The roster for the Minnesota Wild is going to be nearly identical to last season. While we were missing Bouchard, Latendresse, and many others for a significant amount of the season, the Wild were still amazingly inconsistent. If the same players were on the ice in December, that were on the ice in March, where did the inconsistency come from?
Inconsistency starts from the top. It comes from motivation (or lack thereof) which originates at the top. It also comes with having a belief in the ideology of the coach. If the coach is forcing a system upon a roster that isn’t suited for that system, what message does that send?
Here are the systems as far as I can tell, which are used in various forms or effectiveness throughout the league.
There are two primary systems that take on the form of a 1-2-2.
The first is the Neutral Zone Trap. This is primarily effective only when the opponent has the puck and is attempting to break it out of their own zone.
The second is the Wing Lock. Under this flavor of the 1-2-2, the center pushes the puck carrier over to the strong side and whichever weak side wing falls back to stack with the D at the defensive blue line.
Wing Lock systems are the typical 1-2-2 employed with the lead by all teams. When you have the lead, the last thing you want to allow your opponent to do is gain easy entry into the Offensive Zone.
Offensive trap systems are primarily used by less talented teams to capitalize on the turnovers caused by stick sweeps in the trapezoid formation. The NZT can be used both with a lead and without a lead in order to continually shut down entry and capitalize on turn overs. This also works much better with a scoring center, instead of a play-making center.
Called the Torpedo. This system essentially applies light to medium pressure with a two man forecheck, but the primary goal is to push the puck back to the D who then Torpedo pass the puck up to the two forwards. I see Detroit use this system to great effect, but only when Datsyuk and Zetterberg are on the ice together. Otherwise, there are not too many examples of a Torpedo system any more, with maybe the Islanders using it with as much up front speed as that team possesses. To me, this system is a lot like the NZ trap, but inverted. The single D remaining back is required to be a very skilled puck moving defenseman able to connect on nearly all of their passes.
This system is used by a lot of the teams that claim to be going after an up-tempo, aggressive, puck possession system. It sends two forwards in on a heavy and aggressive forecheck designed to separate the opponent from the puck. This is also probably the most common starting system a coach uses in every game. It does, however, require a roster that can skate. A slower than average roster would be better served using a 1-2-2 or the “new” 1-3-1. There are too many variations of the 2-1-2 to list out, but they all essentially do the same thing by sending two forwards deep. The variations also primarily deal with zone entry, which has more to do with counters to system than how to gain the zone. Example; teams that don’t have particularly fleet of skate D are often victimized by the variation of dump and chase. The puck is dumped around the boards away from the faster D and towards the slower D. The faster opposing wing darts in and tries to gain possession of the puck. (Side note; This is why a 2-1-2 system should never have been tried with the Wild Roster. our wingers weren’t fast enough.)
This system intrigues me because it’s primarily designed to counter the dump and chase that puck possession teams use. One of the main points of a dump and chase offensive system is to get the puck in deep behind the D while avoiding icings. (As a side note, I’d be very interested to talk to players which use this system and cause repeated icings. Are they tired?, Etc.)
In this system, the lone forward (who also has to have speed) applies aggressive pressure on the opponent puck carrier. Direction of the breakout by the D is less important than the typical 1-2-2, since the neutral zone is clogged. Since the typical counter to a clogged neutral zone is to pound the puck around the boards to try to get the puck behind the opposing D, this is where we would see the lone D (again, puck mover) drifting back towards the goal line to retrieve the puck.
By now, if you are still reading, the question being asked is “Why all of this talk about systems?”
Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay is a prime example of a coach that doesn’t have a set system. Yes, he employs a 1-3-1 often in games, however, this is not his “system”. An educated observer would note that the Lightning don’t really use a set system. During the first round, Boucher used a combination of systems depending on who Bylsma would send out on the ice. Frequently, the 1-3-1 would be used against Staal’s line because his line would dump and chase. We saw the 1-3-1 used against Washington with great effect, mostly because Bruce Boudreau also adapted his coaching the 10-11 season. The Washington Capitals switched to a defensively responsible, dump and chase style which was countered perfectly by the 1-3-1.
In the Boston series, Guy Boucher shifted systems based on the lines that Claude Julien used. Claude Julien also shifted systems based on the lines that Boucher used. With two coaches which would adapt to what they were facing in the moment, this series came to goaltending and defense. Not a difference in defensive systems, a difference in defensive personnel. This wasn’t a difference in the defense blocking out so that the goalie can see the puck as both teams did it equally well. Tim Thomas was just slightly better than Dwayne Roloson.
How does this all apply to the Wild? It’s pretty simple, really. Todd Richards tried to force his roster into the system *he* wanted the team to play. He didn’t mix it up based on what he was facing.
The Wild are facing a coming season with a roster that will have very little turn over. The team still has a puck possession line, a poke check defense first forward line, and two faster north-south checking lines. It’s a roster that demands a coach that is able to adjust, adapt and most of all, not attempt to force the roster into a *single* system.