In the ranks of professional hockey, every level you move up gets easier.
Obviously that’s counter-intuitive, but here’s what I mean: the game is less chaotic, and your teammates are more positionally reliable, so it’s a cleaner game, and easier to think. Sure, you’ll get roasted on pure speed or size here and there because the game isn’t actually easier, but if you have the raw skill set to compete it can seem that way.
The lower you go, the more it’s like your high school gym class playing ball hockey, which is a nice was of saying “total clustertruck.”
NHL rookies, like puppies, sometimes have a tough time reining in their energy – this means that they occasionally compromise the team’s simple system by running around. In the case of this Systems Analyst post, Carl Hagelin of the New York Rangers costs his team because of his go-go-go sled-dog-like attitude on the forecheck.
Let’s take a look:
In the screenshot below, we can see what’s about to develop. Devils d-man Bryce Salvador is heading back on the puck in his own zone. Marian Gaborik is F1, the first forward up-ice in pursuit. His job is to take away the D-to-D pass, which he does, and try to body the puck carrier. Hagelin is taking away the wall – if Salvador doesn’t throw it up to him blind, he needs to be above the winger on that side (Sykora) so two guys don’t get beat with one pass.
This is one of the most important rules of the forecheck – one pass, one play never beats two guys. You rely on your linemates to make sure they’re positionally sound to make that work, and that way you never give up an odd-man rush.
But here’s the tough part: if F1 gets body on the d-man with the puck, F2′s job suddenly becomes puck recovery. And, as we see below, Gaborik gets a piece of Salvador, and knocks him off balance.
This is the read for Hagelin – Salvador may be (a tiny bit) off-balance, but he needs to be above the winger on the wall as F2. He’s thinking he’s going to be able to get to the puck after Gaborik has provided the bump, but look at the distance he has to cover. He makes just a terrible read, and suddenly Salvador has trapped two Rangers and moved the puck up to his winger.
Zidlicky sees that they have two Rangers trapped, so he jumps up in the play, and the Devils find themselves on a full-ice 4-on-3. From here, Hagelin has to get on his horse and get back to help out.
Sykora moves the puck up to Kovalchuk, and the rush is on. Hagelin has more than enough time (with his speed) to catch Sykora.
Kovalchuk swings the puck out wide to Zidlicky, and the Rangers look good in their coverage. The high forward finds Kovalchuk, the two d-men take Zidlicky and Elias….the only disconcerting this is, Carl Hagelin doesn’t seem to realize how much of a rush he needs to be in. He straight lollygags it for a few seconds.
Still, the Rangers are alright – after all, if we know anything about Carl Hagelin, it’s that he can make up a stride on Petr Sykora over the course of a couple zones.
The play advances, as Zidlicky pushes the puck into the zone wide.
You’d like Kovalchuk covered a little tighter, but otherwise, your only concern is still the fact that Carl Hagelin appears to be getting out-skated by Petr Sykora. It “appears” that way, because he is.
And then, Zidlicky makes the perfect pass, and Hagelin has burned his teammates at both ends of the ice.
The easy strides he took out of the Devils zone after getting beat by the pass mattered on this play, as all of his teammates collectively think “Oh sweet, thanks Carl.” You can see he gained zero ground on the 35 year-old Sykora over the length of the ice.
The shot should’ve been stopped – it was a downright bad under-arm goal – but the opportunity comes because of a bad read on the forecheck, and a lack of urgency on the backcheck.
And now we’re back to where we started - patience. Long time NHL veterans are in no rush to waste extra energy as F2 on the forecheck. Unless F1 gets solid contact, and the d-man doesn’t have possession enough to pass it by anyone, F2 will remain patient, and wait for an opportunity to cause a turnover.
One more time, in full speed below: