Coaches Learn to Play the Hot Hand

In a lot of ways, it’s kind of a relief for a coach to be down 4-1 in a game. It frees the coach up to make riskier decisions, since the game is pretty much gone anyway.

Last night, down 4-1 to the Flames, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville rode his third and fourth line to a tie, only to eventually lose the game. But I loved the clarity of the move. A lot of coaches go to their big guns, more out of faith than out of a rational analysis of how they’re playing. But, as Quenneville showed, sometimes it makes more sense to play whoever is playing well, no matter what the name on the back of their jersey says.

Over in New York, coach John Tortorella, who has a reputation for only rolling his big guns, gave a lot of even-strength ice time to third- and fourth-liners Blair Betts, Freddy Sjostrom, and Lauri Korpikoski in New York’s win over the Caps. Of course, it’s easier for Tortorella, who doesn’t really have a big gun to roll. But it’s not even like Tortorella was only trying to protect a lead. He was looking for some offense and those were three of his best forwards last night.

Baseball managers are much more open to the idea of playing a guy who just happens to be swinging the bat well. For some reason, and especially during the playoffs, NHL coaches prefer to look at the player’s performance as a whole. And while there’s something to be said for that, why wouldn’t you play who’s hot? Most coaches will do that with a goalie in a heartbeat. Why not do it more with forwards?