With all the talk about how Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz's defensive-minded nature will mesh with his new team's offensive slant, there is one misconception that the 51-year-old would like to clear up.
“One of the things people think is defense is just backing up,” Trotz said. “That’s not it at all.”
True, Trotz's 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators cultivated his reputation as a defensive coach. His teams throughout the years took on the identity of their best players, typically defensemen (Ryan Suter, Shea Weber) and goaltenders (Tomas Vokoun, Pekka Rinne).
Yet Trotz's concept of defense is less about actually defending and more about making the opposition defend through offense and puck possession.
"When they say 'defensive coach,' I know this and I'm going to tell the players, when you have the puck, I want you to make good decisions and I want you to score some goals and I want you to be hard on people and the puck," Trotz said. "And if you don't have it, I want to get it back again so we can reattack.
"That's good defense. Defense is about getting the puck quickly so you can do something offensively."
The Capitals were one of the worst puck-possession teams in the NHL this season with their 47.7 Corsi percentage at even strength ranking 24th out of 30 teams. The Predators were not much better, finishing just ahead of the Capitals in 23rd at 48.4 percent.
Both teams' Corsi percentages over the past three seasons rank near the bottom of the league as well; Washington once again sits in 24th at 48.4 percent with Nashville right behind in 25th at 47.4 percent. (Corsi measures the number of shot attempts -- goals, shots on net, missed shots and blocked shots -- by a team or player.)
Trotz listed a few teams that play the style that he would like the Capitals to emulate, particularly the Los Angeles KIngs, who have routinely been among the best puck-possession teams in the league. Since 2010, no team's Corsi percentage is higher than the Kings' 54.7 percent.
"Look at the Kings, they don't back up a whole lot," Trotz said. "They understand there’s a time when they want to establish that forecheck and they move up. It’s all about angles, it's all about stick position and also positionally reading the play and jamming up the neutral zone so you can get the puck back and head on the offense.
“You can’t play uptempo if you can’t break out of your own zone effectively. You can’t play uptempo if you don’t have the puck. To me uptempo means that you want to be able to break out of your own zone effectively, make good decisions through the neutral zone, and get it to the other end [where] you can create some offense.”
For Washington, improvement will come via better even-strength play. Both Trotz, who emphasized carrying the puck into the attack prior to last season with Nashville, and new general manager Brian MacLellan pinpointed five-on-five play as an area that must be enhanced.
"I know we're both into puck possession, we're into being a good five-on-five team," MacLellan said. "I think it's a big area we've got to shore up. There needs to be better support on the ice to do that, and a lot of it is hard work, one-on-one battles, two-on-two battles, three-on-three battles.
"I think the idea of 'team' is we're going to play that way. It's not going to be one individual working hard and the others watching. It's going to be five guys working in sync together hard."
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