This is a post about defending rushes, identifying your check, and what qualifies as blown coverage (hint: this goal). Also, it’s about Ryan Suter. …Those things may or may not be related.
On Monday night, the Phoenix Coyotes beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 with the game-winning goal coming halfway through the second period. That goal was scored by Martin Hanzal, and you can check it out below before we get into the breakdown. (The glaring error is pretty obvious, but we can still talk about the right way to defend rushes when you have numbers.)
Prior to the first screenshot, Dany Heatley dished the puck to Jonas Brodin, who fired a puck on net. Mikko Koivu and Zack Parise went hunting for screens, tips and rebounds, but Mike Smith calmly redirected the shot out to one of his defensemen, Zbynek Michalek. They both got a little too hungry on the offensive side, and got caught behind Michalek and Oliver Ekmann-Larsson (or Ekman-Awessom, if we’re being honest)…
…and suddenly the Coyotes are on a 5-on-3 rush. Parise probably shouldn’t have taken this route, by the way:
But anyway, that’s sort of irrelevant to the goal.
…Like I was saying, the Coyotes are on a 5-on-3 rush.
First, some credit where it’s due: Zbynek Michalek makes a solid first pass out of the d-zone to Radim Vrbata. This is a basic gosh-darn skill here (trying to curb my swearing), but you hear coaches talk about it all the time – you need guys on the back end who can get the puck up to your forwards quickly and comfortably. (The Red Wings are struggling with that this year, so it looks like the forwards are struggling.) Forwards need the damn thing quick and flat so they have time to make good decisions.
Dany Heatley has turned and done the right thing and backchecked through the middle. That’s the first thing a forward should do as they assess the situation. The Coyotes d-men have jumped up into the rush, which is great too. The puck is out wide on the rush: also great. THAT SHOT ABOVE IS SOME GREAT HOCKEY RIGHT THERE KIDS (/thumbs up).
Now, more great hockey. Vrbata rags the puck across the line out wide, and Hanzal (not Gretel HAHAHAH) does the right thing with the mid-lane drive.
All the defending team can do in this situation is play the 3-on-3, and hope the other two forwards are backchecking hard to take away the trailing D. If they Coyotes successfully use the high D, then you’ve got some decisions to make.
Now: when you’re defending a 3-on-3, you want the two d-men on the puck side, ideally. That means that the backchecking forward who was once “backchecking through the middle” makes the read and takes the wide, puck-less forward. It’s kind of like how you want to leave a defenseman in front of the net at all times in your own zone, so the center will go corner to corner. Even though the numbers would be the same regardless of who was in the corner, or in this case, in the middle, you want your defensemen in the biggest positions of defensive influence.
So, Suter is doing the right thing. He is coming across to take Hanzal through the gut, while Heatley latches on to Boedker out wide. Vrbata decides to delay inside the line and puts on the brakes…
…then the poop hits the fan. Let’s have a look to see where we’re at:
Things have fallen apart, and quick.
Brodin doesn’t stay with Vrbata for reasons I can’t figure out, and frankly, he’s LUCKY, like, CAPS LOCK LUCKY that all Vrbata does is slap a puck at the unscreened net from a crap angle, instead of using the room he’s been given. Suter has stayed with Hanzal in the middle as he should (though apparently his partner didn’t trust him to). Heatley has returned “to an area” instead of staying with his man (Boedker), who is now quite open had Vbata wanted to move the puck. And, Ekman-Larsson still doesn’t have a defender, so again: Vrbata chucks it at the net which is a good thing for the Wild.
To Vrbata’s credit, he throws it low from out there, so there can at least be a rebound for Hanzal, who’s heading to the net.
So here’s the next couple seconds, broken down in a few frames:
The shot is on the net, and all four visible Wild players on the ice are staring at the puck (still no Parise in the shot, by the way). That includes Ryan Suter, who at this point should probably have identified who his guy is. The first time I saw this goal I couldn’t fathom what his thought process could’ve been.
Just, how?? How does this happen? Where is he going, who does he think he’s on, what is he even guessing may happen?
Sorry to overreact, I just can’t believe that 3-on-3 – remember the high D weren’t even used – ends up here:
From there, it’s just a matter of Hanzal showing nice patience and good hands to put away the rebound, and laughing at Ryan Suter for trying to sneak in behind his goalie to make a kick save.
Until full offensive zone possession is established by your opponent, you defend rushes man-on-man. You identify, and you don’t head to an area, you stay with your guy. Pretty much none of the Wild did that here, and that’s why the puck ended up in the back of their net.