Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Martin, Burns let the puck do the work
By Chris Stevenson Special to ESPN.com
OTTAWA -- One rides a Harley. The other rides the fence.
One made kids crack the books. The other booked 'em.
Neither had anything close to a career as a pro player, never mind a player in the NHL.
Ottawa Senators head coach Jacques Martin was a goaltender with St. Lawrence University and became a teacher before becoming a coach. New Jersey Devils coach Pat Burns, the ex-cop and Harley rider, was a tough guy in senior hockey, a glorified beer league.
But here they are, going head-to-head in the Eastern Conference finals, two of the finest around at their profession.
Burns is often sarcastic, quick to take an opposing view, sharp and capable of being one of the game's most colorful quotes.
Martin vehemently avoids controversy and is sometimes painfully bland, his answers littered with "the bottom line is..." and "it's all part of the process..." and his current favorite, "from the standpoint of..." though he does seem to be making more of an effort in these playoffs to communicate his thoughts and insights.
That's good because he obviously has a brilliant mind for the game.
They both come from the same place (Burns grew up in nearby Gatineau; Martin grew up just east of Ottawa), took very different paths and have now arrived at the same place.
While their personalities might be different, the type of hockey they embrace is not.
It is perhaps too easy to say both Martin and Burns have their games rooted in defensive hockey. Both believe in good defense, there is no question.
"I don't resent that," said Martin Monday when asked about having a reputation as a defensive coach. "I am kind of proud of that because to me, defense wins. I can't remember who won the Super Bowl. I think it was a defensive team. But I guess where I differ is, I have a strong belief that when you don't have the puck you are on defense; when you have the puck, you are on offense. I have always felt that."
These two clubs -- as well as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Minnesota Wild, the two teams left in the Western Conference -- all embrace the same type of philosophy.
But at some point you do have to score at least one goal to win a game.
If you assume all the teams left at this point have good goaltending (and they do), that all teams are committed to playing defensively at this point (and they are), it stands to reason the team with the most skill will win. Martin recognizes that and contrary to what some might believe, allows his players' creative juices to flow when they have the puck.
"I have never been a coach that stifles my skilled players," he said. "I've never dictated that's the way you have to play, you have to dump the puck in every time. I really believe in a puck possession game. You need to have the skill to win and when you have the skill to me what you try to do is educate your players or teach them to be accountable and be responsible. Sometimes there are situations by no means if you can penetrate the offensive zone with puck control, go ahead (and dump it in.)
"The purpose is to try and keep control of the puck and create and attack and create a scoring chance."
If you were going to sum up it up in a simple phrase, both Burns and Martin like their players to let the puck do the work. They like to let the other team bring it to them and then use good positioning to take it away.
"You play well offensively when you are in good defensive position because you look at the top players, pucks come to them. They don't chase them. Pucks
come to them. There are certain areas of the ice where pucks end up and that's the thing that's amazing about a player like Mario Lemieux, people say, gee, he doesn't work a lot, he's lazy," said Martin.
"The next thing you know at the Olympics he knows where to go, the dangerous area, pucks come there and then you start a counterattack. Top players are
like that. Gretzky was the same way. Pittsburgh won some Stanley Cups because they paid attention to details without the puck."
Burns crafted some of his current philosophy from Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, who was the assistant general manager in Montreal when Burns coach the Canadiens from 1988-92.
Burns sees similarities in Martin's system, which was formed in his days coaching the Peterborough Petes, a major junior team in Ontario where Roger Neilson, now a Senators assistant, helped establish a defensive culture.
"Montreal is the university of hockey," said Burns. "It's like the Harvard of the United States. No insult to anybody who went to another school, but it's the top university.
"(The Canadiens) are a hockey factory and I learned things there. Jacques (Lemaire) is a product of that organization. Jacques (Martin) knows the importance of (defensive hockey). He went to Peterborough. Roger Neilson coached that defensive style.
"I said before the playoffs that this was going to be a working man's playoffs and it looks that way. It's however works the hardest and believes the most in what you do. The four teams still standing really showed that."
Burns' team doesn't have the same offensive power as the Senators, so it will likely continue to take the more cautious approach in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
Burns would like to see his team improve its decisions with the puck. Game 1 wasn't exactly a defensive hockey game, so it's likely fans can expect to see more good scoring chances in Game 2. After all, there are simply too many talented players on the ice and both coaches impart a philosophy that is designed to score goals by preventing them.
Burns bristled Monday when asked if fans had seen the "real" Devils yet.
"We're playing a good team. (Regulation time) finished 2-2 and was won in overtime," he said. "Do you think you saw the 'real' Senators in the second period?
"We had 25 turnovers which is way too much. The most you want to have is three or four a period. There were blatant turnovers. There are takeout turnovers and giveaway turnovers and they are two different things."
Where the Devils have to better is in the one word Burns used to sum up his coaching philosophy Tuesday.
"That's the biggest word I use all the time," he said. "Accountability in your actions. Good things come from that. Respect for one another. Never let the guy beside you down."
The Devils need to be just a little more accountable Tuesday night.
Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.