Strachan on hockey

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

Boston Bruins captain Joe Thornton doesn't spend an awful lot of time thinking about the Turin Olympics in February.

The only time he gets asked about it, he said with a laugh, is when Bruins play the Maple Leafs, which they've done three times so far this season.

Other than that, he hasn't had any involvement with the Canadian hockey media. The Bruins were in Ottawa once, but Thornton missed that game.

As for the makeup of the Canadian Olympic team, his primary concern has to do with whether there will be a spot for his buddy Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I would like him to see him on there," Thornton said. "But I don't have any say in it."

It will be difficult for the Olympic team selectors to take Nash, and the dilemma they face illustrates the reason that Team Canada managing director Wayne Gretzky battled long and hard to get the selection date moved to January.

"Sure," Thornton said. "Guys get hot in January."

But this was one battle that Gretzky lost, so the team will be announced on Dec. 21 in Vancouver. By that time, the twice-injured Nash will probably have played no more than four or five games.

Nash is one of those players who improved markedly during the lockout year. He and Thornton were teammates in Switzerland.

"He had such a good year last year and a great world championship," Thornton said. "I love playing with him. We played really nice together.

"That shot of his, it's just deadly. I didn't know much about him (prior to last year), but playing with the guy, you just get so much respect for him. He is so powerful."

Thornton realizes that the selectors will study the matter carefully and make the decision they feel best.

And he rationalizes that if Nash doesn't make this one, it's not likely to be his last chance.

"He is going to be on a lot of Olympic teams, that's for sure," Thornton said.

Dumping on Jacques

The Florida Panthers are struggling, to say the least, and a couple of highly respected veteran hockey analysts have no doubt where the blame should be placed.

They recently unloaded on Panthers head coach Jacques Martin.

"Jacques is a Roger Neilson protege," said former Washington Capitals coach Gary Green, "and that means he thinks defence first and offence second.

"In the modern game, you have to be far more an attack team than a defensive-minded team. With Roberto Luongo in your net, you've got to be going for it with the new rules.

"To me, you've got to think offence first and defence second."

Bill Clement, who had a long National Hockey League career and appears on several media outlets, was in agreement.

"Jacques has won in the past by being perfect defensively, waiting for the other team to make mistakes," he said. "In today's game, if you play that way, the other team will, little by little, suck the blood from your body. You can't win by playing air-tight defence any more."

But Martin doesn't see himself a defensive coach.

"No. I don't think so," he said. "You look at Ottawa the last five or six years. I think we were in the top five in goals scored.

"I believe that when you have the puck, you're on offence. When you don't have the puck you're on defence. I think you need to be good at both ends of the ice."

At the moment, the Panthers aren't particularly good at either end.

Selective integrity

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman loves to preach about the "integrity" of his league. For those not clear what that word means in the new NHL, it manifests itself in many ways:

Teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins sending the guy who is far and away their nest goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, to the minors so they don't have to pay his bonuses.

The New Jersey Devils announcing that Alexander Mogilny is a healthy scratch when he is, in fact, suffering from a concussion.

Teams like the Vancouver Canucks practising with only one goaltender because the league created a system that would require them to waive the goalie they wanted to call up while the regular starter was injured.

Teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and Maple Leafs using a player in games, but limiting his development by sending him down to his minor-league team on off-days.

The league ignoring its own rule regarding on-ice ads inside the blue line so it can "thank" its fans, while making sure it doesn't interfere with the paid ads in the neutral zone.

Forcing a team to start games 22 hours apart in different cities, again in opposition to league standards, so that there would be no conflict with an NFL game.

Apparently, as far as the NHL is concerned, "integrity" means never compromising the standards of the game -- as long as doing so doesn't interfere with the profit margin.

Quick work, Alfie

So far this year, the Senators have defeated the Buffalo Sabres three times -- by scores of 5-0, 10-4 and 6-1.

Said the Sabres' Chris Drury after the most recent loss: "You know why they're so good? In the first period, Daniel Alfredsson gets one of his three breakaways. Marty (Biron) makes the save. The puck goes in the corner.

"Alfredsson goes and hits a guy, then he's the first guy back into the other end, and he hits our guy below the goal line -- all in 14 seconds.

"If I had that clip on tape, I'd show it a hundred times to my team."

They said it

Philadelphia Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock on the new NHL: "Everybody is starting to realize that, in this day and age, you need two goalies. These games are mentally exhausting for goaltenders. There are no easy games for goalies any more. You're challenged mentally all the time because you just don't know when or where the next goal is coming from."

Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals on the difference between driving in the U.S. and Russia: "Here you see 65 and you can go 80. In Russia, you see 65 and you can go 100 or whatever you want. Just give the police some money."

Flyers goalie Robert Esche on whether Buffalo's Ryan Miller or Tampa Bay's John Grahame will have a crack at a spot on the U.S. Olympic team: "Definitely not both of them. I'm not going to get into it, but one of those guys doesn't belong in the NHL."


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