Good Defensive Playoff Hockey Isn’t “Boring”

This week, Ken Daneyko addresses the latest on Ilya Kovalchuk, the playoff performance from the Senators thus far, and the importance of Ryan Kesler’s role on the Ducks. Let’s dive in first on the newest speculation on Ilya Kovalchuk. There are reports that Kovalchuk would like to stay in the New York area or go to Florida should he make a return to the NHL. Could you ever foresee a situation where the Devils would make a trade with the Islanders or Rangers involving Kovalchuk?

Ken Daneyko: Well, I’m not too sure about that. A trade with either of those teams would have to be something very beneficial, from a Devils perspective. That’s my opinion and I’m pretty sure the front office would say the same. If it wasn’t an absolutely great deal, I couldn’t see it happening. I don’t think Kovalchuk will be able to dictate too much on where he wants to go and I think he’s going to have to have more options. Moving on to the NHL Playoffs and the Senators-Penguins series. Some critics have labeled the Sens playing a “boring” defensive style of hockey – their coach Guy Boucher is a disciple of your former coach, Jacques Lemaire. They certainly put some of that label to bed in Game 3 when they blew out Pittsburgh. Is that a fair assessment and does it matter if they win games?

Ken Daneyko: I don’t think they’re boring at all. They’re a good, solid team. It’s ridiculous that people have called them boring, to begin with. You can’t just ask Ottawa to play a different style of hockey. Boucher might have learned from Jacques Lemaire, but it’s a totally different style from how we played.

To me, a boring team is one that gets outshot, 42-17, sits back every night and relies on their goalie to win 2-1 on a nightly basis. Whether it was us – a team that gave up 17 shots a night, but were able to blow teams away when we were the top scoring team in the NHL – or the Ottawa Senators, one of the top scoring teams in the playoffs, if you score goals, you’re not boring. It’s such a fallacy and it’s a silly comment to make.

You play to win games, you don’t play the way other teams want you to play. That’s what makes matchups intriguing – the way teams line up against one another and how you counter the other team’s system. The Senators have been successful with the way they’re playing. Relating to the teams you played on, was it fair to call them boring? You guys obviously had some skilled offensive players.

Ken Daneyko: If you look at statistics, it completely disproves what people are talking about. We were the second-highest scoring team during the 1999-2000 season when we won the Cup and the highest-scoring team the year after. Every team in the league will tell you that when you get the lead, you play a tighter defensive game.

This isn’t pond hockey and you’re not going to be able to go up and down the ice. You have to play strategically and we know that defense wins championships in every sport. Every team left in the final four is good defensively, including the Penguins who won the Cup last year with great, stifling defense in their own zone.

Everybody is going to have an opinion and I take nothing away from the Senators. They might be the “Cinderella” team of the playoffs, no doubt. But they’ve got plenty of talent and exciting players on their team, including Erik Karlsson who might be the best defenseman in the world. Going over to the Western Conference and the Ducks-Preds series, we saw Anaheim find a way to take Game 4 in dramatic fashion after nearly blowing a two-goal lead in the third period. What did you see in that one?

Ken Daneyko: The Ducks have a lot of veterans on their team and they’re showing why they’re among the final four teams playing. They’ve been one of the best three or four teams in the league over the last few years.

This has been a pretty even series between two great teams. It’s going to be a dogfight the rest of the way and Anaheim showed a lot. They were outplayed in Game 3 despite it being a one-goal game. In Game 4, Anaheim came prepared and adjusted. Their defensemen were so much more active and they joined the rush, really trying to more involved in the offense. It put Nashville on its heels, especially in that first period.

The Ducks also showed a lot of heart, especially with the way the third period went against them. They took some bad penalties and, even though Nashville didn’t score, it gave the Preds momentum and were able to tie it. But Anaheim, being a veteran team, was able to find a way to regroup and win it in overtime. Corey Perry continues to score big goals – his third OT-winner of the playoffs – and that’s what they need from their top guys. A talking point from the Preds-Ducks series has been the Ryan Johansen-Ryan Kesler feud. Johansen has made it clear he’s not a big fan of Kesler in his comments to the media. Did you have a similar situation against a guy you played against?

Ken Daneyko: I didn’t really focus on the individuals, I just hated my opponent! That’s the way you have to play in order to win the Stanley Cup. The rivalries, whether it be focused on teams or individuals, are just a part of it. You have to be tough, both physically and mentally, to win those one-on-one battles. Certainly, Kesler has been a thorn in the side of Johansen, but he’s doing what he has to do in order to win.

Johansen has been terrific for Nashville and the rivalry is just part of it for me. It’s been an interesting subplot. When teams are evenly matched, it’s about who has more will, individually and collectively. You can’t win unless you have that intense dislike for your opponent and try to win at all costs. Kesler does this in every series against top players and that’s part of his role.

He’s a good offensive player, too, but he knows he’s a villain out there. It’s not always easy to be that guy and it’s a tough role to take on. You’re disliked, whether it be in the media or certainly the opponent. I liken it to my former teammate, Claude Lemieux, because that’s what he did. That’s not an easy position to be in and Claude Lemieux was able to do it to a “T”. We won a Cup with him playing that way and Anaheim is trying to get there with Ryan Kesler playing that way.