The Grand Rapids Griffins lit up the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday night with five goals in just over sixteen minutes of the second period. That’s a ton of scoring. What’s been a problem for OKC continues to be a problem, and we have some lowlights below. Typically, Coach Nelson has famously stout defensive teams in terms of how smart they play. This season, with an outlook that forces his team to score goals first, everything else second, the reliance on defense is a backup plan. So what we got on Friday night was a case of Plan A not working, and thus an unprepared Plan B not able to fully grasp what it needed to do.
Here are the gory details:
As you can see, this is reminiscent of Edmonton Oilers defensive posturing of the last two seasons. I’m not an X’s and O’x wizard, but four guys surrounding one player seems like a bad idea. And it was. This was how the formation took shape just prior to a shot and a rebounded goal by the Griffins.
It’s easy to watch Justin Schultz play and ooze with love for how many points he scores, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, he is a rookie defender through and through. With a thankful heart, he gladly welcomes more time in the AHL. Mind you, he’s a very good player, and has the makings of both a great scorer as well as a great defender. The two, right now, are just very far a part. Exhibit A, here he is getting to the shot taker entirely too late. Notice that the wind up has already occurred and the puck is coming off the stick. What you didn’t see, is that moments before this, Schultz had his back towards the shooter. And although he’s attempting to jab at the puck to disrupt the shot, better positioning would have negated this long distance shot altogether.
Again, the Barons chase the puck instead of playing a space. Notice at the top right corner, a Griffin player has so much real estate in front of him that he’s already sold me the back forty. A more thoughtful defense would have placed a body on this guy long before he makes it to his point of entry. Two to one is exactly what Grand Rapids was hoping for.
Here’s Justin Schultz, again exposing his little imperfections. All the goals to this point were scored at 5 on 5. This goal would be a short hander. Seconds prior to this moment, Taylor Hall gets out muscled along the wall by a Griffins player. The puck is immediately sent to center where a teammate is graciously awaiting the pass. Unbeknownst to Schultz, the streaker has streaked. He makes a dandy of a move on Danis to beat him high glove side. I’m a believer that #5 is the “safety” in this moment (to steal from a football term), and that no player should ever ever every get past you with the puck, even when QB’ing the power play. Rough goings.
And finally the fifth and final goal of the period (and the game for GR), which comes on the power play. Now, the little hiccups on the PK are well known. This team is second to last in the league, and I believe last after this goal. Once again, the discipline breaks down as two players stand in the center ice directly in front of Danis without a body near them. The low defenders are playing too high, and the high defenders aren’t playing their space. It’s just a mess. So you can guess how this one ends. The player deflects a shot towards the net, it stalls, but don’t worry, there’s a guy on Danis’ doorstep ready to tap it in.
Two thoughts. Well done by the Grand Rapids Griffins for making the Barons pay for their indiscretions. The best teams do this, and right now, this is one of the best teams. And finally, there are moments where this OKC squad plays good defense. But tonight was one of the worst in the last two months. Just very undisciplined.
Many, including myself, have wondered what this Oklahoma City squad looks like without the NHL guys. Quite frankly, scoring will be a problem. But it’s the problem that has always been a problem that will continue to be a problem. I don’t see this team magically improving on defense in the near future – lockout or no lockout. It will be interesting to watch this team evolve in the new year.