The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2019-20 season 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. Paul MacLean, Rob Zettler, Rob Cookson and Randy Carlyle will take turns providing insight.
In this edition, Paul MacLean, former coach of the Ottawa Senators, checks in from Stockholm, where he is conducting coaching clinics in conjunction with the 2019 NHL Global Series, where the Tampa Bay Lighting will play the Buffalo Sabres at Ericsson Globe on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, NHL.TV) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN1, SUN, MSG-B, NHL.TV).
MacLean examines how the trip could have long-term positive impacts for each team.
Sweden is a long way to come to play two NHL games, and these four available points will be important to the Sabres and Lightning.
As a coach in this situation, there are a lot of positives that can be found in such a drastic change in routine.
A trip like this can be used as a time for your team to come together. It's a little bit of a different road trip than your typical trip in North America. There, players have people around that they're close to and they have their routines on the road of where they go and what they do in each city. When they come here, it's brand new.
So it's really an opportunity for the leaders of your team to take charge of the group and get them out and see the city and come together a bit more, which is not something that would normally happen on a road trip.
Coming over here has also given them the advantage of having a practice block, which can also be a rarity during the season. Each team will have had at last three straight practice sessions to teach and work on systems, which almost never happens once the season begins. Each team has been taking advantage of that time to get some things sorted out in its game.
I think Tampa Bay needs to address being more consistent. The Lightning (6-5-2) have been a bit up and down; starting games really well and going into ebbs and flows. They have not been as good at consistently getting to a high level and staying there. Their game is fluctuating quite a bit.
Their game tends to slide when the defensive side of the game starts to get loose and there's not enough work being done to get the puck back when they lose it. That puts a lot of pressure on the goalie and the defensive structure. I think they have done a good job of recognizing what they need to do; getting on the ice here and recognizing the work without the puck is what needs to be addressed.
The strength of the Lightning is puck possession and they have to play to that. Let's face it, if you have the puck, you don't have to defend. The biggest part of Tampa Bay's success last season was it had the puck all the time. The Lightning won face-offs, created turnovers and controlled the neutral zone so well last season, creating chaos for the opposition and opportunities for them. They haven't gotten their game back to that point, and that's what they've been trying to implement here this week.
Video: Kucherov nets first off one-time feed from Sergachev
Buffalo has had a great start to the season. Ralph Krueger has come in as the coach and really given this team an identity and given them a reason to play together.
I think the Sabres (9-4-2) have always had a really good collection of players as far as draft picks, skill level and the ability to play the game. They just haven't been able to put the square pegs in the squares and the round pegs in the holes and get it sorted out. I think Ralph has done a great job with that.
Buffalo has had a great start to the season; last season, they won 10 in a row, but ended up missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They've been playing well, but can they sustain it? That's the job the Buffalo staff has now, to get that consistency into the team's game.
In practice, the Sabres have been trying to establish an every-day work ethic necessary to be a good team in the NHL. You work at it and you'll get better at it.
For me, the best thing that Ralph has done for the Sabres so far is he has allowed center Jack Eichel, forward Jeff Skinner and his skill players to be themselves and just go out and play. He has encouraged them to be responsible and make good decisions. He has brought the attitude that a player is able to play for himself, but also understanding the result of the game is more important than the result of the player; That's an important step for the group.
Video: NJD@BUF: Skinner roofs goal from the circle
But has and what will be accomplished on this trip will go far deeper for each team than how the two games here turn out. The overseas experience and principles stressed here in the practice blocks will impact each team long after they return to North America and get back into the grind of the regular season.