War Room

I could call this the “Sutter Doctrine” page, but War Room sounds more appropriate to the battles for points and wins. This page will discuss the basic elements of the Kings systems. Since Darryl Sutter took over from Terry Murray, there have been some major changes, and I will point them out. Also, this season Sutter has been tweaking things according to personnel, most obviously on the Power Play. The object here is to observe what Sutter does, and try to understand why he does it.

We can talk about specific areas such as Breakout, Penalty Kill, Forecheck, Power Play and neutral zone collapse. To me it is very interesting to see players adjust their game, or perhaps struggle to do so, when a coach wants to add a layer to the way a team handles certain situations. We can point out a certain thing, and then see it happening in the game, and for me it enhances the experience of watching a game.

This page will fill as time passes, some of it from past articles. Stuff like this might be “wonky,” or it might not, you can judge. The game is team versus team, but the play is man against man, and I like to watch these individual battles, too.

Here’s an excerpt from an article last season (linkatron) discussing the idea that the Kings systems are all built on a sort of leapfrog of positions as play goes on, and the need for players to be versatile in order to succeed in doing that.

“In Judo, one of the key principles is to use an attacker’s momentum against him. If a guy lunges, you pull him and throw him. Rather than opposing his strength, you rob him of it with cunning. This is what the Kings do; hold the puck until they draw coverage, and only then do they pass or fake. The Kings make them commit, read their commitment, and then play around them. Let them have a hit, but not the puck. Let them lunge, and with one quick adjustment they are suddenly past you and behind the play, or at the very worst they are with you and neutralized.

Forget the “Left Wing Lock,” or “The Trap;” The Judo System is new. Perhaps not entirely new, but the way the Kings play is at least many new wrinkles if not a fully evolved, new form.

Holding the puck and forcing coverage decisions often means a defenseman will lead the rush. If a winger is pinched on the boards in our zone, he draws coverage and then passes it to an advancing teammate, and sometimes that advancing man needs to be a defenseman in order to keep the play going forward. Instead of the conservative way of always having two defensemen back, the Kings let the strong side D-man (the man on the same side of the ice as the puck) move up.

The idea is that whoever has the most ice should take that ice and advance the puck until forced to pass it. Even Rob Scuderi leads rushes, in the freaking playoffs, and if you think that is just an accident or is not something intentional and new, then this article will be fully lost on you. Advancing the puck like a forward in this way, even though you are the quintessential “stay-at-home” defenseman, is the absolute statement defining the need for versatility among positions and also among each player’s skills.

As well, when Scuderi rushes, a forward must take his spot and hang back. So not only the stay-at-home defensemen, but also every single player must be able to assume the duties of multiple positions in-game and during play. Versatility is needed not just in filling a line-up, but also from player-to-player moving position-to-position, as play develops.

This interchange, this required versatility, is paramount on the forecheck, too. Doughty cannot pinch down the wall unless Richards sees it and fills that ice. Scuderi cannot pinch the other wall unless someone expects it and is ready and positioned to fill that ice.

The hockey IQ required for this pinch, this one play in the offensive zone, is high, but the Kings do it at every position in every zone. It is total connectivity, it is plug-and-play, it is modular. It’s like taking a watch apart and changing the order of gearing, yet the watch still keeps perfect time. The recognition and fluidity combined make the Kings, I think, the smartest team in the game right now.

Remember in cartoons, when a guy would close the top dresser drawer, and the bottom drawer would pop out and bang his shins? Then, he would kick that drawer shut only to have the middle drawer pop out into his stomach. So he leans over and shoves the middle drawer shut, and you guessed it, the top drawer punches him in the face. That is the Kings forecheck. Always moving, popping in and out, always either within range to hit or angling on approach to disrupt passing and then giving the hit, too. It’s like the Harlem Globetrotter’s famous 3-man weave at the top of the key; with the Kings, it’s all 5 men able to perform a full-team weave at any area of the ice. And that takes versatility.”

As I said, this kind of stuff might be tedious for some, and I get that. For others, though, it could be fun to refine our understanding of what Dustin Brown means when he says, “We just need to get a little better on the x’s and o’s, we’re not quite in sync yet.” We can’t know how it really feels to play the game at their level, but we can get little glimpses of how these guys think and what they are trying to do.

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