MURRAY: "The series is 3-1. I look at it as a self-inflicted issue right now. [...][T]hose goals against are plays that basically we hand to them through breakdowns and reads that have been made all year long. That’s a part of the game that we have taken a lot of pride in over the last three years, is to be a good, solid defensive hockey club, to do things the right way all of the time, as a team. So when I say I need players to play good, I need them to play the right way. We don’t need to have any one player, two players, feel that they need to put the whole thing on their shoulders and play extra-special, because that’s when problems start to come back at you and comes right back down our throat."
LA Kings Head Coach Terry Murray Reflects On 2009-10 Season " Frozen Royalty
[In the playoffs against Vancouver], young defenseman Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson raised their games to levels not previously seen [...]. "[They] really stepped up in the playoffs," Murray beamed. "These two young players really understood what the playoffs are about. [...]They understood that ‘now’s it’s time—I’ve got to step up, I’ve got take my game to the next level.’[...] [T]hey knew what to do, they had that in them, and that’s the kind of game we’re looking for as we move forward into this year."
Take it to the next level, but stick to the system. Do what you've been doing, only more so. Step up, stay put. Be intense, yet calm. Bring the energy, don't panic. Play to your potential, and/or within yourself. It's a zen riddle. Whatever you do, don't think of a white elephant.
The problem with "step up" as a direction or instruction is, you can't act on it. It doesn't actually describe anything, other than "be better now." Or maybe, "you've been really great, but we believe that you can transcend your current abilities and be even better than you have been, and that's what's needed now, because it's the playoffs and if you don't step up we lose and you will have not reached the potential we believed you had. Now go out there and win!"
When you play a rigorous defensive system, stepping up doesn't mean squat. The system is, essentially, a fluid sequence of actions and reactions. If they do this, you do that. If he plays the puck x, you counter y. The system requires that every player trust that every other player is going to do exactly what he is supposed to do under the system.
Any new action, any variation, any stepping up of any kind, will, at best -- if you're lucky -- require everyone else on the ice to adapt very quickly to a new situation. Something that hasn't been happening all year is now happening. But the team has been playing within the system for two years or longer. You can't just suddenly start calling audibles and expect no unforeseen consequences.
Yes, I understand that the "step up" message (the part of it that's not just an empty cliche) is about battling harder, winning the scrums, leaving it all on the ice, etc., etc.. But those things are already built into the system, they are already required elements. Presumably, the players have already been executing the various elements of the system, because it's been working for two years. Also, that's why these players are playing. Because they could play the system. If they couldn't, they wouldn't be playing.
I don't think it's reasonable to expect players who must must must perform job x within the system to still be able to do x while "taking their play to the next level." Either you have your man or you don't. Either you finish your check or you don't. Either you have your stick in the lane or you don't. Either you communicate with your partner or you don't. There isn't some elite better version of doing any of those things. There's only doing them or not doing them.
You can't get the puck in deep...to the next level. But, if you think you have to take your play to the next level, you certainly might consider making that extra move at the blueline, when normally you would dump it in; or pinch when if you don't succeed it's an out-numbered attack; or try to pick the corner with your shot, when you would normally just try to get the puck to the crease, so your teammates converging there can get the rebound. Picking the corner might result in a spectacular goal by you (you stepped up!), but nine times out of ten it will result in a wide shot and a change of possession with you and your linemates now stuck 200 feet from where they need to be.
That's why people said if the Kings are going to win these games, it's going to be boring. Except for the winning. The winning is never boring.
Okay, we'll call that "glass half empty" part one. Since I didn't even say what I came to say. Part 2 tomorrow...
[silver lining: Ducks just lost in OT]