Hockey is a fast sport. You have heard this, right? You believe it? It’s an incomplete statement. Hockey is a fast transitional sport. The game transitions quickly from offense to defense and back, from pass to shot, from shot to save and from save to breakout. Hockey doesn’t have a pause or reset button while the game is in play. It’s constantly in motion. Even player substitutions happen on the fly absent a whistle.
For rookies and younger players, the transitions are where the “thinking” takes place. “Who do I…”, “what do I…”, “where do I…” is the hamster that turns the wheel in their heads and can cause them to be a half of one second late to the puck, ahead or behind the play or, for the young defenseman, to the man or place on the ice they are supposed to defend as the forward blows right by.
Young players make up for the delay caused by this “thought process” by playing a conservative game, not jumping into the offensive zone or creating a bigger gap than they should on defense to give themselves the ever important cushion if something goes wrong. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, it makes the problem worse. In the playoffs, all of this is magnified.
Surly commented that he has not been happy with Dwight King’s play, that King needs to get off the second line and Nolan needs to replace him there. Surly is right. He is also wrong. King is in his first NHL playoffs. He is young, he is raw and I can see him thinking out there.
“See him thinking?” Yes.
His skating stride, puck pursuit on offense and gap control on defense show me that he is afraid to make a mistake, he isn’t being what Darryl Sutter has called out as necessary to victory – “aggressive” – to the puck and with it. Last night, as Jeff Carter picked up his game and seems to have healed enough from his deep bone bruise to coil, push, dig on the inside edge of his skates and generate power through his stride, Dwight King was more exposed. He was behind the play. He waited too long to get open. He was the weak link on that line and he caused several potential quality scoring opportunities to not develop. So, should he be taken off that line? I think so. Should Jordan Nolan substitute for King? No.
Nolan is currently in a fourth line role, an energy role and not really expected to do as much as King on the second line. Unless Surly sees something in Nolan that I yet don’t, a hockey sense and mature game beyond his years, I don’t see how replacing one rookie for another fixes this. Don’t get me wrong. I like Nolan, a lot. I will never forget being at the rookie camp two seasons ago, watching him play and Surly & I exchanging a “wow, this kid has serious potential” which was met with a “he will never make it” from a certain other blogger who will remain unmentioned.
My solution? Either don’t change a thing and keep Dwight King where he is to see if he can pick up his game (and confidence in himself to get more aggressive) or switch him out for Brad Richardson, a veteran who doesn’t bring the size but who also doesn’t get caught thinking too much out there.