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Penguins

With second season approaching, teams are forced to change

| Sunday, March 11, 2001

This is the time of year when it all changes.

Bench coaching becomes more important. Advanced scouting and preparation for the playoffs become paramount. Practices become shorter and more intense, and team meetings are more refined.

Let's take those one-by-one:

  • Bench coaching - Now, more than ever, matchups are critical. You try to keep your star players away from other teams' checkers but not to the point where you sacrifice your star players' ice time.

    Sometimes you shorten your stars' shifts, so the other coach doesn't know what to expect, or you double-shift your stars. You change them on the fly. It's important to have puck possession if you want to utilize this strategy, so you have to win faceoffs.

    Another part of bench coaching is making sure the right defensemen are on the ice against the opposition's stars. In the 1992 Stanley Cup final, when I was an assistant coach with the Penguins, we always tried to have Ulf Samuelsson and Paul Stanton on the ice against Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick and Michel Goulet. We'd change on the fly quite often.

  • Advanced scouting and preparation - The modern age is upon the NHL, and while scouts used to file reports on legal-sized paper and send via fax machines, they now send their reports on computers, complete with elaborate graphs and flow charts.

    The Washington Capitals use a laptop video screen on the bench. The assistant coaches can illustrate mistakes or reinforce positive plays during the game by using video.

    Scouts, meanwhile, are the lifeblood of an organization at this time of year. A great scout is worth his weight in playoff gates by filing comprehensive reports to coaching staffs, who can relay them to players.

    Some examples of what scouts look for: neutral-zone puck pursuit and defensive-zone faceoff alignments (does the opponent use a board-side defenseman to hold up a pursuing forward in its own zone?)

    Scouts watch for individual tendencies, such as, which players are prone to hit late• Who's prone to retaliate• How does the goaltender handle traffic• Which defensemen like to move the puck up the middle, rather than along the boards•

    Example: When Slava Fetisov played for New Jersey, we told our Penguins players to keep their sticks to the inside part of the ice when forechecking him, because he liked to move it through the middle. That was one of his major character traits. We picked off a lot of his passes, because we were prepared.

    The Boston Bruins used to play an aggressive, man-to-man defense in the old Boston Garden. We would try to cycle the puck in the corners with two forwards and post our third forward high, on top of the circles. We did that because we felt we had enough good one-on-one players who could beat the coverage, and we stretched out their defense. We exploited the man-to-man and got lots of good chances down low.

    Also, we never wanted Adam Oates to penetrate our blue line with the puck on his stick. We tried to force him to distribute the puck to his wingers before he gained the blue line. Oates' linemate, Cam Neely, was a lethal player, but he was more lethal coming over the blue line without the puck than with it. We tried to force Oates to move the puck to Neely, who then had no choice but to carry it.

  • Practices - They should last about a half-hour - no longer than 45 minutes - and should involve good pace and strategic teaching based on opponents' tendencies. Adjusting special teams to opponents, for example, or in-zone coverage and transition defense. Also things like set faceoff plays. That's precisely what Bob Johnson and Scotty Bowman used to do with the Penguins.

  • Team meetings become more refined. Instead of having 15-minute meetings that become redundant by the end of the year, pregame meetings should revolve around simple, immediate goals. Players need to comprehend and retain the game plan.

    For example, if you're playing the St. Louis Blues, you know the Blues don't like to shoot the puck in, because they're not a good retrieval team. So, in your team meeting, you stress to your players the importance of standing up in the neutral zone, forcing the Blues to shoot it in and then counterattacking.

    Each opponent has tendencies. Getting your team to understand those tendencies enhances your chances to win.

    And winning is about more than on-ice talent. It has a lot to do with preparation, professionalism and people believing in one another. The most talented team doesn't always win. Ask the Colorado Avalanche.

    Rumor mill

    There will be a multitude of deals before 3 p.m. Tuesday, when the NHL's trade deadline hits. Don't be surprised if ... the Toronto Maple leafs stand pat, ... the Nashville Predators trade Bill Houlder but keep Mike Dunham, ... the New York Islanders acquire Keith Tkachuk, ... The Buffalo Sabres trade Michael Peca to Calgary for either Jarome Iginla or a package of Cory Stillman and Valeri Bure, ... Phil Housley ends up with Ottawa, ... Tommy Albelin ends up with Detroit or New Jersey, ... Mike Sillinger goes to Ottawa or Boston, ... Mike Vernon goes to the St. Louis Blues, ... Eric Lindros says he wouldn't mind playing out west (Detroit, St. Louis or Dallas?), ... the Penguins stick with their current goaltending situation.


    PIERRE'S POWER RATINGS

    1. Colorado Avalanche- Forsberg-Drury-Nieminen trio is lighting up the league.

    2. Detroit Red Wings- Versatile Lidstrom frontrunner for the Norris Trophy.

    3. New Jersey Devils- Addition of O'Donnell strengthens an already-strong position.

    4. Washington Capitals- Kolzig shines in goal, Halpern has a knack around net.

    5. Ottawa Senators- Chemistry between Yashin-McEachern-Alfredsson sparks club.

    6. Buffalo Sabres- Looks like Zhitnik is back in form. Dumont's hot again.

    7. Edmonton Oilers- Marchant's two-way play points Oilers in right direction.

    8. Philadelphia Flyers- Primeau finally arrives as a consistent offensive force.

    9. Dallas Stars- Nieuwendyk injury hurts, but Modano's effort has been incredible.

    10. Phoenix Coyotes- Trade rumors aside, Coyotes look committed under Roenick's leadership.

    11. Vancouver Canucks- Morrison lighting it up; team needs another defenseman to help penalty kill.

    12. Toronto Maple Leafs- Inconsistent effort, but plenty of weapons. Will Lindros arrive•

    13. St. Louis Blues- Going through tough time because of injuries to key players.

    14. Los Angeles Kings- Robitaille and Palffy have asserted themselves in playoff push.

    15. Pittsburgh Penguins - Lemieux beginning to look like old self. He's the best in the world.

    16. Carolina Hurricanes- Brind'Amour has saved his best hockey for playoff push.

    17. Boston Bruins- Goaltending not up to par; need Dafoe back in a hurry.

    18. Montreal Canadiens- Playoffs out of question, but team is showing heart.

    19. San Jose Sharks- Once Selanne's in fold, power play should improve big-time.

    20. Chicago Blackhawks- Did you know that Thibault has six shutouts this season•

    21. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim- Ducks, Kariya should soar for a time with addition of Friesen.

    22. Columbus Blue Jackets- Hard-working club could be a spoiler down the stretch.

    23. Minnesota Wild- Trades aren't finished here. First-year results better than expected.

    24. Calgary Flames- Trade rumors rampant. Will Housley and Iginla stay or go•

    25. Nashville Predators- Injuries, lack of firepower push Preds out of playoff picture.

    26. Tampa Bay Lightning- Last-minute win over Hurricanes might show they're learning to compete.

    27. Atlanta Thrashers- Must fix goaltending if they are to take a step forward.

    28. Florida Panthers- Chaos reigns. Nothing will get solved until the team is sold.

    29. New York Islanders- Jonsson is an unhappy camper in wake of Goring's dismissal.

    30. New York Rangers- Sather has seen enough. Time to blow it up and start over.

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