Bruins System & Style
A question for those of you that have been able to get to some of the pre-season games (as well as a general inquiry)...
How do you see the system the Bruins are looking to adopt shaping up? Any references you could compare it to? Jersey with the forecheck and trapping, Detriot with the puck control, etc...
Additionally, being in Europe and only getting an occassional game on the BBC when I get into London, I was hoping someone could shed some light onto the Bruins' style and character these days - I grew up watching them - 80's & early 90's (on the Cape at the time) and have a recollection of a strong, hard hitting, and balanced team where people had "roles" and filled them appropriately. I haven't seen a Bruins game is quite some time now and was wondering if the team image (of itself and to the other teams) is still the same - mean & lean.? If not, what are your thoughts on it's current playing style and image.
Can the Bruins get back to this style of play with their current roster? What are we missing to strike fear into the opponents and is it in the 3 year plan (assuming the head office has one.)?
The Bruins should be able to adapt to this kind of play with their roster. However, it will start with how effective Sullivan is with translating his gameplan to the ice. Players will have to understand his system as well as their roles and what decisions to make when. The coaching staff has their work cut out for them, Sullivan and Maciver are both inexperienced in the NHL.
I Disagree ThorntoNeely
To me, they had a CLEAR plan of puck movement by the d-men.
It was a personnel recognition philosophy. If Berard or Girard had the puck, the first option was to rush the puck. Any of the others tried to find a forward at a corner of their own blueline. Their main method in this regard was for say O`Donnell to hit Knuble with a pass to the blueline. Knubles first look is to Thornton, who is wheeling near center ice. The rush into the opposing zone is made by the center with an even space wing (Murray, in this case) and a trailing wing (Knuble for my purposes).
When Berard or Girard had the puck and was rushing, what I observed as the most frequent rushing style was this example. Berard rushed up the left side of the ice. The wing on the opposite side of the ice (right) wheels to the middle, with the center wheeling to the right and then following through to the circle or on through to the net, depending on the shakedown. The same side wing takes the trailer role.
In essence, you had a wide rusher in Berard, along with center slot and and right board crashers, in your off wing and center respectively. And the strongside wing drops to trail.
I may be off a bit, but thats pretty close if you ask me.
As far as this years style is concerned...I`m concerned.
Up to this point, there is little cohesiveness. I know Sully would like to get to a NJ state of mind, but you need INTELLIGENT, SELFLESS players to play an effective trap.
The trap is just about the only system that has to be a teamwide system. In other words, you can lock with 2 lines and play a heavy forecheck with your top line. But to be an effective trapping team, you need a teamwide committment to play that style. Yor defensemen have too much pressure on them to play a trap with some lines and a differnt style with another line or 2.
I am not sure that we have a high enough team "IQ" to make a trap work, just yet.
In time it can work, but as for now I just dont buy us as being ready.
Teams started to adjust in two ways - closing down the passing lane that extended to the man at the blueline, and clogging the middle with a trap. Once the Bruins were stymied, they began to turn the puck over. This was one of the hallmarks of their team - turnovers. Often they were deadly because the Bruins would be moving forward as a 5-man unit and they would have to circle back against their momentum. With second rate goaltending, they were dead in the water.
As far as the Bruins playing the trap, I agree there needs to be committment. Everyone has to execute, which is where the coaching comes in. Sullivan has to exact his plan and translate it to the ice. If he wants 4 guys hanging back as the center pressures the puck as it's being carried out of the offensive zone, then they have to do the same thing on every shift. It has to be across the board. I could see the technique being flexible - ie when it's deep, one forechecker goes in to the hash marks while another one or two presses down below the blueline, but whatever ever the system is, I agree it must be consistent.
I do think the Bruins have enough grit, leadership and committment to execute it effectively, it's just a matter of the fundamental flaws of the roster. If they have little skill and movement on the backline, that will be an issue. Ditto about center, especially if they cannot win enough big draws.
Good stuff. I totally appreciate you analysis Jeff, and think that's one of the best things about this board. The people who know nuts and bolts of hockey make a huge difference here.
Thanks for the insight - I guess this leaves me wondering about the 2nd half of the question I had - does Boston have the roster to succeed in this system?
Although you were discussing last years transition game, I believe the trap - or some close concoction thereof - requires good D mobility and passing to be maintain pressure in the neutral and offensive zone. Today the B's have average mobility, average - at best passing on the D and no-one that can man the rush up the boards (Mcgillis? maybe - Jillson a tbd) So this shuts down the transition game and forces the forwards to back check more and lets the other team install their system in the D zone... That does not bode well for the B's.
On top of that - the aggressive forecheck requires some big (at least in heart) bodies to get puck possession in the corners - 1st line - I only see Thornton doing this (maybe Knuble if he is on the line again). 2nd line - who knows? And for the 3rd line Lapointe - but he is not all that fast to get the pressure deep before the D gets to the puck (assuming dump and chase). Even if we were to adopt a similar offensive zone strategy as last year - I don't see how, as a team with the pieces in place today, we can effectively execute this system (not trying to be negative but the fundamental pieces just don't seem to be there...)
In the trap, you don't forecheck. What you do is wait for the other team to come out. What happens is the centerman forces the defenseman with the puck to one side of the ice. When he forces him to one side, the winger from the opposite side comes into the middle and they basically form a triangle around the man with the puck. You basically have five men on one side of the ice. You hope the guy tries to stickhandle through the trap and tries to pass through the trap, then you knock the puck down and you get a turnover. What the opponent will try to do in order to break through the trap is get the puck from the side where all the men are on to the other side of the ice where there's hardly anyone. If they can do that consistently, they'll have some success. But what happens is they try to pass through that trap, it gets knocked down, and bang, all of a sudden, there's a 2-on-1 going the other way. That's what the trap is designed to do: create turnovers.
So, in terms of how mobility and the transition game come into play with the trap, first, a great deal of mobility isn't needed by the defensemen in order to follow this plan. For the most part, if they execute effectively, they will be spending less time in their end and more in the nuetral zone. However, I do understand your point. The thought is, if the defensemen cannot transition the puck up ice, how does the team effectively play the trap? Well, they don't have carry it out. They can send it up ice and make the opponent circle back for it. As they do, the five players move into position at center ice.
However, if the opponent also plays the trap, then the B's will not be facing aggressive play from oncoming forecheckers. Therefore, the power of transition and skilled defensemen play a lesser role, unless the opponent loses possession while they are positioned deep in the Bruins zone.
All this aside, I do think you raise a vital point about the importance of speed, skill and transitioning ability on defense. If you watched the `02 playoffs against Montreal, you saw first hand how such a fundamental weakness can be exploited. The Habs dumped the puck in deep and made the Bruins defensemen handle it. Then, they skated in with speed and aggressively attacked the B's defense. Because the Bruins lacked puck skill, speed and mobility on the backline, they often had to rush their plays. This is where the Habs looked for interceptions and broken plays. It created havoc in the Bruins end and the chaos led to several backdoor goals. Unless you have Hasek in net to mop up your mistakes, your hosed. Amongother things, this was the Bruins major downfall.
So yeah, lack of skill and mobility on defense can be deadly. I've been kinda harping on that since Berard and Girard fell out of the picture. With the increased speed of today's game, teams intent on pressuring the play and pursuing the puck can create turnovers against those with a largely immobile defense. This is why I am unsure about the Bruins right now. They have three potential fundamental weaknesses: goaltending, defense and center. It's really very concerning.
As far as the Bruins and an aggressive forecheck, they can be effective without having big bodies. To do this, they will have to rely on speed and positioning. That not only means the guys down low forcing the play, but all 5 players on the ice. In particular, the defensemen have to know how much they can move up into the play depending on where the puck is. This depends on the extent of their awareness, decision making and mobility. Still, there is nothing like a man going to the boards and crunching bodies a la Cam Neely. The Bruins don't have big hitters, but they do have Thornton, Knuble, Lapointe and Grosek. Other than that, they will have to rely on the tenacity of players like Axelsson and Samsonov.
In the end, you are right about the importance of transitioning defensemen. A good, puck carrying blueliner who can make a tape-to-tape first pass can really set the play. Such a player can almost make it appear like the offense is coming in waves. And though the neutral-zone defenses we now have have taken away some of that freedom of movement by a defenseman, there is still a chance to catch a defense flat-footed and off-guard. And the real key is that even though the checking gets so tight up front, there can still be room for a fourth or fifth player to move into the play -- and that defenseman often can find an opening that the forwards can't. This is huge. Look at New Jersey last year. Every pairing had a puck-moving defenseman -- Brian Rafalski with Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer with Colin White, etc. The flow they created helped the Devils offensively when it looked like they had one-and-a-half lines up front. More importantly, it helped ensure they were multidimensional, instead of just being a counterattacking team.
Any kind of gameplan will be better with a transitioning defense, just as it would benefit from solid goaltending and good centers.
Your comments pretty much mirror my thoughts and observations - I can' help but think; however, we are still going to have a hard time with the system - both implementing the trap and playing against it.
Against it : when the trapping team gets into the neutral zone they can go to the wide side (or back to the rushing DMan) and as we don't have speed we will get burned. When we get puck possession in our own zone we don't have many / any D to man the rush - therefore forcing the forwards to get through the neutral zone alone after the outlet pass - we saw what Jersey could do in this case and it was pathetic (Madden with more points than Thornton, etc..) - once the turnovers happen the forwards are too far up the ice to block the passing lanes and we're smoked.
Implementing : Although the trap does not "require" a strong forecheck, our opponents are going to put a lot of pressure on the D at the offensive blue line knowing that once they get a break they will have a 1 on 1 or breakaway on goal because our guys are pretty slow down the ice - and if our D are not that strong from the point in either shooting or passing then puck possession needs to be had down low - requiring a pretty aggressive forecheck... This can work if we have 2 "bruisers" per line as they will make space and draw the coverage - with only one we're stuck drawing one of the 2 D into the play and setting up the breakaways for the opponents. Yeah, I know that is the risk of the game but risks should be managed appropriately and I don't see the risk : reward factor here working in our favor.
Finally, I can't agree more with your comments on the D pairings of successful teams out there - every one - Jersey, Dallas, Colorado, Ottawa, Detroit, etc - has clearly balanced D pairings with a heavy hitting bruiser and a fleet puck mover - to drive the breakout and protect the weak side with their speed. I know B's management expected this to be Girard, Jillson & Berard (Boynton, ODonnell, Gill, McGillis being the bashers) but as things stand today we are still way, way, off - plus, by the time the offensive D men are ready the bashers will have moved on to greener pastures (UFA...)
As for solutions... why not put Rolston + pick on the market for K Primeau (or like player) and a good puck handling D-man (3-4 Dman profile) as a stop-gap for 2004. We should not need long term help on D as the future lineup (post 2005) looks pretty good (if all pans out...)
Stuart - Jillson
Boynton - Morrisson
Jurcina - Gill
Girard (assuming he gets well)
As far as the forwards go, I like what you're saying in principle (good solid hockey theory), but in reality, how often did you see the Bruins setting up that tripod with a rusher, a winger, and a trailer? I can count the number of times I saw a triangle going into the offensive zone without taking my shoes off.
More often, I think the Bruins puck carriers got worked wide by opposing defenses and were forced to go either low with the puck, or dump the puck low and look for better positioning. Too many two on two's and two on three's.
My gut feeling is that a lot of this had to do with Ftorek reversing the center and winger roles in the defensive end. You'd get your center involved in more rushes, true, but a lot of times, the wingers weren't able to get up into the play until it was too late.
I hope there's a more patient system this year. The Bruins need to focus on developing the play with all three forwards, much like you're talking about here. I haven't seen it yet.
A Bunch Of Thinsg ToA Number of People
I agree 100% about the illfated Berard/Girarad pairring. One hockey 101 fundamental is that you dont pair a offense oriented puckrusher, with another offense oriented puck rusher. Edmonton sledom paired Coffey with anyone other than Charlie Huddy. Problems arise many times over in coverage responsibility and recognition....WHO do I have and WHEN should I commit to moving up the ice or hanging back? But, I think that Ftorek put this pairring together because, as Meister stated earlier, the B`s had become too predictable in their set up.
The Bruins lost a lot of their high end talent when they allowed Guerin to leave and Samsonov suffered his injury. That said, they had little in the ay of offensive balance and variation. eventually, defenses were able to cut off the lanes from the blueline to center ice....and those passes that early in the season were completed and turned into 2 on 1 or 3 on 2 rushes, were now being intercepted and turned into 2 on 1 and 3 on 2`s the OTHER way!
I completely agree with you idea of PATIENCE this year!
Robbie was obviously an offenseive minded coach...we all know and knew that...as did O`C. Give him the horses, and his teams will fly, as they did in his first year! But O`C cut his hamstrings when he allowed Guerin to leave....we lost ALL semblance of balance. But thats another digression here :)
I agree with you as well. I think we will have a VERY hard time learning an EFFECTIVE trap this year. The trap requires an above average hockey "IQ", and I dont see us as having that! And the more youth we have in the lineup, the more difficult our job will be.
I am in favor of an aggressive 2 man forecheck. I played and I believe in all out aggression for 60 minutes....and I post that way as well :)
I am a firm believer in the idea that you set your own destiny and your own tone onto the game. You pressure the puck with 2 forecheckers and make the boards your best friend. Neutral zone HARRASSMENT, rather than congestion is the name of my game, with the defenseman using the boards as their ally.
This is a fun style and young players LOVE playing this way! Young guys generally dont have the savvy, and in many cases the skills of the older guys, and a system like this allows ass-busting workers to bve an integral part of the team.
3. Meister...thanks fgo rthe kind words.
Just a couple thoughs.
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