NHL Playoffs 2011: How a Coach Can Win a Series with the Right Moves
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Playoff hockey is all about determination, grit and intensity.
16 teams are fighting for their lives in a race for hockey's highest honor.
Players are battling harder than they have all year, digging in the corners and fighting in front of the net. Scraps and fights are born out of sheer passion and desire to win.
Often overlooked amongst the madness is the role of the head coach in playoff action.
A coach can have a huge effect on a team, positive or negative. There are numerous things he can do to tip the odds in favor of his team.
Here are five ways a coach can win a playoff series with the right moves.
Take Full Advantage of the Media
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Playing with the media is an old trick that coaches use quite regularly.
The media can be a blessing or a burden, but in order for it to be a blessing, a coach must watch his words.
He can call out a player to motivate him or compliment his squad to give them a confidence boost. However, he should ensure he doesn't say anything about the opposition that will further enhance their desire to win.
For example: earlier this season, Ryan Miller commented on how he enjoyed beating the Toronto Maple Leafs. This motivated Toronto to beat the Sabres on the next three occasions.
While Miller isn't a coach, you get the idea. Why give the enemy anything to work with?
Utilize Role Players in Perfect Situations
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While it's the big-name players that usually get the spotlight around playoff time, the third and fourth-liners have a major role to play in a team's success.
Whether your team is down and needs motivation, a player needs to fight, a penalty needs to be killed or the club simply needs a boost of energy, role players can contribute in a major way.
They are the glue holding teams together and the ones keeping star players from getting too roughed up.
You can't win a Stanley Cup without solid role-players. Coaches have to know how to correctly use theirs and know which situations they will thrive in.
Build Strategies Around Crashing and Crowding the Net
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With the recent surge of strong goaltending around the NHL, many coaches are left wondering how on earth their teams are going to score goals.
The answer is simple: crowd the goalcrease.
Banging and pushing around the net is the easiest way to put the puck in the net on a hot goaltender and hopefully knock him off his streak. If the goalie can't see the puck, it's pretty tough for them to stop it.
Players like Johan Franzen should be receiving loads of playing time this postseason, assuming the current goaltending trend continues.
Veterans of war in the blue paint know how to score the dirty goals, and when goalies are doing well, the dirty goals are the only ones teams are able to come by.
Matchups, Matchups, Matchups
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Matchups are a key part of today's NHL. Many coaches like to ensure that their opponents' top players face off against their own players of choice.
The play-style of those players of choice usually differ from coach to coach.
Some like to play their first line against the other team's first line, while others prefer to ice their strongest checking line against their opposition's best.
The player depicted to the left is an example of a player who must be matched up against correctly. Pavel Datsyuk recently showed off his talent with a jaw-dropping, between-the-legs move that only further proved how coaches must be aware of who the opposition is icing at all times.
For example, as a coach, it would be a bad decision to send out your fourth line while your opponent has sent out their top line.
If it seems like I'm describing a very basic concept, it's because I am. Matching up your players against the other team's is a simple trick, but some coaches fail to execute it correctly.
Don't Let Their Team Lose Sight of the Big Picture
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It's all about the Stanley Cup.
It is the coach's responsibility to ensure that his team does not forget that.
Teams will get down on themselves in certain situations. Whether they lost on home ice, saw a player go down to injury or endured an embarrassing shut-out, there are times when a team needs to be reminded of what it's playing for.
Those are the times where a coach needs to step in and keep his team on track. How each coach does that differs with their coaching styles and personalities, but nonetheless—it is often a necessary step in a lengthy playoff run.
A reminder of the light at the end of the tunnel—the playoffs—can be enough to fuel a club to win key games or make up for key losses.
Road blocks will be hit every so often, but in the big picture, they don't matter much.
However, the Stanley Cup matters, and a coach can't forget that.