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Coaches Room

Adjustments, controlling emotions key to comebacks

Lacroix says setting attainable goals, belief system can help teams rally to victory

by Daniel Lacroix / Special to NHL.com

The Coaches Room is a weekly column by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher.

In this edition, Daniel Lacroix, a former assistant with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, discusses different ways a team can turn a game around when it's trailing.

 

This has been a season filled with comebacks.

Of the 529 games played this season, 239 have been won by teams that trailed by at least one goal, the most through the first 529 games in NHL history, according to NHL Stats. There were 72 multigoal comebacks, including 23 from down multiple goals in the third period (each the most through 529 games in NHL history), and 11 victories by teams that trailed by three or more goals at any point. There have been 23 third-period, multigoal comebacks this season, the most through the first 529 games of the season

On Friday, the Washington Capitals (6-5 shootout win at the Carolina Hurricanes), the New Jersey Devils (5-4 overtime win against the Vegas Golden Knights) and the Arizona Coyotes (4-3 overtime win at the New York Rangers) each rallied from down three goals to win.

Video: ARI@NYR: Stepan wins it in overtime for Coyotes

Although difficult, there are some keys to being able to pull off this kind of comeback.

The first thing you need to do is stop the bleeding, which begins with making a fair assessment.

Sometimes that's tough to do. When you're behind the bench and when you're playing in the game, your emotions can get carried away with each goal against and the score.

And when you're playing, it's even worse.

You're usually worried about your own game and you're not always sure how the team is playing. You know you're not playing well or there's things you're doing that aren't successful. Sometimes younger players don't know what to do next to change that trend.

Your assistant coaches, the goalie coach or the eye-in-the-sky coach can sometimes put things in perspective between periods. Sometimes a coach will watch the video the next day and realize, "It looked way worse live. They had 15 shots in the first period, but limited Grade A scoring chances, and it wasn't as bad as we thought."

So a fair assessment is important: What's going wrong? Are we undisciplined? Are we catching bad breaks? Are we lacking execution?

And as a coach, you have to ask yourself, "Was the game plan the right one?"

Then you jump into the action with adjustments.

To come back from down multiple goals, the coach is going to have a couple of options and the team is going to have some options.

Do you need a timeout? Do you need to make a change in goal to change the momentum? Or you're down three goals, but there's a couple minutes left in the period and you'll have time to regroup and address what needs to be addressed in between periods.

But I think the first thing most coaches will say is, "Let's bring up our compete level and win our battles." If you don't have the puck, if you don't win battles on face-offs, if you don't win 50-50 pucks, if you're not first on loose pucks, it's going to be real tough to win the game.

Video: Analyzing Flames' game-winning goal against Flyers

The coach needs to determine if the players need to be pushed emotionally. Could that come from the coach? Could that come from an assistant? Could that come from your fourth line or from your captain?

A coach can have a lot to say, and sometimes a coach will have nothing to say and the captain or a leader or the goalie will take the lead. That's the best situation because coaches are not cheerleaders.

Professional players have to be ready to play and emotionally charged to play. That's their responsibility.

The coach's responsibility is to prepare them, and if the preparation is right, then the players feel it within the room and take charge. That's probably the best scenario, when the leaders can do it. Not only say it but go out there and lead on the ice.

It's important to know who on your team can set the tone. It might be different from game to game who's having a real good game. As a coach, you want to try to get those guys to play their game and lead the way.

You're either putting out your top players or you've got a strong fourth line that you know can give you a good push or a third line that has been very effective or whoever is playing well. You start your period or your next shift with that and then you start to win those small battles.

It might take changes in line combinations. Then you're excited to play with someone else and there's more communication on the bench when that happens.

Sometimes the coach needs to paint a picture for his players, whether it's between periods or during a timeout. What are attainable goals that can be met?

Video: Looking at the Ducks' four-goal comeback vs. Capitals

You need to tell the players, "We've got a three-goal deficit, let's focus on our first five minutes" or "Let's kill the penalty that's coming up" or "Let's go score a goal in the first five minutes."

It's amazing what can happen when you give a challenge to your team. You can challenge them to score a goal in the first five minutes and you may make a couple small adjustments and say, 'We're going to be a little more aggressive in the way we pinch."

All of a sudden an opponent that was playing against a 1-2-2 forecheck now has guys in their faces all the time and can't get out of the defensive zone. The next thing you know, you scored a goal in the first five minutes and you have belief.

That can spark a comeback.

If you can win those first five minutes and score a goal, you can quickly shift the momentum. Then you're playing free, you're playing on your toes and you've got an emotional boost from that last goal and are believing, "We know we can do it if we do this and this."

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