Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Timeouts; An Important Tool for Coaches to Change Momentum

In Sunday's Atlantic Division battle between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, Rangers' Coach John Tortorella's decision to use a timeout early in the game helped his team stave off a persistent Flyers attack in a 5-2 victory. In today's NHL coaches are more liberally using their one allotted timeout. Whether it is to slow down the charging attack of a team on the comeback or to rest players after an icing call, coaches are more likely to use the timeout at any point during the game.

Traditionally, NHL coaches saved their timeout until the end of the game in case they needed it to set up a play to tie the game or even to get the goalie out and ease the transition to 6-on-5 play. This is no longer the case. Flyers Coach Peter Laviolette's famed timeout in Game 7 versus the Boston Bruins in the 2010 playoffs helped to turn the tide of a series. As the Bruins' fans were near bedlam Laviolette calmly implored his players to get the next goal during a timeout in the second period. Down 3-0 in Game 7, the Flyers stormed back to win 4-3 and shock Boston who had a 3-0 edge in the series.

Laviolette's famed timeout was impressive in two ways. First, he brought a calm, confident demeanor to a chaotic situation that was spiraling downward fast. Two, Laviolette made the message simple - get the next one. Rookie James Van Riemsdyk was able to do that right after the timeout and the comeback was on.

Coaches often will use timeouts to stem the opponent's momentum. How does this work? It allows the coach to explain to his players what is going on and what they should do differently. At the same time, it gives the team pause to recover, gain its composure, and commit to simple, smart plays. It also slows the other team down long enough that maybe they lose their flow.

Stemming the tide of an attacking team is not the only reason for the timeout early in the game. With the rule change that the team that ices the puck cannot change its players you began to see coaches use the timeout to rest their players. This rule change seemed to open the door to more liberal thinking about ways to effectively use the timeout.

Now you will witness NHL coaches taking a timeout in the first period to rest their best penalty killers prior to a 5-on-3 shorthanded situation. Coaches will also use the timeout to reset their match-ups. By resting their top defensive line right after shift their able to put them back out against the other team's top scoring line in a crucial moment of the game.

I am excited to see coaches liberally using their timeout. I think it creates a more interesting dynamic where coaches can be more involved in strategizing and changing the momentum of the game. At the same time, coaches do not want to take this too far. The tradition of holding on to the timeout is still wise. Reckless use of your timeout may leave a team in a situation late in the game where their fourth line is tired, but since they iced the puck, has to go out and cover the other team's top line that just came on.

Certainly using the timeout early in the game is a calculated risk, but I think many coaches are now of the opinion to change the momentum of the game or rest their players so they are not in a situation late in the game where they need the timeout.

As you watch NHL games try to anticipate if a coach is going to take a timeout. I bet you will find that it is something you can see coming.

In February's Hockey Edge Newsletter I will discuss effective use of the timeout

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