In hockey, the amount of defensive strategy a team puts into its game dwarfs its total of offensive strategies, which is somewhere close to zero.
Offensively, you’re pretty free. There are some guidelines – always keep a forward high in the offensive zone (so you don’t get three guys trapped deep), mid-lane drive on a three-on-two, and other little things like that. But for the most part, you’re trying to create chaos, find soft spots for open looks, and generally twist the D in knots.
Unlike basketball, good defense will beat good offense in hockey every time.
Earlier today I was reminded by a Cam Charron column what every single defensive strategy coaches teach comes down to: protecting The House.
This, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is the (poorly drawn) “House”:
Some people refer to it as home plate, some people define the exact parameters of it differently, but you get the point: inside the house is where quality scoring chances come from, and because of that, it’s precisely where you want to keep the puck away from.
When you’re wondering what coaches are yelling at their players on the bench, it’s usually either A) a random string of curses or B) “Keep the puck on the paint,” (the yellow on the bottom of the boards), “Keep them to the outside,” (of the house), or some variation of that statement.
It used to be that the goal of offenses was to cycle the puck, which in retrospect was kind of silly. You’d have guys just cutting laps in the offensive zone, never taking the puck to the house, just keeping it on the wall. These days, that’s what coaches try to get offenses to do. (There are some exceptions like the Sedins, who cycle but are constantly looking for a play in the house.)
This is why a winger, who’s “job” is to cover his d-man on the point, is allowed to help his d-man out if an opposing player who has the puck cuts to the middle underneath the winger. If that guy passes it up to the point, you’d rather a shot from there than a shot from inside the house.
Inside those crudely drawn black lines, there shouldn’t be a spot that at least two defensive players can’t be within stick range of in the matter of a half-second. With this being a major priority for skaters, there’s one undeniable fact that pro goalies need to accept: unscreened shots from outside that house are their responsibility and there’s alone. Anything that goes in from out there without a tip is grounds to get a goalie yanked. You need to be able to trust that he’s got that stuff covered.
When scrambles happen in front of the net late in games, the house collapses smaller and smaller, and that’s alright, as long as you aren’t allowing shots from inside that (now smaller) house.
It’s likely many of you were familiar with that term, but for those of you who weren’t….
Glad we could be of assistance today.