Like all pro sports, the guys at the very top possess talents most of us couldn’t conceive of having. When you watch a guy like Zdeno Chara power a 105 MPH blast through a screen and score, we feel more awe than “Aw yeah, I can relate.”
So knowing that NHLers are extremely talented and seeing them do something like pass it up the gut right to the other team can be a little confusing. I wouldn’t have done that. How can someone so good do something so stupid? But, it happens. Every week I spend some of my time breaking down stuff most of us know better than to do in “Systems Analyst.” It’s a tough game, but sometimes guys make it harder than it needs to be.
The problem for a lot of guys is just the way they came up through the ranks.
Most NHLers were the best players on their minor hockey teams. Most were the best players on their junior teams. Same goes for college and minor pro. It’s an elite crop of guys once you get to the top level, so much so that even most third line “grinders” were once prolific goal-scorers. So, most came up with a certain level of confidence and coddling.
With being an elite player comes privileges. A coach will tell his team: “We never pass the puck all the way across the ice in the defensive zone,” but your top-end guys get the wink and nod because they’re able to throw backhand sauce passes through their crease and have it pan out. On the penalty kill, most players are asked to focus on one thing and one thing only: getting the puck down the ice. Others, like Ilya Kovalchuk, have the green light to take some chances and fly the zone early. Chance-taking is a top-end privilege.
So now, when an NHLer gets the puck on the side boards (after years of having the green light) and sees someone streaking up the far side of ice, they think “Assist!” not “What would coach think?” And, they may thread it across successfully 4 times out of 5. Most just haven’t had to get used to playing chip and chase, and by the time they hit the big time, there’s going to be a number of other skilled guys able to read and intercept that pass. Few players are still that elite that it seems to work every time. (I believe it was Ekman-Larsson who got picked off yesterday on a pass just inside the Coyotes’ blue line that made you scratch your head).
It’s a major reason why rookies are “rookies” – you just can’t do the same things you used to do at other levels, and until you find out which ones are off limits, you do some dumb-looking stuff.
There are obvious exceptions, and to blanket “mistakes” with one theory will never work (especially in the face of something inexplicable like the Legwand Puck Toss from last night) – guys are still human and make mistakes for a number of reasons. But I have to believe a good number of the plays that make us say “I wouldn’t have done that” from our couches come from a career of dangerous play green lights.
They’ve always been the best, they know they have the skill and vision to pull of just about anything (which breeds a mistake-causing cockiness too), and it’s worked in the past.