Last night, as I listened to the post-game coaches press conferences, I got to thinking about the differences in the way the Ottawa and New York are coached. What actually got me to thinking about this was the differences in Guy Boucher’s and Alain Vigneault’s answers to the French media. Both are native French speakers, but the language and the intonation that they used in answering the questions of the French media were very different–Boucher using more idiomatic and purely Quebecois French and AV answering in a more halting, careful style. Putting aside the fact that Boucher speaks to the French Canadian media much more often than AV does, it reflects a difference in their general style and how they coach that is worthy of a quick look.
Setting the stage, at 10:00 pm last night, Ottawa had just lost the third game of the series, by the score of 4-1. The Sens had put in a poor performance, while New York had taken fewer penalties, battled well for position and the puck, and got some luck too (finally). Vigneault appeared at the podium after Boucher, and said that he thought the Rangers played well in Ottawa, and that they “deserved better” out of the score in the two games there. AV said that the team appreciated the extra day between games, and then without saying much more, he was gone. That is not to say that he was asked questions and refused to answer, he just did not give out any interesting information. In my experience, this is not unusual, as AV keeps things close to the vest, is very calm and friendly toward the media, but basically says very little. It’s AV’s personality and coaching style (see this article written on NHL.com about six years ago (https://www.nhl.com/news/vigneaults-personality-coaching-style-a-perfect-fit/c-560182). His systems and messages do not change–he is calm and his convictions in how his team should play. And for the most part, it has worked well.
Boucher is an entirely different type of coach. After his team essentially no-showed last night, Boucher came in to talk to us, and was clearly disappointed and angry. Refusing to call anyone out specifically, he said, “it was a general loss for the entire team” and that there was nothing positive for the Sens to take from the game. However, he detailed what he thought was wrong, ie, the game was lost in the first period, and Ottawa was “behind in [their] thinking, behind on [their] execution, behind in [their] physicality, behind on everything.” In essence, according to Boucher, the Rangers just wanted it more, not wanting to go down 3-0 in the series.
But something else he said, and I had been thinking since watching the Sens beat the Rangers at MSG in November, caught my ears. Boucher said, “[w]e let that first goal in, that’s clearly the guys along the slots in there, and we rarely let that happen with us.” In my opinion, it is this tactic of keeping New York to the outside, slowing them down, tight checking and making it very difficult to carry the puck into the offensive zone that is the key to Ottawa winning games against the Blueshirts and the only way that the Canadian team will move to the third round.
The Senators have not admitted publicly, but Boucher must have known early on this season that several teams, including New York, have more talented players on their roster than he does. In just his first season as head coach of Ottawa, Boucher’s plan has all season long been to neutralize those teams with very high end skill level by doing exactly what has made them successful against the Rangers in the first two games of this series. He has become a winning coach of a team with a lesser talent level. How he has done is to become a tactician extraordinaire, with a psychological bent. He is naturally a positive person, building up his players’ positives, while also being very smart, detailed, and direct (with his players and with the media).
AV and Boucher–two very different coaching styles, employed by two very different coaching personalities on teams that have differing attributes. It should be very interesting to see which coach can get the most out of their team using such different tactics. Tomorrow night should be telling.