During my video breakdown and analysis of Marcus Pettersson which followed the Pittsburgh Penguins Dec. 3 trade of Daniel Sprong, one thing about the Anaheim Ducks became abundantly clear: Their system was simple, structured, and Anaheim plays a conservative game.
The Anaheim structure should have been clear to Penguins fans in the first two periods, too. They waited at the red line. They took the middle of the ice away. They counter-attacked.
Welcome to the PHN Blog–it’s a regular feature in which our staff writes in more personal tones about events or analysis.
When I broke down Pettersson’s time in Anaheim, I was amazed that he always had an open outlet. His first pass was golden, in part because Anaheim is structured. Head coach Randy Carlyle doesn’t have the most talented group and so they are making up for their deficiencies with suppression.
It may not seem like a groundbreaking revelation, but teams which rely on structure breed structured players. The Western Conference, big-player game which emphasizes clogging the neutral zone and counter-attacking can in some ways be easier than the Penguins read-and-react 100 mph forecheck system.
While Anaheim is a traditional paint-by-numbers counter-attack, the Penguins are sometimes a whirling dervish of moving parts designed to accommodate their unique blend of speed and skill which can attack opponents. Sometimes.
The talented Penguins would go stir crazy in the structured, patient game. Just ask former coach Mike Johnston.
In the Anaheim structure, Sprong has less thinking, less reading and more “being.” Be here. Be there. Go. It agrees with him.
Though it should be noted, beyond Sprong’s power-play assist, he had only one even strength shot Monday and was deep underwater in scoring chances, and Corsi. So, let’s not fit him for an All-Star sweater, just yet.
But he looked much better than he looked in a Penguins jersey. He wasn’t stranding linemates or allowing opponents to breeze by (at least I don’t think so. I wasn’t solely focused on his game as I’ve done in the past).
I don’t subscribe to the “fourth-line” theory only because I firmly believe had Sprong showed the coaches he had a grasp of the Penguins style, he would have been elevated, just like a handful of young players before him. Sprong didn’t need to score from the Penguins fourth line, he needed to show he got “it.”
And that’s why the Ducks style is so beneficial. If the Penguins are sometimes a level 401 class, Anaheim is a 201.
Good for Sprong. The Penguins may have found a good fit for him in Anaheim, just as Marcus Pettersson has been a very good fit for the Penguins. The wailing and gnashing of the teeth over Sprong’s recent goals should be tempered in the knowledge that he’s experiencing the adrenaline bump which comes with a trade, just as he rode the rush after his call-up last season. Remember the two-goal games against the New York Islanders that we all thought was his break out party?
Sprong’s real test will come in a couple of weeks. After the holidays, after the rush wears off, and when he settles down. The bet here is that he’ll be a competent third line scorer in the range of 12-15 goals, which isn’t bad at all.
If you missed it, Randy Carlyle might have tossed a little shade towards the Penguins over their handling of Sprong.
That helps–a coach having a kid’s back. That had to feel good, especially when Sprong clearly felt he was wronged in Pittsburgh, even if he didn’t say so publicly. That spark of confidence will help, too.
Now, whether Sprong proves worthy of it all, and carries it forward, no one, including Anaheim yet knows. Here is Sprong’s media availability, Monday afternoon: