If you remember, Lindy Ruff had a reputation as a defensive coach during his days in Buffalo. The underlying criticism was that he preached defense because he didn’t understand offense, as if he neutralized his stars and was the source of their declines in production. It was pure hogwash.
Ruff knew offense, but he lacked top offensive talent for most of his tenure with the Sabres. He emphasized two-way play and the idea that sound defense would lead to more offense. The best coaches extract what they can from their personnel. For him, it came down to one thing: winning.
Funny, but I didn’t hear anyone in Dallas whining this season about Ruff’s lack of offensive acumen. The Stars led the NHL with 267 goals while winning the tough Central Division, which also includes defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago and St. Louis. They had the second-best record in the league.
Jamie Benn led the NHL in scoring last year with 87 points and had 89 points this year, second behind Patrick Kane. His three years under Ruff stand as the most productive stretch in his career. The Stars had three players with 33 or more goals this season.
Dallas holds a 2-0 series lead over Minnesota in the first round. Wild winger Thomas Vanek had 25 goals or more in his first seven seasons under Ruff and none while playing for other coaches. Jason Pominville, who had 18 goals or more over the same stretch, had 11 this season in Minnesota.
Age wasn’t the only reason for their decline. Ruff, who gets better with age, is looking to win his first Stanley Cup. Many people in Buffalo are pulling for him. But if he falls short, I wonder how many will suggest he’s an offensive coach who doesn’t understand defense.
• The Warriors will be extremely cautious with Stephen Curry’s sore ankle, in part because they don’t need him to beat the Rockets. Golden State played Houston even, 39-39, after Curry left the game with 9:13 remaining in the third quarter and still rolled to a 104-78 victory.
The Warriors stayed with the Rockets at a time Houston was trying to fight its way back and Golden State was in cruise control. The Warriors’ depth gets overlooked with so much light shining on its stars that people underestimate their value. If their reserves created a team in the Eastern Conference, they would make the playoffs.
Golden State won two of three games this season without Curry, including a victory in Houston. When he’s been unavailable, the Warriors share the ball more and tighten up their defense. Curry wants to play Monday in Game Two, but don’t be surprised if he sits out and returns for Game Three in Houston.
• As a general rule, I disregard spring practices in college football. However, it’s tough to ignore the story this year about USC long snapper Jake Olson, who was given a standing ovation during the spring game. It’s not his ability that inspires players and fans so much as his perseverance.
Olson is blind.
He lost vision in his left eye to retina cancer when he was 10 months old. On the night before surgery that he knew would cause him to lose sight in his right eye at 12 years old, he attended a USC practice. Now a 19-year-old sophomore, the Trojans hope to get him into an actual game before he graduates.
• After examining the Bills’ schedule, I’m thinking 6-10 would be an achievement.
• We’ll see how long it lasts, but the Orioles, the team most prognosticators pegged for last in the division, were atop the AL East through the first two weeks. That was after losing three of four games to the Rangers. It’s also with Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis batting .233 or worse.
GM Dan Duquette was blistered for his offseason inactivity, but wasn’t looking for top free agents. He wanted the right players. Mark Trumbo appears to be a fit. Strange stat: In six road games, Trumbo has five homers and 11 RBIs. In five home games, he has no homers and no RBIs.
• The Celtics are cooked if guard Avery Bradley is sidelined for an extended time with a hamstring injury. Bradley needed help donning his pants after the game Saturday, a sign he’s not coming back any time soon. Bradley was their most efficient player this season, largely because of his defense.
• It didn’t seem possible after tying Martin Brodeur’s record with 48 victories in the regular season, but Caps goalie Braden Holtby has been better in the postseason. Holtby stopped 60 of 61 shots in two games against the Flyers. His career .938 save percentage in the postseason is the highest in NHL history among goalies who have played 10 games or more.
• I’m sure the suspense while waiting for my prediction has been unbearable, but I’m going with Geoffrey Mutai to win the Boston Marathon. The Kenyan set the course record in 2011. Look for him to withstand a strong kick from Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa, who is looking for his third straight Boston win.