By JD Lagrange – Allow me to put on my coach’s hat for this one. Not because I’m better than you, far from there. But having been around the game for five decades… having played for a long, long time… having been coached by many different styles of coaches… by taking Hockey Canada’s coaching certifications and classes on and off the ice, both at the house and rep levels… having coached at different levels for many years… I was fortunate to have learned a few tricks of the trade that aren’t necessarily known to the fan sitting and watching the game.
Too many fans look at a group of forwards and think that they should be producing offensively. In reality, they are only partially right. Yes, forwards can have the ability to generate some offense on their own. But the bulk of that offense, more often than not, starts in your own zone. What?
While flipping the puck off the glass, or getting it out of the defensive zone is good to relieve pressure and, for the most part, helps keeping the puck out of your own net, it is not conductive to generating offense.
The first two passes out of the defensive zone are crucial to generate offense. The first pass must be on the tape to an open player, not one who has a player on his back already. The second one must not only be accurate, but it must catch a forward in full strides, ensuring that he doesn’t have to slow down to receive it.
In the following video, look how the defensemen generate offense with what we call “quick outs”. There are several ways to do that, as you will see.
Right now, due to the number of young defensemen trying to get acclimatized to the speed and forecheck strategies of the NHL, the Canadiens aren’t doing enough from the back end to help the forwards generate offense. The forwards have to work harder in battles instead of getting the puck “on the fly”.
The Canadiens young defensemen are very talented. They have done breakouts of their own zone their entire young hockey career. But his is the first time that they do it against the top players in the world. The play is that much faster. Forecheckers are on you quicker. Opposing defensemen are on the forwards quicker. Even the forwards they are passing to are faster so the passes have to be further ahead. And then, you’re dealing with teams with the best coaching staff, and with tons of video preparation.
So yes, while talented, these young men need time to adjust and to grow into mature NHL players. We will see flashes of their abilities from time to time, but we will also see passes in the skates, turnovers, icing the puck due to a missed pass… none of which is good for generating offense.
What most of these young defensemen bring however, is an ability to join the rush. This can certainly help generate some offense. But even at that, they must learn to pick their spot, when and against whom to do it. That too can be hurtful to a team, resulting in turnovers or odd-men rushes the other way.
And that’s why, getting Mike Matheson and Joel Edmundson back from injuries will go a long way in helping generate offense. Yes, even Edmundson who is not known for his offensive abilities. What he does well, with his experience, is find open players on breakouts.
Kaiden Guhle is doing amazing, but he’s still adapting to the speed of the game at this level. Jordan Harris is showing flashes of greatness, but he too has a steep learning curve ahead of him. We can see that Johnathan Kovacevic is getting better as he learns the Canadiens’ system and develops chemistry with his teammates. And Arber Xhekaj is perhaps the one with the steepest learning curve and who would benefit most of a stint in Laval. That will likely happen when Edmundson comes back.
Right now, there are simply too many young players learning and trying to adapt. Too often, they simply cannot help the forwards enough to generate offense. When they do, or when the veterans come back into the line-up, it will make it easier on the forwards and that’s when you’ll see Martin St-Louis’ free-wheeling offensive side of coaching. Until then, you can expect a lot of inconsistency and spotty offensive production.