Islanders tours through the Southeast Division have been fun in the Scott Gordon years, displaying the work of a lot of newer coaches who offer more progressive, exciting approaches to gameplay. With Tampa Bay adding an actual coach over the summer in Guy Boucher, they join the party.
New York Islanders (3-1-2, 1st/Atl) @ Tampa Bay Lightning (4-1, 1st/SE)
7:30 EDT | [A newspaper, believe it or not] Forum | MSG+2 (twice the plus!), WRHU 88.7
Static cling and ring around the collar too: Raw Charge
I'm looking forward to seeing how Scott Gordon handles Boucher's much-buzzed-about (more on that below) 1-3-1 approach. It doesn't have to be a factor tonight, but it could be. And it's not likely this fixture will represent a battle of first-place holders again anytime soon.
But first, a clarification that bears repeating: When Scott Gordon arrived in late summer 2008, he mentioned the term "overspeed" and media ran with it, looking to uncover what this magic was. The result was a lot of misunderstanding.
Gordon soon tried to divert Islanders followers from paying that word too much mind and -- when pressed -- explained "overspeed" was about an approach in practice, not in games. Getting players to practice at a faster tempo than their normal comfort level, so that they bring the practice of quicker decision-making to games. Sort of like those donut weights batters use to weigh down their bat speed during practice swings, with the hope that it will speed their bat up in the real at-bat seconds later. In other words, make a habit of moving your feet in practice, feel the benefits during games.
So "overspeed" took on a life of its own, but technically it shouldn't be the term people use for Gordon's forecheck or general in-game approach. To me, he's just one of several newer coaches instilling a more aggressive approach to take advantage of the fact the post-lockout NHL is not as friendly to teams who sit on one-goal leads.
Now comes Boucher on the scene, and much has been made of his 1-3-1 system. It doesn't always happen to the degree it has with Boucher (I'm sure a big part is that he came from Hamilton), but this buzz so often happens with a new young coach. People act like the man is revolutionizing the game. He has a sports psychology degree. (Large chorus of impressed gasps.) It becomes a brief fad, then things settle down, people chill out, and everyone realizes it's still hockey.
Boucher's own GM Steve Yzerman may have said it best in that article;
"Hockey is a flowing game. You have systems, but they are loosely defined."
Exactly. "Systems" are more like half-philosophy (for example, coaches like Gordon and Boucher want their defensemen to feel comfortable joining the rush) and half a default "When all conditions are equal, do this" setting. Systems are a basic "reboot" manual for each player to return to after things get a little chaotic, which is inevitable at various points in every hockey game. Systems are rarely the dominant factor in overall success, because everything still depends on the talent you have and the individual decisions that are made with and by that talent. That's one of the things that makes hockey so fun to watch: It's variables are wilder and less predictable (on aggregate) than baseball's circumscribed one-on-one battles.
Any talented player would say that the freedom to make mistakes is empowering and helps unleash his skill. "Systems" that enable this accept some risk for the purpose of reaping that reward.
The more negative "systems" (e.g. mid- to late-'90s New Jersey and Florida) are probably the most noticeable in impact, mostly because they are all about limiting options rather than expanding them. Negative systems are about preventing mistakes and keeping as much as possible within the coach's control. Creatively talented players are reined in. Progressive systems (as I choose to call them) are more about expanding options and enabling the talent you have to do its thing, even at the risk of mistakes. It takes some serious guts to be a coach with a progressive system, but it sure can be fun for fans.
(I'm not sure John Anderson could have done any better with the cards he was dealt in Atlanta, but I was sorry to see him not get the chance. Isles-Thrashers games were entertaining under his watch. Rick Dudley became GM and surely wanted his guy Craig Ramsey anyway, but I feel bad for Anderson never having the tools at the NHL level to truly test-drive his approach -- in contrast, Gordon is finally getting some NHL-quality tools to play with. Maybe there were player-coach issues there, but when you've worked long enough and in enough settings you realize this: No matter what, even if a boss is Gandhi himself, there are always at least a few people eager to piss and moan about him.)
(Whew!) All of which was a long way of saying Gordon v. Boucher should be fun, but let's not forget there are about 36 other factors more important than either coach.
Lightning: As Interesting after 5 Games as the Isles
The Lightning are off to a 4-1 start, are putting up 36.2 shots per game, and perhaps more impressively, are doing that while staying in the top 10 in shots allowed, with just 28 allowed per game. Boucher has more talent at his disposal than Gordon did when he arrived (and than Gordon has healthy now, frankly), but teams will eventually adjust to Boucher's approach the way Atlantic teams adjusted to Gordon's forecheck. Still, so far so good for Boucher's Lightning.
Except in goal.
In goal is where Mike Smith's uncertainty meets Dan Ellis' money problems. At our SBN peer site Raw Charge, they've got two recent posts and one recent FanPost fretting about the goaltending situation. An "enigma," John Fontana calls it. Meanwhile, Dani Toth defends the tandem system (no qualms there) because that's what the Lightning are facing.
On special teams, they have 8 PPG already for a 30% success rate at the moment, while their PK is working at a 90% clip on 22 "opportunities" so far. In other words, Smith and Ellis' sub-.880 save percentages aren't due to shorthanded situations. (However, in so few games, we can't say they're due to anything for certain.)
Josh Bailey sure sounds like he wants to play tonight, explaining to Newsday that his injury was not a hip flexor but rather a hip pointer that he's suffered before.
No real clue on the goaltending rotation for the Isles, other than "they're both going to play" said Gordon, reported by Botta. A start for Dwayne Roloson would be his third in a row; a start for Rick DiPietro would be against a team putting up nearly 40 shots per game. Gordon is quoted at the official site describing the luxury of two good goalies for whom he needs to find ice time.
Sean Bergenheim has a goal and an assist so far, and is getting about 12-13 minutes of TOI per game.
People have really started taking to posting links (and related thoughts) in FanShots at Lighthouse Hockey, so I hope you're checking those out.