Camp Cooper: Lightning hopefuls trying to earn their badges

If there was ever a Boy Scout sash for hockey players, the badges sewn on would include skills and traits like Shot Block Specialist, Clutch Goal Scorer, Sauce and Chirping Communication.

Scanning through videos and articles across the league, the key for new teammates to get up to speed is talking. Brooks Orpik is having to do that with Mike Green, a potential D partner who’s finding him in the neighboring locker room stall.

In Tampa, it’s Stralman and Hedman having to talk D with a side of Swedish. The latest edition of the team’s camp notebook touches upon that with Cooper stressing that the smart ones talk:

“A lot of these guys we brought in, the Morrows, and Stralmans and Garrisons, if you watch closely, you can hear them all on the ice,” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said. “They’re veterans. They talk. They’ve been around the league. Their NHL hockey IQ is just a little bit ahead of guys that haven’t been in the league that long. It’s great to have that kind of presence.”
The Lightning have struggled in recent seasons defensively, something Stralman hopes he can change through his consistency.”

And that’s a necessity as Camp Cooper is holding classes on advanced sessions.  Morrow, Stralman and Garrison have to get caught up on Cooper 101 as they take the 201 course and the returning players can’t rely on last year’s badges as there are some new wrinkles, according to Erik Erlendsson:

Last season, there were more extensive video sessions of watching other teams so the players could see how everything worked on the ice, then they went on the ice and worked on it. This year, the plan is to have less of that, which leads to less time instructing and more time trying to create the habits the coaching staff wants to instill.

“This year, we will watch our team play and implement the systems that we have and watch ourselves do it, and do it well,’’ defenseman Matt Carle said. “That makes it a lot easier that way.’’

Bolt Prospects gave an excellent synopsis of what Cooper did at the AHL level with his systems play in 2013 when Cooper was hired:

Cooper’s teams use the traditional method of keeping the weakside defensemen in the slot and relying on forwards to come deeper in the defensive zone to help gain the puck and fill lanes. When possession is gained – similar to Boucher – there’s a quick transition and defensemen are encouraged to join the rush.Mark Barberio led all AHL defensemen in points last year with Cooper’s Norfolk Admirals.

This small change with the Lightning should allow for more strength in the slot, better weakside coverage, and a healthier positional balance with defensemen and forwards in the defensive third.

Where Cooper’s teams make their mark is their swarming presence on the ice. He aims to eliminate time and space as quickly as possible in all zones through speed and tenacity. His attack is staggered enough to protect against a slew of odd-man rushes.

In the offensive zone, he likes things simple: get the puck on net and support the shot with bodies. Add the swarming style and they are often able to re-gain possession to quickly set up another shot.

This creates “surges,” as John Tortorella used to say, which seem to last for multiple shifts. Lightning fans saw a great example of this recently from a line that included Cooper students Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson that maintained possession in the opposition’s zone for a ridiculous amount of time. Palat and Johnson aren’t the biggest players, but they were faster to the puck and lanes – a prime example of hard work and utilizing speed.

It’s amazing what can be exposed in a team during the playoffs versus during the regular season. You would think that with all the rookies on the team, the Bolts had speed, but it seemed like the Habs were four steps faster. Quite a few situations too many players were caught up ice.

If you forgot what vulnerabilities last year’s team had, you can watch this 15-minute recap of the Lightning’s Game 4 against the Canadiens.

On the first goal, this is as much as a brain fart as it is an issue of positioning. You can’t see a defenseman in the play as Cedric Paquette is out-hustled and can’t land a hit and Mark Barbeiro vacates the slot and misses out, leaving the slot wide open for an easy goal. Matt Carle was out of the play high in the neutral zone. The fifth Bolt is not even in frame when the goal is scored as he was at the attacking goal line during the breakout. Glenn Healy easily summed it up: “Tampa is looking for big hits that are not there. You have to defend first.” You know, that’s something that Alex Ovechkin should remember, too.

Go back to the description above from Bolt Prospects about how Cooper likes his defenseman positioned and how Mark Barbeiro was heralded for his stats during his time with Cooper. The video of the first Habs goal in that game is 100 percent what Cooper never wanted in his defensemen’s positioning.

On the second goal, that’s a lot of youth on the ice for the goal (Johnson, Brown, Paquette) and Lindback wasn’t aggressive enough. Paquette didn’t have support to fend off a turnover. Turnovers happen all the time, but it’s positioning and foot speed that can minimize those mistakes. Hell, Andrej Sustr fell on his ass because he was so unsure of where to go.

Adjustment needed: You could say conditioning because of speed issues here, but this is about rookies needing seasoning and needing to know their assignments 100 percent.

I will concede that the third goal was totally Lindback. Completely loss his angle. The Habs were covered as best as you can in those quick plays. Could Barbeiro have pursued a body check on Brendan Gallagher instead of that awkward stick check? Sure, but that shot might have still came off before impact. Not much you could do here and Lindback is no longer a member of the team.

On the final goal, the small box was in formation, but D was looking at the guy with the puck instead of pushing Max Pacioretty away from the crease. Protecting the Lightning goalies was a theme throughout the season, especially with as many times people tried to run over Ben Bishop. Gudlevskis didn’t have a chance with an off-speed deflection and a man in the crease. Opposing players must pay a price for standing near the crease. This doesn’t mean a cross-check to the back, but enough mucking it up to get them out of there without taking a penalty.

It’ll be interesting to see the adjustments at camp tomorrow. Depending on the coach and system and situation, it’s surprising how subtle the position placements are. Take defenseman for instance. One year the coach might want you to stand about two feet from the boards. Next year he might want you closer to the dot. That feeds into placement of other players on breakouts or backchecking.

The coaches have hypothesized their changes and we’ll see how much works and what still needs tinkering in the first pre-season game of the season on Tuesday against the Nashville Predators.

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