Joe Thornton and Ryan Kesler will be playing against each other often in the Western Conference final. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
How valuable a tactic is line matching? In theory, this kind of chess game is supposed to give the home team an advantage since they have the last change and the opportunity to put their shutdown players up against the other team’s top line or their top line against the other team’s fourth unit.
But can you become too committed to this game plan and, in turn, start unintentionally taking ice time away from the players you should be living and dying with?
“Bang on, coaches can over-think things,” one NHL coach said. “At some point your best players have to go out and deal with what's thrown at them.”
The top coaches in the NHL will figure out a way to counter your attack if it becomes too predictable and start putting you at a disadvantage. The coach used the Detroit Red Wings as an example of a team that can nullify line-matching tactics by piecing together different line combinations. In the latter half of the last decade, whenever a team would play the line-matching game against Detroit’s top line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom, the Red Wings would simply reorganize their lineup.
Instead of placing those three together and have them face the top shutdown players, Detroit would put Datsyuk or Zetterberg as a center between two other wingers, which would create two lines the opposition would want their shutdown players to stop. By constantly juggling the lines this way against a team committed to line matching, you’re always keeping them guessing and, as a result, putting them at a disadvantage, even on home ice.
“Teams can lose by over-thinking,” the coach said.
There is a time and a place for matching your lines - like in the final few minutes of a game when there is a key faceoff. But, more often than not, you should want your best players on the ice whenever they are available.
I always shake my head when I hear a top line has been “mismatched” with a checking line halfway through the first period. If you’re concerned with who your best players are up against that early and that often, I think you’re already starting to defeat yourself.
After all, you pay your best player the big bucks to put points on the board in any situation…against any foes.
For the most part this has been a great playoff season, but why is the NHL deciding to pick on their fans at a time of year when cities live by their team’s colors?
It all started when the league banned Vancouver’s Green Men from touching the glass. Never mind the fans who get up and smack the glass after a goal or when someone gets hit.
(As an aside: I don’t understand why people take exception to glass-bangers. Let fans be fans and enjoy the experience any way they want, as long as it doesn’t cross into a distasteful manner. Remember the fan who would bang the glass in NHL ’94? These little oddities give us a little character and flavor.)
Early in May, the league ordered a Honda dealership (the official car of the NHL) in Vancouver to remove a sign that sported the Canucks logo and read “Go Canucks Go.” It was changed to read “Go ‘Nucks Go” instead.
Now, the league is demanding $89,000 from a restaurant in Montreal for a banner that showed a mustachioed fellow wearing a Habs jersey and a “Go Habs Go” at the bottom.
The restaurant owner has said he can’t afford the fine and won’t be paying it.
Now, I can understand the NHL protecting its product and images, but this is far from the only non-NHL affiliated business to put this kind of promotion out there during the playoffs, so it’s an extremely odd precedent to set.
Whoever is deciding to come down on these harmless promotions at this time of year needs to get their head out of their behind and let the city and its fans become immersed with the league.
These incidents are petty and small-minded.
I was talking to a veteran scout who has been in the business for longer than I’ve been on this planet the other day and he shared a great story with me. Let’s file this one under “things that would never happen in the NHL today.”
‘Black Jack’ Stewart was known as one of the most physical and intimidating players of his time. King Clancy once called him “the roughest son of a gun you'd ever want to meet,” but qualified it by saying Stewart was by no means a dirty player.
As the story goes, after practice the Wings’ Red Kelly was heading back to his stall from the showers and found a couple of sticks in his way. When he was picking them up and moving them, one in particular grabbed his attention. Kelly was amazed at how heavy the piece of lumber was and couldn’t understand how anyone could shoot with it.
So when he found out it was Stewart’s stick, Kelly asked: “Black Jack, how the heck do you shoot with this thing?”
To which Stewart replied: “That stick’s not for shootin’. That stick’s for breakin’ arms.”
Ah, the good ol’ days of backwoods hockey.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His blog appears regularly only on THN.com.
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