Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gainey's Tactical Overhaul

During his press conference on Monday, one of the most damning things Gainey said about Carbonneau (in my opinion), was that he had some simple solutions himself to implement right away that could help turn the team around. Damning because, he wasn't even coaching and he saw them. Damning because Guy did not, could not.

We don't know what those solutions are yet. Last game many of us (Tobalev, myself and assorted other bloggers) watched the game very closely for an indication. It was difficult to see much. it probably was unreasonable to think a travel day would yield much change, really...

However, going into the next few weeks, as time and practices pass, we're bound to notice something. While I'm sure we here at LIW will have something to say about those changes at a later point in time, I thought it would be fun (right now) to imagine/guess/speculate/predict what they would be.

The following list of tactics, conversations, ideas assumes a few things about Bob Gainey that I'll lay out up front:

1) He's married to the idea of starting Price. No need to deny that.
2) He has some ideas
3) His ideas will be designed to make this hockey team play more efficient NHL-style hockey (I don't expect a redesign, though I'd relish it)

Change 1: Defensive patience
Gainey watched the Buffalo game and noted his team was big on the defensive gamble – the big dive in for the puck. There was little patience. Perhaps to his shame, he noticed that during the Atlanta game, the Thrashers gave his team a clinic in how to play patient defence and were rewarded by stifling a good enough offense and a shutout.

Gainey decides system 2 (Atlanta's) over system 1. He lays it out to his team simply. Defend the middle of the ice at all costs – with your bodies and with an outstretched stick. Let the opposition have the puck on the outside. Track and watch them while they play out there. Keep moving the defence to hold the middle. Don't dive in too early (Kovalev will tell you why – he loves desperate defenders). Track and watch and wait for that mistake.

The following is how the change will probably be explained to Mike Komisarek:
"Mike, we love your hitting. It's great. It really pumps up the fans, and it even puts a little fear into opponents. But Mike, we don't pay you to hit alone. We pay you to be a defender as part of a team; and in that scheme, the goal is winning. So Mike, we're asking you to think more about hitting. If the hit takes you out of the play, think twice. If the hit leaves Andrei alone against 2 forwards, lay off. Think of your ability to hit as a tool. One tool that can be used in some, but not all, situations."

"Push those forwards to the boards but not necessarily through them, Mike. Let them know they can only skate to your right. Guard the middle (not the boards) with all your energy."

Change 2: Positional awareness
Something Guy knew about well enough, but couldn't seem to communicate – I wonder why...

Gainey runs the team through drills in practice to emphasize his points. He takes special care with the forwards, noting to each one of them to forget their position on the game card and rather pay attention to their position at any given time.

Here he explains to Andrei Kostitsyn: "Andrei, I know you are concerned that you have been moved from wing to win to wing. Andrei, I couldn't care less what it says on the game sheet. If I thought you could only play on one side of the ice, or with one side of your stick, you wouldn't have a contract here. I want you to start thinking about things differently. When you see two forwards closer to the opposition end than you, no longer think of yourself as RW, line 1. Think of yourself in that situation as forward 3 (first to cover on D). As you dive in to win a loose puck, you then become forward 2 or 1, Koivu or Tanguay become forward 3. If you see a defenceman ahead of you – you are now the D, there will be no diving in then."

"You know how other teams always seem to have three men back every time we start a rush? Yes, I thought you noticed that. They can do that because of this simple trick. if we can do that too, they'll need to open up more and as a result, you'll be freer up front as well."

Change 3: No crosschecking
Gainey illustrates with 5 minutes of Craig Rivet and Mike Komisarek video clips how crosschecking actually achieves nothing, and is often penalised.

Change 4: Skate to get off the ice
Better yet skate hard.

To all the team: "You all get far too much rest to be called athletes as it is. Please do not take the last 5 seconds of your shift off. You are not so good as Usain Bolt that you can coast to world records. Until you are, you will any energy you have to get to these boards."

Change 5: No blind passes
Nothing blind for that matter – no blind clearances, no blind dump ins.

Gainey and the coaches demonstrate how the best blind passes work because the passer actually knows where his linemate will be. Thanks to the awareness he is playing with, no doubt.

More important than blind passes up front. Blind passes in the back end are banned. Gainey goes on to tell the team, if their only option is a blind pass, they will be holding that puck from now on – finding the boards and holding and protecting with all their strength and know-how.

I thought that'd be fun. It was. I even convinced myself some of those things might work.

What would you guys do if you were Gainey? the possibilities are endless...

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