Flames training camp notes: Glen Gulutzan prioritizes puck possession

Training camp for the 2016-17 season is underway for the Calgary Flames, as three different on-ice groups are taking part in daily sessions. With a brand new head coach in Glen Gulutzan and many new players, there’s a lot to take in.

I managed to take in all of Saturday’s on-ice sessions, and here are my main takeaways.

Systems

The on-ice sessions were structurally familiar, but quite different in their details. The first thing evident was the pace; Gulutzan keeps things active, rapidly moving from drill to drill with the coach occasionally interjecting with instructions.

The primary difference between Bob Hartley’s practices and Gulutzan’s is what drives the pace. Hartley emphasized skating, while Gulutzan’s drills revolve around puck possession, rapid puck movement and a quick transition game. The key to the practices appears to be getting the puck, keeping control of the puck, and getting the puck back in the event you turn it over.

Heck, Gulutzan twice whistled down drills early on to correct details, and both times were turnover issues:

  • The forwards kept turning the puck over at the blueline during two-on-two drills, causing Gulutzan to emphasize the importance of holding onto the puck.
  • Later on, a forward made a blind pass in his own zone during a transitions drill (causing a recurrence).

The thing that agitates the new coach is irresponsible puck management.

    In terms of systems, Hartley seemed content to give the opposition attackers the very edge of the defensive zone, close down the inside lanes and attempt to let the opposition tucker themselves out and turn the puck over within the offensive zone. Gulutzan is having defenders be more active at challenging zone entries at the blueline, which will probably result in teams having to rely on dump-and-chase to get the puck into Calgary’s end and put more of an emphasis on the Flames’ puck retrieval and foot speed inside their own zone.

    In terms of specific drills, there were a lot of D-to-D passes followed by transitions to the forwards for rapid breakouts. Instead of stretch passes, there were more short, rapid fire passes. I think the idea is to catch the defenders on their heels and generate chances on the rush (and presumably utilizing the defenders as a second wave of attack, too).

    Player Usage

    Generally speaking, Gulutzan seemed to keep pairs of players together (and on occasion there were recurring trios, but predominantly it was pairs).

    Group A: Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer (often with Matthew Tkachuk); rotating combinations of Andrew Mangiapane, Austin Carroll, Mark Jankowski and Morgan Klimchuk; Mark Giordano & Dennis Wideman

    Group B: Lance Bouma and Emile Poirier; Alex Chiasson, Matt Stajan and Hunter Shinkaruk; Ryan Lomberg and Dillon Dube; Rasmus Andersson and Ryan Culkin; Tyler Wotherspoon and Dougie Hamilton (with Nicklas Grossmann rotating in for Wotherspoon occasionally)

    Group C: Linden Vey and Micheal Ferland; Chris Higgins, Freddie Hamilton and Brandon Bollig; Oliver Kylington and Deryk Engelland; T.J. Brodie and Brett Kulak

    Other than giving a few clues in terms of roles that players may be auditioning for (and perhaps a preview of which players could be grouped together for the split-squad games in Calgary and Edmonton on Monday), I wouldn’t read too much into the groupings. They’re obviously written in pencil, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see things shaken up significantly once cuts come after the first couple of preseason dates.

    One detail that I did like, though: Gulutzan seems to have a preference for leftie-rightie defensive pairings, as other than Brodie nobody played their weak side (and Brodie most often plays the right side anyway despite being a left shot).

    The players coming back from the World Cup (Lauri Korpikoski, Jyrki Jokipakka and Michael Frolik) should be on the ice with the practice groups on Sunday or Monday.

    • EhPierre

      I like the defense pairings GG used. Some of them are quite interesting (Brodie + Kulak) that I think would work well and others are intriguing (Kylington + Engs)

      • Baalzamon

        He won’t. If any of the invites gets a job it’ll be Higgins (and I doubt he will). Korpikoski will be released even before Grossmann. It’ll become plain very quickly that even Bouma and Bollig are better players than Korpikoski.

        • Baalzamon

          No he doesn’t. As an invite he’s well behind Higgins, and both of them are behind Vey who, if last year is any indication, is himself unlikely to make the team.

          Personally I’ll be astonished if Korpikoski makes it past the split-squad game.

        • OKG

          can’t see who he would displace at Left shot forward… Ferland Bouma Stajan Tkachuk Jankowski Backlund Shinkaruk Klimchuk Mangiapane Frolik Poirier Gaudreau… all better hockey players. There is zero chance he displaces a right shot forward either (Hathaway Hamilton Vey Brouwer Chiasson Pribyl) on our team.

          I am actually amazed he stuck around in the NHL last year. Mason Raymond was probably better than him and we bought him out.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      With Euro ending up in the finals, does it suggest former Wrangler great Ralphie Krueger is the best coach NOT in the NHL?

      Nigel urged the Flames after Harts was axed to rope in the old Wrangler Krueger, but my sage wisdom was once more pearls before swine.

    • JKG

      Thanks for the detail Ryan!
      Sounds like Gullys game plan may be promising.

      Side note – Grossman was getting lit up so bad in some of the flames online vids, it was hard to watch, his foot speed is seriously lacking. I won’t be sad to see him cut lose. Seems like a decent dude, just not here please.

    • OKG

      So…

      52%+ possession with Gulutzan’s new defensive systems
      230+ goals with largely the same roster that had 229 + 237 goals the last two seasons
      .920+ SV% with Elliott, Johnson
      Quality, NHL-level depth on the farm with Kulak, Jankowski, Poirier, F. Hamilton, Hathaway, Gillies

      President’s Trophy contender gentlemen.

      • cberg

        Although I wouldn’t go there at the moment, I agree it is within the realm of possibility. If they get off to an awesome start, like , say 30+ pts in the first 20 games then I’ll be on board for it being a serious possibility.

        • OKG

          The biggest question mark is the playmaking void left by Hudler(/Colborne). If Brouwer, Chiasson, Bennett, Tkachuk, and Bouma have good years we should be optimistic.