11 November 2013

To think about: the veterans and their not-so-intangibles

It wasn’t an illegal move in any way, but it was so savvy and effective that it might as well have been. On the 5-on-3 power play versus the Florida Panthers last game, Tim Thomas lost his grip on his goalie stick after he blocked a hard shot. Jason Spezza put a skate on it and proceeded to casually skate it out of Thomas’s reach, out of the crease and past the face-off circle. When MacArthur squeezed Karlsson’s feed past Thomas and into the net a few seconds later, Thomas brought his gloves down on the ice in frustration. Perhaps, if he’d had his blocker to cover the angle, he might’ve saved that shot.

Or maybe not. But thanks in part to Spezza’s timely removal of Thomas’s stick, the Sens were able to get an insurance goal that would eventually prove to be the game-winner.

An example of a veteran play—yay or nay?

It’s hard to define specifically what makes a veteran truly, substantially better than an average, mid-career player, especially when the pros and cons seem so different. But maybe it’s the successful plays that come around from having played the game for a long, long time, and from knowing how hockey is played, inside and out.

Take Alfie. How many times have we seen him recover some rookie’s giveaway—sometimes travelling from the neutral zone all the way back to our own end—stealing the puck straight off an opponent’s stick and subsequently transitioning back out into offensive territory? Alfredsson was an elite two-way player, and it’s perhaps this aspect of his play which the Ottawa Senators have missed the most. We have scoring; anybody with a little (or a lot of) practise can score. But not anyone can play a full two-way game with just a little practise, or even a lot.

When you’re an old player, you’ll get ragged on for diminished foot-speed and reduced physical ability. But Sergei Gonchar was 38 years old and a bona fide veteran, and his recovery in the defensive zone had a veteran sheen to it. He knew how to snag a dumped-in puck, curl away from the forecheck unscathed and send a clean outlet pass up the boards. This is evident even in Chris Phillips, when he manages to get back in time to recollect the puck before his younger partner does; Phillips has shown himself capable of performing a truly impressive deke around a forward at his own blueline to get the Sens going in the neutral zone. Compare this to Gryba, Cowen or Wiercioch, who seem to always manage to get pinned to the endboards by the incoming forechecker.

Being a veteran is more than legally removing a goalie’s stick, or managing to recover a puck cleanly, of course. But this could be one more aspect to a player’s game that helps to cement their status as a veteran, the clean, know-how play that contributes efficiently and effectively toward winning games and a better team overall.

At the very least, it’s more substantial than “leadership”.


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