Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Hockey Team Dynamics

Detroit Red Wings vs Nashville Predators (Dec. 15, 2011) Photo: Patricia Teter. All Rights Reserved.
Detroit Red Wings vs Nashville Predators (Dec. 15, 2011) Photo: Patricia Teter. All Rights Reserved.

Games are often won and lost before a team steps on the ice Barry Smith, Director of Player Development with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Team Dynamics – definition: The behavioral relationship between members of a group that are assigned connected tasks within an organization. Dynamics are affected by roles, responsibilities and interaction, and have a direct result on productivity – i.e. how a team reacts, behaves and performs.

____________

Every game night we sit on our cold perches inside arenas, or in the comfort of our own homes in armchairs, recliners or couches and critique the games we watch – a coterie of Armchair GMs or Armchair Coaches. It always seems so easy. As a group, Armchair Coaches can be a delusional lot — over estimating, over emphasizing any credit or penalties to our own teams. This seems fairly easy, but let’s be honest with ourselves – in reality, professional hockey is a complex dynamic.

Teams can falter, and often do, on their way through a season – and sadly for many fans not all teams make it into the playoffs. It is the nebulous and ever changing elements that confound us, amaze us and make us fall into the depths of despair; and teams themselves fall into this same trap. It’s human nature. That is why team dynamics are fascinating and that is also why it is sometimes difficult to judge a particular player’s performance on only one team.

Team dynamics are influenced by numerous factors – the team’s management, the entire organization itself, the individuals on any given team, their roles and interaction, as well as the identity of a team, both current and historical. The other day a coach talked about his team after a particularly bad game – he said he knew the team was probably in for a rough night when the team was so quiet in the locker room prior to the game. Were there signs of this in practice earlier in the day? Did this just suddenly appear, or had it been brewing for some time. It is interesting how a team can as a group either fall or rise to the same level.

Fine tuning team dynamics is a delicate balance and what works for one team, will not necessarily work for another. It is all in the tinkering; the evaluation and looking thoroughly at each piece in the multidimensional puzzle. Sometimes it is perfectly obvious, other times it is a complete mystery until that element is either eliminated or changed in some manner.

Many elements can go wrong or askew within a team’s dynamics. A number of teams this season fall into that category and there have been games where players sit on the bench waiting for the game to begin, clearly wishing they were elsewhere, anywhere else, and the pain, humiliation and defeat clearly evident in their eyes even before the first puck is dropped. It is truly disheartening to see a team in this conundrum.

How does a team turnaround from such an ominous cloud? How does a team revitalize itself? Sometimes all it takes is something new tossed into the mix – a bit of inspiration, a kick in the butt, a new player or two, a new line change here and there, or a new coach. All of these changes have made huge impacts on teams in the past. Sometimes all a particular game requires is a goal, a line mix-up, a goalie being pulled, or even a fight to change the downward spiral. Other times, the problem is far too complex to be cured so quickly and easily.

A particular team I follow – who has experienced a horribly rough season — had lately lost all of their spirit and enjoyment of the game. Their last game was one of heartbreaking despair – a crushing defeat that seemed to be the final straw. The turnover of coaches and players had been rampant throughout the season, and it seemed as if there was no team identity left to salvage. You could see this with every game as the season advanced into December and then January. There was a general feeling of “what’s the point?” which can swoop in and sting any team given the opportunity, but the other night something miraculous happened.

As they came out onto the ice there was a bounce in their step, a rejuvenation of energy and spirit. The first period was astonishing. This team played with a sense of pride I had not seen since the early days of the season. And why? A new coach had been tossed into the mix – yes another! – a coach who was able to provide the team with a new vision, a new plan of battle, a new sense of energy to rebuild their individual self-esteem and respect for each other – and the team bought into those plans! You could clearly see all of those elements out on the ice.  And yes, that team, with their newly rediscovered swagger, won that night. I hope they celebrated with as much vivacity and joy as Nail Yakupov did on his game tying goal the other night in Edmonton. They truly deserved it.

As we watch the remainder of this season, keep in mind Barry Smith’s quote — Games are often won and lost before a team steps on the ice. Most of us do not even consider this as a possibility. We are far too focused on whether the defense is doing their job, whether the goaltenders are making those basic saves, wondering if the 3rd line will step up and score, and planning the next team trade. But we also need to remember that the game of hockey – a team sport – is far, far more complex than that. It is an evolving, living, breathing beast – it is all in the dynamics.

Oklahoma City Barons Add Randy Jones; Paajarvi Sent To Edmonton

Randy Jones Flyer
Randy Jones as a Flyer. Will he help the Barons?

While the rest of the world indulges in the grandness of the Super Bowl, the Oklahoma City Barons choose to make a Sunday move that greatly impacts its current lineup.

Announced today, the Barons have added another veteran defenseman to the core of a team that has drastically changed in four weeks time. Randy Jones, a 31 year old defender with 365 NHL games to his credit, joins an AHL squad that now becomes a bit more seasoned. Having played a bulk of those games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Jones has also logged recent time in Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.

Between Jonathan Cheechoo, Brett Clark, and now Randy Jones – the recent signees have a combined 1547 NHL games. That’s something.

Read More

Danis. Roy. Hovinen. Why Three Goaltenders?

AHL Hockey: Jan 31 Barons vs Checkers
Niko Hovinen – one of three. Photo courtesy of Steven Christy.

Yann Danis. Olivier Roy. Niko Hovinen. The Oklahoma City Barons are currently entertaining three goaltenders. Let me re-phrase that. The Edmonton Oilers have assigned three goaltenders to their farm team. While it’s not entirely uncommon for AHL teams to ride three netminders during portions of a season, it is unusual for Oklahoma City and the Edmonton Oilers in recent years.

Yann Danis, who was present in the arena on Thursday night but unable to suit up because he arrived late, sat out two straight games. Watched from high above the Cox Center. There’s no way the NHL Oilers could have sent him down if he’s injured, so why would he be sitting out? Simple. He’s really the Oilers number two.

Khabibulin has been day-to-day for some time now, and although he suited up as the back up to Devan Dubnyk in San Jose, whether or not he was 100% ready is still undetermined.

Something doesn’t sit well with me on this situation. And I fully believe that it’s because Khabibulin himself has started to doubt whether or not he can start games, play well, and stay healthy even in a short season. Thus Yann is in the rafters at a moments notice, awaiting the call up.

There’s also the suggestion that the Oilers really want to protect their assets in Roy, and to a greater extent, Tyler Bunz. You play Yann/Roy in Oklahoma City, Yann gets recalled, that places a rookie and sophomore in net on the farm. That didn’t work out too well lately. And they want those guys to develop slowly, and with kid gloves.

There’s no doubt that Yann will get a start in Oklahoma City IF Dubnyk starts and Khabibulin claims to stay healthy (and doesn’t consider retirement, seriously). It’s important to the organization that he get the reps. But I’ll make a great assumption that he’ll get limited time behind both Roy and Hovinen in the next month. He’ll consistently remain on standby when the call down south is made. And for Yann that’s a good thing. For Oklahoma City, it’s yet to be determined if Niko Hovinen is able and steady. But anyway you slice it, the organizational shuffle of goaltenders boils down to Khabibulin’s health. Let’s see how he holds up.

Barons Wallop Charlotte 7-3, Winning Is Fun

Charlotte Checkers vs. Oklahoma City Barons 2-1-13
Winning is fun. Hugs! Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson.

After a Thursday showing by OKC that was dreadfully uninspired offensively, the Barons did a complete 180 on Friday night. With the top line doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, the Oklahoma City Barons scored seven goals against the Charlotte Checkers and won handily against the best team in the Western Conference.

With Niko Hovinen in his debut goaltending role in Oklahoma City, and Magnus Paajarvi back with the team, the Barons carefully navigated the first period of play. Charlotte scored on the power play following a Paajarvi holding call (he’d have a semi-rough night) to take a 1-0 lead. The new top line of Philippe Cornet, Mark Arcobello, and Jonathan Cheechoo would even things up less than two minutes later. Cornet, scoring his third of the season, made it one all. Charlotte’s Luke Pither, having a solid weekend, scored mid-way through the first to put his team back on top. But the Barons got really good to end the first twenty minutes. Mark Arcobello at 5 on 5, and Philippe Cornet on the power play put OKC back on top when the horn resounded to end period one. The home team would score three goals (one on the power play), all from the top scoring line.

Read More

Barons Struggle To Score, Get Beat Late By Charlotte

PBR WinStar World Casino Invitational 1-27-13
Next time, let’s score some goals. Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson.

A Yann-less and Lander-less Oklahoma City Barons squad hit the ice on Thursday night to face the Charlotte Checkers, who are down a few men themselves. It was a night where the Barons played a solid hockey game, made mistakes along the way, proved they could compete with quality opponents, but in the end were just unable to score. The Checkers would beat Oklahoma City by one goal, which came with under thirty seconds remaining in the game.

The first period was a typical post-All Star game affair. Lots of penalties and fits of stops and starts slowed the pace just enough to keep both teams wound tight. Mark Arcobello would hook a Charlotte player, say some uncomely things to the referee, and earn a very special double minor. The Checkers seized the opportunity as Chris Terry worked some magic behind the net, eased the puck towards centerman Jeremy Welsh who’d put his team up 1-0. The Barons would have two opening period power play chances, but squandered them quickly. Instead Nathan Deck would accept a fantastic pass from the hard-working Josh Green, and net his first AHL goal and tie the game at one. The period ends 1-1.

The first ten minutes of the second period were some of the best the Barons have played in several games. They owned the possesion minutes until they suffered three penalties in less than eight minutes thus keeping them from a high number of scoring chances. They did, however, keep Charlotte of the board and that in and of itself seemed like a quiet victory. The second period ended still tied 1-1.

The third period saw the puck spend a ton of time in the Charlotte zone, and the Barons would get two power play opportunities that’d go nowhere. They’d eventually end the game with an 0 for 5 mark, while Charlottes went 2 for 7. And indeed that final power play goal would come with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game. Brett Clark was tagged with an embellished tripping call, and defenseman Bobby Raymond would post only his second goal of the season on his only shot of the night. The Barons would lose 2-1 on home ice, and with a sour taste in their palette to end the game.

Random Thoughts

The tripping call at the end was probably a trip. It was also probably a dive. Thus negating the power play for the Charlotte Checkers. And this one can’t be boiled down to just one bad call by the zebras. As a matter of fact, the Barons power play looked dreadful, and at times so did 5 on 5. There’s no excuse for not scoring in this one because the chances were there, the execution was not. Roy did a pretty marvelous job keeping his team in the game, but the penalties and overly content play late in the game caused some major problems. The good news is that the Barons get another crack at Charlotte tomorrow.

Yann Danis was in attendance, but didn’t make it to the rink in time to suit up. Thus he watched from the stands. Niko Hovinen backed up Roy, and will probably swap seats with Yann in the stands tomorrow.

Perhaps Lander’s absence through the lines into a tailspin, but there were still moments where the team had really good looks, Charlotte defense broke down, but the Barons simply couldn’t finish. Not good.

Coach Nelson told Mike Baldwin at the Daily Oklahoman:

“We played well enough to win tonight. That’s the bottom line,” said Oklahoma City coach Todd Nelson. “But right now it’s not good enough.”

“The game was there for us to win,” Nelson said. “We had a breakaway opportunity that we didn’t bury and they score on a power play at the end. Tonight was one of those games we found a way to lose.”

“Our power play was horrendous,” Nelson said. “That’s one thing we have to address. And we gave up two power play goals. Our special teams stunk tonight. We played well when it was five-on-five.”

Clearly frustrated by his team’s effort on special teams, Nelson looked none too pleased on the bench when the game ended. The usually steely eyed coach was rather flustered by it all. He knows what ails his team, and he’s not unbiased in his finger pointing. EVERYONE has to be better.