Originally created 11/05/99

Lynx concerned with defense



It's a common misconception. Take, for example, the calls Lynx coach Dan Wiebe fields each week during his weekly radio show.

Earl from Martinez, a novice hockey fan, knows the Lynx have struggled at times in their own end, and wants to see Wiebe shake up his lineup, perhaps trade a defenseman.

But not unlike other teams experiencing defensive-zone problems, Augusta's troubles don't fall exclusively on the shoulders of their defensemen.

"Defense is a team concept that includes everybody from the goaltender out," said Wiebe, after another day of tweaking his systems in preparation for Saturday's road showdown against the expansion Greensboro Generals.

"It's not just the responsibility of the defensemen. A lot of the fans automatically think that's the case, but it's not the case at all."

Wiebe can easily trace his team's disappointing 2-4-1 start to their defensive-zone problems. This is, actually, a good thing. Though the Lynx have allowed more shots on goal than any team in the league (41 per game), the deficiencies are easily fixed.

"We're not poor defensively because we don't play defense or because we've got problems with our defensemen, it's just a matter of knowing our system," said defenseman and captain Dan Kopec.

"I think we've got a few younger guys trying to learn where they should be on the ice, and maybe even some older guys that should know more about the system than they do. It's not a work ethic or personnel problem. It's a matter of working hard in practice each day, learning the system, and sticking to it."

In a nutshell, Augusta's problems can be traced to forwards who fail to pick up attacking forwards as they enter the zone (backchecking); or communication problems between the two defensemen and one forward positioned down low, where they are responsible for protecting the front of the net and the corners of the rink.

"I don't think it's because guys aren't trying out there; it's more a matter of guys knowing the system and where they are supposed to be, as well as communication on the ice," Wiebe said. "It's important for everyone to be reading the plays and anticipating the plays as they develop. And the bottom line is protecting the front of the net."

"It's basically a very simple system," Kopec said. "We don't play a man-to-man system, but more of a part man-to-man and part zone defensive system. I think that might have confused some guys at first, but it's really pretty straightforward."

As the newcomers and returning players continue to jell and grow more accustomed to the systems, Wiebe guarantees the results will follow.

On their 1-2-0 road swing last weekend, the Lynx showed marked improvement -- save for the third period of a 4-2 loss to Birmingham last Friday, when they blew a 2-1 lead and were outshot 22-10.

In the last three games, they cut the shots-against to 37, after allowing an average of 44 shots in their first four games.

"I think it has improved greatly already," Kopec said. "It's something we're working on every day in practice. Just knowing our responsibilities and not straying away from what we know we should be doing is the key. We're getting there."

PROBLEM RESOLVED: Lynx player/assistant coach Mark Desantis and coach Dan Wiebe met to clear the air after Wiebe asked DeSantis to leave the ice during practice Wednesday morning at the IceForum.

"I talked to Mark about it, and it's been resolved," Wiebe said. "That's all I'm going to say about it. It's an internal matter."

After returning to practice Thurdsay, DeSantis would not discuss the incident, but said he and Wiebe "had a good talk" and that "everything was OK" between them.

"It wasn't a big deal," Lynx assistant captain Jessie Rezansoff said. "That's hockey. Things like that happen all the time."

ONE-TIMERS: Wiebe was waiting for word from Syracuse coach Stan Smyl regarding the return of goaltender Mike Valley. With Judd Lambert signing a 25-game contract with Orlando of the International Hockey League, the Lynx are without a backup for rookie J-F Damphousse.

If Valley is not sent back to Augusta, the Lynx will go with Darren Wilkinson as an emergency backup. Wilkinson, who filled in for the Lynx and several other teams on an emergency basis last year, is a native of Canada currently living in Charlotte.

Rookie defenseman Lucas Nehrling, a bruising 6-foot-5 blueliner assigned from Albany of the American Hockey League on Wednesday, arrived Thursday, but did not practice. He will skate with the team for the first time this morning and make his debut Saturday night in Greensboro.

Defenseman Clint Cabana (ankle sprain) will resume skating Tuesday and likely be activated off the seven-day injured reserve list in time for Thursday's game on the road against Florida.