Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Boris Valabik's NHL debut

Tonight was the NHL debut of 2004 first round draft pick Boris Valabik.

We begin at warmups, with everyone taking his picture. Below, team photographer Scott Cunningham lives up to his name, cunningly grabbing a photo as Valabik parks near the bench.

Valabik is going to keep an eye out for that from now on.

Overall at warmup he looked like a nervous guy trying not to look nervous. He chatted with Kwiatkowski, Slater and Popovic. Popovic tapped him on the butt with his stick as encouragement. I would have liked to post a picture of him next to Toby Enstrom, but the ones I had were not good enough. It's entertaining though.

Waiting his turn to shoot.

"I think I look good in blue."

Valabik played with Joel Kwaitkowski all night. These two were not a pair in Chicago, so there was some getting use to each other, though Valabik said after the game that knowing where the forwards were going to be was tougher than knowing where Kiwi would be. (Valabik said he played mostly with Brian Fahey and Grant Lewis in Chicago.)

Valabik saw a bit of PK time tonight in addition to even strength.

His night actually looked worse on the stat sheet (-2, on the ice for five goals against and two for) than it did in person. On only two of the goals was he really at fault.

On the second goal, Valabik failed to clear the puck, tossing it instead to a Hurricane player who took a couple strides in from the blue line and fired. It was pretty far out to be a good goal, so Hedberg was either screened or shares some fault there.

On the fourth goal, Valabik's guy scored on a pass from behind the net. He was near the guy, just didn't eliminate the threat in time. He skated back to the bench with his head down, defeated. He knew that was his bad.

Personally I would like to see him with a partner other than Kwiatkowski. Playing two guys who've spent most of the year in Chicago together is going to doubly expose weaknesses.

Valabik's strengths tonight: Good defending the rush and was sufficiently physical (credited with two hits). Kept up with the play and didn't get beaten wide. Defensive positioning was good.
Weaknesses: Moving the puck without a plan, turning the puck over (credited with three giveaways), missed passes. Overall decision-making. Cutting from side to side was slow. Bryan Little picked up someone because Valabik couldn't shift over quick enough.

As far as why he didn't play against Philadelphia last night, the stated reason was to get some practice in first, but that doesn't make a lot of sense because he only had one morning skate with the team. The real reason was much more likely to be the fact that Philly is a very chippy team and they want him to stay away from that stuff for now.

Below he's in a puck battle with Tim Conboy.

He took a hooking call at the end of the game. I asked him about this and he didn't have much of a reaction. It was sort of irrelevant by this point. Valabik got in no scrums, and walked away from Joe Jensen early in the game when something could have potentially come of it.

After the game, Valabik was much harder on himself than his play warranted, and harder on himself than Don Waddell was.

"Not the game I was looking for obviously, I was really really nervous," he said. He noted how little time he had practiced with them, then said "It's not an excuse. I have to play better. Guys were helping me the whole game, they were great. Hopefully I can just play next game and show them what I can do."

The coaches told him to keep it simple, play his game and that's what he tried to do. Waddell praised his physicality and great reach after the game. "It's his first game, we know he'll get better. He'll be fine," Waddell said. "He's a player that really cares."

Cheer up, Boris. Tomorrow is another day.

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