Monday, 8 February 2021

Difference In Philosophies

Patrik Laine might have had the best seat in the house for tonight's Columbus Blue Jackets win over the Carolina Hurricanes. The star winger has three goals in four game since he swapped jerseys, but tonight was the first time he was stapled to the bench by head coach John Tortorella for what seems to be a lack of effort and urgency in the defensive zone. While this should come as no surprise as Paul Maurice begged Laine to give the same effort in Winnipeg, Tortorella benching a gifted scorer while tied 2-2 speaks volumes to what he wants out of Laine.

The big question: will he get what he wants?

Look, it's no secret that Laine loves scoring goals. He's made it clear that he wants to score goals as a top-line winger in the NHL, and, based on his stats, he has a case for that philosophy. Laine's shot is seen in very few players, and he's used that to his advantage at every opportunity. This Columbus team certainly could use that infusion of offensive talent, but John Tortorella has made it clear to the other 25 guys skating with the club that no one - not even Laine - will be free from preventing goals at all costs.

Tortorella didn't send Laine back over the boards after the 13:41 mark of the second period which led many to speculate that a missed check on Brock McGinn's goal that tied the game at 2-2 was the reason. Tortorella was quick to point out that wasn't the reason.

"It wasn't because of the missed assignment," he told reporters. "There's a number of things that come into play with that, and that will stay in the locker room."

In looking at the video, I tend to agree.

In the scheme, Laine is checking the right defender based on who he picks up coming back into the zone. The two Columbus defenders who get tangled up lose McGinn on the play, allowing him to score the easy goal. While one could argue that Laine should have picked him up or shown an effort to check McGinn, I see miscommunication and a mistake by the two Columbus defenders as the reason for this goal occurring. As Tortorella said, it wasn't a missed assignment.

In looking at the overall arc of the four games he's played in Columbus, Patrik Laine finds himself under a coach who demands a better defensive effort from him than Paul Maurice did. John Tortorella isn't getting that, so, in the coach's view, it's better to remove the defensive liability who might score you the game-winner than it is to keep him on the ice and risk being scored on. It's a bit of a gamble when you have a sniper like Laine who can score that goal, but Tortorella rolled the dice with his chips on the defence as opposed to the sniper. It paid off with a 3-2 win.

Let's be clear here as well: his record of benching people seems to be indiscriminatory as to who the players is as the likes of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cam Atkinson, Anthony Duclair, Roberto Luongo, Adam McQuaid, Brandon Dubinsky, and others have all spent time in the doghouse at the end of the bench in his time as a head coach. Heck, Dean Kukan, who got the top-pairing role with Werenski out, was also sent to the end of the bench when he struggled last night too. I'm not saying this strategy is sound by any means, but it removes a matchup option that the coach feels isn't working for his squad in the short-term.

It will be, as Tortorella stated, a chance for Laine and Tortorella to "talk about certain things that we're looking for here, and I'll try to make him understand and I've got to listen to him also and get about it here," and that's where a coach should be looking for input and ideas from his star player while emphasizing the structure of his system while reinforcing the key elements to that system's success. Laine is brand-new to Tortorella's defensive scheme, so this might be a good meeting between Laine and Tortorella if it's approached well by both sides.

What Tortorella needs to do is convince Laine that playing to defence leads to more offence just as Barry Trotz did with Alexander Ovechkin in Washington. It's not so much that their philosophies can't merge as much as finding a way to do so. Tortorella wants an airtight defensive zone while Laine wants to light up the scoreboard. There's a happy medium in there somewhere as seen in Washington, but it's up to both the player and coach to find it, embrace it, remind one another of it, and ensure others are onboard with it too.

Being benched for 27 minutes of hockey won't be the end of Patrik Laine, John Tortorella, or the Columbus Blue Jackets. It should prompt questions from all involved, though, and that should lead to a better path forward for everyone. It's up to them to find that happy medium now. It begins as soon as the door to the dressing closes on their 3-2 win tonight.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: