If I Were King: In-Game (3/10/2012)

(This article was originally published by me as a guest author at the site called “Surly and Scribe”)

It would be my decree to decry defense and decriminalize offense. And this is how.

My over-riding theory would be to put guys where they belong, and where they have the best chance of success playing their own game. Screw the F3 as jargon, also. From now on, it is S1,S2,S3,S4 and D.

I would pair Doughty with Mitchell. I would be certain to have Doughty out there with Mitchell while Kopitar is out there with his guys. Scuderi is a non-entity in the offensive zone. He has actually made a huge effort for the last 15 or so games to do anything other than just dump it back down the boards, but with little success. He is wasted in that role. His partner is wasted with him in that role.

Our defensive success comes in large part from the diligence of our forwards on the backcheck and against our boards and in our corners. Their help to the defensemen is massive. This is not reciprocated on attack; our guys play 3 on 5 in the O-zone, or at best the occasional 3 1/2 on 5 as an S3 cycles out to cover an involved S4 D-man. I want 4 on 5 with the 5th guy below the blue line, in the zone, near the middle of the ice but shaded more towards his own point As of now, S4 can only pinch strong side with coverage, and if done D is supposed to be outside the blue line and in the middle of the ice. That sucks; the weak side, which is open fucking ice, is empty of our guy. We have no opportunity to jump in back door, and even a simple ring-around to maintain pressure and change attack sides is usually a mad rush just to get there.

Nashville, Detroit, Boston, these teams do not vacate the zone this way. When their top lines are out, the point positions are valuable territory and are not easily yielded; gap control is better, puck possession is maintained, breakouts are disrupted, and pressure is held.  Mitchell gets the shot thru better, he is faster to the puck, he is quicker to recover, and he is much better at holding the point. Scuderi is a beast down low, but not by size. Scuderi’s talent is reading the game, inside position, and using the stick to poke holes in the balloon of offensive attacks against. Sadly, he pokes holes in the balloon of our own offensive attack as well. In my Kingdom, Scuderi pairs with Voynov, as a stopper unit when our stopper line is out. Greene and Martinez pair as hybrids. Drewiske continues to scan milk cartons for his own picture.

Penner is moved into a line with Richards and Carter. Kopi stays with Brown and Williams. Stoll centers Lewis and King. Richardson, Fraser, Nolan. Penner is a career top 6, put him there. He is not worse than King defensively, and Richards needs a man in the crease while Carter dances the near-crease. The Kopi-Brown-Williams line is the backbone of this spineless organization. Stoll and Lewis and King would be able to hold the puck quite well, chase down the puck quite well, hit and use size and position quite well, and that’s what a stopper line is goddamn supposed to do. Richardson, Fraser and Nolan can be a whole bunch of busy, can cover limited minutes, and for fuck’s sake they are just a 4th line anyway. If either winger falters among King, Richardson or Nolan, the Big Red Dog gets to put his glare to use.

On the Power Play, lines remain intact. The fresher of Kopi’s or Richards’ line gets first crack, NEVER more than one minute and preferably 40 seconds. The idea is to instill urgency; 40 seconds and out, unless in-zone with possession. A mandate will be made that a shot should be taken (meaning puck to the fucking crease some damn way at any speed just get it there) within 15 seconds of the shift, and that includes entry time. The Kings are very good at gaining entry, and getting it set up. Really, they are, it’s amazing to me. We kill penalties so well because we deny entry and if entry is achieved we deny setup time. Yet, on our own Power Play we are very good at getting both entry and setup time but we still have a lousy power play; just one of the many paradoxes under which this team suffers.

When Kopi’s line is out there on the Power Play, Martinez (L) and Doughty (R)  are at the point. When the Richards line is out on the PP, it’s Stoll (L) and Voynov (R). After PP, first shift it’s Fraser’s line. Anybody gonna whine about Stoll on the PP needs to tell me how he QB’ed the 7th best PP unit in 2009-2010 and sucked at the same time. Sometimes things you hear over and over remain untrue; in my PP Stoll is out there to set up Voynov, anyway, because Slava can freeze a guy looking like he will shoot the one-timer, and is also then able to pass around the guy if he wants to.

Lines will remain intact thru a game. If a line is not playing well, they are moved down in ice time. If the 3rd or 4th line draws a penalty, they will get the last third of the resulting PP if at all possible. Doubters need to realize that Sutter has already done this 40 second thing, which is how Lokti used to get the end of a PP and was also trusted to transition thru that crucial first shift after a PP. PP shifts are 40, and if not, it better be mid-scramble near the attacking crease.

Goalies will never play both of a back-to-back unless one of them happens to be within reach of a consecutive all-time shutout record. If a coach chooses to sit one when this shutout streak is still alive, he will have to put something in the tip jar, and I choose not to be specific as to what the tip is cut off of. Other than that, a goalie will not play back-to-back.

The winning goalie will get the next start. Quick is the default number one, but should be expected to play 55 games. And while I am on goalies, we will drop the overly aggressive poke checks. Just because the puck is within reach does not mean it a good idea to reach for it. My goalie patrols the top of his crease with his shoulders above his knees at all times, and so we also lose the face-down lunge. It looks desperate, it cannot be recovered from, and presents the smallest profile to block the shooter’s angle. Yes, the lunging glove gets closer to the puck and the geometry is better, but that is only if the glove is directly in line to the net. A lunge is to cover the puck, not to block a shot.

During TV timeouts there will be a formal gathering as with a regular timeout. There will be a review of pertinent information, such as score, time-remaining, level of aggression in pinching and on the rush, etc. There will be scolding if necessary, there will be pointing out of less than full effort, there will be discussion of mental mistakes. The coach will lead, but the Captain will be expected to speak. If it is late in a game and we have the lead, it will be “get the fucking thing out, and hold it in their zone on every opportunity,” for example. Game-situation, scoreboard, etc., will dictate strategy and this will be reinforced verbally every time.

The first guy to get a clean knock-down hit in every game will be given a token award, maybe a toy bulldozer or something equally stupid. This is not a bounty situation; it is an acknowledgment that effective hitting is a large part of our game. There can be no penalty, and the knockdown must include our guy staying up.

If line changes are needed, it will be stated in the post-game “chat.” There will be a post-game chat after every game. Some will be pleasant.

Penalty kills will not involve Kopitar, A., nor Brown, D., except at the end during the transition to equal strength. Richards and Carter will usually be expected to play against the opponent’s perceived second unit. If, for example, the opponent’s best line draws a penalty and is too tired to populate a “first unit” to start their PP, then the perceived second unit will come out and so will Carter and Richards. 3rd and 4th liners will earn their roster spot by PK work; Lewis, Stoll, Fraser, these guys kill the tough minutes, Richards and Carter are paired to kill against the weaker unit (with the shorthanded threat more viable) and Brown and Kopi take the transition shift or first shift after the PK.

Attack zone play will include S1,S2,S3,and S4 rotating in what is now the “F3″ system, but there will simply be one more guy. The idea of rotating out to cover a guy rotating in, the idea of a high position to both complete an attack triangle and simultaneously have someone in safe defensive position will remain, just using 4 guys instead of 3. The 5th guy, which I call “D” will interchange with S4. S4 can be Stoll covering a point when Voynov rushes in, or S4 can be Kopi in the high slot when a 3 man scrum for possession occurs in the corner.

Forecheck: we send 1 guy to stop the puck, a second guy to dig it out, and our 3rd guy either swoops in to break things loose with a hit or he remains very close but with a free stick to cover the opponent if the opponent emerges with the puck. It’s not a just forecheck, and it’s damn sure at least a three-check. Losing the puck does not mean immediate retreat, it means we have a head start on a deep forecheck.

At the same time, our 5th guy, “D,” is weak side within easy reach of the wall on his own point. He will appear to be separated from the play, but he will also be behind the play and therefore “forgotten” at times. This man will be allowed to jump in back door, he will be allowed to interchange with a high S4 if the puck goes reachably to his half wall or even into his corner as long as he can get there at the same time as the opponent and contest for possession.

Remember, usually scrums and board battles concentrate everybody on the same side of the ice, and the relief for the opponent comes from a ring-around or skate-away. Our guys would use the same tactic, as discussed, to change attack sides and gain posession time. It is during these reformulations of defensive positions that the opponent is most vulnerable to open seams and cross-ice passes; we don’t get these opportunities because we don’t have any presence available, we don’t have a man stationed in that area to get that puck at that time. If our weak side D is there, he can prevent the opponent from gaining certain possession, he can slow or stifle a counterattack, and he can also contribute to offensive possession and pressure. If you are struggling to imagine this in your mind’s eye, just think of Kronwall from Detroit and his massive hits against breakouts; this is exactly where those hits come from.

There you have the system tweaks, and personnel uses, that I think would make this team a better team. I actually don’t think Sutter would be against them, as many are old-school thinking. It’s the not the old-school part that worries me about Sutter, it’s the thinking part. Is he really just as simple as he sounds in interviews, or is his brain secretly a fast-twitch muscle?


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