January 18, 2011
There's a sickness that courses through the veins of most hockey players, a disease that takes over their body during offensive opportunities.
Coaches call it "getting cute," and its symptoms range from passing up an open shot so you can attempt a pretty backdoor pass, to trying a neutral zone dipsy-doodle over the conservative chip off the boards.
There aren't many players out there that want to do the more boring, practical thing, but eventually, players realize: if your success rate looks something like the New Jersey Devils winning percentage, and it's earning you more time on pine than ice, it might be time to consider being a grinder and doing things the "right" way.
Still, there are some people out there who never have the option taken from them (or they stubbornly refuse to give it up) - call them "danglers," call them "Europeans" call them "Mattias Tedenby." All work.
Yesterday, we saw two examples during the calamity that was the New York Islanders/Devils game that highlighted just how goat-or-hero attempting "cute" plays can be.
In the second period Tedenby drove the puck into the Islanders zone, maintained possession as he worked it behind the net, then moved it up to the point. After the defenseman's weak shot was knocked down in the slot, Tedenby's loop saw him dig out the puck and have solid possession, really, in the exact perfect spot in the world you'd choose to shoot from if you ever found yourself in a "score or get murdered" situation. (Yeah those don't happen much, but you get the point.)
Then, he passed it up.
There, right there, is the moment that coaches develop ulcers, aneurysms, and gray hair. They think young guys do it too much, they think Euros do it too much, and often, they're right on both accounts. It's why mind-blowingly skilled players get benched or can't even crack the lineup. They try to paint a Picasso everytime, when often, a finger painting would do.
But when those players put it together like Tedenby did on this play, man is it pretty.
Islanders goalie du jour Kevin Poulin(notes) sells out on the shot (as he should there) and the young Swede pulls it around Andrew Macdonald(notes) to his back hand, only to absolutely fire it shelf - and that's no easy shot to make.
Just, forehand backhand shelf - he makes a tough move look simple and scores, which means coach doesn't get to yell at him (this time) for passing up the clean look. Enjoy:
On the other hand, when you're struggling as a skill player who has the ability to put up numbers, it's easy to convince yourself to keep trying the fancy stuff. After all, you know that when you're hot, you make plenty of fancy plays work.
As your struggles continue, you don't want to look desperate or selfish, so you end up doing what Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) did yesterday: he tried to get cute and dish, when he could've coasted to the spot Tendenby passed up on and bomb one.
He came down the wing on a 2-on-1 versus an AHL goalie, a 20-year old playing in his fifth NHL game. Kovalchuk looked pass, he looked shot, but his mind was clearly made-up, and he was unable to audible. The defenseman drifted ridiculously far from the Kovalchuk and played the pass, leaving Poulin to fend for himself against a guy who has one of the top five shots in the world. He looked at the net, and just when you thought the trigger was going to be pulled ... he passed it to the Isles defenseman.
The attempted pass was an ugly mistake (and I mean really gross to watch, just awful stuff) that highlighted the guy's lack of confidence. Getting cute just doesn't work when you're down in the dumps.
For the rest of us that play on a social level, we can let the sickness run rampant through our bodies. We're playing for fun, and you know what's not fun? Shooting for rebounds and driving the net.
For me, it's no good if there's no tic and tac before the toe. It drives coaches nuts that a lot of professional feel the same way.