Coaches must accept players’ early struggles in new defensive formations

The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2022-23 regular season from former NHL coaches and assistants who will cast their critical eye on the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. Mark Recchi and Phil Housley will take turns getting information.

In this edition, Recchi, a Hall of Fame player who has been an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils, discusses what coaches see and think in the first month of a season and how patience and institutional knowledge are vital of their teams. important to prevent excessive reactions positively or negatively.

As coaches we’re always looking for developmental trends early in the season, and what never seems to fail is how much the odds on the opposition increase and the defensive structure shows cracks early in the season as teams try to settle.

I’ve always believed that over the years, especially when you get new coaching staffs and bring in new players through trades or free agency. People have to get used to the systems and the structure and how they have to play.

The systems and structure don’t vary much from team to team in the NHL, but it still takes time to build that cohesive structure where you don’t think, you just play and fit into the system and structure.

What you see at this point in the season is a lot of destruction, a lot of 2-on-1s. I’ve watched a game every night and there are a lot of single rushes. This will tend to tighten as the year goes on.

The trend is even more pronounced this season with 10 teams, nearly a third of the NHL, having new coaches. It creates a completely different look for these teams.

With the Dallas Stars, they are a little more aggressive now under coach Peter DeBoer, trying to drive the offense more and score more goals than they did last season. It’s not as conservative, but it won’t always work as they incorporate their structure into the push for more offense.

Jim Montgomery is known as an offensive minded coach and has done a good job with the Boston Bruins.

Bruce Cassidy is a good coach. He brought structure and a different voice to the Vegas Golden Knights. Some teams need it. I think Vegas did after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

You see more structure and discipline from the Philadelphia Flyers under John Tortorella, but it’s inconsistent. So is the Detroit Red Wings under first-year coach Derek Lalonde.

But generally, with a lot of teams early in the season, it’s all about cornerbacks. They want to produce so badly early in the season to get into a groove that they get more into the offensive end, sacrificing defense, and that leads to opportunities the other way around.

Ultimately the coaches have to rein them in after a while. As the season goes on, it gets tighter and tighter, and as coaches we know that and realize that we have to live with that too, even if we don’t like it.

But the players also know they can’t play hockey for 82 games and be successful. You are asking too much of your goalies, leaving them out to dry too often. Teams that play like that and can’t fix it are gold.

I remember the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabers getting off to a good start, going 17-6-2, but getting outscored and outscored regularly. It didn’t feel sustainable and it wasn’t. They went 16-33-8 the rest of the way.

There are such examples in every era. There will be this season. We just don’t know who it will be yet.

It’s not easy as a coach to deal with that, but you also have an understanding as a coach that if your team is going to be able to step it up or if you have a real reason to worry.

For example, when I was with the Pittsburgh Penguins, we knew the team was going to tighten up right away. We just knew it. Sure, it took a while, but with that experience we knew it was coming. It was just a matter of managing it as much as we could at the start of the season.

When I was with the New Jersey Devils it wasn’t the same feeling, but there were so many goaltenders there that it was a tough battle all the time. You just never felt comfortable.

Institutional knowledge helps. Coaches can never be comfortable, but we can at least feel somewhat comfortable when you trust your team.

Since I already mentioned the Sabres, I figured I’d finish with them too, because from what I’ve seen of them this season, they sure seem to be anything but fool’s gold.

The Sabers are looking for real and I think it’s sustainable. They are led by a team that plays a very tough, structured game. Coach Don Granato has done a great job. The players believe him. They believe in themselves and what they do.

You see a guy like the forward Tage Thompson, the huge step he has taken there. Defender Rasmus Dallin also. It took them a little longer to put it into their careers, but they bought in and it’s paying off now.

It seems like the Sabers have a plan, that Granato has the players on board, he has their attention, and there’s trust both ways. At times they are no different than any other team early in the season, they work out the kinks, push for more offense instead of hitting defensively, but the Sabers look to me like a team that will tighten up.

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