Boston Bruins v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game One

Thoughts on Thoughts” is a feature that looks at Elliotte Friedman’s terrific weekly post “30 Thoughts.” Justin Bourne selects his 10 favourite tidbits, and elaborates.


Last edition (that I followed through on): NHL Awards Picks (Friedman’s original)

Friedman’s column, June 4th: Penguins desperate for inspiration


Elliotte breaks down the plight of the Penguin, as it may be. It’s not quite as dramatic as the March of the Penguins, but it might take a comparable effort to the real flightless birds, only in hockey terms.

Friedman goes through the steps he would take if he were Dan Bylsma in some detail, but the main bullets are:

* Positive reinforcement – possibly showing positive game clips from the previous round to balance the negativity all around them

* Stop trying to prove things – as in “toughness,” which I would like to co-sign

* Be realistic about the problem – there’s almost too many to pin down, but reality is healthy

And finally…

* Make them aware of the consequences – as in, half the league wants to play for Pittsburgh right now, and if given a chance, they would. Which also means some would take less money to do it. Which makes some people expendable. Which means MAYBE DON’T FLY-BY A LOOSE PUCK IN THE NEUTRAL ZONE TONIGHT IF YOU LIKE YOUR JOB. I also like this idea of Elliotte’s.

It’s all almost too much to address for Pitt, so if I’m Bylsma, I narrow the focus. “Be better everywhere,” while necessary, isn’t going to help. That’s going to happen naturally because a team that talented can’t be worse. So I focus on a few very specific things for my team to think about. Puck support, puck protection, and discipline might be good places to start.

10 Thoughts

1. Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference final were the first time this year that Sidney Crosby did not have a point in back-to-back games.

That’s not a thought, Elliotte, c’mon now. But, it is interesting.

Obviously, Crosby is the focus of the opposition 100%. He’s an easy “The Guy” target. But it’s because of him taking that focus, like drawing a double team, that his teammates are supposed to be free to do what they do. But they’re not right now.

Some of the most successful players in playoffs current and past comes back to something I said on the podcast today: in Top Gun terms, they fly juuust below the hard deck. It’s not that teams aren’t aware they’re good – they are – they’re just not quite the keyed on guys.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane get keyed on extensively and are struggling. They’re getting support scoring from Brian Bickell, as well as Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, and they’re winning. You can’t “key on” four guys.

Who do you key on against Los Angeles? Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter? One or two of them? Justin Williams thrives.

Crosby and Malkin get keyed on and shut down? No support scoring to bail them out, two losses.

And Boston’s success comes from the fact that they don’t really have a THAT’S THE GUY player offensively. They have scads of potential support scorers. You’re not after a sniper, you’re trying to stop a cavalry.

All I’m saying is: secondary players often thrive (and proceed to get overpaid as UFAs) in the post-season because they’re not targeted, and their opponent’s focus is elsewhere. Seeing Crosby get shut down for two games isn’t ideal, but not nearly the main issue.

2. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is averaging 28:41 of playing time through 14 playoff games. In the last six playoffs, only one defencemen has been on the ice that much in that many appearances — Chris Pronger at 29:03 for 23 games in 2010. No one skated more in last year’s playoffs than Marek Zidlicky. If Chara plays the same amount of games (24) as Zidlicky, then at his current pace, he’ll log 120 more minutes of action than the Devils defenceman.

Chara fit

He should be okay.

3. Nathan Horton has 34 points in 35 playoff games. At even strength in those games, Boston is outscoring opponents 38-12 with him on the ice. The Bruins have some tough calls to make — Patrice Bergeron will get taken care of — but I wouldn’t want to fool around with the chemistry of those forward lines.

Only Lucic is a better fit for the Bruins, who have a clear identity. Okay, Chara too, but you get the point. Talented offensive player who’s okay with f***ing up opponent’s faces? Check.

In Boston, there are no other boxes.

Until the Bruins tear down to start a new building, he’s apart of their foundation.

 6. Coaching stuff. Glen Gulutzan’s interview with the Vancouver Canucks will be some time this week. I still think there will be more candidates (Kings assistant John Stevens, for example). But there is a growing sense they really like Dallas Eakins, who coaches the AHL Toronto Marlies. Word is Eakins will do a second interview with Vancouver.

This kind of makes sense to me because it seems pretty clear that Vancouver likes to be out at the front of new waves around the NHL, which would mean a young coach with new ideas would fit. I say that because they’re pretty open about their use of analytics beyond boxcar stats and eyeballs, so it makes no sense to take a progressive approach there, then plug in someone like John Tortorella or Lindy Ruff who’s going to be like “Why’d we lose? LACK OF EFFORT. EVERYONE ON THE LINE.”

This trend of new thinking is really only starting to permeate hockey culture, but with the financial stakes as high as they are for both players and teams, I think we’re going to see hockey become less about Beers, The Boys and Backchecking, and more about being a well-coached superhuman robot.

11. I would love to sit in on one of the Vancouver interviews because I think Canucks management is being quizzed as much as the potential coaches are. Firing Alain Vigneault didn’t solve all of the problems. These guys want to know how the goalie situation will be dealt with and, if Gillis truly doesn’t want to tamper with the core, what are his ideas for improvement?

I take Elliotte’s point here, that you’re not sure what you’re walking into, exactly, in Vancouver (and you want to be), but there’s not a guy beyond maybe Lindy (established professionally and financially) and maaaybe Torts out there right now who doesn’t take one of the 30 available head coaching positions if it’s offered, and specifically the Canucks.

You know your career wins/losses record is going to look good if you coach their now with their very capable roster, which means you’re making bank now with a chance to win, and you’ll be provided with chances after with your shiny, .500+ record.

12. It’s expected Rangers GM Glen Sather will wait a bit to see what happens with Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. But it’s not hard to find hockey people who think Vigneault is a great fit for Manhattan. Those same people say Sather thinks highly of both men and would be content with either. That brings us to Mark Messier.

Dave Tippett is an intelligent, level-headed man who’s coached a mediocre team to success for years. He represents his organization with class. I can’t imagine not hiring him if you’re have theWHHAAAT, why are we talking about Messier???

14. Messier’s strengths: “Being a head coach now is about delivering a message,” one source said. “And no one delivers a message better than Mark Messier. You have to find good people around him, but that can be done.” Obviously, the big question is experience. One coach I’ve asked about is Luke Richardson, who had a marvelous year of development as head coach of the AHL Binghamton Senators. He’s got everyone’s respect. But a couple of execs said he’s not yet ready, having run his own bench for exactly one season. That’s one more than Messier. If decides to pursue the job, it’s a tough decision for Sather and the Rangers.

If a coach can only affect a roster over 82 to games by what, say six or seven wins (that might be high) hiring Mark Messier seems like a really great way to ensure you don’t get many of them.

Now, I respect Mark Messier, and mean no offense. I’m even sure he’s great at delivering a message. But good lord, people, the guy has no head coaching experience. It’s more than delivering a pre-game speech these days, which seriously, let’s be honest: guys self-motivate pretty well these days. Coaches are developing better systems, countering their opponents’, matching lines, and y’know, like, doing stuff aside from being figureheads and top-notch orators. I find it impossible to believe that somebody would actually hire Messier as a head coach. Let’s talk about something else.

 18. You learn something new every day: each team must submit a name or a list of names who can sign a binding contract on behalf of the organization. It can be anywhere from one to three people; usually the head of the hockey department and an assistant or two. So how is it going to work in Colorado? “You have to give a name to the NHL to say who is making trades and that’s going to be me,” Roy explained. “But Joe has the final say on hockey. I will propose things for Joe, he will make the final decision.”

Then…why have Roy’s name be the one needed to approve deals? “Joe has the final say, only I have to sign to make that say official, so if I’m truly vehemently opposed I guess I sort of have the choice of not signing, so in a sense, I have the final say.” I assume that’s what he meant to say.

I was really excited to read this because I feel like it presents the real potential that an angry coach could trade a player on a whim without the permission of the GM. And with Patrick Roy’s noted temper, you’d think a stopgap wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but NOPE. Let him call up Stevie Y and deal Ryan O’Reilly for Sean Bergenheim because of a fight they had on the bench in the third. Oh how I want this to happen. The gleeful column inches I’d write. Just sign on the dotted line, bud.

22. Phoenix will be on the prowl for offence. And hide your restricted free-agent defencemen from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren keeps identifying the problems with his team, trying to fix them, and having it backfire.

We need defense. We got Pronger! Career-ending injury.

We need goaltending. We got Bryzgalov! He’s bad.

We need defense. Offer sheet Shea Weber. DAMMIT.

Welp. We still need defense.

24. What was “the clinic” Pittsburgh gave Ottawa? “For me, it was the focus and the determination they played with,” said Senators head coach Paul MacLean. “They never took their foot off the pedal one time to let us play our game. The skill and precision with which they played … we couldn’t get any traction against it.”

That’s either a deceitful or concerning takeaway in my opinion. I’m hoping he’s not being honest because he learned something about a style of play he doesn’t want to share. The other option is that he thinks his team got thumped in the final two games against Pitt because they “never took their foot off the pedal.” Also, focus and determination. He acknowledges skill and precision, but it seems to me that’s the first and final thing to identify there.

That Penguins team had more skill than Ottawa. The Sens played as hard, and definitely didn’t lose because they didn’t keep the throttle down. They have young talent that will improve and make them better. I mean, you always gotta play hard, but the hardest working ECHL team isn’t going to win a series against an NHL team. They simply got out-skilled.