Monday, December 17, 2007

Offense from Defense

After getting a good look at Coach Boudreau's system over the past couple weeks, I can't say for sure what he's done with the offense, except giving them a longer leash to forcheck on. However, one can plainly see that his philosophy concerning defensemen is as different from the previously installed setup as night and day.

Under Glen Hanlon, the defense was set far back, not involved with the offensive rush except in the most obvious of circumstances. The main tenant on defense was to hold good defensive positioning, not extend yourself, and keep the opposition from getting behind you. While players were not routinely beaten by long passes up the middle, this had the effect of always having the defense on its heels, constantly absorbing attacks without countering. And with a set of rookies whose potential was just beginning to show itself, that seemed like the right approach at the time. You can almost hear Hanlon saying it: Sit back, let the game come to you, don't make any big mistakes.

At the time, you wouldn't have wanted the Caps crew of 20 year old defensemen running around like a bunch of mites on ice (not any more than they already were, at any rate). However, with a couple years for the young defensive corps to mature and with the acquisition of solid two way defenseman Tom Poti, newly installed Coach Bruce Boudreau clearly thought that it was time for a change.

The change was first evident in the Caps power play, where offensive wunderkid Mike Green scored twice from within 10 feet of net in the first couple games. How can a defenseman score goals from that close in while still protecting the blue line? He can't, but the risk involved was lessened by the extra attacker for the Caps.

That's all well and good, and pinching the defense on the power play certainly seemed like a good idea. But then it started happening with Green and Tom Poti at even strength. A few games later Shoanne Morrison made several offensive forays that started at his own goal line. And this Saturday, Brian Pothier scored the game winner from about five feet away from the net, taking a Matt Pettinger behind the goal line pass and depositing it in the upper shelf.

So it seems that Coach Boudreau's new attacking system is at least as much about aggressive play from the defensemen as it is about the forwards. With a couple years of development, the Caps blueliners are confident enough to pick their spots to attack, and their coach has presented them the opportunity to do so. In addition to adding to the offense, it keeps the other team focused on defending an extra man, which fundamentally changes their ability to strike back. And while they have been burned by giving up the big play on occasion, the team as a whole seems to function better when their blueliners are pushing forward. It seems like the right fit for this team right now. And it's certainly entertaining to watch.


Shmee said...

Jeff Schultz has certainly gotten the message about adding some O.

usually frustrated caps fan said...

Couldn't agree more - this brand of Hockey is much mire fun to watch. LETS GO CAPS

3 Grumpy Caps fans said...

I'm pretty sure the Schultz thing is an abberation. Three weak tosses in the net that result in goals do not an offensive defenseman make.

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