Sens Prospect Roundup: Coaching Consistency

Bruce Bennett

Elliotte Friedman shed some light on the Sens' like-minded coaching staff. Meanwhile, Binghamton took on three teams this past weekend and knocked them all down.

Two weeks ago in his dependably enlightening column, 30 Thoughts, CBC's Elliotte Friedman gave some words to Ottawa's surge of youngsters and B-Sens products, writing:

25. Back in AHL training camp, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean and Binghamton counterpart Luke Richardson discussed philosophy. Richardson wanted to play the same way as the big club for consistency. MacLean wanted Richardson to have some flexibility. They decided to co-ordinate terminology and drills. One of the reasons the Senators are holding on amid all their injuries is, when players get called up, the familiarity creates comfort.

26. For example, one of the ideas MacLean likes to preach is "fast defence." Basically, he wants his forwards to create three lanes of support for defencemen trying to move or pass the puck out of their own zone. When the AHLers are called up, they understand what that means, no explanation necessary. "You can never move the puck fast enough for Paul," Richardson said.

27. Other advice Richardson gives to call-ups: "Be respectful but not too respectful. If you're battling Sidney Crosby, you must battle to win, or else you'll be back down here... I always tell them, 'I hope I never see you again,'" he laughed.

- Elliotte Friedman

Three of the vaunted thirty thoughts? Obviously there's something particularly notable going on here. I've spoken about it in this space before, but there has been some lack of clarity where Richardson's coaching style originates. In his introductory press conference, he professed a desire to coach a similar style to the fast-paced "two-hundred foot" game MacLean has instituted in Ottawa.

However, as the first half of the season unfolded, it became apparent Richardson was doing something slightly different. His team spent much of the game pinned in its own end. It excelled on the penalty kill, but struggled on the powerplay. They won close games and depended mightily upon their exception goaltending tandem- the one currently manning the crease in Ottawa. At times, it seems as though Richardson was teaching the game he knew best, as the dependable stay-at-home defender he was. For a rookie head coach, it's certainly not a bad place to start. Still, Binghamton didn't look much like the team in Ottawa. Of course, one can hardly expect the same coaching philosophy to look the same in two different leagues. After all, that's what the AHL and NHL are. One isn't just the less skilled version of the other, it also is played at a radically different pace. If you don't watch AHL games, think training camp versus regular season. Structures are difficult to institute, especially when the roster is often in flux, with a large group of players potentially jumping from NHL or ECHL and back.

Yet, as nebulous as the task of pinning down his strategy has been, it has worked. With an unrecognizable defensive corps thanks to a depleted group in Ottawa, both pieces of his goaltending tandem and several key cogs from the offence, Richardson and his team have kept this team competitive enough to win some games, even if not as much as they had been before. Now, on top of that, Friedman shows how important Luke Richardson has been to instituting a language the players would recognize when they graduated to the next level, even if it was much sooner than expected.

Upon reflection, the set-up could hardly have worked out any better for the Senators. Luke Richardson was able to spend a season as an assistant under MacLean and evidently gained respect for the head coach's demeanor and style. Meanwhile, Kurt Kleinendorst, who served the organization admirably and won them their first Championship, determined it was time to move on from the organizaiton. Richardson expressed an interest in the position and entered it with vigor, speaking a familiar language of puck movement, skating and, from the coaching staff down, mentorship and communication. Now, when players like Eric Gryba, David Dziurzynski, Andre Benoit, Mark Stone and, fleetingly, Derek Grant receive a call, they aren't completely lost under the glare of the big league lights.

Those Binghamton Senators played three games this weekend. The Senators organization beat two tiers of the Rangers organization on Friday night, with the B-Sens blanking the Connecticut Whale 3-0. It would prove to be a good omen for the weekend's performance. Binghamton eventually completed a sweep of a very long weekend, coming away with victories against the Rochester Amerks and Hershey Bears over the next 48 hours. The team needed some players to step up in a big way and, at the moment, players like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Corey Cowick are doing exactly that, riding five-game point streaks. If Cowick doesn't get a chance this season, he should get a long look next season in training camp. He has found an identity to his game that seemed to be lacking last season, when he flitted back and forth between Binghamton and Elmira. Pageau's game is fun to watch and is becoming fun to watch on the ol' stat-sheet as well.

Derek Grant had a goal on his weekend return to Binghamton, while Brett Lebda has been chipping in well from the blueline.

Three thirty-goal seasons in four years for Matt Puempel- he only played thirty games in the one without. His 32 goals are two short of his 34 career high. No such luck for Stefan Noesen, who had a fighting chance, but didn't find mesh over the last two weeks.

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