It’s been a while since we’ve had some film study around these parts, so let’s take a quick glance at what happened over the last week — because that’s all we can stomach.
The Week That Was
At least they won in Pat Foley’s last game?
Moving on ...
So Strange I Remember You
When the concept of the game is to put an object into a goal of some sort, defensive coverage is primarily a function of the scheme being used and the communication between the players who are performing it. This theory applies to hockey but it also applies in soccer and basketball and football, all sports where defenders have to cover their opponent in some matter. It also applies to every level of those sports, from youths in hometown leagues to the professionals at the sport’s zenith.
And that’s what makes the defensive breakdowns which occurred during Johnny Gaudreau’s first goal in Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames so maddening: it’s a rather basic concept that wasn’t executed.
Let’s go to the tape:
After a keep-in at the point, the puck ends up on Gaudreau’s stick behind the net (top of the above photo) where he’s being followed by Alex Vlasic. As Gaudreau skates along the boards, Vlasic ends up switching with Sam Lafferty, who keeps following Gaudreau up the wall.
This does seem like a schematic departure from the Jeremy Colliton era, when the Hawks were in a strict man-to-man coverage system that didn’t switch, meaning that Vlasic may have followed Gaudreau even as he circled above the dots. Switching seems like a better idea and, in the photo above, there are four Flames on the perimeter with at least Blackhawks skater between those Flames players and the goal. Seth Jones is just off screen to the right, battling with another opponent for net-front presence. No danger appears imminent.
Two seconds later, it all starts going wrong:
Gaudreau criss-crosses with Erik Gudbranson. Lafferty hesitates, apparently in anticipation of Taylor Raddysh switching to pick up Gaudreau. Raddysh stays with Gudbranson and, well ... you see the problem.
Lafferty’s way off to the left, nowhere near Gaudreau. The net-front battle in front has now turned into an excellent screen of the goaltender and one of the league’s brightest young offensive stars has a wide-open section of the net with nary a Blackhawks defender in sight. In three seconds, a situation that looked harmless ends with a goal against.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch professional sports just a few rows from the athletes or listen closely to the microphones which are now installed all over the playing surfaces, there is constant chatter between teammates. In hockey, you’ll often hear “TIME!” yelled from the bench to let a teammate know they’ve got time to make a play. Might hear “TWO!” shouted to let a teammate know they’ve got a teammate with them for a 2-on-1. It’s never quiet — and not just from opposing players chirping each other.
I’ve rewatched this goal several times, listening for any sort of communication between Lafferty and Raddysh. The on-ice mics didn’t pick up anything and it doesn’t look like there’s any mouth movement on the replays, which is kind of the whole problem here. Yeah, Raddysh vacating that area leaves a wide-open space for Gaudreau but as soon as Gaudreau started moving towards the middle, there has to be some communication from Lafferty to Raddysh that they’re going to switch assignments.
It’s a basic concept, yes, but it feels indicative of one of the countless areas where the Blackhawks are failing to execute. To hell with being “hard to play against” or “not working hard enough” or all those other shitty buzz words and hockey clichés that are spouted whenever this team loses. It’s these kinds of these that have been happening for years that are keeping this team from going anywhere but down in the standings.
Kane starts with the puck near the boards:
Kane then circles to the high slot as the Kings switch coverage assignments:
The Kings didn’t really blow this coverage. There’s still a defender directly in front of Kane as he prepares to shoot:
But there’s still enough space between Kane and the defender for Kane to find a way to get the puck on net, where an Andrew Shaw screen results in a Blackhawks goal.
That’s one way to show how small the margins for error become as the postseason evolves from a 16-team tournament to a 4-team tournament. And also shows how big that gap is between what the Blackhawks are doing now and what the league’s top teams do.
The Week That Will Be
Six games left. This will all be over next Friday. Not that we’re counting down the days or anything.
Wednesday, April 20 at Arizona Coyotes
Thursday, April 21 at Los Angeles Kings
Saturday, April 23 at San Jose Sharks
Monday, April 25 vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Kitty chases Fiddy
Last Week: 4 games, 0 goals
Season Totals: 76 games, 39 goals
Current Pace: (39 goals / 76 games played) * 82 games = 42.08 goals