Good zone entries lead to one-legged fist pumps. - Bruce Bennett
For the love of hockey, it's time for some shop talk, and Doug Weight's discussion of the powerplay provides the muse.
For the famished fans, the New York Islanders have posted the full hour-long "On the Spot" chat between radio play-by-play man Chris King and Doug Weight, the team's assistant coach and special assistant to general manager Garth Snow.
(The full hour is here and also embedded below. You can also find it broken up into five parts at that link.)
Weight is noted with the gift of gab -- one of the reasons he's good in this "face to the fans" communications role -- and he and King cover the gamut of accessible topics in this godforsaken lockout. (Prospects talk galore, Brooklyn too.)
Of particular interest to me is discussion of the powerplay, since it reminds me of the many in-game and post-game discussions commenters used to have at this site on a daily basis back when the NHL was an operating sports league that held the occasional hockey game.
Specifically, a long running topic has been the rotating role at the point opposite captain Mark Streit. Over the past several seasons, the Islanders have tried all kinds of players in that role -- including Weight himself -- to mixed results. Last year under Weight, the Isles PP finished in the top third with a 18.5% conversion rate, and their shots-per-60 at 5-on-4 were in the top half.
The use of a forward at the point often makes traditionalists nervous: There's a risk/reward there, in that you have a guy with hands to help "quarterback" things, but if he gets too cute and plays too much like a forward, at the point he doesn't have the normal safety valve a forward has when he's playing up front. It also often means you don't have the booming slapshot threat we traditionally expect to see from the blueline.
Last season I enjoyed seeing Frans Nielsen at the point because
Frans is all powerful he offered flexibility to the powerplay's look, in that he could drop down to form an umbrella with Streit at the top, or he could man a more traditional point and swap sides with Streit as opposing penalty kills dictated.
But as Weight (who coaches the Isles powerplay) notes in the above interview, there's another huge reason Weight used him there, and it has to do with something else that's often brought up in powerplay discussions here: Gaining the #$%ing zone. The zone, your powerplay can't succeed without it.
King relayed a question from Matthew Camara (apologies if the spelling is off there, it was spoken only) about the personnel at the points on the powerplay (e.g. Frans Nielsen again, or Lubomir Visnovsky and Mark Streit together?). Weight's answer (it begins at about 43:15 in the full-hour clip) is illustrative [editorial notes, ahem, are mine]:
"First and foremost, Fransie is one of the most versatile players you'll find in this league [ed. note: Amen.], and one of the most positive players. So there's nothing I can't ask, and he'll say, 'Okay Dougie' and he'll go and do a great job. [ed. note: Praise be Frans.]
"One thing he does, that he did for our powerplay last year, he had a lot of responsibility on the powerplay carrying the puck in … certain things I stress on my routes, that are my pet peeves [with players who don't do them] ... and everything I tell him, the next shift it's done. He's great at executing the way my mind sees it. [ed. note: in accordance with the prophecies]
"Getting the puck in the zone -- control on a consistent basis -- to me is what changed our powerplay. We've always had great personnel two units … but percentages in life come from how many more shots you can get, how many more entries you can get and control … Frans was a big part of that success last year."
Weight goes on to say he's inclined to first try Streit and Visnovsky together at the points, but clearly a priority is going to be whether the unit's makeup can gain the zone on a consistent basis. (As an aside, P.A. Parenteau was also good at this aspect and will be missed, particularly 5-on-5, though as John Tavares has evolved we can expect he'll have more zone entries for his line.)
Overall, whatever you think of Weight's personnel choices with the extra man, it's reassuring to see the long-view perspective from him on what works: Powerplays can run "hot" and "cold" or whatever you like to call variance, but the underlying truth in the long run is that successfully possessed zone entries (i.e. "control" he references above) lead to more shots, and more shots lead to more goals.
This isn't new thinking, of course, but it is key to keep in mind when kvetching over personnel: A bigger shot from the point doesn't help if it means fewer times gaining the zone with enough control to make a shot from the point an actual option.
Wow, it's fun to talk hockey every now and then.
Full Hour 'On the Spot' with Doug Weight