SUN Hockey Pool

Move it or lose it

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:45 AM ET

Goalies can no longer help them out on corner dump ins. Forwards can no longer hold up opponents trying to smear them on corner dump ins. No centre line leaves them vulnerable to home run passes.

And moves that were once cornerstones of their repertoire, whacking puck carriers, cross-checking guys in the slot, pinning opponents against the boards and tying up forwards without the puck, are now illegal.

All the shiny new rules designed to breathe life into the NHL are great for goal scorers, but it just got a heck of a lot harder to be a defenceman.

"Yeah, because you have to rely on your smarts, you can't just grapple," said Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"You have to have smarts and you have to have good feet, and if you don't have good feet you better have really good smarts.''

The days of bear hugging in the offensive zone and going lumberjack on anyone who even thinks about moving the puck are over.

Now it's about anticipation, body position, lightning-fast decision making and, above all, mobility.

Move it or lose it.

"It's definitely an adjustment,'' said veteran defenceman Cory Cross, whose skating style has never been confused with Paul Coffey's

"A couple of times last game I would have gone in, hit the guy and pinned him to the boards. Now you're a little tentative to do that because you don't know exactly what you can get away with. They don't want you using that free hand to wrap somebody up.''

VALUABLE ASSETS

Size and strength will still be valuable assets in trying to prevent Todd Bertuzzi types from walking out of the corner and into your slot - but beef is not the pre-requisite it once was.

"The game is going to reward intelligent play,'' said MacTavish.

"It's going to penalize guys who can't adapt and can't think. It's going to be a different game.''

It's going to be less physical, which, again, works against those who use intimidation and muscle to supplement their game. But Jason Smith, who never met a forward he didn't like to punish, says there's still a place for toughness.

"I think there is still room for a physical player and a physical game, it just has to be more in control and more contained. You can still play the body and still be active physically, but around the puck.''

Rather than latching onto someone and riding him into the turnbuckle, hitting will be more about lining up a puck carrier and catching him clean, which is harder than it looks at top speed.

"You can't just grab onto a guy and throw him into the boards,'' said MacTavish. "You're going to have to time your checks, pick your spots.

''That looks easy when you see Chris Pronger do it, but it's not.''

THEIR OWN PROTECTION

As for their own protection on dump-ins, Steve Staios was happy to see that referees step in and make it known that defencemen who go back to retrieve the puck are not to be used for target practice.

"I didn't mind that call on Stollie,'' he said of teammate Jarret Stoll's five and a game for checking Flames Andrew Ference from behind on a dump-in.

"Because of all the rules, goalies can't play it and forwards can't hold the guy up, the D-men are going to go in there naked. We're at their mercy.

''So are we going to protect the D-men at all? Stollie did let up, there's no doubt about it... but I could see where if it wasn't Stollie, who knows how it could have turned out.''

As if they didn't have enough to worry about already, defencemen will be looking over their shoulders in the offensive zone, too, wondering if someone got behind them for a long-bomb breakaway pass.

"It'll happen occasionally, if a team gets caught on a change, but you're not going to see guys making breakaway pass after breakaway pass,'' said Smith.

"Teams are aware enough defensively and smart enough with the positioning of their guys that that pass isn't going to be there... very often.''


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