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Tag:Jacques Lemaire
Posted on: March 17, 2008 6:03 pm
Edited on: March 17, 2008 6:06 pm
 

Do the Wild Need a New Head Coach? (part 1 of ??)

Greetings, puckheads!  Seeing as how some dude (or dudette) at CBS was nice enough to feature a link on the Sportsline NHL page this week pointing to my favorite blog, I'd better lay off the sphincter and sub-atomic physics talk for a while and post something about hockey.  I've been wanting to vent some keyboard emissions about the Minnesota Wild coaching situation for quite some time, but real, honest work has had a nasty habit of interfering lately.

To get right to the corned beef and cabbage of the matter, do the Wild need a new head coach?  In a word, yes.  I'll lay out the complete details as time permits -- when all is said and done, even Vince Bugliosi will be hard pressed to come up with a logical counterpoint.  The main points are:

  1. Jacques Lemaire's "defense first, counterpunch later" style works great with teams of the expansion or rebuilding persuasion.  The Wild could not have made a better choice of head coach in 2000 than Lemaire, and it showed quickly.  The same style that allowed the New Jersey Devils to overachieve and neutral zone trap their way to the Stanley Cup also allowed the expansion Wild team to overachieve their way to the Western Conference Finals in three short seasons.  Unfortunately, the Wild are no longer an expansion team, and are definitely not a rebuilding team of castoffs, either.  Lemaire's coaching style is not conducive to teams with established cores of players, which would explain his inability to get the Wild to the next level, and also explains his less than stellar record behind the Canadiens bench.  Devils management figured it out eventually, and the Lemaire-less team has sipped twice from Lord Stanley's cup since.  Wild fans owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jacques Lemaire -- and when the Excel Center gets around to starting a ring of honor, his should be the very first name to go up on the wall -- but the time has come for the Wild to move on and get a coach who can better utilize the core of players we have in our lineup now.
  2. Lemaire's micromanagement coaching style is rubbing several players the wrong way, leaving the Wild in danger of a high profile mutiny.
  3. A lot of the Wild's inconsistent play is directly traceable to Lemaire's unwillingness or inability to stick with working line combinations and defensive pairings.  Actually, he juggles combinations so often that it's impossible to even figure out which combos work and which ones don't.  How a coach can expect consistency when nobody has a chance to play together and gel is beyond the comprehension of this warped mind.  If other twisted minds out there have an answer, I'd love to hear it.  The only good that comes out of all the constant tinkering is that it makes it a bit more difficult for opposing teams to prepare agains the Wild, but that leads to the next point, which is:
  4. Lemaire's obsession with counterpunching and line juggling simply turns all creativity and initiative over to the other team.  Again, this is fine strategy for a team with limited personnel, but the Wild have a big enough nucleus of talented players to make counterpunching unneccesary -- game plans should be created to force other teams to play our game, instead of letting them dictate the pace and flavor of the game for us.

Much more to follow on points 2-4, and most likely several new points as well.  It's almost time to watch the good guys grab first place in the division tonight against the Avalanche -- luckily we've got their number almost as badly as the Flames have ours, so even Kim Johnsson shouldn't be able to screw this game up.  Go Wild!!!

Category: NHL
Posted on: February 13, 2008 8:13 pm
 

Is Jacques Lemaire Strapped For Ideas?

What a strange game last night.  After a lackluster first period by both sides, the Minnesota Wild took it to the Edmonton Oilers in the second period, partially fulfilling my pregame prediction of the Wild buzzing the Oilers zone like hornets in heat and forcing a huge goaltender performance to prevent a blowout.  The Wild certainly didn't need any pep talk between periods, but Jacques Lemaire decided to shake things up anyway by making a goalie change for the third period.  Smooth move, dude -- I haven't seen a reversal in momentum like that for the good guys since Dennis Green decided to take a knee before hitting the high road.

Top Quark goes to: Mathieu Garon for stopping almost everything larger than a Higgs boson.  The only pucks that got by him were one off an opportunistic rebound putback by Pavol Demitra, and a Brian Rolston slapshot that had enough velocity on it to smash said boson into smithereens.  Mark Parrish gets the Up Quark for making a pest of himself in front of the Oiler net all night long, and taking the punishment that comes with this territory.  Aaron Voros and Todd Fedoruk would do well to view every minute of available Mark Parrish footage from this game -- a more Parrish-like performance from these guys would have made Garon's life a lot more miserable last night.

Down Quark goes to: the entire Wild blueline corps.  Lousy defensive play gave the Oilers their first and third goals -- the key goals of the game.  On the third Edmonton goal, James Sheppard made a gallant effort to play defensive hockey; he was the only white jersey visible anywhere near the play.  If the Wild actually had defensemen on the ice at the time, even the 48" screen at the local watering hole couldn't pick them up.

The first goal (which set the tone that maybe outplaying and outshooting the opposition wouldn't do the trick this game) was vintage Martin Skoula Bottom Quark material.  The Oilers came in 3 on 2, with Sean Hill and Skoula defending.  Hill did a decent job of getting inside position on the left wing and forcing him to either take a wide angle shot or pass the puck.  Skoula, given the choice of defending one guy or the other (or at least taking up one of the two possible passing lanes) did none of the above, electing instead to defend the worthless piece of empty ice he happened to be occupying at the time.  Worse yet, it looked like he changed his mind on which misplay to make at the last possible second, leaving Niklas Backstrom hung out to dry.  Nik looked none too pleased afterwards, and it sure looked like he sent a quick expletive or two in Skoula's direction.  Whether Skoula deflected the shot or not, Backs had good reason to be upset at #41.  Could an intermission discussion between Marty and Nik explain why the latter ended the game on the bench?  Whether this was the case or not, Skoula gets the Charmed Quark because he can seem to do no wrong in Lemaire's book.  Apparently, the secret to getting more ice time in Jacques' system is to play worse.

Jacques Lemaire also gets two quarks today, a Bottom and a Strange Quark.  His decision to switch goalies after an inspired second period by the Wild is a classic case of pushing the wrong buttons at the worst possible time.  Why would anyone try to shake things up when your team just outshot the opposition 23-4, with no end to the domination in sight?  He can't fault Nik for either of the goals he gave up; aside from the Skoula gift mentioned above, the only other puck to get by him was a screened shot that he had no prayer of stopping.  Both of the goals given up by Josh Harding came off rebounds he could've prevented, so whatever Lemaire's thinking was, he'd do well give it the permanent deep six.

Bottom line: the Wild could really have used the two points for last night's game, and probably would've gotten them if Tinkercoach hadn't given in to his micromanagement addiction.  If Lemaire doesn't learn quickly that less is more when it comes coaching moves, the Wild's team chemistry will start decaying faster than a hadron in a uranium urinal.

Posted on: January 25, 2008 2:40 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2008 6:46 pm
 

This is more like it!

Two out of three ain't bad.  The Minnesota Wild get to enjoy the view from the top of the Smythe Northwest Division for a few days, and hopefully get to watch Marian Gaborik strut his stuff in the NHL All-Star game without pulling his groin back to the disabled list.  After a lackluster game in Calgary that saw the Wild content to cycle the puck along the end boards all night long (thereby saving Flames defenders the trouble of guarding against players in decent shooting position) the Wild decided to have players visit the front of the net for a change last night.  The end result was a solid, workmanlike win that wasn't as tightly contested as the final 3-2 score might suggest.

This was a very entertaining game (at least the parts I saw when the channel 45 reception wasn't acting up) so there are lots of Warpy awards to go around today.  The big Warpy of the night goes to Todd Fedoruk for another fine performance; he's starting to make a habit out of this, which will make him increasingly popular among the team of 18,000.  That tip-in goal off Demitra's pass was a thing of beauty, and Fedoruk also made several other nice plays during the game, not to mention throwing in a few hits for good measure.  Jacques Lemaire would be wise to keep the trio of Gaborik, Demitra and Fedoruk intact for a while.  These guys looked really good playing together, and Fedoruk's presence can't help but make Gabby and Demi feel more comfortable when they're on the ice.  This line just missed on several other centering and backdoor passes that would've resulted in prime quality scoring chances last night, but sloppy passing is a problem that will self-correct if and when Lemaire decides to keep his lines together long enough to let them jell as a cohesive unit: once those "just missed it" passes start clicking, I can think of about 58 goalies in the NHL who will start praying that none of the Wild brass ever sets eyes on the ramblings of the Warped One or the Tangled One.

Another big Warpy goes to Pavol Demitra for an excellent game.  The gods of hockey decided to reward Demi's sweet assist on the first Wild goal by giving him a juicy rebound to slam home for the game-winner in the later stages.  It didn't hurt that guys like Demitra, Fedoruk, Ralston, Voros and others were frequent visitors to the front of the Avs net instead of playing endless cycle along the back wall -- with all three guys pinned behind the goal line -- as has happened all too frustratingly often this season.  The Avs brass had no doubt studied Wild film and were ready to exploit the Wild's tendency to spend too much time by the boards; the sight of Wild players buzzing around the net sniffing for deflections and loose pucks had to be a rude awakening.  The Wild would do well to make a habit of using this offensive style of play far more often.  With Todd Fedoruk, Mark Parrish, Aaron Voros and Derek Boogaard in the lineup, Jacques Lemaire could have at least one troublemaker on each line to hang out in front of the net and make life miserable for goalies and defensemen -- all night, every night.  The Wild have done exceedingly well when they get good traffic in front (last night's game, the last Red Wings game and the Stars 6-3 game leap to mind) but they appear content to tentatively snack on this style of play when they could be feasting.

Honorable Warpy mentions go to Pierre-Marc Bouchard, James Sheppard, Mikko Koivu and Eric Belanger, all of whom continue to impress with their fine two-way play: these guys are very good stickhandlers on offense -- you seldom see them dumping the puck in to gain the offensive zone -- and come back to play like third defensemen whenever the opponents gain our zone.  Lemaire has got to be pleased to no end whenever they're on the ice.  Another honorable mention goes to the Colorado Avalanche, who put up one helluva game despite having their big guns on the sidelines.  There was certainly no quit in the Avs last night, as evidenced by some marathon bouts of offensive pressure in the third period; there were several shifts where the Wild defensemen were completely gassed, and the game was starting to take on a distinct 3-3 flavor.  Niklas Backstrom was good when he had to be; he gave up a bad one earlier (actually, he ended putting the damn thing into the net himself) but he made enough quality saves in the final period to more than make up for that gaffe.

This game was well played by both sides, leaving precious few candidates to claim an Un-Warpy award.  Kim Johnsson came close to getting one thanks to his continued lack of "play the man" defense, which gave the Avs some needless scoring chances.  Johnsson did redeem himself late in the game, however, by pinning a guy against the boards to prevent a last-second opportunity.  There may have been a hold and/or a cross-check overlooked by a ref with a plane to catch, but even taking a penalty would've been preferable to giving up a quality scoring chance in that situation.  Even Martin Skoula didn't evoke the usual string of profanity that normally flows so easily whenever he's anywhere near the puck.  All in all, it was a very good game which left warped minds in such a good mood that not all of it can be attributed to homer bias.

Bottom line: The Avs put up a good fight, but Wild outplayed and outworked them last night and picked up two well earned points.  It's a shame they laid an egg in Calgary, otherwise the good guys would have a little bit of breathing room in a tight division.  On the other hand, two road wins in three very difficult buildings over four nights is a good note to sing going into the All-Star break.  Go Wild!!

 
 
 
 
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