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Daniel Walker

The controversial forecheck

The big commotion around the NHL these days is coming out of South Florida.  It’s not too often you can say that, but former McGill Redmen Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 forecheck has proven to be quite controversial. Since everyone and their dog has come down on one side or the other regarding this I’m going to skip my weekly analysis of what’s plaguing Les Boys and deal with this.I’m conflicted about what I saw Thursday night between the Flyers and Lighting. On one hand it has turned the NHL into the laughing stock of professional sports, but on the other, wasn’t Guy Boucher just doing whatever he though was necessary to win. And, in the end, isn’t that his job?There isn’t anything inherently wrong with using the 1-3-1 forecheck.  If used in a different way it can be very aggressive and create lots of turnovers for the defending team.  What Boucher did was install a very high forecheck against the flyers. His lowest forechecker was evidently told to stay above the blueline.  But if Boucher moved the whole formation lower into the zone this would have created a decidedly more aggressive formation, it would take away both the time and space from the breakout forcing them to make mistakes and turnover the puck. The 1-3-1 can be especially effective at doing this, if the primary forechecker does his job right the puck will be forced to one side where the rest of the forecheckers will be waiting. With the Lighting’s talented forwards like Stamkos and Lecavalier  they certainly have the ability to take advantage the turnovers that result.But this didn’t happen on in Thursday. Instead Philadelphia decided to not even challenge the Lighting’s forecheck and stood in the zone until the referees blew the play down. The resulting stalemate is what set… Read More

Walker’s Weekly Wisdom: Habs still have 81 games after tonight, apparently

WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY!??It’s the question I ask myself almost every year when the new NHL schedule comes out. Inevitably my Habs are playing the country’s favourite grammatical oversight, the Maple Leafs (Leaves), in the first game of the season.While I’m as big a Canadiens fan as anyone else, I try to keep perspective on what just one regular season game means in the grand scheme of things: not much. The first game of the year won’t make or break the season. Players are still playing themselves into shape and getting used to playing with new teammates. So I know not to get too worked up about one game. But when we play the Leafs on opening night, it’s like the NHL has decided to give me eight months of ulcers. Right away the games start to mean more than they should.It doesn’t help that I live with five Leafs fans. It raises the stakes of an ordinary regular season game to extraordinary levels. A win by the Habs, and I get to hold it over their heads for weeks.  A loss, and I’m the butt of separatist jokes until we play again. Not that the Habs are a team of or for separatists, but they just don’t know any better.The scheduling authorities over at the NHL head office didn’t do us any favours for our second game, either. Instead of playing one of our Eastern Conference rivals in a home game at the Bell Centre on Saturday night, we get to play in Winnipeg’s first regular season NHL game since 1996. I mean, how can you expect to win a game when it’s the best thing to happen to Manitoba since it became a province? Seriously, $50 to anyone who can tell me something better that’s happened since then.Thursday… Read More

Walker’s Weekly Wisdom: Turning the Corner

After a miserable first two weeks of the season, the Montreal Canadiens seems to have turned a corner on their season.  It was an awful two-week stretch that put a team with high expectations into the NHL cellar along with traditional basement dwellers, the New York Islanders and this year’s re-incarnation of the Atlanta Thrashers.A few things have changed within the confines of the Bell Centre since the start of this win streak. Most notably, long time Jacques Martin confidant Perry Pearn was given his leaving papers by the club. Perry, who was responsible for the Canadiens’ special teams units, was an easy scapegoat given the Habs poor performance on both the penalty kill and the power play this year. Since the change, the Habs have gone 11 for 12 on the penalty.The penalty kill is one of those facets of the game that can be easily improved with more practice and a little more focus. So Perry Pearn can’t bear the full brunt of the blame for the Habs failures. But maybe having a different voice behind the bench and on the ice at practice makes all the difference.Word from the dressing room is that Mr. Pearn might have had some trouble communicating with the defenseman he was responsible for. Randy Ladouceur, who has the reputation of being a little more “into” the game if you will, is quicker to encourage or critique on the bench, while Pearn took a more laid back approach. For the Canadiens young and inexperienced defensive core, that can only be a good thing.  When the Habs traded for Petteri Nokelainen, very few people thought the acquisition of this fourth line centre would make any significant difference. But this is really a case of addition by subtraction. Adding another centre allowed the Habs to… Read More

Walker’s Weekly Wisdom: Carey Price vs. Tim Thomas

What a difference a couple of wins make. Back-to-back wins by the Habs this week really gets this city off the ledge. The sky feels a little bluer and the sun shines a little brighter and collectively we all start to pray at the alter of the king of the triple low-fives, Carey Price.It was a tight 2-1 victory against the Bruins on Thursday night. The biggest difference was between the pipes. Carey Price essentially shut out the Bruins; he stops that shot off the faceoff 999 times out of 1000. And Tim Thomas, well, he was his usual self – aggressive, often brilliant – but he just got beat by a better goalie.The biggest difference between Price and Thomas is a technical one. For every goalie, walking the line between patience and aggression is a difficult task. Price at his best does it perfectly, in contrast to Thomas, who thrives on outright aggression towards the shooter while relying on his lateral quickness to get him back into position after a pass or a rebound. The result is that Thomas often fills up the highlight reels with diving acrobatic saves, while Price often looks unremarkable despite racking up 38 wins last season.Carey’s superior positioning and compact style means that he’s often in the right position to make the first save easily, and then to easily move to make the second one as well. Unfortunately, there have often been third and fourth opportunities this year.Against the Bruins on Thursday, Price stopped 29 shots without ever looking like he was in serious trouble.  Compared to Price, Thomas at the other end always looked like he was always scrambling to stay with the play.The second goal was a perfect example of Thomas’s aggression costing the Bruins a goal. Thomas came out to challenge… Read More

Walker’s Weekly Wisdom: it’s just the preseason, right?

Starting out the season 0-2 is never easy in Montreal, even if it’s only the preseason. Regardless of the time of year, nobody wants to see their team piling up consecutive losses. But Canadiens fans should find solace in what they’re seeing on the ice, even if the Habs have yet to chalk one up in the win column.It’s more important to see guys out there competing for spots and developing chemistry with one another. If the Habs can use these first few games to shake off the rust and develop rapport on the ice, then these first two losses will just be a funny anecdote during the parade down Ste Catherine.While most of the team looked rusty in their first exhibition loss to Dallas, you had to enjoy seeing the chemistry that was visible on the Habs’ new top line.  It was comforting to see Eric Cole put one away in his first game with new linemates, Plekanec and Cammalleri, who this year will hopefully see a little more stability on their right side.Speaking of chemistry, you couldn’t help but be encouraged by how well little David Desharnais played between Gionta and Pacioretty. If he proves to be a viable alternative to Scott Gomez during the rest of this exhibition season, the Habs could save themselves a cool $6.5 million dollars by getting rid of Gomez. And with a cap hit of $7.35 million, Gomez could help a team reach the salary floor.A promotion up to the second line for Desharnais would also help clear the logjam at centre on the bottom two lines while keeping everyone in his natural position. With Gomez as the presumptive second-line centre, the third line is likely to be Desharnais and Kostitsyn flanking Lars Eller. Not a bad alternative, considering Desharnais looked decent… Read More