I’ve attempted to follow some of my youth hockey guidelines and wait close to 24 hours (ok, twelve hours) before saying anything about Saturday’s game. At this rate, the emotional roller-coaster resulting from watching Devils games is going to either result in significant weight loss (I’m so riled up I can’t eat junk food) or significant health defects (high blood pressure, stroke, hoarseness, shortness of breath, and blunt object trauma on the wall where the TV sits). No matter how you slice it, the Devils are a positional mess right now. I can attribute some of this to a “change in system”; when you go from a trapping style to one in which offense and puck movement is more important (and if someone says “western conference offense”, please move there), it’s going to take time to figure out who picks up which assignment. And despite what Brent Sutter says about the long road trip not being a factor, it does eat into extended practices. This isn’t the kind of thing you pick up in a morning skate before a game; it’s one or two hours of repeating the same positional drills (interspersed with sprints) until the defense pairs learn to talk to each other. Fortunately, the Devils have booked a long practice today (sorry if you were expecting to go to public skating at South Mountain, but Brent and his boys have usurped the pond).
The ever-fun folks at 2 Man Advantage point to Oduya as the root of many of our defensive worries. They’re mostly right. Take Guerin’s last goal as an example. Normally, defensive positioning is for the strong (puck) side defenseman to play the puck carrier in the triangle formed by goalpost, edge of the trapezoid, and some spot in the face off circle (depends on how big/fast the defenseman is, and how good the wingers are at coverage down low). His (or her) partner should be on the weak side (where the net is left partially uncovered by the goalie, who has shifted to square to the puck carrier). Watch Guerin’s goal – granted it’s on a power play, but with two D out there, Martin and Oduya, somebody wasn’t in position. Martin has the winger camped on the strong side, and Oduya is chasing behind the net. Guerin had just gone to Subway and was enjoying a toasted sandwich on the weak side, probably contemplating which of the desserts he’d have once the puck came to him. Either Martin and Oduya weren’t talking, or Oduya botched by chasing behind the net. With under 10 clicks left on the clock, you worry about the puck getting in front of the net. As coaches from Mites to Midgets say to the kids, “Nobody can score from behind the net, let’em go there.” Who cares if the clock winds down with the puck behind Weekes, but not surrounded by twine?
Defensive positioning, part two: Of the four Devils penalties, three were on the defense. If you have position, you won’t be tempted to hold, hook, grapple, or land a boarding party on the opposing wing. Strength helps, too (Let’s all send Paul Martin barbells for the holiday season, so that Satan doesn’t barrel over him again).
The positioning problems show up on offense, too. 18 blocked shots? 3 of them from Elias (who at least had 4 that went on net)? Either that’s too much point-bombing or one pass too few (yeah, yeah, yesterday I complained about one pass too many, but that was different).
I dunno. I’ll wait another game and see what happens with the Rangers. At least I can yell at Gomez and the Devils D without switching channels (increasing the likelihood that the remote control goes airborne).