Possession

Other than jumping to unreasonable conclusions about players based on their performance against other rag tag assemblages of “prospects” at mini tournaments being staged hither and yon, it was a pretty quiet weekend leading up to the opening of NHL training camps in just a few days.

But something caught my eye this morning while I was conducting my early morning ramble around websites devoted to NHL coverage. This from Fluto Shinzawa, the Bruins’ beat writer for the Boston Globe.

 

The Bruins traditionally have been good at possessing the puck. They were a top-five team last season.

That’s not good enough for coach Claude Julien. This season, his eighth in Boston, Julien will ask his players to be more aggressive in the neutral zone to seal off rushes quicker.

He wants to introduce new things to longtime charges such as Zdeno CharaPatrice Bergeron, and Milan Lucic to keep things fresh. But Julien also wants to increase the time his team spends with the puck.

“Let’s say our forward has the guy picked up in the middle,” Julien said. “If our D’s can squeeze that guy out early, we will. That will be a trial run for us in the preseason.”

Julien has always preached patience with his defensemen. He teaches them to hang back, stay within the dots, and let plays come to them. Their forwards are good at applying back pressure and steering puck carriers into the teeth of their defense.

This season, if the defensemen have a good gap and read that a neutral-zone stoppage is possible, they’ll be given the green light to step up. If they take away the puck in the neutral zone, opponents won’t have a chance to carry it over the blue line or dump it in. The Bruins will be on the attack instead.

“For the most part, we’re pretty good about the time we spend with the puck,” Julien said. “If we can get a little more aggressive, we might spend even more time with it. You’re trying to be a little more dominant with your puck-possession time. What you do with it, that’s another story. But instead of letting the guy come all the way down and the D’s staying within the dots when he could have closed a little quicker and letting the forward do all the work, we might have the D squeeze them a little earlier, if we have the numbers coming back.”

Now, it should not be a surprise to an NHL head coach that possessing the puck is a critical tactic in trying to win hockey games but there is ample proof that perhaps NHL head coaches aren’t as “tuned in” as perhaps they should be.

One that leaps immediately to mind is the late, lamented John Tortorella who preached, both in his days with the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks a system of creating a box in front of the goaltender and calling on both his forwards and defensemen to block the flurry of shot attempts that were sure to follow. Torts also encouraged the Sedins and their team mates to dump and chase in the Ozone.

If we look at the raw CorsiON numbers of key Canucks forwards during his short tenure, we see a huge drop.

Henrik Sedin 

2013/14  +13.56

2012/13  +22.84

Daniel Sedin

2013/14 +15.20

2012/13 +24.71

While certainly not an exhaustive analysis, in fact just a snapshot to illustrate a point, we can start to see how coaching tactics  might impact possession. That the Sedins also saw their offensive zone starts drop from the high 60% range I think is yet another indication that Tortorella was attempting to turn the Sedins into players who fit his systems rather than creating systems to compliment his players. (See Dallas Eakins for additional reference).

Under Tortorella, the Canucks remained a decent possession team but their best players were clearly headed in the wrong direction and the combination of shot blocking and penalty killing Tortorella asked of them impacted their performance and injury status in a major way.

To me, it is nothing short of astounding that experienced and accomplished NHL coaches like Claude Julien are coming to the Possession Party so late and it’ll be interesting to watch how coaching tactics and personnel decisions are impacted by the revelation that, “if you have the puck more, you’ll generate more shots and win more games than you lose”.

I think we’re already looking at a major sea change in the shift away from “shutdown” defensemen to players who can skate or pass the puck out of their own end with control and it’ll be interesting to watch which coaches continue to employ an “off the glass and out” and “dump and chase” style of offence.

I suspect those guys will soon join Torts on the scrap heap.

Another, interesting bit today from LA Kings Insider.

Dean Lombardi on analytics.

http://tinyurl.com/p35oq8v

 

 

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