SCOUT'S REPORT EXCLUSIVE: HOW TO PINCH
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 should join the play in the offensive zone.
There is an art to pinching-in, and Saturday, Colorado Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews provided exhibit A, B & C.
In a 2-2 game late third period vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toews literally changed the game in a heartbeat by making quick, smart and wise plays from start to finish.
First, he separated the puck from in-coming Penguins forechecker, Bryan Rust. Protecting the puck first, he then sent it swiftly up to Avs forward Andre Burakovsky.
And just like that… There goes the Avalanche on another offensive zone tidal wave of pressure. It’s that quick -- especially when your defenseman possesses the puck less than a second before the play is up the ice.
But Toews didn’t just admire his pass and coast up the ice until he found the opposing team’s blue line. He took off as well, joining the rush – which is unnerving for an opposing team, particularly when Toews beats the other team’s forward to the other end of the ice.
Then, Toews, despite not carrying the puck, stays in the middle of the ice – – where a pinching defenseman needs to be. After all, I’ve found that a defenseman in an offensive zone corner is a quick recipe for an odd-man rush going the other way.
He decides to camp in front, keeping the pressure on the Penguins, and before you know it, Nathan Mackinnon fired a puck wide, but the carom came right to Toews, who put in the games’ winning goal with 4:26 remaining in the third period.
It’s the subtleties of a defenseman of this nature (line-mate Cale Makar included) that makes the Avalanche so dangerous to play against. Without these type, two-way defensemen, Colorado’s offense would not be as potent, and the Avs would not be cruising to the playoffs.
A GENUINE GOALIE CRISIS
When the Islanders recently declared that Ilya Sorokin was out with an injury it suddenly dawned on me that the 2021-22 "Goalie Follies" wasn't a comedy anymore.
What it is in real time is a crisis.
More than that, if puckstoppers continue go down like ducks in a shooting gallery it very likely will shake up traditional thinking about new ways and means to cope with the wounded stoppers.
Like every team dress a backup for the backup.
(Personal aside: Hall of Famer Glenn Hall must be laughing his head off about now. Mister Goalie played 502 straight maskless game and wouldn't even want a backup on his Blackhawks bench.)
Nobody is making a big, big deal about it but g.m. Billy (The Kid) Guerin may be ushering in a new trend. It's called "No Backup Goalie; Just Two Equal Number ones."
The Wild's wily boss already boasted a first-rate starter in Cammy Talbot., Now that Billy imported -- stole! -- Marc-Andre Fleury from Chicago it's a one-and-done deal in St. Paul and don't let anyone tell you that it's different.
Guerin realized that for his team to secure a coveted playoff berth there could be no kidding around in Minnesota. Forget about a first-stringer and a back-up; that obsolete stuff. Billy G knew he needed two-first stringers and that's that.
What makes the Wild's double-dip so impressive is that Minnesota -- unlike, for instance, Vegas -- enters the homestretch with a pair of Derby-winning jockeys not some pals from Podunk.
Rest assured that Guerin's genius move will -- if alt all possible -- be copied next season for the most obvious of reasons. To wit:
Presently -- and likely for a long time to come -- there is no solution to the goaltending injury plague.
One by one they go down; then -- see Robin Lehner as Exhibit A -- come back and then go down again.
Don't matter whether it's an "upper body injury" or one below the navel, they go down in numbers we've never known before.
In fact, it happens so often that a bulletin stating that so-and-so is "out indefinitely" is taken for granted by the media these nutsy days.
But when playoff berths are at stake, "The Goalie Follies" no longer is a joke.
JUST A WORD ON MCDAVID:
Watching the Oilers in action, I can't help but hope that my buddy Ken Holland can somehow enjoy a homestretch with his team gaining a playoff berth.
That said, I watched Edmonton in action the other night against Los Angeles with my colleague-savant David Kolb. During the action, he offhandedly mentioned, "McDavid is the best player in hockey right now."
Being in no mood to argue, I zeroed in on the Oilers captain for a portion of the game and got to thinking:
Is Connor better than Sidney Crosby? Better than Auston Matthews? Better than Chris Kreider?
Suddenly, the thought intruded: "Who cares?"
What I did care about was the carefree manner in which McDavid dominated the opposition. He seemed to weave through the defenses with consummate ease.
He combined natural strength with the intuitive knack for making the right move at the right time.
In a way it was kind of scary to watch this behemoth in action while simultaneously breathtaking to appreciate the manner in which he orchestrated the game. At the moment, I don't really care if he's better than Matthews, Crosby, et. al. Suffice to say that he's a pleasure to watch and I'll just leave it at that.
KEITH YANDLE’S STREAK ENDS AT 989 GAMES: OK, Philly coach Mike Yeo will take a lot of heat on this one. He could have allowed Yandle to reach 1,000 games. It would have been the nice thing to do. But hockey is not about being nice or about individual records. It is about winning, even if your team is not in the playoffs.
Yandle has had a wonderful career and was loved wherever he played, as a player and as a person. His numbers show that his skills have clearly diminished. Were it not for the streak he would have been a healthy scratch much earlier this season, just as he was in the playoffs with Florida last year.
This may well be Yandle’s last NHL season. It is certainly his last as a regular. His streak would have ended anyway and his Ironman title would likely be short-lived because Phil Kessel is only 21 games behind. Let him enjoy his time as the reigning NHL Ironman and let’s move on.
Alan Greenberg covered the Florida Panthers for The Fischler Report during Yandle’s five seasons with the Panthers.
WHO SAID IT? "The 'Unseen hand' affects the outcome of hockey games." (Answer below.)
I'M JUST SAYIN'
* No matter how hard I try -- and try again and again -- I can't get the least bit excited over what happens to the salary cap.
* Although I never met the man, personally, I know that the late Eugene Melnyk cared as much about his Ottawa Senators as any NHL club owner.
* Having turned 90 last Thursday, I can assure you that I feel about hockey the same as I did at age, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and 89. It's the best game in the world.
* You can pick any team you want, but I say that the NHL club most negatively affected by the Covid crisis was the Islanders.
* From here to the end, Detroit must get better if Jeff Blashill is to retain the Red Wings coaching gig.
THE CRAZY RACE:
I don't know about you, but I'm finding it harder and harder to pick a BEST team in the NHL from day to day.
Starting with injuries, it's becoming to balance the factors involved with the creme de la creme. One day Boston impresses me; the next day a rew experts tell me that it's folly to be against the Avalanche.
Then, the Lightning awaken, the Panthers make hay and so on and so on.
On Thursday night I went on ESPN and predicted that the Avs would go out in the first round as the spring's biggest upset.
I've since been told that I'm nuts and won't argue the point.
But, when all's said and done; I keep coming back the Blueshirts as the steadiest beat and will not waver from the Rangers.
Correct me if I'm wrong!
I extend my heartfelt appreciation for all the good wishes I received on March 31, my 90th birthday. I was overwhelmed with kindness. I appreciate it and am greateful. One more time: THANKS!
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Montreal Canadiens coach Dick Irvin alluding to the "breaks of the game."