With ball in Maurice’s court, Stanley Cup coaching chess match continues

Kyper and Bourne are joined by Jason Gregor to discuss Edmonton Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch and what adjustments he might be tempted to make ahead of Game 6 and possibly Game 7 to help the Oilers secure a series comeback.

EDMONTON — Nobody in the history of the game has coached more NHL regular season games than 57-year-old Paul Maurice’s 1,849, other than one Scotty Bowman (2,141). Only three coaches have collected more wins than Maurice’s 869.

Down the way, every second or third night this spring, stands Kris Knoblauch, aged 45, with his 69 NHL games coached and 46 NHL wins.

Maurice commands the podium after every game and practice, an eloquent teller of tales and media darling, so adept is he at helping a hockey scribe to tell the stories we are paid to write.

He is flowery prose when the time is right, and stern conviction when his team’s grip on a series is slipping, as it is today

“(It’s) supposed to be 3-2, supposed to be hard,” he declared Wednesday morning, “I’m not pumping tires. I’m not rubbing backs. I don’t think we need that at all. Everybody feels probably exactly the way I do right now. I’m not feeling deflated. Neither is the hockey team.

“They’re not feeling deflated. A little grumpy.”

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Moments later, Maurice playfully warns the media: “Most of the s— that comes out of my mouth I’d never write down. Certainly wouldn’t sign my name to it.”


The son of Imperial, Sask. senior hockey legend Bob, a CP railroad man turned farmer, Knoblauch is honest to a fault and as genuine as an Alberta beef and fresh farm eggs breakfast. He commands the podium the way Aleksander Barkov has been commanding Connor McDavid of late.

Which is to say, less than authoritatively.

Knoblauch knows that most of his players have played more games at this level than he has coached, so he doesn’t waste any time being someone he is not.

“There’s very little work for me to keep confidence high with this team,” he said. “Their backs have been against the wall, they’ve been counted out. Others have said they’re done, they’re not that good — it’s over — whether it was in November or throughout the playoffs. They just play.”

Of course, all of that, as Knoblauch’s Edmonton Oilers come charging around the final turn of this Stanley Cup Final, means little.

What really matters today, with Game 6 of this Stanley Cup Final set for the hearing loss depot that is a Friday night at Rogers Place, is how Knoblauch and staff have taken control of the pace and style of this series.

Remember how Florida controlled the bluelines in Games 1-3? Do you recall how good Dmitry Kulikov and Niko Mikkola looked while pressuring down from their offensive blueline to win battles against stationary Oilers forwards?

Well, in Games 5 and 6, the Florida defence corps has been forced into a skating game by a revised Oilers gameplan that employs a style we watched the Dallas Stars play in Rd. 3. Remember how that weak-side winger flees the zone early, curling across the middle in wait of a stretch pass or high flip out of the zone?

It’s hard for a defenceman to hold his blueline the way Florida’s D-corps likes to, when there’s an opposing winger skating around behind him stretching the neutral zone, opening up the middle of the ice that the Panthers used to control.

And where the Oilers defencemen struggled with execution early in the series, they’re better now that a high flip — or “punt,” as they’re calling it now — is the preferred break-out option.

Meanwhile, Edmonton’s top players have begun to get over on Barkov and the boys. The Oilers’ power play is scoring goals, as are their penalty killers.

And the great Sergei Bobrovsky? The fact that he’s been replaced as the presumptive Conn Smythe winner tells you all you need to know about what’s going on in this Cup Final.

Of course, Knoblauch wants no credit for all of this.

“You can’t script, ‘Oh, we’re going to go D-to-D, then we’re going to go to the wall, and we need to hit the middle.’ Nothing was scripted,” he said of the 5-3 win in Game 5. “We got a lot of scoring chances off the rush, but it’s just about our guys relaxing and making plays.”

Yeah, right coach.

Back in Fort Lauderdale, Maurice, ever the veteran, was calming his waters after a pair of losses and 13 goals against.

“I understand the idea that I would fight that urge to try to outscore that team,” he said of Edmonton. “We wouldn’t wobble that fast in a playoff series from what we’ve done for two years.

“We play a game a certain way. Game 4 wasn’t very good — that I’ll give you. The other four games, I’m right with a lot of it.”

It’s the playoffs.

All of what they say has a purpose, and half of it might even be true.

The real talking gets done when the puck drops, and suddenly at ice level, it’s the quiet coach whose voice has become the loudest.

The ball is in the veteran’s court.

We’d be surprised if Maurice didn’t have an answer.

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