Saturday, April 22, 2006

Everything bad I said is true again

Detroit 3, Edmonton 2 (2OT)

A little while ago, I was talking with somebody (I believe it was Steve) about what makes a team well-coached. He reasoned that, as much as we all like to blame coaching, it's debateable how much a coach actually contributes to the success of the team--the players really should be able to get motivated by themselves, and as much as systems might help, it mostly comes down to talent.

To make a case for coaching, all I really had to do was watch last night's game. You can talk about Detroit's superior talent level, but last night's Wings aren't really all that far ahead of us. Removed of Datysuk, they probably have three or four truly world-class players (Lidstrom, Shanahan, Zetterberg, maybe Schneider), which probably isn't that many removed from us (Pronger, Smyth, Hemsky, maybe Samsonov). Yzerman is on the down-swing, though still talented, Lang has spent his career playing with some of the most offensively talented players in the game and is pretty much a 20-goal man for it, Mikeal Andersson basically doubled his career numbers this year (9pts in 37 games with FLA last season), and outside Draper/Maltby, I have a hard time recognizing anyone on their third or fourth lines (who the fuck is Mark Mowers, for instance?).

But holy man did they pretty much shit kick us last night. And I point to the coaching. Detroit has to play one of the best positional games I've ever seen--they're always where the puck is. Two incidents stick out, both in the third. First, Samsonov took a fairly nice up-ice pass from Hemsky (I believe), and broke into the zone. He was immediately surrounded by four Red Wings, and basically got the puck stripped. Where the hell those four came from, I have no idea, but they seemed to be in a good position to contain Hemsky less than a second before. The next one was also in the third, as one of the Wings came down the wing (I could care less who it is): he basically got pasted on a good defensive play by Staios, but sure enough, another Detroit player followed it right up and let loose a fairly open shot that Roloson had to cover. This much puck support is a solid system, and Babcock has got them to buy into it to the point that Mikael Andersson scores 23 goals and Andres Lilja (?) looks like a remarkably solid defenceman. Detroit has talent, sure, but they're systems are unbelievable.


Anyway, one of the biggest things I noticed about last night's game is that we're clearly playing like a team that is pretty much certain we're going to lose. I remember these games as a kid (I actually liked them a lot, because there was no pressure to score, which I'm really not good at, but things like breaking up passes and poke checks seem like huge plays, because every pass or rush might mean a goal against): the games where every shift you haven't got scored on, you consider a success. If you actually get a scoring chance, bonus, if you manage to put it in, the whole bench erupts and you begin taunting the other team, because it might be your last chance.

We started trapping right from the get-go (the few times the puck was deep, there was maybe one Oiler in the screen), which just isn't our strategy (Mike alluded to the forechecking in his prediction post) and it really just seemed like we were clinging to everything we had (Mark Lee seemed to realize this as well, pointing out at every opportunity how tenuous everything we did was; I swear to god, he practically said, "Clinging to this one-goal deficit" in the first).

As much as we can call Maltby's goals lucky bounces (and they pretty much were), we still deserved to lose this game. On the plus side, the fact we can get this outplayed and still keep it close is promising. Not only that Rollie is obviously capable of that exceptional perforamance MacT put on his shoulders, but that we can finish our scoring chances when we do get them (like, once a period). We'll get them next time.

To finish, two quotes that I thought pretty much summed up the night, and the general spirit of the Oilers' fan. First, Bryan, one of the people I watched the game with, who represent the dejected--the man who knows full well we have no business leading Detriot 2-1 in the third period. This came after a highlight of Jason Spezza's goal.

"You never see the Oilers score goals like that. For us, it's always some outside shot, and it's like, 'Shit, it went in! Oh, the goalie couldn't see it, that's why.'"

Second, the eternal optimism, embodied in the two guys (one in a Tommy Salo jersey, speaking of which) I was behind while walking down Jasper Ave.

Suit guy: I don't know, man, they didn't have Datsyuk, that could be trouble.
Salo guy: Yeah, but we didn't have Moreau, so you know when he comes back, he'll pick us up.
Suit guy: Yeah, that's a good point.

PS Yes, this post is late. Killing the pain, and whatnot.


James Mirtle said...

This Mikael Andersson business is a joke of some sort, right?

Matt Saler said...

I hope so, James.

You DO know it's Mikael Samuelsson, don't you?

Pleasure Motors said...

Whoops. Yeah, yeah, I messed up the names. I was looking at the correct player page on Yahoo! sports, so the stats and evaluation of the player still stand, though.

Damn Swedes and all their names with the -sson. You know what they need? More variety in their surnames.

Anonymous said...

In another break with accepted hockey wisdom, I'm going to say that most crucial game of the series is in fact game 2 and not game 4. I predict that the team that wins game 2 in this series will win the series.

If Detriot comes out and shit smokes the Coil it is of course completely over and even the most Positive Paula fan will admit it. IF the Coil manage to come back and win game 2, they prove that they have not given up.

They have every reason to quit on MacT right now.


Steve said...

It was me you were talking with, but you misrepresented my position - I wasn't saying coaching wasn't important for the success of a team, I was saying that it isn't important for the *motivation* of a team. For things like, as you say, positional games, coaching matters. I'm just saying that if the problem is that the players don't seem to give a shit, it's probably because the players are shitheads, not because the coach hasn't been delivering sufficiently pep talks.

Unless you're thinking of the talk we had about the importance of experience, where we both agreed that said importance is probably overrated - that a guy who's played five full NHL seasons probably isn't appreciably less useful than one who's played fifteen.