Saturday, February 04, 2006

JJ and our Philosophy as a Whole

This deserves it's own post, because the anonymous commenter brought up a couple things I want to address.

It isn't just Jack. It isn't just Jack and Hunwick. I understand that team defense is more than just one player, and without watching the tape and knowing Michigan's strategy, it's hard to say if a defenseman made a bad pinch or if the forward was supposed to come back and didn't. I single out that duo more than I probably should because we saw how incredible they can be at the start of the year. Maybe it increased our expectations too much.

The commenter said that he feels Jack could carry this team if Red would let him. I don't necessarily doubt that. I said earlier in the year, I think that Jack would be our second best forward. He got that much offensive talent. But here's the thing: If they were to want Jack to carry them, then they have to make adjustments. I have no problem with them giving Jack the green light to go whenever he wants (I thought putting him out at forward against Michigan State was a great move, not that it lasted for more than 5 seconds, because officials seem to freak out when he hits anyone), but--and it's a big but--they need to adjust. Because there's too many occasions where Jack or Hunwick pinch and we end up seeing an odd man rush going the other way. So either they're going at bad times or too often, or the forwards aren't being defensively aware enough to get back and play some D. I suspect it's some of both. Last night--according to the captain--it was the latter:

"We can't play shootout games anymore. We were rushing up the ice when Kaleniecki had a blocked shot and we had all five guys underneath the hash marks. Then they got a breakaway and took the puck the other way. I thought our defense played pretty decently tonight, but the forwards weren't helping them out on the backcheck. The offense wasn't coming back, but the defense did a great job coming back up the ice."

The other point I'd like to make about Johnson having the ability to "carry" the team is this: Our offense has gone through some slumps this year, no doubt. But I'd also say that this team has a ton of offensive talent and with our goaltending alternating between shaky and piss-poor, at this point I'd rather see our defensemen pinching less, and the team as a whole making more of a commitment to defense. They're not going anywhere in the tournament if they keep giving up 4-5 goals a game, no matter how good the offense can be.

Johnson plays with passion and he plays until the final horn. I love players like that. It's what I loved about Jed Ortmeyer. God only knows we could use a lot more players with the heart those two play with.

I think it's unfair to put all the blame on the goalie(s) just as it's probably unfair to single out Jack and Hunwick all the time like a lot of fans (myself included) tend to do. There have been wayyyy too many goals that you could say "Sauer/Ruden would like to have that one back" about (The first, fifth, and sixth goals last night jump right to mind), but at the same time, there's plenty of them that our defense (that includes the forwards) needs to do a better job of helping out. The sheer number of breakaways and odd-man rushes we've given up point to some breakdown in our system.

I'm really frustrated right now. I'm not used to seeing Michigan lose this many games. I'm not used to seeing the Wolverines lose this many games at Yost. Something needs to change, because our defensive coverage hasn't been up to par. And I can't believe a coach as good as Red has let it go on this long uncorrected.


Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with a lot of your reply. Certainly I am not trying to "blame" anyone. It just get's frustrating when I see things happen, turnovers as such, that lead one to believe because the d man is chasing, it was his fault. Case in point, Saturday, M just finished killing a penalty and Fardig had th puck just outside the UM zone, Johnson and Dest raced to change, Fardig turned it over, Johnson saw it last second and tried to get back--goal OSU. Now, the people around me, section 5, were all moaning about Jack being caught. No way, it was a bad turnover by a forward and all anyone sees is JJ chasing the OSU player so it must be his mistake. I have been watching this kid since he was in Minnesota and he is just as good defensively as offensively-believe me. In the system UM is playing the d man is supposed to pinch and the off side wing picks up if it doesn't work. I agree with you that Red could alter things and let this kid go-he has won at every lvel when they let him go. It is easier to tame a tiger than paint stripes on one. Maybe others should be expected to lift their level rather than hold him back. Put a conservative dman with him, just don't put someone there that JJ has to worry about. In old time hockey if the d jumped up, last forward in covered. You bring up great points, thank you. I travel a lot and have seen this kid for years. UM is REALLY lucky to have him, Minnesota is STILL mad. Enjoy him while you have him, there might be quite a drought before anyone sees another like him.

Packer487 said...

We did do a pretty good job of keeping the shots to the perimeter Saturday night. Really not sure about your question about where the center is supposed to be. I'm gonna start playing hockey in March, so maybe I'll start learning a little bit more about positioning and such :-)

Yeah that first one wasn't Jack's fault. It's easy to pick out the wrong guy sometimes. I used to harp on Rogers all the time a few years back, but as it turned out, in most cases it was Richmon' that was at fault (go figure). It's just like in football...corner lets the WR go because he thinks he has deep help, the safety doesn't get over, and the corner looks really bad.

I don't doubt Jack's defensive ability for a second. I saw him a ton last year with USA, and he was brilliant. I'm just wondering if it wouldn't be for the betterment of the team to have him concentrate a little more on the defensive side, as our goaltending play in recent weeks has been horrible, and obviously something is breaking down--be it the defensemen, forwards, or both not picking up their assignments. It's pretty rare that our offense doesn't score enough goals to realistically expect to win (3+)...the problem in most of these games has been keeping the puck out of our net.

And you are completely right...we need to enjoy him while he's here, because it could be a long time before we see another one like him.