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Introducing "From the Perch"Tweet
Monster fans, we know the feeling. The pit in your stomach when the horn blows during the clinching game of the Stanley Cup Finals...the edginess that comes when the curtain closes on the hockey season...that sinking sensation that the next hockey you’ll see is four months away. We feel your pain. We know you need your hockey fix.
Well we have the answer.
Next week is the grand kickoff of our weekly radio show, “Between the Pipes with John Michael,” where we’ll discuss all things hockey...anything from the NHL to the AHL, from the Colorado Avalanche to your Lake Erie Monsters. And the best part is that you, the fans, can participate, and we’ll tell you how in just a moment.
A new show will premiere right here at LakeErieMonsters.com every Thursday. Guests of the show during the first few weeks will include Monsters General Manager Dave Oliver, Head Coach Joe Sacco, and Cleveland Hockey Legend Jock Callander. The show will accompany John’s weekly column, “From the Perch*,” which is making its debut right here at LakeErieMonsters.com today.
Now here’s how you can be a part of the action and let us know what’s on your mind.
Both the weekly column and the radio show will feature a “Monsters Mailbag,” where you can write in with questions about the Monsters, the AHL, the NHL or about anything else hockey-related. If your question is selected, it will either be answered in John’s weekly column or during the weekly radio show. To submit a question to the Monsters Mailbag, just click here.
We’re excited to talk hockey during the offseason, and we hope you are too. So join us every week for “Between the Pipes with John Michael” and “From the Perch” right here at LakeErieMonsters.com.
We’re going to have plenty of time over the summer to revisit the Monsters inaugural season and to gear up for next year at The Q, but with the Stanley Cup Playoffs fresh in our minds, let’s talk NHL. It was a dream Finals matchup for the National Hockey League – the Detroit Red Wings, an original six team and a perennial powerhouse in the Western Conference, facing the Pittsburgh Penguins with an embarrassment of young riches, led by 20-year old phenom, Sidney Crosby.
Maybe the most startling aspect of the Stanley Cup Finals to some was the inability of the Penguins to put pucks in the net. Yes, the same Pittsburgh team that had been dynamic offensively throughout the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs mustered only four goals in the first four games of the series, and just nine in the entire six-game set.
This begs the question: Why? How could a team of vibrant attackers with names like Crosby, Malkin, Hossa, Sykora, and Staal come up virtually empty on the offensive end?
Well, we have an explanation. And here’s a hint – DON’T focus on the Penguins forwards.
Let’s back up for a second and provide a little perspective. For those of you who have followed the Monsters this season on FSN Ohio and ESPN 850 WKNR, you undoubtedly have heard us discuss the concepts of the transition game – which usually starts with a “first pass” from a defenseman out of his own end – and puck support. Usually, these concepts were discussed when the Monsters were experiencing a scoring drought...and not by coincidence.
At times this season, when the Monsters suffered through scoring lapses, folks would typically ask, “What is wrong with these forwards?” and “With the talent this team features up front, why aren’t they scoring more goals?” Truth be told, these are often the wrong questions to ask.
What these Stanley Cup Finals have reminded us is that the play of the defensemen is equally as critical to offensive success as the play of the forwards. Put simply, consistent offense cannot be generated by forwards alone.
To expand on that, coaches will tell you that to initiate a rush with speed though the neutral zone, a first pass from a defenseman is often crucial. Without a dependable first pass to begin the attack, a team is easily stymied and bottled up in the neutral zone. Likewise, when the defensemen are too far behind the forwards during an offensive rush – creating too large of what is called the “gap” between offense and defense – the forwards can find themselves on an island without any depth of attack upon which to rely.
These are the precise problems that plagued the Penguins throughout the Stanley Cup Finals: (1) the inability to regularly move the puck successfully from back to front with speed and accuracy, and (2) the lack of puck support from the defensemen as the Penguins moved into the attacking zone. That said, this is not a criticism of the Pens blueliners, but rather, a compliment to the talented Red Wings’ forwards.
The Wings feature a dazzling array of stars up front – including Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk – who racked up a wealth of accolades and points throughout the regular season and the playoffs. In the meantime, much was being made of the Pittsburgh defense in the first three rounds of the postseason, and rightfully so – Pittsburgh gave up only 26 goals in 14 games (1.86 goals/game) in the first three rounds of the playoffs against Ottawa, New York and Philadelphia. However, a mere glimpse at the array of forwards in Motown would reveal an exponentially more talented bunch than the banged up Senators, the long-in-the-tooth Rangers, and a Flyers team that nearly slumped themselves out of the playoff race near the end of the regular season.
Throughout the series, the Wings attacked in unrelenting waves. This put the Penguins, and especially their defensemen, constantly on their heels. Over and over during the series, the Pens blueliners would get the puck in their defensive zone, and instead of being able to start rushes with quality first passes, they were forced to get rid of the puck under duress. The result was usually a chip back to the neutral zone, often blindly, because of the intense pressure by the forecheckers. This not only prevented the Penguins forwards from getting anything generated offensively through the neutral zone, but it also returned the puck to the Wings defensemen, and the whole vicious cycle would start again.
Likewise, when the Pens forwards did manage to get on the attack, the Pittsburgh blueliners – out of warranted respect for the speed and talent of the Wings forwards – often sagged back and did not provide a whole lot of puck support for the forwards. This created too large of a gap between the defensemen and forwards, making Pittsburgh one-dimensional and relatively easy to defend. When this happens, there is no depth of attack, and the forwards find themselves without any support from the back. And against the rock solid Wings defensemen, it spelled certain doom.
Speaking of those Wings defensemen (I daresay the most complete corps from top to bottom in the league, with all due respect to Anaheim), they were able throughout the series to initiate and join the rush, while having enough confidence to retreat and defend when necessary. This allowed Detroit to attack as a cohesive unit surrounding the puck. This puck support was on display in some of the glorious, artistic five-man rushes that the Wings executed during the series.
The problems generating offense for Pittsburgh became even more pronounced late in Game 5 when Sergei Gonchar, the Pens best puck-moving defensemen, was injured for most of the third period and the three overtimes. Even though the Penguins escaped Detroit with a win in that game, they found themselves under siege during large portions of the contest and needed 55 saves out of Marc-Andre Fleury to slip away with the win.
So while fans and commentators alike may point to the alleged disappearing act of a number of Penguins forwards to blame for the Penguins offensive struggles – which in some cases may be a fair criticism – remember that forwards alone are not solely responsible for offensive production. Even when defensemen don’t appear on the scoresheet, they are often so crucial in starting rushes and providing offensive support, and that was never more apparent than in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals.
Make sure you check out LakeErieMonsters.com next week for our second edition of “From the Perch,” and for the premier of our weekly radio show “Between the Pipes with John Michael.”
As to the title of this column, my thanks to the incomparable Joe Tait of the Cleveland Cavaliers for allowing me to “rent” his perch for the Monsters 40 home games this season. Joe has been the “Voice of the Cavs” for 36 seasons, and he called his 3,000th game on March 26, 2008. On that night, Joe’s permanent broadcast location in section C126 of Quicken Loans Arena was officially dedicated as the “Joe Tait Perch.” It is from this section that the Monsters games are broadcast, so thanks again to Joe for leasing out the space.
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