defenders who can play a tough game. He believes the loss of that kind of player has contributed to an increase in scoring over recent years – which is what the NHL wants at the expense of old-school muscle.

Players like Orpik and St. Louis’ Robert Bortuzzo are far less prevalent than when Gill stayed in the NHL for 16 years from the late 1990s through 2013. Bortuzzo thinks the term ”stay-at-home” doesn’t apply anymore; even slow defensemen have to do more than just sit back, hit and defend like they used to.

”’Defensively conscious’ would probably be a better term nowadays and one that fits the game,” the 6-4, 216-pound Bortuzzo said. ”At this stage of the game, you need to be able to join the rush, you need to be able to move pucks. … The days of a defenseman not being able to skate and keep up with the pace of play is done. Guys are too fast and moving too quick.”

No one’s confusing Orpik, Bortuzzo, Vegas’ Deryk Engelland or Buffalo’s Zach Bogosian for speed demons, but puck moving helps those players stay in the NHL. Bortuzzo said his focus has always been on his skating, and similarly Orpik and Boston’s Zdeno Chara have worked with skating coach Adam Nicholas to adapt.

Even if they can’t get markedly faster, they can better manage their skates and sticks and use their size as an advantage.

”What I work on with those guys a ton is just always giving them good footwork-type drills and suggestions to allow them to still be able to control space and tempo,” Nicholas said. ”What we talk a lot about is continuing to be puck-moving machines and how to always stack decks in your favor to have time and space, control it and transition pucks very quickly.”

Todd Reirden, during his time as a Penguins assistant, helped Orpik evolve from a hit-seeking missile to a defensive stalwart. Orpik began picking his spots for hits and using his stick more to defend.

”That has allowed him to still have the physical element when he needed to around the net front against some of the skill guys,” said Reirden, who now coaches Orpik with the Capitals. ”He’s been able to really change his game to fit into today’s hockey.”

Orpik cites former Pittsburgh teammate Kelly Buchberger as the greatest influence on him as a young player. Buchberger hasn’t played since in 2004 but has since seen Orpik become an example for younger players of the same ilk.

”Players have to adjust to the new rules in the game. He’s adjusted very well,” said Buchberger, a retired winger who coaches the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans. ”If you have players like that, you don’t want to get rid of those players.”

Coaches and teammates all love guys who save goals with blocked shots, big hits and provide some snarl. Gill sees value in the kind of simplicity Hall of Fame Nicklas Lidstrom played with, and having contrasting styles on the blue line allows skilled, jump-up-in-the-play defensemen to take some more risks and score goals.

”They’re a real good safety valve a lot of time for D-men who do want to get up the ice and move the puck,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. ”You can’t just have offensive defensemen throughout your lineup. You want to have guys who will take care of the back end. You need guys that can play both ends of the ice.”

BOB BACK IN BLUE

The Columbus Blue Jackets made quick work of an ”incident” involving goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky last week after he was pulled from a game at Tampa Bay, punishing him by making him miss a game, meeting with him and getting him back with the team the next morning. Captain Nick Foligno said the leadership group, coaching staff and front office are adept at pushing aside distractions – which is important given that Bobrovsky and scoring winger Artemi Panarin could be free agents this summer.

”No matter who it is, it’s all right, we’re going to handle the situation and get back to what really matters and that’s trying to win hockey games,” Foligno said. ”We’re trying to win hockey games, trying to become a Stanley Cup champion and nothing’s going to get in the way of that. That’s kind of the message for everybody.”

POWERFUL PACIFIC

The first-place Calgary Flames have won five in a row, the San Jose Sharks seven in a row and the Vegas Golden Knights eight of their past 10. Move over, Central Division, the Pacific is where the power is out West, especially with San Jose rolling behind Erik Karlsson.

”Our game’s in a good spot,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. ”The standings are tight. You see Calgary winning every night, you see Vegas winning every night. You throw us in there. We’ve been on a good stretch.”

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Winnipeg Jets visit the Nashville Predators on Thursday night in a matchup of the top two teams in the Central Division.

LEADERS (through Tuesday)

Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 33; Assists: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 53; Points: Kucherov, 75; Ice time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 26:42; Wins: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), 26; Goals-against average: Robin Lehner (N.Y. Islanders), 2.16; Save percentage: Jack Campbell (Los Angeles), .930.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

NHL on NBCSN: Rangers look to continue to build off Quinn’s challenge

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Well, that was one way to respond.

After a postgame tongue lashing through the media following Sunday’s 7-5 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, David Quinn’s team responded with a 6-2 victory on Tuesday. 

The stars maybe aligned for that New York Rangers win when you considered the motivation they had after getting publicly called out by their head coach, plus the fact that the Carolina Hurricanes hadn’t won at Madison Square Garden in 15 tries (before Tuesday), dating back to Jan. 5, 2011.

“I think we had played three good games before the debacle in Columbus,” Quinn said after the win. “I think we built off that and moved past what happened in Columbus. Guys took ownership of it and righted a wrong.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

All that changed against the Hurricanes as the Rangers came out and scored 76 seconds into the game and would score twice more in the first period for a solid start. Any time a team has a horrible game, there’s a desire to get right back out there to fix what went wrong. New York only had to wait 48 hours.

“Thank God we had a game this quickly after that one, get a chance to redeem ourselves,” said forward Mika Zibanejad. “We knew what we had to do. We talked about it. The way we play and the system we have, we didn’t really have that against Columbus. I thought we did a better job with that, and it showed.”

With games against Chicago and Boston before a break consisting of their bye week and the All-Star break, building off that rebound win will be at the top of their minds. Playoffs aren’t in the plans for this season, but strides taken by some of their younger players is what general manager Jeff Gorton will want to see. With a little over a month until the Feb. 25 trade deadline, there are a good number of decisions still to be made. Every game from here on out is an evaluation.

John Walton (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher will have the call from Madison Square Garden.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Off the Ice: Brad Marchand makes cannoli, explains licking opponents

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This week’s edition of Off the Ice with Kathryn Tappen featured Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins. The two headed to Mike’s Pastry in Boston to make some cannoli and talk about his career.

The topic of licking opponents came up and Marchand explained why he took a taste of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan‘s face during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“His visor was in my face and I was like ‘this will probably piss him off,’ so I tried to do it, tried to get him to hit me and draw a penalty and it kind of went the other way,” he said. “Yeah, that was definitely a decision that [you] go back in time and you would play out a little differently.”

Check out the episode above as Tappen and Marchand also talk about where his edge on the ice comes from and his penchant for pranks. Episodes will premiere exclusively on NBCSports.com/OffTheIce and YouTube each week.

Previous Off the Ice episodes:
Duncan Keith
Mika Zibanejad

Off the Ice with Kathryn Tappen takes viewers away from the rink and behind the scenes with some of the NHL’s most intriguing players, as they share their personal lives and unique hobbies with NBC Sports’ Emmy Award-Winning host and sideline reporter Kathryn Tappen.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Stars make a wish come true; price for Nyquist, Howard

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Mike McKenna has made Gritty a part of his new mask with the Philadelphia Flyers.

• The Tampa Bay Lightning are on course for a deep playoff run if they can stay out of their own way. [The Score]

• Want to trade for Gustav Nyquist or Jimmy Howard? You better be willing to fork over at least a first-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings. [MLive]

• Columbus Blue Jackets fans will have to soon come to the realization that life without Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky is coming. [Columbus Dispatch]

• The St. Louis Blues have underachieved all season long, yet they’re still in the Western Conference playoff picture. [St. Louis Dispatch]

• Life as an Edmonton Oilers fan: “Every day, fans live in fear Chiarelli might trade away another Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, etc. for a lesser talent. Ever day, Edmonton fears he might trade away a developing talent or high draft picks, as was the case involving Griffin Reinhardt.” [Edmonton Sun]

• There’s still plenty of season left, but the Montreal Canadiens are showing growth. [Habs Eyes on the Prize]

• This is definitely the low point of Phil Housley’s tenure with the Buffalo Sabres. [Die by the Blade]

• How David Rittich has helped save the Calgary Flames’ season. [ESPN]

• A look at the Flames’ salary cap situation as the trade deadline approaches. [Flames Nation]

• Examining these New York Islanders through 45 games. [Lighthouse Hockey]

• The Islanders penalty kill looks to be turning a corner. [Islanders Insight]

• Finally, the Dallas Stars and the Make-A-Wish Foundation teamed up to make 10-year-old Anderson McDuffie’s dream come true. Anderson, who was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease after being born and has undergone two open-heart surgeries, was part of a team that played against Stars players. [Stars]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.