October 29, 2013

Tomahawks' Issues and How to Solve Them

Today we're going to do something we haven't done before. Our last post which was a game review, received several comments about the Tomahawks and the style of play we've seen from them this season. Instead of answering the questions or addressing the comments in the comment section I figured it would be better to do a whole post about them.

Before I get started I just want to remind everyone that I am not part of the Tomahawks' organization and these are only my opinions.


You can click on any comment to make it bigger if it's hard to read as is.

I don't agree that this team under values skill and only relies on physical play. In fact there have been several times where the team tends to be a little too fancy with their offensive game. If you want to see how the Tomahawks' really play, watch a game online when they're playing away.
For whatever reason, Johnstown is having a tough time playing in front of their own fans this season. I think that the team, right now, is still trying to figure out how to play a fast, hard hitting game, without taking it over the edge.
Johnstown is 16 games into this season. Currently they have a record of 8-7-1, good for 17 points. After 16 games last season the Tomahawks had a record of 6-5-5, good for 17 points. Some times people think that I use or show too many stats, but it's the stats that show the real story. It might feel like this team is not playing as well as they did last year, but as the stats show, it's basically the same.
At this point, this team is as good as it was last year. I think the reason people are getting upset with this year's team is that the fans were told this team would be better than last year's team. I believe that this team is BETTER than last years team, but to this point, they haven't shown it.
It's not time to jump ship or throw your season tickets in the trash, but the team should be playing much better than they are, especially at home.
This season the Tomahawks have shown that when they play hard, for a full 60 minutes, they're better than the team they're playing against. The problem? They haven't played a full 60 minutes much this season. Some say it's because most of the players we have haven't played at this level before.
That's fine. I'm sure there is a learning curve to see what they have to do to win at this level. I'll give that up to 20 games. I feel that by then, if you still don't understand how hard you've got to work, maybe you're not cut out for this level of play.
Saturday's game vs. Soo, the second period was how the team should always play. They used their great speed, they used the body at the right times, they out worked Soo, and they didn't take stupid penalties. Sure the officiating at times this season has been shaky, but if you don't put yourself in those situations, you won't risk yourself going to the penalty box.
(A team that had great speed and play physical last season was the Wenatchee Wild. They looked like an ECHL level team compared to other NAHL teams. They finished last season with a record of 39-15-6.)
After dominating the second period, Johnstown didn't come out with the same energy in the third period. It seemed that the team was playing more defensive, making sure that they didn't make any mistakes, only jumpping up with good pressure when the chances were obvious.
Fans of the Chiefs and Toby O'Brien would say they were playing "prevent".
That's when a bad bounce happened, and all that great hard work in the second period went away. Down by one again, the Tomahawks' put the pressure back on but it was too late.
If the team would have played the whole game as they did in the second there's no doubt they would have won the game hands down. But they didn't and that's the problem.
Some people have said it's the players on the team. Some say it's the coaching. I'd stay it's a mix.
These players use their speed pretty well. Take a look at Shane Bednard. He's able to skate past players and create scoring chances. Jordan Watt is another player that can use his speed and good puck handling skills to get past players.
The problem comes when they don't shoot the puck trying to do even more dekes. Spence has stated the team needs to shoot more and I couldn't agree more.
On the power play, the d-men fake too many shots, and then shoot when there isn't a lane to the net.
Take a look at Trevor Recktenwalds goal. It came from a regular shot but he was able to pick up the rebound. You can't get rebounds if you never get the puck on net.
Hitting is part of the game, and when done right, can ware down a team, lead to their mistakes, and control the play. A perfect example was also on Saturday vs. the Soo Eagles. Sanipass used his size to finish all of his checks. In the third period as a Soo player was carrying the puck, Sanipass tracked him down and was ready to hit him. Instead of taking the hit, the Soo player dumbed the puck for an icing.
This doesn't look like that big of a play but it was. The icing leads to an offensive zone face-off, which could lead to a goal. It didn't in this case, but will and does many times a season. The Soo player didn't want to take the hit to make a play and it could have cost his team.
On the forecheck, hitting leads to turn overs and can swing momentum to the team hitting.
The problem the Tomahawks have had, not only this season but last season, is making sure the hits are clean. Shoulder to shoulder, not hitting with elbows, or using your hands to hit the player in the head. This leads to penalties, which leads to goals, and in turn makes fans think the hitting shouldn't be part of our game.
But when you look at that second period, the momentum and scoring chances all (or most) came from good speed and hitting.
Why would the team play a different way period to period. Well that could be because of adjustments made by the coaching staff, wanting to play different systems.
Having a team not prepared and ready to play. That can also rest on the coaches shoulders. To say that a certain type of coach because of his background can't coach at this level is not the answer. Port Huron's head coach Mike Gershon played minor league hockey and has the second best team in the league.
How the Tomahawks are Scoring and Allowing Goals.
The Tomahawks have scored 40 goals this season and have allowed 45.
Goals Scored:
Even- 30
Power Play- 9
Penalty Kill- 1
Goals Allowed:
Even- 26
Power Play- 18
Penalty Kill- 1
When the Tomahawks are skating even strength, they're a plus team, they're troubles have been on the special teams side of things.
One reason I really liked JB Baker, was that he was able to get under the other team's skin and draw penalties. Right now, I don't' think the Tomahawks have a player like that.
Keys to Turning Things Around:
1. Playing a full 60-minues- If the team can play hard for a full 60-minutes, they've proven they're a hard team to beat. If the team continues to play hard one game, and not the next, you should expect to see more players being move around as the team finds the players that will work hard. If this doesn't happen, you've got to start looking at the coaching.
Spence does not have a losing record as a head coach and until the team overall falls below .500 you can't say he's doing a bad job.
2. The Penalty Kill- 40% of the goals scored against Johnstown this season have come on the power play. Solving this problem, will generate into more wins. If you look at the player's stats, as of today, there are 13 players that are pluses.
This just goes to show that when playing even we're a good team.
3. The Power Play- It's a pretty simple formula. Play hard five on five. Limit your penalties and kill the ones you take. When you go on the man advantage, make the other team pay. Do this, you should win most of your games.
The Tomahawks don't have to invent some new radical way of playing the game. Just do things the right way.
Last season the Tomahawks had the 3rd best power play in the league. So it is possible under Spence's coaching.
So what do you think? What are your keys to victory? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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