Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver Canucks

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.

(The YouTube clip, which I prefer to use because NHL.com’s pre-roll is ridiculous – I tallied 17 commercial views while making this post – doesn’t go back as far, so the first screenshots aren’t from the above video.)

Here’s how the play sets up off the initial rush:

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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…

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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.



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.

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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.

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And then…the Macauley Culkin moment.




And now it’s time to buy the boys a round of “welps” because “welp, we’re boned.”


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.


Comments (18)

  1. Enjoy it now, wins over the oilers are happening less and less. Theres good times coming our way. You should break down Halls hatty in 8 minutes last game.

  2. nice, as always. ps download AdBlock Plus or some other ad blocker if you’re worried about the NHL (and youtube) ads

  3. I’m an Oilers fan, but I don’t have the same optimism as Edm Dave, due in large part to breakdowns such as this. As soon as Petry falls, shit hits the fan and there’s defensive chaos. I’m not sure if it’s a personnel problem or a coaching problem, probably a bit of both, but we are just simply not a defensively responsible club.

    Ryan Whitney couldn’t close in on a drunk broad at Roxy’s, let alone an NHL forward.

  4. I guess the pivotal mistake was RNH, as he saw the puck and went into Squirt mode (Puck! Puck!) but the whole Oilers side just seemed kind of dazed there, standing around watching.

    I like how nonchalant Henrik is about the pass, it’s like watching Bob Ross work on a painting. “Ok, thank you Daniel for that happy little jumping pass, I will just step forward and lightly dab it into the net like so…”

  5. Communication definitely the key on this one.. or lack of. “Nuge… Daniel” or Smid yelling “I’ll take Henrik”. Play saved, possibly.

    It sucks how one player briefly falling early in the play can completely destroy their defensive coverage that quickly.

    Maybe they need to work on some coverage drills in practice where someone falls out of the play randomly (ex. coach yells “5″ and Smid has to drop to the ice and get back up and in play as everything is unfolding) and the players have to react to it (read and communicate). I’m no coach though.. just think some unexpected scenario drills pounded in their head might help them read and react and communicate way better.

  6. Can we talk about what appears to a Canucks envoy to the UN clapping half-heartedly at the 11 second mark of that youtube clip?

    • Those were some of the Canucks players’ wives, on a Canucks For Kids telethon. Still strange to show them.

  7. Yah what the hell was up with that? Were they having a telethon to help raise funds to pay for Luongo’s contract?

    • Hate to be a troll but i got brought here from a canucks blog, who gave praise to the way this goal was broke down, but Raki i wouldn’t comment on a charity fund-raiser that helps terminally ill children by making lite of the work the vollunteers are doing and associating it with Lou’s bad contract. They do this fundraiser onvce a year to raise money for the “Canucks for Kids Fund” which all proceeds go to a hospice where kids who have no hope of recovery from there illnesses go to have some fun and try to extend and enrich the little time they have left. You probably didn’t know this so it’s not your fault for the silly comment but stil………..

  8. It’s definitely a lot easier to write these systems analyst posts after the fact. This all happened in 10 seconds of game time; a broken play leading to a breakdown in defense.

    • Beautifully said sir.

    • 10 seconds of time when pro hockey players should execute gap control, fill lanes, know who’s on first etc. Edmonton is a team on the rise and we don’t see these amateur breakdowns as often as we see them in Calgary or Colorado (in fact Colorado just pulled this same crap leading to a Datsyuk goal). In fact Edmonton has looked better this year than teams that were elite just last year (Phili/Caps). But we don’t see defensive elite teams breaking down like this, whether its 10 seconds or 10 minutes. Watch Boston or Montreal this year (Montreal who has modeled their defensive system after Boston’s) and you won’t see these breakdowns. Sure, every player is human so you could find a clip, but overall when Columbus is playing a stronger defensive game it’s time for Edmonton to rework the D system.

    • Cause ya know what’s really hard? Doing an analysis of something that hasn’t happened yet.

  9. Why is Edmonton being described as a team on the rise? They’re dead last this season in even strength puck possession and 28/30 in fenwick close numbers. With all this supposed talent, they still can’t get their possession numbers anywhere close to even a middling 50/50.

  10. I generally never comment on articles, but this is too good to pass up. Excellently written, illustrated and described.

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