Saturday Night in St. Louis
My fancy recording device went on the fritz this morning, so I had no way of documenting the conversations I took part in at the morning skate in St. Louis here today. I scrawled a few notes, and later replaced my recorder. I’ll work backwards, starting with this morning.
Alexander Semin was nonplussed by his contract extension, saying he mostly left it to his agent. Glen Hanlon had this to say: “We’re happy to have him signed up. He’s a big part of our offense. He’s one of the young players we think makes us exciting.
“We’re happy because he’s making a commitment to us. We made a commitment to him but he’s making a commitment here. On all the teams when you’re making a substantial amount of money, with that comes other responsibilities. We want him to feel responsible for us to take the next step for success. We don’t want him to look around and say, ‘It’s up to Kozlov,’ or ‘It’s up to Ovechkin.’ It’s up to him. He’s got to be part of this and play a bigger role in this.”
Hanlon was asked if he believed that Semin could score 50 goals in the NHL.
“I think Alexander Semin could score 60 goals, but I don’t want to see him be a minus-25,” said Hanlon. “To me, I think you have to learn how to play all systems both offensively and defensively and I think you have to be responsible and I think you can’t make common sense mistakes on the ice. I’m not worried about him scoring 50 goals. I want to see him be like Ovie, where when it comes to protecting a lead with a minute to go, I want Alexander Semin on the ice. But you don’t give the most important shift of the game to people unless they prove to you that they can do it.”
As is generally the case with morning skates, today’s twirl was optional. And as is the case with most morning skates, more than half the team took the ice this morning. Even after having pulled in here in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
Chris Clark’s ear laceration prompted Hanlon to move teenaged rookie Nicklas Backstrom back to his natural center position for tonight’s game with the Blues.
“We’ve worked very closely with Nick,” said Hanlon. “We’ve talked along the way. He has no problem whatsoever playing left wing. I’ve reassured him that there is going to come a time where he is going to start to play center this year. He may play a bit of it and go back to wing and then go back and forth until we make a full-time switch.”
Hanlon was asked about the most important part of a center’s responsibilities.
“Your down-low coverage in your own zone,” he declared. “To be able to play from the hash marks down, that’s all the center man’s responsibility. And it’s a huge part of the game and it’s the most cirtical part because you’re closest to your net. You can be a winger and make a mistake in that four or five feet in front of the net or in the corner. So that’s the biggest difference. And face-offs, we likely won’t see him on defensive zone face-offs which really hurts, because he might play 24 or 25 shifts tonight but his minutes will be down because he will miss a little bit from each face-off in our zone.”
Dave Steckel will take the draws on the left side and Viktor Kozlov will take the face-offs on the right side of the ice. Although Backstrom is 19 and a rookie in the NHL< he has more of a defensive consciousness than most players of his age and with his experience.
“Some countries don’t play defensive zone coverage the same way we do,” said Hanlon. “He said they play the very same way we play in North America, so that’s not going to be an adjustment, which is huge. From what I’ve seen in some of the other countries, especially Russia, they don’t play the same way. Russia is more man-on-man. You just find a guy and skate all over the zone with him. Here, it’s not quite the same.”
Blues coach Andy Murray creates an intimate atmosphere for his game morning media discussions. He sits in a folding chair, and the media members form a semi-circle around him. It’s kind of intimate, and he makes eye contact with everyone in the half circle as he addresses the various questions.
He was asked about Ovechkin, as virtually every opposing coach is, but he reserved his highest praise for other Capital forwards. Murray noted that Michael Nylander was every bit as dangerous as Ovechkin, in his opinion, and that the Rangers are certainly missing him. He inquired as to Chris Clark’s health, and observed that he believes Clark is the “best dollar value in the league.”
Murray reserved his highest praise for Steckel, a player who was a Los Angeles draftee during Murray’s days as the Kings coach. Murray talked about what a good guys Steckel is, and how hard he worked to get where he is now. And according to Murray, “Right now he is as good a shutdown center as there is in the league.” High praise, indeed.