SUN Hockey Pool

'Hockey players are the same'

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

Both the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators dipped into the junior coaching ranks during the off-season and, so far, each club has had middling results.

But where Senators coach Craig Hartsburg has been down the National Hockey League path previously, guiding the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks before taking over the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for four seasons, Panthers coach Peter DeBoer remains in the midst of a major learning curve.

"The biggest thing to get used to has been the parity in the league," DeBoer said in a telephone interview. "In the OHL, you could go into a weekend where you had three games and you had a pretty good idea that you were going to win at least two of them. Here, no team can be taken lightly.

"The difference between making the playoffs and not making it can be one or two points. So you have the daily pressure of must-win games at this time of the season, and that has been new for me too."

DeBoer, 40, coached 13 years in the OHL and had just one sub-.500 season. The Panthers take an 11-12-3 record into Ottawa tonight to face Hartsburg and the Senators, who sit at 10-10-4.

DeBoer has found that the general philosophy with coaching does not change much on the pro side.

"Hockey players are the same," DeBoer said. "They want direction and accountability and a game plan. You don't try to change your style."

As strange as it might sound to Maple Leafs fans, defenceman Bryan McCabe, when healthy, has been solid for DeBoer. McCabe is tied with Stephen Weiss for the team plus-minus lead at plus-7, and has four goals and seven assists in 16 games. One major factor in McCabe's steady play? He is not being asked to play outside his limits. With an average of 22 minutes of ice time a game, McCabe is playing about five minutes less than he did in Toronto.

"In Toronto, he was the guy, and now he is not getting into high-risk situations," DeBoer said. "We think less minutes has been a benefit for him."

DeBoer learned last week that one avenue of advice for him as he gets his footing in the NHL dried up. DeBoer and Paul Maurice, who was rehired Wednesday to coach the Carolina Hurricanes, are good friends and Maurice was giving DeBoer tips.

"He sent me a message and said that would not be happening any more," DeBoer said with a laugh.

EMPTY SATURDAY NIGHT

Leafs fans are going to find themselves in some weird parallel universe in five days. For the first time since March 1996, the Leafs aren't playing on a Saturday night during the regular season. And to think there was a time when it was different for the Leafs to have a road game on the night that fans across the country would gather watch their blue and white idols on Hockey Night in Canada.

And it gets worse for Leafs boosters. The team also will not play on Dec. 27 or Jan. 17 -- both Saturdays.

This week, HNIC will have the Washington Capitals visiting the Montreal Canadiens while, two weeks later, it's the Canadiens playing the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

And, later in January, in perhaps the worst indignity for Leafs fans -- the HNIC headliner will have two teams Leafs-lovers hate the most, the Canadiens and Senators, hooking up in Ottawa.

Would this be happening if the Leafs were, say, competitive? Unlikely. The Saturday night spotlight probably should not be theirs alone when they can't perform the simple task of stringing together a couple of wins, which has been an issue for a few years.

SCORING IS UP

Vancouver Canucks' Kyle Wellwood went into last night's game against the Colorado Avalanche with 11 goals, one short of his career high for one season. That production is fine, but Wellwood was puzzled by the next statistical column, which showed just three assists. He got to the NHL largely on his playmaking abilities.

"I'm not used to looking down and seeing that," Wellwood told the Vancouver Province. "It's hard to completely explain. But I'm liking this new role. It has taken some time to get used to, but it's enjoyable."

THE WEEK AHEAD

The NHL's board of governors meetings get under way today in Palm Beach, Fla. The only issue that really matters? The economy. Several teams in the red will be looking for direction ... The last game of Sean Avery's six-game suspension will be on Saturday when the Dallas Stars are in Nashville. What's the likelihood that Avery suits up in the Stars' next game after that? The team could determine this week what it will do with its yap-happy forward ... Former Leafs first-rounder Brad Boyes, now with the St. Louis Blues, is one goal away from 100 in his career. His next shot at hitting the milestone is tonight against the Predators.


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