Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fear Factor . . . and Other Delights

Despite the 5 -3 loss at the hands of the dreaded Nashville Predators tonight, I stand by my prior post, in that it is not time to panic.  In fact, while this was an ugly one to watch in many respects, watching it clarified several things.  Some involve players, some involve coaching.  In no particular order, here they are:
  • Playing With Fear -- The Jackets are playing scared right now, and have been for awhile.  It is an ironic situation, as they are so afraid of making mistakes, they are hesitating and making more mistakes in the process.   We all know that Hitch is not patient when it comes to mistakes, particularly by young players. However, in attempting to insure no mistakes, particularly in our own zone, they are in fact making matters worse.  By holding the puck, or waiting for it to arrive, they increase the pressure on themselves, leading to poor decisions and/or turnovers. This is clearly impacting Methot, who made some awful, awful plays tonight.  Fear also causes paralysis, and is not limited to the youngsters. Watch Mike Commodore right now.  He is so concerned about making mistakes due to his conditioning, he stays rooted in one place.  The results are disasterous.
  • It Ain't Mason -- Mason has become the popular whipping boy this season. While he has not been the Calder Trophy caliber netminder of last year, he also has not been playing nearly as badly as his numbers indicated.  Tonight was a perfect example.  Goal 1 -- quick turnover in our zone, Mason moves quickly from left to right to cover, perfect shot to upper far corner behind him.  Goal 2 -- awful turnover down low by Methot, puck shoved out to point blank range.  Goal 3 -- defense leaves Sullivan all alone at the left post --tap in goal.  Goal 4 -- way too much gap for 4 vs. 4, Mason screened up high, never sees the shot leave the stick.   Goal 5 -- three bodies in front of Mason, and puck caroms off Jones' chest.  If Mason doesn't make five or six great saves in successoin in the first period, this is an 8 - 2 game.
  • Stop Tinkering With Bodies -- Part of the equation for turnovers and mistakes is uncertainty.  One of the things that promotes uncertainty is lack of familiarity.  The incessant tinkering with lines is wearing on the players and is proving counter-productive.  Tonight it was Chimera learning to play with Nash and Vermette, Huselius learning to play with Umberger and Voracek, Brassard, Modin and Torres learning to play together, etc.   It showed. After a time, the players get tired of trying to predict where the others will be, and try to take charge themselves.  Nash is prone to this as is Huselius.  We have the talent to succeed.  Put some lines together, and let them play for awhile.  They will get hot, and go cold, but they will become a single unit and learn to trust each other. Hitch is trying to force the issue right now, playing Nash some insane minutes.  He had over 23 minutes tonight -- leading all skaters.  That is nuts, and is going to lead to him getting hurt, burned out or both.  Stop!
  • Address The Real Issues -- Fairly -- Hitch was correct tonight in saying that the primary problem was "from the red line back."  While the forwards have been remiss in their defensive duties, by far the worst offenders have been our blue liners. Though Hitch made it sound like this has only been happening since Klesla went down, that is revisionist history.  Klesla was inconsistent this season before being hurt, and Tyutin has had a horrendous start (though is playing better of late).  Russell was scratched for several games for perceived transgressions, yet Commodore, Hejda, Tyutin and, to a lesser extent, Methot, have avoided the same penalty.  This double standard for veterans and youngsters has dogged Hitch for years, and he needs to show that you are either playing well enough to be in the lineup, or you aren't, regardless of stature.  If guys don't hustle back consistently, let them pay the price, but treat the entire team the same way. 
  • Change The Culture -- the atmosphere of fear has to disappear, and has to be replaced with one of trust.  The team has a lot of talent, and they need to be allowed to use it -- responsibly.  Use the system to channel the talent, not stifle it.  Admit reality -- Modin is going to be a good influence, but he is not the savior, nor is Dorsett, nor is Boll.  All have important roles to play, but only in the confines of an integrated whole.  If players are put on the ice, knowing they are trusted, and not fearing banishment for a mistake, the fear and hesitation will leave.  Will they make mistakes?  Absolutely.  However, for the first time in team history, we have the talent to overcome mistakes.  Let them learn from mistakes and develop instincts, so they can spend more time acting and less time thinking.
  • Maximum Effort -- The quid pro quo for trusting the players is for the players to show they deserve the trust -- not by being perfect -- rather by going all out for the entire shift, every shift.  We have a lot of guys doing it, but not everyone. They can't wait for the puck to get to them when in their own zone -- they need to skate to it.  As Hitch says -- they need to move as a unit, up and down the ice. Let the defensemen pinch -- but the forwards need to cover. 
We can be sure that Howson is closely monitoring the situation, and will act if necessary.  The time might be nearing, but players and coaches need to make a cohesive push to change the way things are working.  It can't be unilateral. 

The club is just a few wins away from being back in the thick of things, and that is well within their reach.  Coach and players need to open their hands to grasp the opportunity.

1 comment:

SoupDog said...

Great well thought out evaluation - keep up the good work.