22 December 2013, 20:15

NHL 1-on-1 with Adam Henrique: sculpting a Devil; Jagr imperious

By David Kerans

WASHINGTON (VOR)— To say that Adam Henrique burst on the hockey scene in 2012 would not do him justice.

His rookie season in the NHL saw him become a Calder finalist, a Lady Byng candidate, a Stanley Cup finalist, and only the second player ever to notch two series-winning OT goals. Much more important, Adam Henrique became a legend: it was his goal that drove a stake through a hated rival and sent NJ to the Cup Final. They will never forget it:

Queen

"King" flushed! Henrique slam dunks on Henrik, The Rock erupts  Photo credit: © AFP Bruce Bennett

So if you had polled the hockey world a year ago and asked for one new name that had caught their attention, you would have heard Henrique's more than any other. Fans' fascination with Henrique went beyond the clutch goals and the glow of a long playoff run. The smoothness of Henrique's skating and his uncanny balance leaped out at spectators; he seemed to wind his way into promising positions with little effort. His hockey sense was clearly top-notch, and he meshed easily with world-class linemates Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

uncanny balance

Blessed with uncanny balance    Photo credit: © AFP Chris Trotman

Since his sparkling rookie season, NJ’s coaches have taken measures to sculpt Henrique’s game to harmonize with the team’s distinctive style of play. As we discussed at length in our recent feature on Dainius Zubrus, NJ has firmly established itself as one of the best puck possession teams in hockey. Henrique detailed to us in the interview below some of the very specific skills the coaches have developed in him with an eye to maximizing puck possession. At the same time, he makes it clear that the club is not impairing his creativity on the ice.

So far this season Henrique's production is off a bit from his earlier pace. Thus, he is producing 0.63 goals and primary assists per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play this year, as compared to 0.88 last year. Most of his advanced stats are also a shade below his marks from last season (statistics measuring his effect on team puck possession, for instance).

The only Henrique statistics that raise an eyebrow for us, however, are his shooting numbers: he is taking about 25% fewer shots per game, and is shooting from significantly further out (31 feet, on average, versus 24 feet last season ). Any number of things could account for this, but whatever the reason may be, Saturday’s NJ-WSH game stood to give Henrique and his teammates ample opportunity to showcase their offensive skills, because the Capitals have been relying heavily on PPs of late, while allowing opponents heavy doses of possession and chances. What we saw and heard from Henrique last night answered most of our questions, as detailed below.

score

Photo credit: © AFP Elsa

NJ-WSH: Jagr imperious!

This was an extraordinary performance from Jaromir Jagr. His presence reached us even before the game began, when he stood by himself for the national anthem, on the boards across from his team’s bench. It’s a spot I saw Lemieux take a number of years ago, and perhaps Jagr picked it up from Super Mario. The Washington crowd gave him special attention throughout the night. At first it was boos (Capitals’ fans recall him underperforming when he came to them during the middle of his career). But once the Capitals appeared to have the game in hand, with a two-goal lead in the 3rd, a new serenade rolled through the arena whenever the Zajac-Zubrus-Jagr line went to work with their cycle game: “Boring! Boring! Boring!”

Alas, WSH fans didn’t appreciate what they were watching. The Jagr line has little speed, but all three are tall, are remarkably skilled on the boards, and outduel opponents for loose pucks with regularity. Moreover, they support and communicate with each other as well as any line in hockey. They systematically secured and maintained possession in WSH’s end, and lit up the Caps for five goals, four of them coming in the last 15 minutes to bring NJ a 5-4 OT win.

When we asked Dainius Zubrus if he had heard the “Boring!” Boring!” chants from the crowd, he shot back a triumphant “That’s their problem!”

NJ certainly deserved the victory. Their 5-on-5 shot attempt edge was 66-32, or +34. That’s a whipping. The Jagr line was a genuine steamroller in 5-on-5 play: Jagr and Zajac +21, Zubrus +19. More important, the Jagr line was responsible for all five NJ scores (including the two from Marek Zidlicky and the winner from Andy Greene). Once you see this line play in person, you can’t help but conclude that Jagr has found himself a perfect fit in NJ. His linemates are superb complements to his rangy style of play, and the two other Czech legends on the team, Elias and Zidlicky, make him especially comfortable.

For his part, Henrique had a strong if unspectacular game. Playing with two offense-minded wingers, Michael Ryder and rookie Reid Boucher, Henrique kept an eye on his own end without sacrificing his forechecking. NJ generated 21 shooting attempts during his 15 minutes of ice-time, while WSH had only 8. He and his line made some chances, and had reason to be pleased with their night.

We found Adam post-game in a buoyant Devils locker room (hence the rough audio quality here):

 

Adam Henrique post-game

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Kerans: Not the most eventful night for you. You’re a pro, you’re probably going to think of things that went wrong. A lot of things went right, though. You made some chances, you stole some pucks. I saw you climb up over the back of Volpatti {on a forecheck down the length of the RW boards early on the 3rd period}, an incredible forecheck—you got the puck and made a chance out of it. And you had that chance late on Holtby; you sort of glided in, you made a feint, made space for yourself, and went glove, but he got it.

Henrique: (smiling) Yeah. You know I think I’ve been playing well lately. Skating is a huge part of my game; get involved in the play, get involved in the forecheck, whether it’s F1 or F2 {first or second forward to pressure deep}, creating turnovers, and playing with the puck in the offensive zone. So, you know were not the most offensively potent team. But I thought I played well tonight.

Kerans: I think so too.

Henrique: I think the team played well. We got down, a couple of defensive mistakes there. But we never gave up. Travs, Zubie, and Jags, Greener, Zid {Zajac, Zubrus, Jagr, Greene, Zidlicky}, you know, they came up huge for us tonight. I think they took over, and they are the reason for the big win today.

 

Kerans: I want go back to when you first showed up, and I didn’t know who you were. It was against Pittsburgh, they put you in the lineup, and some breakaway in the 1st period—the puck didn’t go in, but I’m thinking “Whoa, that didn’t look like an accident.” I didn’t know who this guy was, then all of a sudden (over the next few games) I sense this guy’s a blitz player. And something about your skating caught my eye. Tell me if I’m imaging things here, but you’re a little bit more upright, maybe knees a bit more bent, and you have really good balance. Am I the only one to say this?

Henrique: No, I think you nailed it. I remember that exact play (chuckling), and I was a little surprised. I was like “Oh, I got a breakaway here.” If I got it up on the backhand I think it would have gone in, but Fleury made a big save. And things kind of went from there. But yeah, my skating is a huge part of my game, so it’s something I try to focus on, and something I try to bring every night.

 

Kerans: As good as you are at skating, have you ever thought about power skating? Have you ever had a power skating coach? Anything you want to think about in the future, maybe?

Windsor

Celebrating a game-winning goal in a Memorial Cup Semifinal for Windsor 

Photo credit: © AFP, Richard Wolowicz

Henrique: Yeah, uh, skating is something I tried to work on a lot this summer, along with my skating in the offensive zone, playing offensively, getting pucks to the net, getting shots. I try to work on my shot in a few different ways. So I feel my game’s come a long way since I first started in the league, and I think it’s going in the right direction.

 

Kerans: There are a few guys {perhaps more than half of the NHL, in fact, according to manufacturer Nash Sports—DK} using something called Step-Steel . It’s a different type of blade, an eighth of an inch higher, little bit straighter. They say it keeps an edge and you notice it in the glide. Is this a piece of equipment that you’ve tried?

Henrique: It is. You know, you do notice a difference, the first few times you wear it, and then you get used to it. I think it’s the same thing with all the equipment. Everybody’s always coming up with more stuff. It’s always getting more and more advanced. Any way you can get an edge out there…

 

Kerans: If you’re a bit upright, is your stick upright too? Or do you just play with a normal lie?

Henrique: I use a long stick, play around with my lie a little bit, play with my curve a little bit, just trying to find what’s comfortable for me.

 

Kerans: Never much of a deep curve, mostly played with a nearly straight stick all your life?

Henrique: Mostly. But I switched two years ago. Adam Oates really gets in your ear…

 

Kerans: He leaned on you?

Henrique: Yeah (chuckling). For a lot of guys; I’m sure a lot of guys would say the same thing.

 

Kerans: A couple of questions maybe on Kovalchuk, because we are the Voice of Russia here. Was he a leader in the room? Would he talk a lot? Or would he just lead by example?

Henrique: Yeah, he would do both. He’s a guy who brings a lot of energy to the team, off the ice and on the ice. He’s always out there in the key situations, he scored a lot of big goals for us when he was here. He was definitely one of the leaders on the team.

 

Kerans: And was he a mentor to you? Did he say much to you? Or not really?

Henrique: Yeah, my first year here I got to play with him and Zack (Parise), so we talked a lot, he talked to me. He taught me a lot of little things out there that helped improve my game over the year.

 

Kerans: Over the last period of time are the coaches working with you, with Adam Henrique, on anything specific? Maybe defensive zone coverage, or specific technique in front of the net to clear guys out? If they work on you, what do they work on?

Henrique: More about offense. Down low, hanging on to the puck, cut-backs, back-and-forth…

 

Kerans: Devils hockey.

Henrique: (smiling) Yeah, trying to get the defenseman on your back, create a little space for yourself, things like that. But defense is a huge part of our game, it’s something we always work on.

 

Kerans: There are a lot of advanced stat geeks now, and on the stat sheets your numbers look similar to the rest of the team. And the team looks good. The one thing that stood out to me was the distance from which you are shooting this year, it is further out. Maybe not tonight. Maybe it’s going to change. Maybe it’s bad luck. And maybe it’s just the run of play. But the shots have been coming from further out, and you don’t take as many shots. Has the team been working with you on shooting? You say you want to work on offense…

Henrique: Yeah, you always want to try to get the shots from in around home plate, in front of the net, between the dots, below the circles. There’s times when it’s not always going to happen. But you try to find a way to the net.

 

Kerans: The first moment a lot of people noticed you was when had a big game in Calgary {January 2012}, on the road, a shorthanded goal, and there’s this moment when you take your right shoulder and you blast Iginla, and he fought you. It didn’t look like he said anything, he just sort of showed up and dropped his gloves?

Henrique: (chuckling) Yeah, if you’re going to make a hit you’re going to have to defend yourself a bit. So I remember, I think it was Glencross came over and Iginla came over and dropped the gloves, so it was definitely a memorable first fight (smiling).

 

Kerans: We don’t want to live in the past too much, but if you ever get down on yourself just remember the rush you gave tons of people with that goal against the Rangers. Don’t forget it, and thanks.

Henrique: (a big smile) You’re welcome. I won’t forget it, thanks!

 

 

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