by PuckStopsHere on 02/10/12 at 03:25 PM ET
It takes a good coach to be able to find a new strategy that nobody else has ever used that is a successful strategy that helps your team win. Alain Vigneault, the coach of the Vancouver Canucks, has developed one such strategy over the last couple of years. While many coaches match lines with the opposition, Vigneault does not do that. Vigneault matches lines to the position of the puck on the ice. Whenever a shift starts in the offensive zone, Vigneault will get his top offensive forward line on the ice as much as possible. This is the line of Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows. Whenever a shift starts in the defensive zone, Vigneault will get his top defensive forward line on the ice as much as possible. This is the line of Manny Malhotra, Maxim Lapierre and Dale Wiese. In fact if you look at the NHL players sorted by zone start percentage, you find that these are the top three and bottom three players in the league.
Vigneault first tried this strategy, albeit on a lesser level, in the 2009/10 season. Henrik Sedin led the NHL in scoring given his extra offensive zone starts. Not seeing how his offensive success was in part due to his usage, the NHL voters gave Sedin the Hart Trophy. This had worked, so Vigneault increased the Sedins offensive usage. He used Manny Malhotra in an extremely defensive role. He was intelligent enough not to use Ryan Kesler in an extremely defensive role because Kesler has offensive ability that you do not want to sacrifice. This worked extremely well. Vancouver won the Presidents Trophy by a significant margin.
This season, the zone specific usage has been increased to an even bigger level. This maximizes the Sedins offensive ability. As long as the Canucks have a strong defensive line, it does not sacrifice defense in the process. No other coach does this on the level that Alain Vigneault does.
Alain Vigneault is a strong innovative coach. His innovations are working. In order to understand a Vancouver Canucks game, you must understand his strategy. This is a sign of a good coach. There are a few other very good coaches in the NHL as well. This innovation is notable and while it puts him in the coach of the year race, it does not give him the lead. The Canucks are lucky to have as strong coaching as they do.
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