That’s the murderers’ row of NHL snipers that the Detroit Red Wings have their hands full with this week. Some reward for a team that returned from an early-season four-game road trip with an improbable 4-1 record to start the year.
The marksmen on tap this week for Detroit currently sit one-two-three in NHL goal scoring. This of course is no fluke; when lumping in last year’s totals, Kucherov, Matthews and Ovechkin make up three of the top five rungs in terms of top NHL goal getters. It’s the best of the best in the NHL on a bi-nightly basis this week for the Red Wings. And so far it hasn’t gone particularly well.
These are the talents that need merely a crumb to feast in this league. The sort of superstar that puts immense stress on a team’s defence because they are skilled enough to turn a harmless look into an unstoppable strike.
It really does take something special to score with any regularity in the NHL, early-season trends be damned. So when a coaching staff sees three of them in a week, and must consider the distinct skillsets and tendencies that sets these players apart, it bears the question: Is the video coach working overtime to prepare for these dynamos?
Because scrutinizing the most dangerous players in the NHL must take up a significant portion of the game-planning, right?
“You have to do everything you can to take away time and space, and to limit how much time they have with the puck. Once they have a chance to take a stride or two with the puck, those players are going to deliver,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said this week.
“There’s individual tendencies that we certainly touch on. Every guy is a little bit different. We certainly make sure our guys know. Our guys are aware of a lot of them already – especially guys that have been in the league.”
Alright, that sounds good enough. Blashill does point out in his coachspeak that the certain subtleties of superstars are discussed with the players. In a league where it wakes everything in one’s being to single out the individual, this isn’t nothing.
But how much study actually goes into it?
Not a whole lot if you ask the players.
Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly explained that conversations on specific tendencies of superstars happen between partners and the defense coach, but team-wide breakdowns are usually reserved to lines and systems. He pointed to the partnership between Matthews and William Nylander, and Nylander’s ability to score “just as much” as the reason why the focus can’t be on one individual.
In the opposite room, Jonathan Ericsson echoed these comments but did reveal more, somewhat contentious insight. He admitted that the Red Wings would “never do” film on one specific player. And beyond the highlights he may see, he relies on growing familiarity with the opposition to understand what makes them dangerous.
For this reason, he admitted that he doesn’t have a particularly strong read on Matthews. So should we be surprised that the second-year superstar did this last night?
What should we make of this admittedly insufficient survey on all things sniper study? Are teams leaving stones unturned in their efforts to neutralize the greatest threats to score in a league where it’s already so awfully difficult to score already?
Well on one hand there are no limitations to the inbred unwillingness in hockey to take away from team. But also on the other, between putting a light soak on the equipment and napping at the hotel, there’s only so much time in the day … we guess?
In any case, let’s hope wait-and-see is the strategy for most teams. Because while they strive for familiarity, we can enjoy the show that snipers both unsolved and unsolvable have been able to put on so far this season.
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