You try to keep it to a minimum, but there are times when a hockey bench can sound like a room full of blindfolded Canadians trying to pick a box of spilled Timbits up off the floor. “Sorry about that there.” “My bad man, sorry.” “All good bud, no worries.” A fast game like hockey provides a ton of oopsie moments, and whether you miss an open teammate with a pass, turn the puck over or miss an open net, there just always seems to be something to apologize for. Basically, hockey is a game of offensive things going wrong until they finally go right.
On the defensive side, however, errors are cropped, blown up, and made into posters for all to see. They lead to scoring chances and in turn, goals, so those “sorries” become awfully big ones.
There were two oopsie instances from last night’s NHL action that stuck out to me, so I thought we’d take a quick look at both and talk about the difference between just identifying your guy - there he is, that’s my guy! – and covering him. There he is, my guy! The one with his arms in the air. Identifying is just step one.
First we’ll go to Florida, where Steven Stamkos scored his eighth goal of the year early on in the first period.
We’ll start with the Lightning in possession of the puck heading across the Florida Panthers blueline off a neutral zone regroup. Matt Carle has just received a stretch pass out wide, and the Panthers are in good-to-great shape.
What you have is a good offensive rush against good coverage. First, about the rush:
* The puck is wide, check.
* Matt Carle knows the Panthers have numbers, so just getting the puck to the net is a good thing.
* Martin St. Louis is doing the admirable captainly thing and driving the mid-lane. Good example there, Cheddar.
* And finally, Steven Stamkos is trying to find a soft spot up high so Carle can get him a pass. If he doesn’t, he’ll carry on to the net and rebound hunt.
Okay, so what should the defenders do?
Well, the back pressure on Carle is a good thing, but being that he has a step on the Panthers’ forward, d-man Tom Gilbert is right to slide over to cut him off. Kulikov recognizes St. Louis going to the net, and rightfully heads to him. And Marcel Goc should be shoulder checking to see if there’s a high forward on the rush that he should be locking on to.
This shoulder check by Goc is a thing of beauty. It shows he understands his role on the defensive side of the puck, and all but guarantees that if Jakob Markstrom can stop a low angle shot, this rush is going to be a wash. We know it’s not, but y’know, in theory the Panthers have this on lock.
What Matt Carle does is something all coaches preach – if you don’t think you’ve got a legit chance at burying it, fire it off the goaltender’s far pillow. A shot from out wide that can be gloved, or chested or whatever is no good. Rebounds cause problems. So, he does.
Goc is in a tough spot now. Like a cover corner trying to handle Calvin Johnson, you have to take your eyes off the puck at some point to ensure you don’t lose your guy entirely, but you’re still responsible for knowing when and where the game’s most important object is at.
I think what most coaches would preach here is for the defender (in this case Goc) to “get into” the other guy. Physically make contact, tie up his stick on the way to the net, and essentially make yourself the guy’s coat.
It’s tough to defend while not taking an interference penalty on plays like this, and to some extent, there’s some bad luck on the defensive side, but nobody called hockey an easy game.
Not many players in the game have the ability to one-time this puck from what I would say isn’t exactly the wheelhouse (seems a few inches in front of his stance and inside), and hammer it past a sliding goaltender, but this is Steven Stamkos we’re talking about. The thing is, Goc knows that’s Steven Stamkos, knows how dangerous he is, and undeniably is the guy responsible for not allowing him to shoot. Defenses do tend to ramp it up against the top players in the league, and there’s a reason why.
Goc tries to get his stick in the way, but it’s already too late.
“That’s on me, sorry boys. My guy.”
You can tell by Goc’s reaction he knows he did juuust about everything right, but is still on the hook for the goal. His coach won’t give him hell for his play here, but it was a preventable minus. Once again at full speed, if you’re interested:
It was Joe Pavelski who officially buried the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night, scoring the fifth goal in a 5-2 win over a pretty darn good Senators squad. Like the Lightning, they put together a great rush that maximized their odds of scoring a goal, and were aided by some less-than-perfect coverage from those defending the rush.
Taking it from the top: Jared Cowen has just muffed a slapshot, recognized that chasing the puck and potentially getting it poked by him all but ensures a goal against, and backed off. Jason Spezza is on the far wall, sees this happen, and knows it’s time to get on his horse and help with the backcheck. Justin Braun recognizes that he could jump into the play and create an odd-man rush for the Sharks, and Milan Michalek is like uh-oh oh no you di’int Justin Braun.
Okay, I just really wanted to use that GIF. Carrying on.
(Note: oops, it’s Cory Conacher on the backcheck, not Milan Michalek. You get the point. That’s on me, sorry folks.)
Let’s take a look at where we’re at:
The foot race is on. Tommy Wingels grabs the loose puck and heads out of the zone, and Joe Pavelski jumps with him. He’s got the inside track on Spezza (good puck support), so Wingels takes the chance and throws to a covered receiver trusting he’ll make the catch (it’s football metaphor day, which is bound to happen when I do Systems posts on Mondays).
While using his body to ward off Spezza, Pavelski’s trying to get control of the puck and sees a fun surprise (great vision to catch this) – Justin Braun has a step on Michalek, and with Spezza locked up with him, a drop pass should leave Braun some freedom to have a good chance.
Cowen has eliminated Wingels from the rush, and here’s where things get dicey for Spezza. He’s clearly engaged with Pavelski, but if this is a 2-on-1, he has to disengage and play the puck. If he trusts that Michalek is going to get back in time, it’s a 2-on-2, and he should stay with his man.
The drop happens:
At this point, I think Spezza has to let Michalek – who now has a stick on Braun – deal with him.
Braun is picking up the puck on his backhand, trying to cut in and get body position on Michalek. He’s hampered by him a bit. It’s not an easy call to make because it’s a bit of a ‘tweener, but Spezza decides to leave his guy. And oh-ho-ho, does he ever leave him.
Spezza has drifted to no man’s land, and doesn’t even manage to hinder Braun. It’s one thing to leave your guy to make a play on another and fault a bad read, but if you’re not even going to be able to affect the play, you might as well stick with your dude. Needless to say, the back-door tap-in gets slid over, and Pavelski puts it home.
Underrated thing Pavelski does here: the pass isn’t somewhere he can hit it, so he gets his skate blade in front of the puck, and still manages to shoot it in with his stick, almost in one motion. Not an easy play, to say the least.
Check it out again at full speed to really appreciate it, but mostly note that while Spezza’s intentions are good – coming back to cover, grabbing a guy initially, then over-helping – it’s the execution that costs them the back door tap-in. Like Goc, you can tell from his reaction he knows who made the major error there.
“That’s on me, sorry boys.”