I’m no hockey expert. Regardless, I have formulated some opinions about why Coyotes are sliding down the NHL standings.
Let’s forget, for now, discipline brain farts like those that, last night, gave the best team in the NHL a 5 on 3 advantage in the first couple minutes of the game.
Let’s ignore a weird dive in faceoff win percentage and a frightening reduction of PK effectiveness. Let’s disregard soft goals let in by a goaltender that’s faced more shots (753!) than any other in the NHL.
My conclusion as to a fix for the Coyotes is best summed up by the late, great, Warren Zevon. Hit somebody.
A Tough Loss
An obviously disappointed and angry Coyotes Head Coach Tippett last night after the 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks:
“You can push back after you’re down three nothing, but let’s start the game on time.”
“It’s so foreign to what you have to do (to beat an elite team like Chicago) that it’s almost inconceivable that we could do it. But we did.”
“All kudos for coming back in the second, but that’s not how you win on a consistent basis.”
“This is a team thing, this isn’t a Mike thing.” and, finally…
“It’s an attitude. When you step on the ice, you’ve got to play better.”
Doan, Hanzal and Klinkhammer weren’t happy and didn’t want to chat after the game, mostly just admitting their first period performance was a killer. The word “unacceptable” was used frequently.
Ironically, in his video, Klinkhammer was standing next to Rusty Klesla’s “send a message” emptied out locker.
Time And Space
Hockey lingo includes the “time and space” phrase. To me, it means a player needs BOTH time and space to make a play, whether it be a shot, pass or advancement on the ice. Take either away and plays are more difficult.
When defending or attacking players that have superior skill, two foolproof methods of reducing BOTH are to either remove the puck from the player or remove the player from the puck.
Simple math suggests that attacking the larger of the two, the player, would be simpler and also more likely to be successful.
In hockey, that math works out to taking the man off the puck by applying as much checking force to his body as necessary to accomplish the task. If that force is enough to make said attacker fall down heavily and hopefully think twice the next time he has the puck in your vicinity, all the better.
That’s not what the Coyotes are doing.
Got Pads? Use Them
For a while now, I’ve been thinking that the Coyotes, as a team, have backed off their physical play significantly. Maybe having some scoring success dampened their willingness to hit?
Dumping pucks deep into the corner is significantly less effective when the puck isn’t followed by a determined player with the will to regain control of HIS puck for his team.
Releasing coverage of your man and letting him come off the boards too far above the goal line is okay for “normal” attackers when you have a goalie aware of play around his net. But, when you defend against elite players and forego a chance to pin them against the boards, they will make a play. If they aren’t able to drive around behind you to the net, they’ll certainly use the “time and space” you gave them to get the puck to a shooter.
There has been, in my opinion of course, a marked reduction in the will of people on the team to engage in and WIN the one on one physical battles necessary to maintain control of the game in the both the offensive and defensive zones.
Bauer Doesn’t Make Magic Wands
Stick checking is a mandatory hockey skill. People that are good at it can make a career of stopping even elite skaters with their sticks. It’s important to have “sticks in lanes” and to be able to lift the opponent’s stick at the appropriate time.
The Coyotes aren’t hitting anybody and every single player is giving “his man” too much room ALL the time. They are relying far too much on the “easier” (not resulting in a bruise) path of removing the puck from the player. It’s not working, and it looks like the rest of the NHL has figured out what it takes to beat the Coyotes.
You might even suspect that Rusty was waived because the physicality of his play was lacking since the cheap shot Nolan hit him with during preseason play.
Last night was a perfect example of a superior team shredding that defensive weakness of the Coyotes at both ends of the ice.
By “defensive weakness” I don’t mean solely defensemen. In normal play, there are more forwards on the ice than D. Those forwards have as much responsibility for controlling the game as do the defensive corps and they’re simply not doing it, particularly in their own end of the ice.
Without naming names, I’ve watched guys floating around waiting for the puck instead of jumping up into the play. I’ve seen guys consistently loitering past center ice waiting for a big outlet pass, even when it was obvious the other four guys needed help in their own zone. If an amateur can see it, the coaches must see it.
The penalty forwards must pay for having D-men dishing them scoring chances and helping out with offense is playing harder in the defensive zone. Many of them aren’t pulling their defensive weight, and Smitty has faced over 700 shots.
Coyotes defensemen play with an offensive bent, a big part of the Coyotes success. The flip side is the elite D guys on the squad are rarely an intimidating physical presence when the time for nailing a streaking forward comes. Our guys (including the forwards) are more likely to slip any check and work on gaining control of the puck with their stick.
That only works up to a point, and when skaters with sick hands are on the ice the better tactic EVERY SINGLE TIME is to knock them on their ass, or as close to that as possible. If you miss your check, they will then make you look foolish.
But, we looked pretty foolish down 3-0 without trying to hit anybody last night and the Hawks emerged for the most part unscathed.
So, for Tuesday’s game in Edmonton, here’s coach Me’s answer to get back on track.
Sit In The Corner
If I see you NOT jump into a corner battle or coast when another dig or two will get you to the puck, you will sit for awhile.
If I see you poke check or wave your stick around when the obviously more effective play would be to take the man, same deal.
If I see you standing, waiting for a puck to arrive with an opposing player likely to gain position on you because you stood there, sit down.
If you take a celebratory or retaliatory penalty (like Yands did in overtime and Marty last night), same deal.
Sure it’s simplistic, ridiculous and maybe ineffective. But, whatever else has been tried isn’t working yet and, eventually, the fingers are going to be pointed away from players and towards the coaches.