Even if A-Mac wins this puck back...who can he pass to? - Andy Marlin
One of the big problems against the Devils last night was how the Islanders failed to move the puck up the ice. Actually, that was one of the weaknesses of this team last year already of course. Mostly, the blame has been put on the lack of talent and particularly on the struggles of the defenders to make a nice outlet pass. However, in my opinion, their systems are just not very sophisticated and last night's game showed that quite nicely.
The Isles have tried to play a simple game for quite some time and even seemed to really emphasize this even more last night. The coaches and the players indeed have talked all week about how they want to keep it simple and get pucks deep. Here are some images to show what they tried to do - and below is an example of what the LA Kings did against the Devils last June.
1: The Devils get the puck deep, one forward goes chasing, Isles D are back:
2: The Isles easily control the puck, as Hamonic gets to the puck first and moves it behind the goal to A-Mac who has a lot of time on the puck, but really no support at all. So, he fires it up the ice:
3: Here we can see what their plan was for the breakout in this game, what they'd worked out in 6 days of preparation for this particular game and this particular opponent. All three forwards are lined up in the neutral zone, where they try to deflect homerun passes from the D and ideally put it into the corners where the other two forwards can then get in on the forecheck. Here, A-Mac's pass didn't really connect with anyone, though, and could easily be picked up by the Devils' D at the blue line:
4: The Devils didn't do anything with the puck there, either, just threw it back to A-Mac. Initially, the forwards are covered or already again moving up the ice:
5: Hamonic and A-Mac pass D to D twice, the Devils send one forward in and again no support really for the Isles' D:
6: A-Mac eventually again just launches the puck up the ice... (again, not because he's a bad passer or lacking creativity, just because this really is their game plan):
7: ...and the forwards try to deflect it. Again, no one really gets to it or is ready to enter the zone and reach the loose puck:
8: Brodeur can pick it up without any pressure on him:
The Isles' breakout played out like this quite a few times in this game. I chose this shift here with the 4th line out because it illustrates it nicely, but basically, the plan was similar for any line, though it didn't play out just like this all that often for the top lines because Zajac's line e.g. was rarely forced to dump in and that created a different dynamic of the shift etc.
However, here's what the Kings did in similar situations against the Devils last June:
1: The Devils forward at center ice gets the puck deep:
2: And the Devils send one forward in as in the example above against the Isles. Quick goes out to play the puck, moves it to #27 Martinez:
3: And two forwards come back to support. Easy first pass and the opportunity to generate speed through the neutral zone with the puck on the stick of a forward (though that doesn't happen here because Martinez' pass across the ice isn't on Carter's stick and they have to start over again, but anyway):
Here's another example:
1: Devils dump it in.
2: It goes behind the net and you can see the support already, two forwards coming back and the 2nd D is right in the corner (bottom left):
3: They move around the Devils' forechecker easily and move up the ice with 4 guys attacking the Devils' zone at speed:
Sure, one game was the season opener of a rebuilding team after not much time in camp and the other was the final game of the season of the best team in the league. And the Kings really have done that better than any team in recent time in my opinion.
However, it's about the principles here of course. It's a totally different game the Isles are trying to play. It's a much more simple game - and it isn't really working. Sure, the Isles can execute this better than they did here in the first half of the game especially, but still, this is why they've struggled to dominate any significant stretch of the game in almost any game they play. They give up possession way too easily and maybe just use a plan that is not sophisticated enough to suceed in this league (the breakout is just one aspect of the systems of course).
Although the breakout is just a small part of the game of course, looking at this, you also realize it maybe doesn't matter too much if Cizikas plays, or Reasoner or Rolston, or Eaton or Finley. (Well, of course it does matter, but you get the point - dramatic improvement for this team this season will not come from who they play, but how they play.)