Somebody else's thoughts on somebody else's system

Bourne Blog: Lightning can’t become slaves to their system - Puck Daddy - NHL Blog - Yahoo! Sports

I'm not sure if this has been mentioned by anyone else or not, but Guy Boucher likes his team to play a 1-3-1 in the neutral zone. [...] The 1-3-1 is a nice, active system; but like all systems, it can be beat if an opponent executes a few [specific] maneuvers.

In this case, a well-timed chip and support with speed can leave a team with puck possession while heading towards the offensive zone, and that lucky player may occasionally find himself facing a lone defender on the backend.

Rotation has to be flawless to stop that.

Successful teams are usually adept at making adjustments. When a forward is bringing the puck up the ice and he knows exactly what defensive scheme he's up against, it becomes a matter of simple execution; and simple execution is far easier to accomplish than having to read and react, then execute.


The thing is, I think the Kings have managed the worst of both worlds. When things fall apart, it seems that (1) opponents have solved the system and the defensive system doesn't adapt, while (2) frustrated by lack of offense, players abandon the system in order to "put the team on their shoulders," which results in defensive break-downs. The first is the system not working because of a failure to adapt; the second is the system not working because of a failure of execution.

From what I can tell, there seem to be two types of coaches in the NHL. The Bruce Boudreau type [...] which is that particular type who sticks to his guns, almost stubbornly. The focus is on his team, not theirs. He says "this is the way we play, and our opponent is going to have to find a way to beat us. We're a good enough team that if we execute our game plan we'll win." He famously switched his team's style of play after losing in the opening round of playoffs as a one-seed in 2010 to a more defensive game plan ... and less famously stuck with it despite feeling the series slipping away in 2011.

That pretty well describes the feeling I had during the Big Slump in January. No matter how bad things got, we were just going to stick to the plan till it started working again. Which it did. After about a month.

The other type of coach is [Mike Babcock], who requires his teams to be able to play whichever way the game or series is unfolding. [...] I'm always baffled when it's considered "weakness" to pay attention to how your opponent is playing and adjust. I've played on a team in which our coach had different lines employ different neutral zone forechecks (both involved having two defenders back, so they didn't have to change the way they played). He took what he deemed to be our two faster lines and had them play a 2-1-2, and left the others to sit back in a 1-2-2. After seeing that the lines using two forwards to pressure the D were causing turnovers, he asked the other two lines to play the same system. It's about tailoring your style to frustrate your opponent, and changing when it becomes necessary.

Guy Boucher and the Lightning['s] weakest link is their D-core, as Tyler Seguin so generously pointed out for us [...]. The 1-3-1 can be good for slowing forwards up through the neutral zone, but when it breaks down it puts more pressure on the last man back — if he's not rock solid, you're roasted. [T]he Bruins know what they're up against in the neutral zone [and so] they've been able to [defeat the Lightning's system] far too often through two games. That [last man] D-man is supposed to have help back there with proper rotation of course, but things don't always go as planned. You can always revert back to what you've been running all year, but anytime you give up six goals in a playoff game, a number of which came off rush chances, it may be time to throw a different look at your opponent for a period or two. Tampa has as good a shot as anyone to win a Stanley Cup this year [if they don't] get stuck in a rut. They already beat one team who did that this year -- they should know not to follow suit.

I don't really know if any of this applies to the Kings or not. I kind of think it does, but I admit I haven't put my finger on anything I can really articulate yet. I am more sure of the symptoms, specifically the gigantic January slump, the roller-coaster streak/slump personality of the team over the last two seasons, and the playoff game 3 and 4 collapses. I don't know if that's a systems issue, a leadership issue, a coaching issue, a personnel issue, or just growing pains.

That reminds me that I haven't yet argued the "growing pains" argument in explanation of the Kings' "issues" (the last part of the "what's broken" string of posts). I'll get on that this weekend. Meanwhile, I'm eager to hear your thoughts on this. I don't think it's black-and-white Murray-bad Penner-good or Doughty-fat Murray-good, or Brown-good Lombardi-bad, or whatever hero/scapegoat combo is out there. I would like to have something to hang my hat on, and so far I don't.

Your turn.