Hebert Is Casualty of Coyotes' New Game Plan

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mighty Ducks goaltender Guy Hebert didn't wince or cry out in agony when Phoenix Coyote defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky crashed into him 55 seconds into the third period Sunday.

Instead, he calmly sat with his back against one goalpost, waiting for the trainer to arrive. Hebert apparently has grown accustomed to the routine.

After all, he sustained a concussion after being hit in the head by an opponent's stick and sprained his neck after yet another collision earlier this season.

Tverdovsky's uninvited visit to the crease wasn't the first Sunday, and if the Coyotes follow their game plan, it won't be the last of this physical series.

Sunday's train wreck produced nothing more than a tweaked right thumb. A little ice, some rest and Hebert should be ready for Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals Tuesday at America West Arena.

At game's end, Hebert was cagey in his replies to questions concerning the impact a sore thumb might have on his next performance. "Better not give out too much information," he said. "This is the playoffs."

And they got tighter after the Coyotes' 4-1 victory narrowed the Ducks' lead in the best-of-seven series to two games to one.

What's potentially more troubling than a sore thumb is the way the Coyotes effectively positioned players in front of Hebert.

Instead of firing harmless shots from long distance, as they did in Games 1 and 2, the Coyotes clogged the slot with bodies and deflected shots past Hebert. Three of the four Phoenix goals came on deflections from close range.

This was not the last act of a desperate team. This was the Coyotes' method of operation throughout the regular season.

"We just went to the net more," Phoenix center Jeremy Roenick said. "We got the puck to the net and got traffic in front of Hebert and made sure he didn't see as well."

Darrin Shannon scored 1:18 into the game when he redirected Cliff Ronning's pass from the left wing into the net. Shannon then deflected Deron Quint's shot from the blue line for the second goal at 8:50. Keith Tkachuk deflected another Ronning shot at 14:01.

Game over.

"They're 6-foot, 200-something-pound guys," Hebert said of the traffic in front of him. "Then you've got our guys trying to block them out. You just try to get in the best possible position.

"I should be able to stop the shots, but it's difficult to see the puck through all the traffic. The key is positioning and being in the right spot."

Francois Allaire, in his first season as the Ducks' goaltending consultant, has spent hours drilling Hebert on proper positioning. But it's nearly impossible to prepare for a shot from long distance, then react in time to stop the redirected shot from as little as five feet.

Even the player redirecting the shot has little idea where it might go.

"Like tonight, the guy who makes the deflections doesn't try to hit the inside post. But he did it," Allaire said. "You have to give him credit for that. They were screening the net pretty well."

Allaire and Hebert will regroup at today's practice, but don't expect any drastic changes in their game plan. "We'll make sure Guy keeps playing the same way," Allaire said.

Look for the Coyotes to continue to drive hard to the front of the net, hang around in front of Hebert and hope to cause him trouble.

They didn't do it in the first two games of the series and lost by matching scores of 4-2. They did in Game 3 and won for the first time.

"That's what you've got to do to be successful against Hebert," Tkachuk said. "If he sees the shot, he's going to stop it."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
63°