With the first three games of the Preds’ 2013 season completed (and the first two with a less-than-stellar performance), I’d like to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart and probably Barry Trotz’s as well: the giveaway. While I don’t think anyone would argue that turnovers are good, I do think that they are often overlooked as a major contribution to any team’s downfall.
Part of the reason for this oversight is due to the fact that such statistics are a judgment call. A giveaway is defined as a turnover resulting from an error. The way statisticians decide what constitutes a giveaway varies by statistician because they judge play and errors differently. What one stat person might consider a bad pass and record it as a giveaway, another might consider an excellent defensive read and thus, a takeaway. This makes the numbers for giveaways (as well as takeaways and hits) far more subjective as opposed to something as concrete as shots on goal.
This inconsistency doesn’t mean that the GVA stat is completely without merit. Nor does it mean that the coaching staff isn’t paying attention. While there is quite a bit of discrepancy in how giveaways are marked on the score sheet, generally, the team with more erratic turnovers ends up losing. It’s pretty simple, really: if you turnover the puck more than your opponent, you’re going to spend more time chasing and less time on attack. It’s such a basic concept that it seems kind of dumb to even point it out, but turnover prevention is one of those “foundations” people talk about.
The amount of turnovers from bad passes and sloppy play may explain some of the Preds’ recent line juggling. From where I was sitting, Craig Smith made a few pretty large mistakes in the season opener against the Blue Jackets, mistakes that don’t have a place in professional hockey. I recall one play in which he made a blind centering pass at his own blue line right to the stick of a Blue Jackets forward. While he looks better in this clip than he did in some of his other moments on the ice, he’s got his head down again and he can’t afford to give the puck away like this:
In a game as fast-paced as hockey, turnovers are a fact. That’s the nature of flinging a hunk of frozen vulcanite around on a sheet of ice, but not all turnovers are created equal. It’s one thing to lose the puck in the offensive zone. It’s entirely another to give it away on neutral ice or worse yet, the defensive zone. Giveaways on the wrong end of the rink result in higher chances of an odd man rush.
This is why hockey players have breakout drills pounded into them. From an early age they are taught that blind centering passes in the neutral zone are a no-no and passes through their own crease might just be a cardinal sin. The no-look pass is the exact opposite of heads-up hockey. A goalie should never have to shovel a teammates’ pass out of the paint. These are simple mistakes that can really hurt a team, and you can be certain that coaches are going to take notice. Luckily, they are pretty simple mistakes to fix, too.
Granted, the longer a player possesses the puck, the more opportunities he has to give it away, but if I take notice of the bad turnovers from my seat it’s a good bet that Barry Trotz is noticing way more from the bench. As head coach, he’s going to take appropriate action that goes beyond shouting reprimands or the ol’ locker-room chats. If you play poorly, you’re going to see less ice. It’s another one of those facts of the game.
Whatever his methods, Trotz seems to have gotten the point across to his guys. As Trotz put it after the game, they are not playing “summer hockey” anymore. They played a noticeably tighter game Tuesday night for the win against the Minnesota Wild, incurring only two giveaways as opposed to the 11 they gave up in each of the first two games. Even if those numbers are slightly fuzzy, fewer turnovers mean better hockey and better hockey means more wins.