Part 3: Ducks Then, Now & the Road Ahead

Posted: 05/08/2011 by bc in Uncategorized

In parts 1 & 2 we looked at the roster GM Bob Murray assembled. Here we look at the coaching and what the staff did with their assets.

As followers of this blog know, I’m pretty tough on coaches. In part, I’m tough on coaches because it’s much easier for a coach to do harm than good. As a youth coach I would tell my teams that when they won it was because they earned and deserved the win. When we lose, it was on me because I didn’t teach them the skills or made the adjustments to help them win.

In other words, coaching is pretty much a thankless job. It should be.

This past season we Ducks fans witnessed more change behind the bench in Randy Carlyle’s previous five seasons combined. The change in starting goaltending from J.S. Giguere to Jonas Hiller dictated the single most significant change Duck fans have witnessed under Randy Carlyle’s six-year run as head coach. Gone was treating the goalie like a sixth skater and pressuring the opposition puck carrier at all costs. In came a box out, shot blocking old school approach  to defending.

It is our play without the puck we put our initial focus. Defense first as RC likes to say. Ducks fans may have noticed different words and phrases coming form the coaching staff this season. Randy Carlyle often spoke of “structure” and for the first time during his tenure here, “inside position.” His other often recurring buzzword last season was “execution.” These phrases provided key insights into what the head coach was seeing, thinking and his immediate priorities.

When a coach speaks of “structure” he’s referring to the geometry of the game. Coaches often address positioning and support when discussing structure. When the coach uses a phrase like “inside position” he’s talking about the one on one battles and the game within the game. And when the coach tosses out a word like “execution” out there he’s talking about both individual and teamwork.

One could argue that Bob Murray presented Randy Carlyle with a one line, first PP unit hockey team and that RC got the most that there was to get from them. I’m not unsympathetic to that view but don’t buy it in its entirety either.

Barry Trotz’ Nashville Predators exposed some personnel and systemic weaknesses each related to structure, execution and inside position. Taken in order, poor skating especially lateral movement among some of our D-men and slash skating among some of our forwards. Slash skating is moving laterally and forward simultaneously. It’s these lateral movement skills that contribute most, aside from reading the play correctly, to players maintaining inside position and keeping the play in front of them.

Think back to the series and all the plays that you saw Beauchemin and Lilja getting turned inside out by Preds forwards because they couldn’t move with them. It happened to Fowler and Sbisa as well but for different reasons. Those kids can skate but too often played the puck instead of the man.

So what can a coach do to address these painfully obvious shortcomings? Structurally, you collapse all five skaters low. You shorten the gap between the forwards and d-men. Structurally our Ducks don’t do this though. We’re spread out looking for the turnover that leads to the quick-up or stretch pass.

Individually and execution wise you work on specific skating issues for 15-20 minutes of every practice. It then takes about six weeks for the practice to show up visibly in a player’s game.

Not enough of this little detail stuff gets addressed by our Ducks coaching staff.done with our Ducks. a couple of years ago I earned some respect among Ducks fans and bloggers for pointing out that Francois Beauchemin can’t execute a right to left cross under to save his life. More than two years later, he still can’t.

When you see a rookie like Fowler making the same mistake in April as he did the previous October, you know it’s something the coaching has failed to address properly. Specifically with Fowler it’s attempting that limp wristed poke check instead of wrapping up his guy and skating him off the puck.

As Chris Pronger said on his way out the door a couple of years back, “We need to box out.” To do that we need to adapt structurally so that we can execute individually and as a unit all the while maintaining inside position.

Well gang, sorry for the few days delay in getting this up on the blog. It really did take some time and drafts to narrow my thinking and address the specific concerns head coach Randy Carlyle addressed all season and into the playoff.

Also we’re nearing 800 words and blog experts tell me you lose readers after 500 words. So per the experts we’ll address our coaching/system and play with the puck in part 4.

BTW, two series worth following is Kerry Frazier’s and Eric Stephens Ducks A-Z this summer.

Note to Ice: Like you posted, “I don’t profess to be some sort of hockey oracle. Never have. I’m not going to say I can break down every part of every system that every coach employs and how every player should operate in it.” Even though some might think I’m doing exactly that in this post. Fact is, I simply glommed onto some generalities and use specifics to illustrate/accentuate the point.

Hopefully, that gets us all a little closer to the game.

Next up: part 4, What we do with the puck.

Oh yeah HOCKEY MOMS ARE AWESOME. Happy Mother’s Day.

  1. czhokej says:

    For two years in a row, the Ducks started the season like there was no training camp. Nothing was set, there was no specific strategy or tactical game plan (or I could not detect it). Players were confused, as a team we looked uncoordinated, positioning was weak. Line combos were changing almost every game, and the same applied to our system. Some players were criticizing RC (again), and there were some disagreements in the locker room. Mistakes were not corrected. And we were predictable, the recipe did not change, the game plan was not adjusted or tailored to the opposition. Some positive changes came slowly during the second half of the season.

    • BackCheck says:

      We’ll never know czhokej but it would be interesting to see what a Barry Trotz, Kirk Muller or some young phenom might accomplish with this roster.

  2. It was about time that the Ducks got rid of JS Giguere as the starter and put in Jonas Hiller. The Ducks are pretty much set with him for a while. You’re right, the Preds did expose some major flaws, especially on D. By the way, I emailed you again.

    • BackCheck says:

      I don’t know any Ducks fans who were actually glad to see Jiggy leave. You’re right though, most of us fans knew it was time to move on. Your phrase, “got rid of JS Giguere” doesn’t accurately represent the sentiment of Ducks management or fans. Not even close.

      In fact on the Ducks official website, some fans have wistfully suggested bringing Jiggy back if Hiller can’t go.

      He did quite a lot for this franchise. Jiggy produced the second best playoff stats of all time when he virtually carried our Ducks to the 7th game of the SCF in ’03. He out-dueled Dominick Hasek in the WCF on the way to the Cup win in ’07. If not for a wonky groin, J.S. Giguere might still be among the Top 5 goalies in the world.

      Don’t see your email news but I look forward to it.

  3. czhokej says:

    I know that JSG was amazing in 07, but the trade was necessary. At that time healthy Hiller was much better and too much money was tied to Giguere.

  4. czhokej says:

    Since I missed a lot of articles lately, I want to ask you bc – did Ice or anybody else analyze RC system aywhere?
    Another two things about strategy: Carlyle’s system was quite inadequate to protect the lead for most of the season.
    At the beginning of the season we talked about the Lightnings and Guy Boucher. They quickly eliminated the Capitals. Something worked really well there.

    I also expected Pronger to lead Philly to another SC final, but he was injured and mostly ineffective, playing only 3 games. Peter Laviolette had some problems with Mike Richards and his poor play in the play-offs (he had a wrist injury).

    • BackCheck says:

      Hey cz, I’m not aware of any blog or mainstream media doing this kind of reporting and analysis. That doesn’t mean somebody isn’t doing it though.

      Our Ducks are just not complete enough as a team to protect a lead. We should be taking the play to the opposition regardless if we’re down a goal or up by 3. You can’t tell the score by looking at Nashville. They just play their game.

      If you google Bolts 1-3-1, this blog is 2nd. First Look: Bolts 1-3-1 is our 19th most viewed post of the 342 published. I didn’t see any of the Bolts/Caps series but somebody I read (Ken Campbell @ THN maybe?) described it as Tampa giving 2/3’s of the ice and trapping the Caps in the 1-3-1 at the blueline.

      Back in the day, that used to be done by lining up 4 guys across the blueline with one forechecker. Obviously Boucher has refined old school. Campbell did report it was boring as all get out and he feared other team’s would copy it next season.

      Randy Carlyle has always had a loose version of it pinching a D up in the neutral zone.

      Yeah, I went 0 fer 2 picking Washington and Philadelphia over Tampa Bay and Boston respectively, (((DOH)))

  5. bbdux93 says:

    Thoughts about our young defensemen. Sbisa seems more able to and more often takes the man, Fowler needs to learn this. Sbisa needs to continue to use his body – he seemed a bit timid about that as the season went on.

    Francois – I believe his shortcomings were not an issue when he skated beside Scotty – don’t know if Lydmann can help in this area. Lillja will probably not return, or if he does, it’s likely as a back-up guy.

    Taking and keeping inside position on “your man” IMO was maybe best done by Jason Blake – go figure. A forward and a small one at that – seemed to understand and excute this move better than anyone, with the exception of maybe Vish – again a small guy.

    Leaving too much room between our defensemen and the opponent’s guy with the puck made me crazy and I’m only a novice fan. It never made sense to me to allow the opponent the space & time they used to get the speed they needed to enter our zone so effectively.

    More than anything – and even Getz referred to it in a post season interview – next season our guys need to get off to a good start. Training camp needs to be just that – training.

  6. bbdux93 says:

    I forgot to comment about Jiggy. I still have a picture in my head of SJ winning the Cionn Smyth and the look on his face said he would gladly have traded it for something for the whole team. He earned that trophy and forever a place in my memory of Ducks games well played.

    Was it necessary for him to be traded – yes and that only because you couldn’t keep a man with such a big heart for the game and who had contributed so much – as a back-up. When he got his big contract it was the right thing to do, when he was traded that was also the right thing to do. I wish him well

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