EXCLUSIVE SCOUTING REPORT: D-Men Adding Offense
In every issue, Bluelines and The Fischler Report will bring you a special, in-depth report by David Kolb, whose scouting career dates back to the early 2000s working for the Tampa Bay Lightning. As you will see by the following, this is an in-depth, no-nonsense evaluation of specific tactical success. An exclusive look at how defensemen can add scoring punch once the puck is in the offensive zone.
On Monday, I discussed how defenseman can properly join a rush and add to the offensive pressure. Today, on the heels of last night's Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 OT win over the Dallas Stars, I'll examine one way a backliner can help create offense after his team has gained the blueline.
At 5-on-5, once a team has gained possession in their offensive zone, the next best strategy is working to obtain scoring chances. This can occur by cycling or by simply hard work - and the eventuality of a mistake being made by the defensive team. Last night, the Stars scored a goal that brilliantly and effectively used a defenseman to confuse the Toronto defence.
Less than five minutes into the third period, and down by a goal, backliner John Klingberg activated, and slid down to the left side of the Toronto net, with his righty stick on the inside of the ice. Initially, Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly had Klingberg covered and diffused an incoming pass from Joe Pavelski.
But as play went on, and the puck was cycled around the net, confusion ensued and before you knew it, Toronto had 5 players on the right side of the ice -- and none covering a lingering Klingberg to the left. Seconds later, the puck went back to Pavelski who was now at the right point covering for Klingberg, and without hesitation, he fired a cross-ice pass to an uncovered Klingberg who drilled the one-timer home.
What made this work was that Toronto was unsuspecting of the Kingberg-Pavelski switch, while Pavelski didn't even have to look up to know Klingberg was waiting, weak-side at the doorstep.
Rielly slid down the right side - with his lefty stick on the inside of the ice... And with laser-like precision, Marner found a wide-open Rielly, who deposited a one-timer home!
Hockey's Answer to Baseball's Ruth and Gehrig
The time has come to put Connor McDavid and Leon Draiisaitl in perspective.
No, it's not a question of who's better. That really doesn't matter.
Rather we're dealing with a sports analogy that defines greatness. Better still, it spans all-pro athletic endeavors. Furthermore, it equates to only one equal pair from the baseball world.
What Connor and Leon have done really is equivalent to one duet and that has to be Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
The New York Yankees of 1920's "Murderer's Row" comprised a duet that dominated the opposition as none other in major league baseball.
El Bambino was the consistent home run king while The Iron Horse proved not only to be baseball's iron man but an offensive and defense threat unlike anyone before or since.
It now is apparent that McDavid-Draisaitil coupled together that kind of constant threat. While their styles differ, they blend in such a manner that they are virtually unstoppable in any particular game.
Like Ruth and Gehrig, the Edmonton pair suffer occasional off-nights, but -- as this season indicates -- their dual production is staggering in its overall consistency.
There is, however, one difference and it will remain so until the Oilers prove that there is more to their game than regular-season dominance.
Babe and The Iron Horse were consistent World Series winners.
On that count -- so far, at least -- The Gold Dust Twins of Alberta have struck out!
THE SENATORS ARE AT A CROSSROADS
Ottawa hockey suffered a blow at the major league level with the passing of owner
Eugene Melnyk. Apart from his bankrolling of the team, this was one owner who put his heart and soul into every two-pointer.
What now remains to be seen is whether there's another Melnyk in a town with a long and rich hockey history although such assets are small potatoes among today's financial priorities.
The money magazine, Forbes, in a recent issue of NHL Team Valuations placed Ottawa next to last -- $750 million -- of the 32 existing teams. Granted, Ottawa has political value for Bettman, Inc. because it is Canada's capital city and that factor
should not be dismissed out of hand.
Then again, if another Melnyk-type sugar daddy fails to emerge both the Commissioner and his Board of Governors must -- as they no doubt are doing at this moment -- consider alternatives.
The obvious -- but not necessarily the best -- choice would be Quebec City which consistently has been dismissed as geographically too small and fiscally inadequate for lack of necessary corporate sponsorship. That factor is a major minus.
Not surprisingly, Uncle Sam has a couple of cities with necessary NHL-size arenas that would welcome an NHL franchise. But that's more easily said than done. Commissioner Bettman steadfastly has opposed franchise transfers and his support for the Coyotes in Arizona stands as Exhibit A.
The first priority will be to keep the Senators in Ottawa; no question about that. Quebec City interests have been pushing for another NHL team. At the moment it's a long shot but it's not inconceivable that some Senators games might be played in Quebec.
If nothing else, we have in front of us a compelling franchise melodrama; a potential Tale of Two Cities.
I'M JUST SAYIN':
* I find it appalling when a player is knocked down with a perfectly clean check and the hitter is forced into a fight for doing the right thing.
* If ever the bromide, "The NHL Season is a marathon not a sprint" required an example, it would be the Anaheim Ducks.
* An "Oldie But Goldie," that best fits the Buffalo Sabres would be "I'm Beginning Tio See The Light."
* I recently heard from Jakob Chychrun's dad, Jeff, who paid his own NHL dues. A good chunk of Jake's success is due to his father's tutoring.
* Good for Andy Brunette. The Panthers coach should be proud of his club being the NHL's first to clinch a playoff berth. But there's an asterisk involved:
* Brunette adds, "We have our eyes on bigger prizes." And we all know what they are; the kind that ends with Cup.
* Were I asked which American city would be a terrific spot for another NHL team, it would be located in the State of Oregon; and the city of Portland.
* A Seattle-Portland rivalry would be one of the best in sports.
* I like Ron Hextall's explanation of his Penguins' success: "We play through things. Fighting through!" (He could have added that his captain is Sidney Crosby.)
* Hextall and Brian Burke did not go nuts at the Trade Deadline. Still, the acquisitions of sharpshooter Rickard Rakell and toughie Nathan Beaulieu were sensible adds.
* "Minnesota is my darkhorse from the west." Not just mine but also my pal, Sean Mccaffrey, who originally whispered it in my left ear.
* Two thoughts on Ryan Getzlaf's retirement announcement: 1. Sorry to see the warrior leave the NHL. 2. This is the perfect time for his adieu.
* Amazing how the Rangers' Chris Kreider keeps scoring, yet we hear so little about this ace, compared to the McDavid's, Matthews' and Marner's of the elite hockey world.
ANALYTICS -- GOOD OR INDIFFERENT?
One of the best things about Analytics is that it has provided employment for a lot of people who didn't know hockey from gin rummy. Every NHL team has an A-expert and some clubs have a team of them.
A fascinating article by the Raleigh News-Observer's Chip Alexander revealed some cynical comments about the A-Business. Matter of fact Canes captain Jordan Staal admits that he "rarely looks at Analytics. Players understand the game."
Staal's coach Rod Brind'Amour has a delicious quote: "Analytics have been around 100 years; it's just now they put it on paper."
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy revealed that his Analytics people "keep adding lines" to their collection of data. "That's fine," Cassidy added, "because it keeps them 'upstairs' and not downstairs."
When someone can prove to me how Analytics helped the Bolts win two straight
Stanley Cups, I'll be more impressed with the A-Game than I am right now.
WHO SAID IT? "It's not how many you win that's important, it's how
many you show up for." (Answer Below.)
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER A BAD GAME WITH MIKE KEENAN COACHING
Solid, longtime NHL vet forward Steve Larmer recently appeared on "Squid And The Ultimate Leaf Fan" podcast. Via guest Steve Larmer, ace producer Glenn Dreyfuss passed along a bit of insight into Mike Keenan as coach. Larmer was among Keenan's victims. Here goes Steve:
"Mike's practices were intense. In fact I'd describe my first two years under him with the Blackhawks as 'Living Hell.' One example was the norning after we'd gotten blown out by Detroit. Keenan had us practice the next morning before our flight back to Chicago.
"We had 60 minutes with no pucks; nothing but down and backs and sideboards. When he was done, Mike then said: 'You had your chance to work for 60 minutes last night. You didn't do it so you're working 60 minutes today. Then, he skated off. And, by the way, we had many of them."
P.S. Larmer has a Stanley Cup rink courtesy of the 1994 champion Rangers. The coach, in case you hadn't read your history books, was none other than Mike Keenan!
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Barclay Plager, when he captained the St.Louis Blues.