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10-07-2003, 08:09 AM
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Give 'em Enough Rope
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Originally Posted by joechip
Sorry, but I have to disagree with this. The number of soft goals given up is small compared to the number of goals given up because the goalie was left out to hang. The problem with memory is you only remember the truly memorable events, which skew your perception of how things actually happened. As in, you only remember the soft goal that lost us a game but forget about the other 3 goals that set up the soft one to be memorable, which were caused, most probably, by defensive zone coverage. I do this. We all do this. The simple truth is that the number of defensive breakdowns with NJ's defensemen wearing AGH's would be lowered, and therefore the odd soft goal allowed by a Sabres netminder wouldn't be as dramatic or damaging. And the psyche's of all involved would be stronger to deal with the disappointment of a blown save.

The Devils don't have any more stay-at-homers on the blueline than we do. Niedermeyer, Rafalski, Albelin and, yes, Stevens all pinch when appropriate, some more than others.

The problems you are addressing come from 'growing pains' with respect to both our young defensemen and young forwards who need to cover for them when they do pinch to create offense.

Playing a sound defensive system in the NHL is about trust. Trust that the defensemen will play their angles and shut off the passing lanes. Trust that the forwards will backcheck and cover the points. Trust that when all else fails the goaltender will backstop the skaters and bail them out when necessary. When that trust is not there (see the Sabres from the past 2 seasons) everyone involved overcommits out of fear of their on-ice partner not doing their job and the result is a bunch of people out of position and the puck in the back of the net. This may or may not change with personnel changes, it should improve with maturity of all involved, goaltenders included.

The best example of this is the play of Alexei Zhitnik for nearly three years, because, as the best player on the ice, he is trying to cover for the mistakes of those who can't be bothered to do their jobs properly, and as a consequence winds having to gamble or undercommit to offense. It's a shame, really, because he really is a great defenseman, and it is also why Kalinin needs to step up this year and take the pressure off of Alex. Restore his trust in his partner, and free him up to be a force all over the ice, like he is capable of.

Hear, hear! In a similar vein to people gravitating to the memorable moments leads them to malign Zhitnik's ability as a defensive stalwart who is also asked to carry more of the offensive load than he has the ability to do. So he looks bad occassionally while soldiering on under the load the team has heaped on his back since they have not ever developed a true #1 defenseman of any stature, be it a rugged defenseman of the Hatcher mold nor an offensive catalyst of either the MacInnis mold (as a shootist) or the Lidstrom mold (as a passing/playmaking type). Their defense is a solid, but unspectacular group and the absence of even a remote hope for the future on the blueline has me concerned. Yes, both Tallinder and Kalinin have the skills to be better but both have to raise their games substantially to get to a plateau where they are considered in the vein of a Sydor/Matvichuk or Rafalski/White or Witt/Gonchar pairing (not on the ice, talking roster wise) as solid contributors to but not truly #1 D.

Buffalo's two biggest needs have been the same for a long time: no true #1 offensive center to key the attack and no true #1 defenseman of any variety, be it Langway-shut-down style or Coffey-shoot-your-lights-out style. Without either, they will not be serious Cup contenders. In fact, without a tandem of highcalibre centremen (and Roy might, might be one) as well as a Norris quality defenseman <i>and</i> high level goaltending, they're pretty damn far from holding Stanley's chalice.

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