Thursday, January 24, 2013

Patience With Silfverberg Will Pay Off For Maclean and Spezza

There was a moment about halfway through Monday’s game between the Panthers and the Senators when I started wondering how soon Colin Greening would be back on that top line instead of the much heralded rookie Jakob Silfverberg. It seemed inevitable to me as I got caught up in the minutia of the game.

The new setup just wasn’t working. Silfverberg, the Senators latest draft steal, looked indecisive and wasn’t finding those open areas on the ice that Jason Spezza can always deliver a saucer pass into. After a game and a half, I thought I could see a change coming.

Then the kid actually scored his first goal in the third period on a classic Spezza dish into the slot.

Wrong again, Mr. Milks.

Any time a coach makes a change to what was considered a strength the previous season, there’s going to be doubts.  Greening, who has been pushed down the depth chart by Silfverberg and Guillaume Latendresse, had a productive run on that top line last season, scoring 17 goals, providing size along the boards and in front of the net. But now he’s on the wing with Zack Smith and Chris Neil, a line that basically puts most of Ottawa’s forward grit and size in one package.

So far, it’s worked out well because the Senators go into Florida Thursday night 2-0 on the season, but the top line has only produced two goals while the second unit centred by Kyle Turris has done the bulk of the offensive work.

But here’s why coach Paul Maclean is going to stay patient with Silfverberg:

The way Spezza plays, he needs the kind of winger who has the potential to read his sometimes zig-zag mind. Milan Michalek is a little different as he’s mostly an up and down winger who goes to the net with an above average set of hands. You could put Michalek on any line and he’d play the same way and not have his stats hindered too much. But when you plug a Dany Heatley or Daniel Alfredsson onto Spezza’s wing, you have a different type of dynamic at work.

Both Spezza and Heatley have elite hockey sense (regardless of what you think about #15, it’s undeniable) and knew a split-second before anyone else what Spezza was thinking and got into the right spot on the ice. That’s not an easy thing to do and it’s not something you can really teach.

Obviously Maclean sees in Silfverberg a player with elite hockey sense and those kinds of guys don’t come around very often. The short-term might be a little tough but Silfverberg is the “type” of player Spezza can work with and have the most success. That’s why the Nikita Filatov experiment was tried last year as well. It’s probably a carryover from Maclean’s Detroit days, where Hockey IQ was valued above all else. Greening, as good as he is, is not exactly in that mould.

Maybe, with that one goal late in the game on Monday, there’s a bit of a spark between Silfverberg and Spezza now. The rookie Swedish winger will likely get a long rope in the early going to see if that chemistry can build. Even if he doesn’t start piling up the goals right away, Silfverberg still needs to start converting those Spezza feeds into actual chances. That’s where the trust will build up and once that’s there, the points will come in droves.

Silfverberg was a slow starter in the AHL as he got accustomed to the league. The NHL is an even bigger step but the biggest challenge for Silfverberg is going to be learning how to play with Spezza, not the physicality or the speed of the game.

And my best guess is he’ll do just fine.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that I'm on board with your thinking. I like the idea of throwing Silfverberg on the top line. But if after 5 or 6 games, there's no or little production, then they should make adjustments.

The season's too short for prolonged experiments, unless we want to throw a year away.

Anonymous said...

This is still a young team in developement mode, I dont have a problem with allowing silfverberg to figure things out. If his production doesnt come its not the end of the world because he does everything else well.