Welcome to your latest Systems Analyst post – today we take a look at trusting your teammates and acknowledging when you have defensive ”numbers” on a rush.
Hopefully nobody thinks I’m picking on the Winnipeg Jets – I just go through the submissions I get and chose the one I think can best serve as a teaching point.
On this particular play, the Winnipeg Jets have just lost possession, and the Bruins are transitioning up the ice.
The first thing to note is that when Benoit Pouliot gets the puck on the boards, his centerman Rich Peverly is providing great center lane support. Pouliot now has the option to chip it past Blake Wheeler and let Peverly skate into it, or sneak it to his linemate directly. He chooses option B.
In the next frame, you’ll see that Blake Wheeler is quite clearly the first guy back, as he was the high forward in the offensive zone. I mentioned the cliche “work smarter not harder” in my last post, and this is another instance of that. The instinct is to always high-tail it back to your own zone when backchecking, and that’s what Wheeler does.
Pressuring the puck carrier for a sec is no problem, but he needs to better identify the situation. What about the guy who just passed the puck?
The Jets have enough players back to cover the rushing forwards (2-on-2), which is to say they have numbers. Identifying that, Wheeler needs to trust that those two have the situation under control, slow down, figure out who his guy is, and “lock on.”
Now Blake is a little distracted by selling the “I swear I didn’t hook him move,” and he’s about to remember That Other Forward the Bruins have on the ice still gets to play too.
After a good defensive play by Flood to poke the puck free, suddenly the three Bruins forwards are nicely spread out in-zone with possession because Wheeler didn’t identify his guy sooner. Now Pouliot has time to get his head up and look to see who’s open.
Chris Kelly is.
Wheeler makes a really agile turn to get himself in position to start defending Pouliot, and even recognizes where he’s gonna go with the pass, as evidenced by his dropping to one knee to attempt a block in the next frame.
But Kelly made a very smart offensive play – instead of carrying on into coverage, he parks in the soft area and loads up. And I mean PARKS. Because he sat back so much, Pouliot is able to sneak the puck past Wheeler’s attempted block, and get the puck to Kelly’s wheelhouse.
If Kulda isn’t going to defend that pass, he absolutely has to be in Kelly’s shooting lane. Otherwise, he’s defended approximately NOTHING on the entire play.
And sadly for the Jets, the stick flex shown here (with the puck in the middle of the blade) highlights just how much Kelly got of this shot.
Not good enough Wheeler, not good enough Kulda, and so…
If Wheeler just looks around and identifies the situation sooner, the Jets are in great shape and the Bruins never score that goal.