|Why do I always look like I have gas?|
|The top line hasn't changed since|
this guy left––and it desperately
needs to compensate for his absence.
One of the reasons POS has fairly quickly endeared himself to the legions of the State of Hockey is his presence on the ice. Most of the team's play just has the wrong atmosphere out there. It's lazy, there's absolutely nothing holding the team up in the second period, and frankly, they often look like they just don't know where they're going. Sometimes this is a problem player, but when it's this pervasive throughout lines or the entire roster––extending to both veterans and newbies, and even a fierce competitor like Koivu––it suggests a coaching difficulty. And it's not like his decisions once the puck has dropped are any better than what's coming out of the locker room: Richards' situational decisions are equally disappointing––sending out ineffective grinders when the team needs momentum most (like right after an opposing goal), bringing the goalie to the bench for the extra skater at the wrong time and killing any chance of a late tie, failing to use timeouts when the momentum starts tilting the ice the wrong way, even leaving Backstrom in for an obscene 7 goals against in Denver this past week.
Back during the Wild's horrific eight-game road loss streak in '09, people were talking about the need to adjust to a new system, but to be blunt, I think the players look lost because Richards doesn't really have a system. They keep repeating these buzzwords like "up-tempo" and "offensive" but don't have any consistent play to support this. Nothing they are doing on the ice looks in any way like they're even trying to generate chances, or know how to. Richards was an offensive defenseman in his college days, but carrying that distinction can be a trap to ignoring defensive responsibilities. When Richards has encouraged DFDs like Schultz to jump into plays deep in the offensive zone, he seems to have completely ignored the defenseman's primary purpose: preventing pucks from getting to the goalie. Statistically speaking, all Richards accomplished in the transition from '08-'09 to '09-'10 was allowing vastly more goals against; the Wild scored exactly the same number of goals in each of those two years, and without any particularly significant personnel turnover to blame for it (remember that Gaborik barely played in '08-'09 due to that nagging crotch of his). It's possible that the "system" he preaches––defensemen playing like fourth and fifth forwards, letting the players manage themselves and create their own plays, and placing all the blame on them and their effort––worked in the AHL. But it doesn't work in general, and it certainly doesn't work with the Wild roster's skillsets.
Remember that string of games that everyone felt the Wild "shouldn't have won" even though they somehow pulled one out? Like that OT win in Detroit? Yeah, games like Gaborik's return and that awful game against the Flyers are what we all felt coming in our gut the whole time, because even the wins, while enjoyable, aren't convincing. It's not about Richards' record; he simply does not coach a responsible, sustainable style of hockey, and it's obvious from watching the team in 80% of the games they play. There are plenty of coaching options, both internally and externally, who would do much better. Michel Therrien is even already on payroll! Fletcher, I understand your desire to see players step up, but a lot of the problems the team is having just can't be solved by "trying harder" on the level of individual effort. The Wild are scraping the bottom of the barrel of the tough Western Conference. If the team is to make the stated goal of participating in playoff hockey, then this change needs to happen before the hole gets any deeper.
PS: Every time you use a defenseman in the shootout before Marty Havlat, an angel loses its wings.