Saturdays with Sully – Carrying the Play

We play the (B)Lackhawks today, and I’m already angry.  I want to beat this team less for sake of a rivalry that went dormant for 15 years and more for the fact that they wrongfully obtained it.  Without going through us?  Yeah, well enjoy it, you thieving pricks.  Hopefully we see the team come out like they did in St. Louis, but keep carrying the play through the second and third periods.  Oh yes, we win those games when that happens, with the exceptions being that Dallas game and the game we grossly outshot LA. 

There are moments in games that lead us to think, quite rightfully, that we have the greatest team in hockey.  Ever.  That’s when we dominate.  The ice is tilted in our favour, we have momentum and the other teams are never able to assemble any kind of structure or sustain any pressure.  It happens when we possess the puck and do it well.  Turnovers are minimized because teams get burned when they forecheck aggressively against a quick breakout pass and a speedy transition game.

These days are not quite gone, we see shades of their glory, but it’s been a struggle since the 2007-08 season.  Breakout passes aren’t as crisp against an intense forecheck, and backing off when we can’t enter a zone to pass the puck around and try again has changed as well, sometimes frustration leads to charging in without proper support and losing a battle in the half-boards in the offensive zone and the opposing defense can coolly, calmly, get the puck going the other way.

The games in which we carry the play, we see easier entry into the zone and usually faster breakouts, facilitated by shorter passes and players moving well without the puck.  Times when we’re not, I like to keep my eyes on the guys without the puck.  We all hated Todd Bertuzzi his first stint with Detroit, and I recall watching him play without the puck.  Very frustrating.  He wouldn’t move his feet, wouldn’t skate, had no jump, and would track the puck in the corners, chase it and take an offensive zone penalty by holding the guy to get the puck.  Nowdays, he’s doing a wonderful job of spotting up in front of the net and he even uses some speed to get there.  His goal against St. Louis, when he had all f***ing day to shoot, was a perfect example of him being in the right place.

I hope to see this team carry the play more when we get healthy, it’s a lot easier to do when you have had time to rest up, and this recent portion of the schedule of the schedule has been grueling.  It’s also easier to do when you have Pavel Datsyuk on your side, possessing the puck is what he was sent to the human race to do.  He hates to lose it, and he takes it right back when the team loses it.  He can also gain entry better than anyone I see in the NHL.  Dan Cleary is a big help too, especially with the speed and jump he’s shown this season.  He can grind it out with anyone and there aren’t many better along the boards than he is.  An honorary Eurotwin, him.

Carrying the play = wins, is my point.  And don’t get too discouraged if we’re not good at it now, we’re tired and banged up and missing key elements.  But this game today is a good chance to showcase that ability, and it’s always satisfying.

Lastly, here’s what defines “Puck Possession,” for Red Wing fans.