When I found myself in a slump as a player, there was usually a reason: I was trying too hard to score.
What I mean by that is, I wanted out of the slump so desperately I was cheating offensively. When you cheat offensively, you sacrifice some attention to defensive detail, and the magnet that is the opposing net starts sucking you in that direction, into the traffic. And just like that you lose your oh-so-valuable ”offensive gap.”
Neutral zone gap control, for a defenseman, is one of the most important things to pay attention to. You don’t want to back off too far from rushing forwards, as it lets them gain the zone too easily, cross, and get creative. It also makes you have to put on the brakes (making yourself vulnerable to be beaten wide if the guy steps on it), and allows the forward to use you as a screen.
That’s a whole list of bad things that can happen when you play saggy defense because you’re scared of a forward’s speed.
Best-case-scenario for D-men is to be tight on forwards (as I’ve shown below), but not until their own blue line. Too tight too soon gives those forwards the option to drive wide, and in turn get the puck into the offensive zone too easily.
This is why as a forward, you want to create as much gap as possible if you aren’t in a position to beat the D wide (and how often is that an option, really?), and you do that by playing your position properly in your own end.
When you’re slumping and the cheating starts, it looks like this for a winger – you should be here.
Instead you’re here.
I know, those might as well be the same picture, but this is why you watch video. The petty two-to-three feet make a big difference. Think of our Systems Analyst post from this week. If Jason Chimera is lower, Jamie McBain either doesn’t risk coming all the way down to attempt the poke check, or he does and Chimera actually has a second with the puck to make a decision.
This is part of the reason the guy who floats on your rec hockey team is so annoying – he thinks he’s going to have a better opportunity to score, but he puts himself in traffic. Unless he gets that breakaway, he’s useless – he’s not a pass outlet, and he’s going to be covered the second he gets near a puck.
It all starts in the D-zone. Forwards who actually play their positions there and don’t get ahead of themselves help their teammates out with support (and defense!), and allow them selves bigger offensive gaps (more time and space) when they get the puck and start heading the other way.