7 a.m., game day (regular season).
Washington Capitals video coach Blaine Forsythe is already at the rink, on a day that will consist of at least four meetings for his team as they prep for the evening’s opponent. The team’s coaching staff will use part of the morning to review game video together—a change head coach Dale Hunter implemented when he took over earlier in the season. Under previous head coach Bruce Boudreau, the coaches would first watch video separately.
There are other, subtle differences between the two coaches’ video style, such as what they choose to watch in-game between periods. But that comes into play later in the day. Right now, the team of Hunter, Forsythe, and assistant coaches Jim Johnson and Dean Evason will dissect the video, then hold the first of the day’s team meetings before the guys step on the ice for practice.
The first meeting targets the opposing team’s penalty kill and Capitals’ man-advantage. Studying this before practice, Forsythe explains, gives Hunter a chance to implement on ice any tweaks he wants to make to the team’s power play for that evening.
After practice comes the 5-on-5 meeting, with a “little pre-scout on the opposition,” Forsythe says. The third meeting will take place later at Verizon Center and focus on the opposing goalie—what tendencies the Capitals can expose and what they need to look out for. Finally, there’s a fourth meeting that addresses the opposition’s power play and the Capitals’ penalty kill.
Some of the knowledge imparted in these meetings has come from hours of preparation by guys like Forsythe watching game tape. Forsythe says he tries to watch their opponents’ previous three games, time permitting, as well as the Capitals’ last game against the upcoming opponent.
Bottom line: NHL—and AHL—coaches spend a lot of time with a video screen.
“They’re constantly watching video,” Capitals forward Jay Beagle said. “When you go in there, even just to talk to one of them, they’re all watching video, riding the bike, or doing something. They’re constantly watching video.”
Since Hunter came in, Forsythe says, there’s been a stronger focus on video. And the players are catching on.
“The players are taking more responsibility between periods to maybe look at stuff on the video,” Forsythe says. “Since Dale’s been in, we’ve done a lot more video individually with the players in between periods—obviously still trying to give them their space so they can kind of prepare.”
There’s a willing pupil in Beagle.
“I’ve always liked to be able to watch myself, watch my mistakes,” he said. “The game’s happening so fast on the ice, that sometimes to watch video and to be able to sit there with either Blaine or Dean, just to break it down from a higher level than ice level, it benefits you a lot … and to see that one or two feet out of position makes a huge difference.”
Beagle remembers one game against Tampa late in the season when he was playing against Hart nominee Steven Stamkos’ line, and he made a positional adjustment the coaches recommended based on the video (he couldn’t divulge the actual adjustment).
Beagle is just one of several guys on the team who takes advantage of the video component, according to Forsythe. Brooks Laich is probably the biggest video junkie, and Matt Hendricks likes to watch his shifts after every game.
Alex Ovechkin also makes time to watch video.
“Even Alex Ovechkin likes to watch video, mostly offensively to see what defensemen are doing against him maybe one-on-one or what goalies are taking away from him when he’s shooting,” Forsythe says.
For Beagle, video work is less about giving himself an edge over an opponent and more about bettering himself as a player and perfecting his game.
Some players, explained Beagle, prefer not to watch their mistakes over and over again, finding it better mentally to put the mistake aside and move on. Beagle indicated there’s a point at which a player can watch too much video, though he’s not hit that. He says he mainly just refers to it when it’s tweaking his habits, or if he’s struggling with a certain part of the system.
“I’ll watch, say, someone else do it—like, if, when I switch back to center, I’d watch how Brooksie did it,” Beagle said.
Beagle adds that it’s particularly helpful on special situations like faceoffs, down to details like the position of his hands on the hockey stick. And if he’s had a bad night on faceoffs, Coach Evason knows Beagle will come calling.
“Dean already knows that I’m gonna come and ask him,” Beagle says about reviewing video. “We can basically read off each other.”
During the games, though, Beagle won’t watch the video himself between periods unless a coach brings it to him.
During the game, Forsythe sits upstairs in the press box and is in constant communication with assistant coach Dean Evason on the bench.
“Basically everything,” Forsythe described what aspects of the game he talks to Evason about. Evason will then relay the information to Hunter.
Between periods, Forsythe will head downstairs.
“I’ll have the video available,” he says. “We usually look at scoring chances for and against, and then, obviously special teams. … And between the four of us—between, obviously Jimmy, Dale, and Dean and myself—if there’s something that’s kind of concerning us that we want to look at, we’ll do that at that time.”
Forsythe called the adjustment on video work from Boudreau to Hunter nothing major—“just a different way to look at the game.” Hunter is more about the game dynamic—chances for and against and how they’re developed. Boudreau liked to focus on the structure of the game—things like faceoffs that he could control—and to be a step ahead of the other team, changing and adjusting to keep ahead of the opponent’s coaching staff. Hunter is more of a match coach, Forsythe adds.
On the Road
Road games don’t necessarily mean a break from video, though the location may change. Occasionally, the Caps will have video sessions at the hotel room as HBO’s 24/7 series this season showed John Tortorella and the New York Rangers doing. Mostly, though, it’s still done at the rink.
In the AHL, Beagle says, he remembers coaches struggling to get game tapes on other teams. And it’s done under less auspicious circumstances. There, it’s two coaches reviewing video–on the buses the teams use for transportation.
When Forsythe watches video, he’s watching the systems, with players’ habits taking a secondary role. Not that he doesn’t notice them.
“I’ve been in the league I think now for seven years, so you have a pretty good idea of how guys play,” he says. “Guys like Eric Staal that do things a little different than a lot of other players. … The Islanders, we talked about the Tavares line and how they’re real good and they’re off the rush and stuff. So that stuff is pretty natural, it just kind of stands out when you’re watching the video. But the main focus is systems, and then the other stuff kind of follows from that.”
NHL video coaches may do a good job of flying under the radar, but it’s clear not much gets by them.