On Wednesday night, Dec 22nd, in Darryl Sutter’s head coaching debut with the Kings, the team was victorious, as they beat the Ducks 3-2 in a shootout. The irony is of course, that Sutter repeatedly has said that the NHL is a “3-2 league” (as in the final score).
Defense is important, and teams with poor defense rarely win championships in any sport, but let’s examine this more closely.
If one takes Sutter’s “3-2” mantra literally, that would mean that no matter the makeup of your roster, three goals is all that can be realistically expected of a “defensively responsible team”.
To believe that, would mean that San Jose, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, and Washington, are all either anomalies, or defensively irresponsible.
Is it really a “3-2 league”, if you are in Chicago, and your roster includes Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa ? Of course not, but if you are in Calgary, with a roster featuring Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and a bunch of grinders, you’ll take 3-2 all day long.
I have always believed that a good coach should play toward the strengths of his players, as opposed to imposing his philisophical beliefs on a group which was meant to play a different style.
Play a wide open game if you have the horses. If you have a hardhat, blue collar, lunchpail crew, then go ahead and play “muck and grind”.
Play toward your strengths, force the other team into playing a style which tips the scales in your favor.
Those are my beliefs, not necessarily Darryl Sutter’s beliefs.
Simply put, there is little hope of Sutter opening up the Kings’ offense. I even posed that question to him at the news conference on Tuesday, he was steadfast, that it is a “3-2 league”, no matter the roster.
History shows that Sutter walks the talk –
Between coaching the Blackhawks, Sharks, and Flames, Sutter-led squads made the playoffs in 10 of 11 seasons.
In 5 of those 10 playoff seasons, his teams scored the fewest goals of all the Conference playoff teams, capped off by the 2005-06 season, when the Calgary Flames scored a whopping 38 fewer goals on the season than the next lowest scoring playoff team – That was his last season behind the bench, until now.
Other than that, his teams ranked seventh amongst playoff teams in goal scoring twice, and sixth once.
When he did have high scoring teams (4th most goals amongst Conference playoff qualifiers with Chicago in 1994-95, 3rd most with San Jose in 2001-02), those turned out to be his last full seasons behind the bench with those respective teams.
Based on his past record, and recently spoken words, don’t expect the Kings’ offense to start playing wide open any time soon. Despite the presence of Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, it just ain’t gonna happen.
The Kings more than likely will make the playoffs, but you needn’t look forward to any high-scoring tilts with Chicago, San Jose, or Vancouver.
The inherent problem with defensive minded hockey teams, is that once they are down by two goals, the game is essentially over. Not to mention, the goaltender is in the pressure cooker every single game, no matter the opponent.
Sutter may surprise us all, and start opening things up, but I have never known a leopard to change it’s spots.
Click here for video of Sutter’s first ever postgame press conference as coach of the L.A. Kings.