Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Islanders, 11/11

It seems like everyone wants to write about Russians and Russia after last night's game. I think I'll mix it up a bit.

-Is it me, or does Tomas Fleischmann look like he finally gets it? He's going to the net hard, getting tons of quality chances and playing good defensive hockey. I know Backstrom did 90% of the work on Flash's goal, but he still had to be in position and get the shot off. The fact that he ended up in the crease after the goal speaks volumes to how his game has changed.

-I'm still thrilled with Perreault. He forechecks like a maniac and creates chances. Clark and Fehr are looking good again, thanks to his work at center. He's very calm with the puck, even when he's stickhandling around guys. Ovie is right; this kid has a very bright future.

-Theodore looked VERY weak last night. His rebound control was poor and his lateral movement was off. I can't tell if he's tired or whether his back is still bothering him, but it was clear he needed to be pulled after goal #3.

-If I said that I'd prefer we not re-sign Jurcina or Morisson, what would you think. Juice takes ill-timed penalties, is quite slow, and has been a defensive liability recently. Morisson simply thinks he's better than he is. He should not be rushing the puck up the ice, or trying 1-on-1 moves.

-While we're on the defense, I noticed 2 things last night. 1) Mike Green is getting pressured every time he touches the puck. 2) Mike Green doesn't know what to do when pressured. His passes are often very weak or of the no-look variety and he's been turning the puck over quite a bit lately. He's getting the assists, but with only 2 goals on the season, something is amiss.

-Ok, now for some Russians. Forty stood on his head. His rebound control was off on a few rising shots, but he stayed focused and played those rebounds well. Varly's been taking more shots to the chest these days, so his tendency to over-explode seems to be reined in by Irbe.

-For people who say Forty carries his glove too low: a proper butterfly for a goalie emphasizes keeping ones body square to the shot and as closed-up as possible. Carrying his glove high would lead to some more glove saves, but you'd see those 7-hole goals (above the pads & under the arms). On the one goal he allowed, the shot was perfectly placed...not many goalies have a chance at that.

-For the record, the most Heads-Up save I have ever seen occurred last night. During the shootout, Varly made a save but carried a lot of backward momentum towards the goal line. Had he not done something, he and the puck would have ended up in the net and the goal would have counted. Varly threw his arms in the air and accomplished two things: 1) his thrust upwards slowed his momentum enough that 2) when he got to the goal, he was able to push his arms against the crossbar to stop himself. Seriously, I'm sure goalie coaches everywhere will be teaching goalies that move from now on.

-Last Varly note: anyone who has questioned his focus in the past can put down their pitchforks. I think I speak for all Caps fans when I say that it was incredibly stressful watching turn after turn of saves, knowing that the next one against would mean a loss. Imagine the concentration it takes to not have the thought of 'don't mess up' repeat constantly in your head. The built up tension was released when Captain Clark seemed like a playoff OT goal rather than a simple regular season shootout goal.

-I'm going to put my coaching hat on and talk to Semin now. I'm going to focus on a few little things at a time...too much might cause some overload. First, I always coach what I call the '3 Foot Rule', which mandates that within 3 feet of either blueline, your goal is to make sure the puck either gets deep or gets out. Last night, while Alex was outstanding below the face-off circles, he turned the puck over a few times in this space (one time leading to the Islander's 3rd goal). Dancing around in that magical 3' is dangerous because your whole team is heading into the offensive zone (or out of the defensive zone, at that end). One turn-over, and it's an instant odd-man rush or breakaway.

-Semin has also said that he prefers to skate the puck rather than dump it if there's a lane or if it's a 1-on-1 situation. With his hands and shot, I'll agree with that. Recently, however, Semin has been skating the puck in when he's one-on-two or has no skating lane. I like to emphasize that a great player shows creativity within the team's system. In this case, Semin is using his creativity too much and the system breaks down.

-Finally, Semin's stick penalty woes are an easy fix. Semin has other-worldly puck handling skills and is way above average at taking pucks off opponents' sticks. His issue is he looks for the take-away every time the puck is near him. If he used his body a bit more (angling, tieing an opponent up along the boards), he'd create just as many take-aways while keeping his puck closer to his body. Semin's penalties come from reaching for pucks, so staying more compact would help quite a bit.

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