The Ducks pasted the OIlers last night on the strength of a strong 3rd Period. The win came just hours after Coach Randy Carlyle called out his team, yet again, for not attacking what the coach calls "the house" (the prime offensive real estate in front of the opposing net) against Calgary. The coach has spelled this problem out more than a few times for the press (which means he's probably shouted it to the players a few thousand times), and yet those poor efforts continue to infect the Ducks' schedule, always followed by the same observant excuses: 'we let ourselves get boxed out,' 'we circled out of the tough areas too quickly,' 'we weren't willing to pay the price.' But despite repeatedly identifying the problem, nothing seems to change, not for long anyways.
Daniel, is this problem the symptom of a lack of effort, or is this team, as currently constructed, completely incapable of playing Randy Carlyle's system?
If you eliminate a second line of Jason Blake, Saku Koivu, and Teemu Selanne, then the Ducks only have two forwards who aren't at least 6' and about 200 pounds. Those two forwards are Mike Brown and Todd Marchant. Essentially, every single one of the Ducks lines should have at least a player who is capable of going to the front of the net and taking a little punishment to screen a goalie, or who can spend some time behind the boards battling a defenseman for the puck. That's an observation made on size alone.
We all know that Carlyle likes to keep the puck along the boards on offense and work a hard cycle game, exhaust the defense and then attack the net hard for a scoring opportunity or to force the D to collapse creating space for the other guys on the line. When that's not available, he likes to go to the point, screen the goalie and create hell down low. Although, I think the latter is more a hockey 101 than Carlyle's system. Still, the Ducks are having problems performing these most basic of tasks. I've always liked Carlyle's system, mostly because I'm not a great hockey mind, and it strikes me as simple. Moreover, I was under the impression that it was, to an extent, idiot proof. I think, if you just have heart and a little bit of size (although Marchant and Brown make me doubt the second part is necessary at times), then you could find a way to contribute and make the system successful.
I haven't done a lot of it here, but on The OC Register boards I've been a staunch defender of Carlyle and have pretty much committed myself to the idea that Bob Murray made mistakes in his player acquisitions and free agent decisions. I'll stick to that here and say that for some reason, passing comprehension, this team can't operate Carlyle's system on a consistent basis. This can be argued from two perspectives: that the coach should motivate, or that the GM should know the caliber player he is bringing in. I think that Murray has failed in the latter. I like Todd Marchant, but if I have to choose between him and Rob Niedermayer, I'm taking Rob's size and skill over just Marchant's skill. Murray should have held onto his veteran assets this summer, particularly Rob and Francois Beauchemin. Those were guys who knew this system and knew how to be effective in it, which is exactly what you need when you're trying to get young guys to crack the lineup. I think Murray has done a poor job evaluating the character of his Bottom 6 replacements in the forward corps and that has led to an ineffectiveness in depth scoring and energy on this club.
Well, first I should say that attacking the house isn't just about size. In fact, your primary goal is to make sure that your shot comes from the middle of the ice. Small, fast players can accomplish that on the rush by using their speed to back up the defense, and they can accomplish it in a set play by taking the hit to make the pass or shot. Big guys are nice for the screen and rebound, but Dan Sexton and Steve Eminger have done pretty well with loose change around the net, and setting up the screen, even the high and low tip, is useless if you take the shot from a shallow angle. Anything short of a timid perimeter player can play this system.
I'm going to say that the problem here is a lack of effort, a lack of the conscious commitment to NOT be perimeter players. Anaheim is in the bottom 15 in Shots For this year, a stat they've been pretty good about since The Lockout, with the exception of the 2007-08 season. And if you look at that year's squad, it's easy to blame Bertuzzi for the low shot totals, but that would totally ignore the 'desperate' team that repeatedly passed the puck through the Dallas crease in the playoffs. This team, though theoretically smaller and faster, is just as willing to take what the defense gives them as that one was. And the defenses are giving it to them all right, so much so that they may need to put handles on their skates.
Carlyle needs this team to show up and to apply his system when they do. Trying to get them to do just one of those things has been like pulling teeth; they may actually be incapable of doing both consistently.