Coaches can be a sneaky bunch

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:28 AM ET

With coaches being what they are, the biggest challenge they face when dealing with any new rule is to find a way around it.

Take, for instance, the new rule that assesses a penalty to any player in his own defensive zone who shoots the puck over the glass.

Some coaches have suggested that players practise shooting the puck into the players' bench, an act that will serve the purpose of relieving pressure, but theoretically is within the rules.

"We're way ahead of them," chuckled a veteran referee. "We've already been told that if we feel the player shoots it into the bench intentionally, we should give a delay-of-game penalty."

But here's one the deep thinkers at the league office have not addressed. Many players, especially Europeans, love to use sticks with blades shaped like fish hooks. They're quite illegal, but in the first and second periods no one ever checks.

But NHL rules say that no coach can call for a stick measurement in overtime. So when the shootouts start, check the curves on some of the sticks. They won't be close to legal but nothing can be done about it.

FATE CAN BE FICKLE

The Detroit Red Wings envisioned Niklas Kronwall playing a major role on their blue line this year and therefore were planning to use him conservatively during the pre-season.

Accordingly, he was to be allowed to stay at home for the one-game trip to Colorado to play the Avalanche.

But when Jamie Rivers suffered a slight muscle pull, Kronwall, who had practised with the stay-at-home group in the morning, was told to pack his bags and hop on a flight.

During the game, in what looked like an innocent collision, Kronwall tore up his knee and has had to undergo reconstructive surgery.

"Last year at the world championship, he was a high-end player," Wings coach Mike Babcock said, "and that's against the best players."

Kronwall's outstanding performance prior to the injury, Babcock said, "was no surprise at all.

"He's physically very strong, an elite skater. He sees the ice and shoots the puck."

Kronwall told his Detroit teammates he hopes to be back in the lineup by March.

LUONGO AND SHORT OF IT

The first shutout of the season was posted by Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers, who blanked the Atlanta Thrashers 2-0.

In the summer, Luongo had another first. He was the first player in NHL history to be taken to arbitration by his team.

He wasn't happy about it, but he seems resigned to his fate.

"My status is I'm with the Florida Panthers," he said. "My focus is on that and making the playoffs. That's all that I can do. I can't worry about what happened in August. I'm moving on."

Luongo was an outstanding goalie before the lockout but now, he appears to be even better, perhaps the result of participation in high-level competitions. He played in the 2004 World Cup and the 2005 world championship.

On Friday he made 27 saves for his second consecutive shutout, leading Florida to a 2-0 victory over Tampa Bay.

"I feel I'm doing stuff better and I'm more experienced than I was before." he said. "I worked on my game a lot during the lockout. When I'm out there I feel that I can see the play better.

"I worked with Francois Allaire for a couple of months to get ready for the world championship. He's the best. That's probably why I was better with my positioning."

ON THE ICE

To show its appreciation of the people who pay the bills, the NHL has decreed that on every rink some variation of "Thank you fans" be painted on the ice inside each blue line.

This edict happens to be in direct contradiction of the league's own rules which prohibit on-ice ads in the offensive zones.

The ads could be moved into the neutral zone, of course, but then they'd interfere with the paid ads from the corporate sponsors. Thanking the fans is important, but not that important.

HERE AND THERE

The goalies were supposed to be wearing their new streamlined sweaters on opening night, but the company that was to provide them had trouble getting the right colours on some of them. In those cases, they offered a black-and-white version, but since hockey is trying to get away from its image as soccer on ice, goalie sweaters had to be in team colours. The new ones will be coming soon ... Wouldn't it be nice if TSN could lose that end-zone camera? It's a bad angle at any time, but it's made worse by that huge self-serving blob in the upper left of the screen.

ON THE SKED

Every year, the schedule has some strange quirks. But this year seems to be stranger than usual. For instance, the Edmonton Oilers don't have a road game for a month -- from Feb. 7 to March 9. But that's not even the longest home stretch. The Phoenix Coyotes don't go on the road between Jan. 26 and March 7.

Still, those teams are at home. The St. Louis Blues don't have a home game between Feb. 4 and March 7.

There also are some unusually long layoffs. The Montreal Canadiens have a week without a game -- from Dec. 3-10. At least that's mid-season. The Philadelphia Flyers have a week off starting on Saturday. As penance, they have to play 11 games in a row on the road from Dec. 23 to Jan. 11.

EXTRA POINTS

The Pittsburgh Penguins have launched a "public-information campaign" to help build support for a slot-machine parlour that would help fund their new arena. The difference between a public-information campaign and a propaganda onslaught was not made clear ... Yet another example of the Great Canadian Inferiority Complex: Coast-to-coast excitement erupts because Sports Illustrated picks a Canadian team, the Calgary Flames, to win the Stanley Cup. Since when did SI become the bible of hockey? Considering that publication's record covering our sport, it would matter more what Home and Garden had to say ... Brett Hull of the Phoenix Coyotes after seeing the media horde on the morning of the season-opener: "I know why everybody's here. This is my 2,000th pre-game skate."

BEHIND THE SCENES

Brendan Shanahan fights approximately once every two years. There's a good reason for that. His opponent usually needs stitches. But on opening night, there was Shanahan going toe-to-toe with Jamal Myers of the St. Louis Blues. It couldn't have had anything to do with Shanahan's high-profile stance during the lockout, could it?


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