GLENS FALLS -- Mid-drill on Thursday, during a warm-up exercise at that, Terry Murray was so frustrated that he stopped the Adirondack Phantoms.
It was a simple passing drill they do most days, but the head coach was seeing the same problems that have popped up again and again in the Phantoms’ current 2-7 stretch.
Later on, Murray again called a drill to a halt. This time, he had seen three consecutive turnovers trying to enter the offensive zone.
Murray has stopped in the middle of drills before, but rarely twice in one practice.
The Phantoms have struggled with turnovers recently, especially in the neutral zone. Thursday’s issues in practice were indicative of those problems.
“Put your stick down and be ready. Give him a target,” Murray yelled at the first stop after passes were ending up in players’ skates.
In the meeting before practice, Murray addressed passing. He said the first pass, between defensemen below the goal line, is OK, but it’s that next pass or the one after that becomes a turnover.
After Friday’s practice, a much shorter session the day before a game, about a dozen players gathered around center ice to play a passing game. Players pass the puck across the circle continually, anyone who messes up passing or receiving is out.
The second stop on Thursday was about getting into the offensive zone without losing the puck.
“I don’t want to practice this way. We need to get going,” Murray said. “This red line doesn’t mean stop, it means go.”
It wasn’t the effort he had a problem with — he’s stopped mid-drill for that in other practices. It was just a lack of execution.
The 5 feet on either side of the blue line are critical, Murray said. Players must be able to assess their options and determine in an instant if they can carry the puck into the zone, pass it into the zone, or if they need to chase it down.
“There’s not possession opportunity every time,” Murray said. “And when we turned it over three rushes in a row, I stopped it. That’s what we do in the game.”
An awareness of both teams’ positioning can clean that up. If a teammate is advancing quickly behind you, dump it behind the opposing defensemen and he can get the puck. Maybe you can pass it to someone advancing along the boards.
Murray said the Phantoms aren’t taking advantage of the full width of the ice.
Murray also said passing and entry into the zone, along with the forecheck, were the biggest differences in the Phantoms’ last two games — a 4-1 win over Hershey and 4-1 loss to Hartford.
The problem with the forecheck is a lack of physicality. Murray said he needs his players to win more one-on-one battles. If they are too small to knock down a bigger player, he wants them to go for the hands or stick.
“You just need to hold him for one, two seconds and your teammate can gather the puck,” Murray said.
That problem didn’t arise in practice Thursday, but Murray said it’s one of the biggest issues to clean up in order to get out of this slump.
After Saturday’s game, the Phantoms travel to Bridgeport for a Sunday game.