By Stu Hackel
Sports Illustrated’s Pierre McGuire has probably seen more playoff hockey from up close than anyone so far this spring. From his “Inside the Glass” position on telecasts for TSN (and NBC later in the playoffs), he’s been on the road almost every day since the postseason began and is not likely to get much rest anytime soon.
He began by traveling to Washington for Games 1 and 2 of the Capitals-Ranger series, then Philadelphia for Game 2 for Flyers-Sabres, followed by Nashville for Game 3 of Predators-Ducks, Buffalo for Game 3 of Flyers-Sabres, and New York for Game 4 of Caps-Rangers. He’ll be in Philly for Game 5, Washington on Saturday afternoon for Game 5, and Nashville for Game 6 on Sunday. “And then I don’t know,” he says. “It depends on how many Game 6s and Game 7s there are.”
A former scout and assistant coach with the Stanley Cup champion Penguins of 1991 and 1992, McGuire also worked in various coaching, management and scouting capacities for the Whalers, Senators, Flames and Blues organizations before beginning his broadcasting career on the radio for the Canadiens in 1997. He’s been a fixture on TSN since it reacquired NHL rights in 2002. He joined NBC when it began its NHL coverage in 2005-06 and is heard regularly on radio in many cities throughout the NHL, including daily segments on Team 1200 in Ottawa and Team 990 in Montreal.
Prior to working the NHL he played and coached hockey at the collegiate level and played professionally in Europe. His knowledge and experience of the game at ice level and his ability to articulate sophisticated modern hockey concepts made him an ideal choice when NBC started its “Inside the Glass” segment.
McGuire shared his observations by phone from his hotel room in Philadelphia on Thursday as he was preparing for Flyers-Sabres Game 5.
Red Light: Who has impressed you and what sticks out about what you’ve seen so far?
McGuire: The Red Wings really stick out in terms of their level of compete, their professionalism, how they closed out Phoenix — I was overwhelmed by their third period play. I thought it was phenomenal. The Capitals have stood out because they were able to reel in a 3-0 deficit on the road where it looks like they were dead and buried in that Game 4, but I was so impressed by their commitment to one another. Bruce Boudreau deserves a lot of credit for the defensive system he put in, but again, his guys never deviated from the plan. That was a fantastic display.
Every series has had a phenomenal quality of play. Ryan Miller’s goaltending in the Buffalo-Philadelphia series has been great. He shut out Philadelphia twice in 1-0 games, once on the road and once at home. So that’s been great.
The crowd in New York (for Game 4) was so creative and so loud. The crowd in Washington. The crowd in Philadelphia. The opening in Buffalo. But the crowd the put me over the top in terms of appreciation was in Nashville before Game 3. That was just phenomenal. And then in the third period when it looked like they were going to win that game, the people didn’t’ sit down. They just stood and applauded and made noise and they knew what they were cheering for. It was a phenomenal display. That’s really become a sophisticated hockey market. I think that’s one of the non-traditional markets that people who pooh-pooh the non-traditional markets are making a mistake with because Nashville is becoming a really good hockey market. There wasn’t an empty seat there. They had 17 sell-outs there in the regular season and Game 3 was the 18th.
Red Light: A couple of observations about things that seem to be really unusual and I’d like your thinking on them: defenders are getting caught puck-watching, and it’s resulting in lots of goals. It appears as if this is happening more than ever. They’re not “keeping their head on a swivel” and watching for the players who don’t have the puck. Is there something in the way defenses have changed that explains this or has this always happened and it’s just now being picked up on?
McGuire: There’s a couple of things here. Number one, on TV, we have more super slow-mo than ever before, so you are able to pick things like that up. But two, it’s absolutely true. The pace is so much quicker, guys are so afraid of getting burned that they’re always focusing in on the puck rather than the area they’re supposed to cover. We have a lot of people who puck-watch now. It’s hard to match speed of the attacking player when you’re going backwards.
Red Light: The second thing is goals from really sharp angles and really difficult angles, even behind the net. Why are we seeing so much of that?
McGuire: You know what they’re worried about? The cross-crease feed. So they’re cheating to the off-side a lot. You don’t see Ryan Miller do that. Now the one Roloson gave up against Pittsburgh, that was about fatigue. That wasn’t because he’s a bad goalie. He wasn’t cheating. He was just fatigued. He faced over 50 shots. But the Bryzgalov play was terrible. That’s below the icing line.
Red Light: I recall hearing about one NHL coach — maybe it was John Tortorella, maybe Mike Babcock, who I know likes plays that create rebound goals — who has encouraged his players to shoot from bad angles. You speak with Babcock regularly. Is that something he’s been telling his players?
McGuire: I don’t know if Mike said that, but one of the reason teams are encouraging players to shoot from bad angles is it’s tough on rebound control especially if you shoot it into their feet. But, yes, Mike is all about putting pucks into the feet of goaltenders because you’re going to get rebounds. So you have to attack the proper angles when you shoot pucks into feet. But that’s something I’m noticing more and more. Players aren’t passing up shots from any angle, just because they want to get it on goal.
Red Light: And why is Ryan Miller so good defending that?
He’s so aware of his angle play. Right now, well Cam Ward isn’t playing right now, but he’s another one down in Carolina. They’re great angle goaltenders. So smart on their angles, cutting guys down. Just playing a clean game. They’re very similar. It’s different than what butterfly goalies do, who just try to make themselves big and just take away the lower part of the net.
Red Light: Let’s go back to the Red Wings because they’ll have the only sweep in the first round and I’ve heard you say how much they’ve impressed you. Obviously they did it without Henrik Zetterberg, and in Game 4 without Johan Franzen, too. But this was a team that stumbled down the stretch. I don’t know if they were bored and Jimmy Howard didn’t look very good. They looked very sloppy at the beginning of Game 1.
McGuire: They were bored. They were bored more than anything else. This is a veteran-type team, but one of the things that changed it was the maturation of Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm. They’ve learned so much from Kris Draper. He’s been like a father to them in terms of teaching them how to survive in the NHL. Also, the play of Nick Lidstrom. Just so calm and so steady. Everybody knows he’s a great player but just to be doing it at that age with such consistency is amazing.
And one of the true unsung heroes of that team is Valtteri Filppula. Filppula’s great just for all the different things he does for that group. And, in my opinion, the most valuable player in the playoffs so far is Pavel Datsyuk. He’s just been off the charts.
Red Light: And what about Todd Bertuzzi, and the way they chanted his name in the first game?
He’s been great because he’s buying into the system. And, again, Detroit is one of those places that really helps a player like that. They can be confused about their on-ice identity and how they have to carry themselves, but they get to Detroit and they figure it out pretty quick because they see how great players carry themselves and how players within great organizations behave. I just can’t say enough great things about Todd and what he’s been able to do there.
Red Light: This has been great, Pierre. Thanks and happy traveling.
McGuire: Ha ha ha. Thanks.