What Changes Will Gainey Implement in Positional Play?
I've seen a ton of discussion about the line-ups people here want to see Gainey use, but not much as to how Gainey will change the actual strategy and positioning of the players. From Gainey's press conference, yesterday, I got the impression that positional play is what he aims to adapt in order to improve this team. I'm interested to see what other people think Gainey was implying when he said he would focus on playing a system that emphasizes smarter positioning in the defensive zone that would lead to more puck possession and turnovers.
This will probably turn out to be a long post, but it's hard to discuss hockey strategy with brevity. I hope I can get across my ideas.
Here's go over a few adaptations I hope he will try to put in place to start things off:
More pressure from defensemen as the opposing team enters the Habs' zone.
This is something that has killed the team for almost a full season. The defensemen drop back so far (almost to the hash marks), that the opposing forwards have 30 feet of the zone to work with after gaining the blueline. This gives the other team way too much time and space to set up in the offensive zone and is especially killer on a quick turnover or when the forwards are at the end of a shift and slow getting back.
I would like to see the defense pressure the oncoming rush closer to the blueline, especially on even-man rushes. As long as the defenders angle the puckcarrier to the outside, this will lead to more turnovers and offsides. It also slows down the incoming rush in the neutral zone and will give the forwards more time and less space to cover as they backcheck.
Fewer man-to-man assignments for the defense when the opposing team has gained possession in the Habs' zone
The defense has been playing opposing players man-to-man way too often this season. This results in strange defensive coverage, where a guy like Komi will end up chasing a winger from his right defense position all the way over to the left halfboards. It's led to a lot of mismatches, missed assignments and confused coverages as opposing forwards move around and their defense pinch in from the point.
I would like to see the defense play more of a traditional zonal defense that is a lot more simple and fitting for guys like Komi, Gorges, Hamr and O'Byrne (and Breezer when he plays). Each defensmen should be responsible for covering opposing forwards in his area of the defensive zone, with the Habs' centre providing support for overload situations. It's not a perfect system, but it will lead to a lot less running around and assignment mix-ups that have led to goals and extended stretches of time being trapped in the zone.
The wingers should not collapse as far into the slot when the team is even strength
This is the second area of the defensive zone play that has lead to mindboggling stretches of pressure against the Habs in their zone. Carbo had the wingers collapsing to the high/mid slot area at the edge of the faceoff circle. This left the pointmen wide open, and usually gave the opposing team at least one open pass lane, no matter where the puck was.
As a result of this positioning, even if the man-to-man D was working, the opposing forwards could usually dump the puck back to an open pointman who would have the space to either shoot or play "pitch and catch" with the other pointman until something opened up down-low again. If a Habs' defender did get the puck and throw it up the boards, the winger was never there to get it out, because it took too long to get to his boards from his collapsed position. This led to way too many turnovers and lost clearing opportunities.
I would like to see the wingers play much closer to their corresponding pointman to eliminate this option for other teams. It also would create dangerous turnovers if a bad pinch, or poor pass to the point from the other team happens. It also pressures on the other team's defenders to be more composed with the puck, as there will always be a forward nearby looking to hit or dispossess him. The downside is that there will be fewer blocked shots by the forwards, but if the defensemen are in the right spot, Komi, Hamr and Gorges should make up for this.
So that's pretty much my take on things. What do you think? Am I way off on anything? I focussed on the defensive side of things, because that is the area that I think will see the most change. Is there anything that you think should be done in either zone that will make this team more consistent?