As each group stepped onto the ice during the first day of on-ice sessions at Carolina Hurricanes training camp at the RBC Center on Saturday, the coaches’ faces looked purposeful and intent on delivering a clear message to the entire 56-man roster right from the start.
Even with a few players absent including goaltender Cam Ward (upper body stiffness) and defenseman Derek Joslin (illness), after the initial skating and puck drills were done, head coach Paul Maurice and his staff got down to business and introduced everyone to a specific area of focus right from the start: gap defense.
Hurricanes fans should all learn the term and concept of ‘gap defense’ because that is what they will see the team focusing on during scrimmages and preseason games in determining the team’s roster to begin the regular season.
It is a style of defense that the Western Conference’s Detroit Red Wings utilize and it is a major reason that the addition of assistant coach Dave Lewis coming over from the Motor City was made.
Maurice indicated that he has always liked that style of defense and the team figures to make it a point for all players to learn it and buy into it with Lewis’ help.
“We did do D-zone coverage on day one which might be slightly unusual but we certainly want to make a point that we have to become a better defensive team,” Maurice stated.
Now for those who love to see lots of goal scoring, don’t get too concerned just yet as Maurice was also clear of what the strategy was in improving the team’s defensive play while looking to win more games.
“I’d like to see us score more goals, but we don’t need to score more goals to win consistently, we need to be a better defensive team. But we’re not going to become a better defensive team at the expense of our offense,” Maurice said.
In further elaborating on his point, Maurice was clear that player buy-in would be critical for it to be a successful adjustment in the team’s strategy for the upcoming season.
“The overall theme whether it was defense or offense, we were trying to find places on the ice where we can become more aggressive and make changes and subtleties to our systems and how we approach the game. What I like about it is that the defenseman who I know are going to be here, picked up on it fast and can tell they liked it. I liked the way the D handled it.”
Defenseman Jamie McBain acknowledged that the day had a defensive focus and described the concept of gap control – a more aggressive strategy in limiting opposing teams’ pressure on the Hurricanes defense while allowing them to break out of the defensive zone successfully.
“It’s going to be a huge emphasis for ourselves as defenseman especially. Our gap control (is important) and giving as little as possible to forwards attacking us while trying to give our forwards the best opportunity to come back and limit our defensive zone as much as possible, and to be able to control the puck (to break out).”
The team steps onto the ice for its Red-White scrimmage on Sunday and will be the first game-situation test and evaluation for coaches and fans to watch the ‘gap defense’ concept in action and how quickly the players have learned to execute it.
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