Defending skilled players, especially the Sedins who deserve oh-so-much more than the word “skilled,” is a difficult job even when it’s just a one-on-one situation. When it’s more than one-on-one, communication becomes crucial.
When you’re defending in-zone, things more or less break down to man-on-man coverage with support. As in, “I’ve got this guy, but if a dude walks into the slot with the puck, of course I’m going to scrap my guy for the good of preventing a golden opportunity.”
But before you can get to man-on-man, before you can get into the positions that provide layers of help for one another, you need to start in clearly defined roles. “I’ve got him, you’ve got him, okay, we can work it from here.”
In the clip below, the Oilers never get settled in after a near-scoring chance on a Canucks’ rush, and instead default to the position coaches tell you to default to when you’re not sure who you’ve got and are trying to sort things out. In this case, they never really get sorted.
Let’s take a look, then dive in.
Here’s how the play sets up off the initial rush:
Daniel has the puck and is being defended by Nugent-Hopkins, while Henrik tries get to the net past Petry, and Smid is keeping an eye on the rush and Burrows. …Only he’s not really keeping an eye on Burrows. Actually, after a dozen views or so, I’m pretty sure Smid doesn’t notice Burrows until he cuts in a couple seconds later.
[This comment isn't entirely related to this goal, but it sort of is: if you're on a line with the Sedins as Burrows is, the best thing you can do is spread the ice, and in turn the defense. There's no reason to get compact and make defending simple. They have such great vision and skill that I think they've worked it out as a line to try to keep someone wide in a sleepy area of the ice. Lesser players aren't allowed to take cross-ice sauce-style risks, but you'd never handcuff this kind of skill with a rule like that.]
Anyway, Daniel delays, Petry falls, RNH stays on Daniel…
And this really should be a 2-on-1, but the pass isn’t taken smoothly by Henrik because he’s a skill-less crap hockey player, etc, etc. It kicks behind the net…
…and Henrik goes to retrieve it. Jordan Eberle is now back in the zone too, and this is clearly switching from rush defense to in-zone coverage. RNH is both the centerman and F1 coming back in the zone, so he’s going to be involved in the low coverage. He’s pretty clearly selected his guy, Daniel, given the way rush broke into the zone.
The problems start now. First off, Henrik was clearly Petry’s guy on the zone entry, but after he fell, Smid doesn’t seem to agree. That’s likely partially due to the fact that it’s Henrik Sedin behind the net with the puck, with control, and he’s worried about trusting him to the guy who just had his own stick between his own legs a moment ago. There needs to be a shoulder check here on Burrows (he could get a pass and shot as it stands right here), but otherwise, the D aren’t in bad position, at least on the surface. Give it time, though.
Here’s what I was talking about earlier though: when you don’t know who exactly your guy is, you head to the default position of “the net-front,” then re-assess. Nobody really seems to know who’s got who just yet, and they all (still) seem to be in reassess mode – at least the D are, anyway.
Then it gets ugly.
It seems to me that Smid has made it quite obvious he’s concerned with Henrik in the frame above, and is trying to flush him out on his backhand side (credit to him on that, it’s why he’s as deep as he is there). Fine. Someone has claimed a guy, and being that RNH was clearly on Daniel, Petry shoulder checks and seems to realize he’s left with Burrows (which isn’t a terrible deal given the options). So, we’re good then here now, yes?
Oh…oh no, don’t do that.
NUGE! NUGEY! WHAT THE FUHHHH….
A coach on the bench is getting nervous right…meow.
Why is RNH half-ass lunging at a Sedin with full position…who isn’t even the right Sedin? I mean, I know they look the same, but…dude isn’t scoring from back there anyway. I’d be worried about making sure we’re not double covering and leaving anyone open like, say, your guy.
One simple pass, and Daniel has it.
What weirds me out now, is look at the strides Petry is already taking. So, he’s given up on covering Burrows which I don’t get. He knows he’s there. Does he not trust that RNH will return to his guy, now that he has the puck? Let’s only hope this doesn’t get weirder.
Some people can “stickhandle in a phone booth,” and while the Sedins are among that group, they’re also among the few in the world who can also pass in one. So, ideally, you’d like to not give them West Edmonton Mall’s worth of time and space.
The fact that RNH hesitates on going after Daniel here further blows my mind. He HAS to know that’s his guy, what’s with the lack of panic button? He just hit him a few seconds ago in this shift. Why would Henrik suddenly become his? I’m so confused.
Either way, Petry fully flips into “Okay, somebody has to take this guy” mode, and skates out towards Daniel. Nugent-Hopkins (sorta?) heads out to front him too. That’s two players on one guy, meaning we have a problem, so Smid looks around and assesses the situation.
He sees that Petry is abandoning Burrows, and thinks, “oh man, the Sedins are good at passing, I better cover Petsy’s guy who’s sliding into the slot.” After all, his guy is behind the net.
There’s a whole lot of covering and bunch of trust lacking here. The defenders aren’t thinking, they’re just occupying areas of the ice that they should sort of somewhat be around.
So all three defenders panicked about the excess time and space and got sucked out to Daniel. From Smid’s perspective, Burrows has moved up into the slot, which sort of drew him up higher, but also Daniel is attacking, but also…he’s confused.
And then…the Macauley Culkin moment.
OH SH*T WE FORGOT HENRIK AT HOME.
And now it’s time to buy the boys a round of “welps” because “welp, we’re boned.”
DIVE, LUNGE, DESPERATION.
Henrik has simply stepped out from behind the goal line…
And shot the hockey puck into the hockey net.
Sometimes players mess up and take the wrong guy, sometimes a player just loses an edge and a breakdown happens, and sometimes a lucky shot gets through. But you should never, ever have a breakdown so bad you’re beaten by a play as simple as that.
Those three players on Edmonton need to talk and be more decisive. Even if RNH messes up and sticks to Henrik instead of Daniel, the other two can adjust. If Petry just takes Burrows and sticks with him – right or wrong – Smid doesn’t get pulled up to the slot to “help” cover him and leave Daniel.
Indecision and lack of chatter lead to problems in hockey (as I’ve written before) because if you don’t know what your teammates are doing, you all end up trying to do everything, and nothing gets done.