Black Ice Issue #17 — Wild Zeros

The Lemaire Doctrine states that defense wins games, goalies win cups, and a little bit of Claude Lemieux goes a long way.

Back in New Jersey in 1995, with a superstar back-end, consisting of Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, Jacques Lemaire perfected his defensive system using a pedestrian group of forwards and the neutral zone trap. By 1996 other teams in the NHL had caught sight of Lemaire’s tactics and the dreaded “clutch and grab” era of hockey was unearthed. While tight checking affairs weren’t common place in the whirling dervish of offensive hockey circa 1984 Edmonton, it was, however, common for a team to buckle down into a more defensive-minded system once the playoffs rolled around.

The expansion of the league and subsequent dilution of the talent pool drove more and more teams toward Lemaire’s system.

Alain Vigneault beat Jacques Lemaire at his own game Saturday night. The Canucks kept the Wild to the perimeter most of the evening and when there was a defensive breakdown, Luongo was equal to the task, showing once again that other-worldly element to his game that been missing the last two dozen games.

The defense shone tonight and provided most of the offensive zip. While there may not be a Norris candidate among the top six D-men there is a collective spark in this group that, when healthy, aligns as the best corps in the league. BetweenBieksa, Ohlund, Mitchell and young Elder there carries a certain jour ne sais quoi about them that resembles the great Steven/Niedermayer tandem of 1995.

But then the question remains, who is our Claude Lemieux? Who is that all-elusive X factor which has been this avoiding this city since 1970 and glory days of Cyclone Taylor?

As mentioned a few weeks ago, this team is suffering from a minor identity crises right now. Vancouver, as it stands, lacks the firepower to play the “puck possession” game so favored by high flying teams like Pittsburgh, Washington and Detroit. Vigneault and Lemaire are cut from the same cloth. They have proven that a sub-par offense, augmented by a gifted and gritty blueline and goaltending, can be coached into success. Saturday’s version of the Canucks seemed most suitable to the job of getting back into the division winning form from two years ago.

Roberto Luongo played his best outing of the season and showed why, with Brodeur out, he is the best goalie in the league right now. Sami Salo and Daniel Sedin provided all the offense needed on the night. Like Frankenstein, Lemaire was beaten by his own monster.

But is this monster enough for the Canucks to do anything more than cower in the shadows of mediocrity?

Whatcha think?