Commentators love to talk about players buying into a team system. This is especially true in hockey, where an individual player may lift the overall quality of a team but won’t single-handedly win games night after night. Having players that can be coached and instructed, and are willing to work, makes a team stronger and more resilient. Lose Zach Parise to free agency and David Clarkson steps up with Patrik Elias feeding him pucks. Roster eight defenseman and you have a chance to bring them all along. Re-acquire Alexei Ponikarovsky and he looks like he never left.
Adam Larsson’s play on the game-winning goal in the Devils-Flyers game on February 15 exemplified every one of those tenets of system play. After being scratched for most of the late season last year, Larsson found himself in the 7 or 8 spot again this year. But some smarter and more reasoned play with the puck earned him a regular rotation, and then last night he showed his true horns: Puck is cleared along the glass, he gloves it down, snaps it through a forward’s legs toward a large-bore David Clarkson in the slot where it’s tipped in for the goal. Holding the blue line and keeping the puck in the zone, and snapping the puck with direction (rather than slapping it with force) turned a possible transition play into a scoring play. This is the kind of stuff you can teach, and if the players execute, you get consistent and consistently good results.
Want to see the flip side of this? Adam Oates had a miserable system for the Devils’ power play last year, and now that he’s aiming the Capital guns, they’re misfiring. Let your quality talent free lance within the bounds of a system, or else you spend most of the season looking up at the teams that do.