Memorial Archives

Prescription for Getting Well Again - Part 1
posted Apr 16, 2006 at 07:40PM

Well as they say, "time is becoming a factor". Our team, so brimming with potential, heads into the playoffs playing some of their worst hockey of the season. Unable to sustain offensive pressure over any period of time, thier play has become incoherent and disjointed. There is no sense of seeing players meshing together. We have suddenly become generous in giving up goals, having allowed five to six a game against non-playoff level teams. Our power-play is anemic, and even our PK, once the most consistent element of this team throughout the season, has become ineffective.

With the way we are currently playing, it is doubtful whether we can get through the first round, much less defeat a team like Detroit or a Dallas in a Cup final.

Can we turn it around? Yes of course. Prior to our great run in March, we were also playing horribly, and yet turned it all around with only some minor changes. So we certainly can do the same, and more, in time for the playoffs.

So my prescription for getting well is as follows:

1. Get the line combinations right, and then keep them right

2. Embrace a team philosophy/strategy that supports the kind of players we have

3. Get our defence hitting again

4. Properly utilize Vermette, who for this season's version of the Senators, is our tipping point, our "critical mass"

5. Releasing our inner "killer instinct" by leaving suburban mindsets behind.

6. Pray for Emery's hip and Hasek's groin.

Get the line combinations right and keep them right

From earlier work, below is a recommended set of line combinations for the play-offs:

Quasimodos Play-off Line Combinations

Alfredson - Spezza - Heatley
Schaefer - Fisher - Havlat
Kelly - Vermette - Eaves
Smolinski - Arnason - Neil

The only change I have made is moving the Kid Line up to third. They are faster and have more capability to sustain offensive pressure, They have 50 goals between them and will do even better when kept together.

The detailed rationale for the line combinations has been covered elsewhere, and I don't want to repeat it all here. But when you look at the lines I think you can see that they have been designed to exploit our advantages in speed and offensive skill. The first three lines are similar in that they are all fast, and they all have the ability to execute and finish attacks. They were also designed to put players together who we know mesh well.

You will note that within each of the top three lines there are comparable levels of skill. The top line carries our elite skill level guys. Fisher and Schaeffer are the most skilled forwards available to play with our other elite skill player, which is Havlat. The "kids" all have a comparable level of skill. At least there are no gross mismatches, no "sore thumbs" sticking out.

This is how you really get "balanced" lines. This idea of putting one of the kids up on the top line is just a non-starter. You do not get balance, you are just gumming up the machinery. You get a line that is out of balance.

I do have one other set of lines, which I would dub the "When all else fails.." line combinations.

They would go as follows

Alfredson - Spezza - Heatley
Schaeffer - Vermette - Havlat
Smolinski - Fisher - Neil
Kelly - Arnason - Eaves

There is no rationale here. The top three lines are the lines we used in November when we were dominating games and playing our best hockey,. It is as simple as that. We were on top of the league standings with five games in hand. When all else fails . . . you go back to what works.

The "why" you can fill in later.

Keeping them right - The time for tinkering is over.

Back in training camp it was reported that in one practice Murray gathered the surviving players around him and announced "This is the team that we will go with this year". It had a great energizing effect on the whole psyche of the team. Brian Murray must now do something similar. He must gather the players he will use, announce the line combinations and declare that all changes have been locked out. These are the lines that we are going to make our Stanley cup run with. Sink or swim .... come hell or high water. The tinkering has to end now.

That way every player knows where he stands. They can look at their line mates and understand that if things don't go well, any changes will have to come from within themselves.

It also promises line stability which is crucial at this time of year.

It was interesting to read this from the HF board,

"Before the game last night, CBC had a rinkside interview with Alexei Kovalev. He went directly to Bob Gainey a few weeks back and said that he wanted his two line mates cemented and not changed for the playoffs.

He said that for him, it is very important to play with the same guys leading up to, and into the playoffs. He felt every player in the league felt the same."

Of course they would. Can you imagine an infantry section going into battle where everyday you had different soldiers? They wouldn't know each other. They wouldn't fight for each other. They wouldn't take risks for each other. They would play it safe, and in the perverse logic of war, they would all die together.

I am all for experimentation, but the time for that has come and gone, and everyone knows it. The constant tinkering is literally sucking the life out of our forwards. It has to stop now.

Coming Up Next: Part II - Embrace a team philosophy/strategy that supports the kind of players we have

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