Wednesday, May 16, 2012

NHL Hockey: Is It All Bunged Up?

The once mighty puck cries out for help as it tries to find its way to the net

 by Lisa Ovens

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with my friend Rory. The subject of shot blocking came up. Rory's solution: "Penalize the players that go down to block a shot. They can block all they want standing up, but as soon as they go down, blow the whistle." Well, that's one way to look at it. Blocking shots is the latest poster child for what's ailing the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it certainly has many people worried and upset. Most of the upset people are standing on the sidelines now that their teams have been knocked out of contention for Lord Stanley's Cup. But there is more to this than just the blocked shots.

Legendary coach, Scotty Bowman put his CSI skills to work and pinpoints defensive strategies utilized by the late Roger Neilson ( during his coaching days with the Toronto Maple Leafs) as the blue print for what we are seeing right now. (click here for the Globe and Mail article). World's greatest female player, Hayley Wickeneiser has also weighed in on the Playoffs, and she's bored. I have to laugh at this because usually it's the guys calling the girls game boring and unwatchable. (Click here for Hayley's story)

Scotty's final words on the matter... "There's nothing anybody can do about it." I guess that's what a guy with a team like those win hogging Montreal Canadiens of the 1970's would say. Which is probably why Roger Neilson cooked up and deployed his defensive strategy in the first place: he was trying to beat a virtually unbeatable team! So my next question is, who's going to be the Roger Neilson today? Who's going to try and UN-bung this trend, so we don't see a bunch of  General Managers on an off-season prowl for free agent shot blockers and worse, a bunch of coaches mimicking this style next season (should it win the Cup).

I feel sorry for the guys on the point when it is "shot block time"...all they do is pass it back and forth to each other trying to see a shot that just isn't there. The Point men are desperate and have lost their mojo. The pain delivered from a hard shot is not enough of a deterrent. Maybe the puck also needs be ablaze with fire, or equipped with those exploding dye packets used to foil bank robberies.

When I think back to those days watching the highly skilled trio of Marcus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison. When they had to play Jacques Lemaire's defense first Minnesota Wild, they often had to dump and chase, because of the Wild's Neutral Zone Trap. Sometimes they would lob the puck high over the Neutral Zone because that was where the glut of Wild sweaters were, waiting to stop the Canucks from skating the puck into the zone.

Well, what if, instead of firing hard shots from the point that will most likely be blocked, the point guys gently flip the puck up, nice and high, in the general direction of the net, over everyone's heads in the "Offensive Zone Clog", and let the puck fall where ever it may; at the very least, getting it bouncing around for someone to do something skillful and/or wacky in the name of a scoring chance. Or we could always hope two of the defenders both lunge for the puck at the same time, only to fall like Keystone Cops. I think it would be more exciting to watch these lobs inside the offensive zone, than to watch the two guys at the point repeatedly pass the puck back and forth, searching for an unavailable shooting lane. I don't know, but maybe these offensive zone lobs  would somehow shame the shot-blockers (and the Coaches who clog them) enough so they'd think..."this isn't the way this game is supposed to be - what are we thinking?" Yep, there's nothing like a good shaming to set some people straight.

So there. Scotty Bowman, this "anybody" has come up with a new strategy!

But, maybe this idea is not good one. The thought of all the potential high sticks batting at a lobbed puck is a dangerous one, though it would draw some penalties. But it could be worth a try, and its the kind of solution that doesn't involve a new rule or a messy red dye.

Gosh...I ended with a rhyme ;o)

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