I have this distinct memory of being in my late teens and watching Mario Lemieux sit on the powerplay, as so many players do today, with his stick cocked above waist height, inviting his teammates to get him a puck. Basically, just stuff a bullet in this gun, and I promise to shoot it and shoot it well. Ovechkin does it, Stamkos does it, just about everyone playing the point on the powerplay does it. …The thing was, Mario Lemieux was on the goal line.
Lemieux’s skates used to essentially touch the icing line on the left side, his right-handed stick sitting a foot or two above it. Sometimes he was deep enough to touch the boards in the corner if he reached. He didn’t have the game’s hardest shot, but goddamn if he couldn’t place a one-timer accurately enough to kiss the inside of the far post and put one on the board for his team. Whether that was a skill other players didn’t have, or whether they just lacked the confidence to try it, you didn’t see it much around the league then.
This isn’t the one I’m thinking of, but you can see where he’s shooting from.
“Soft spots” are the patches of ice that are less-defended. The most common spot is the one the high forward tries to occupy while his other two teammates cycle. He’ll be covered in front of the net, he’ll be covered in the slot, so he lurks around the top of the faceoff circle because d-men rarely chase out that high and wide (even if they’re aware the guy they’re covering is there), and if his linemates get solid possession, he’ll be able to get off a bomb.
In the NHL today, shots are harder. I can’t overplay the immense difference sticks have made on hockey as we know it. Young kids can bomb slapshots with these uber-light, flexible, trampoline-style hockey sticks. The blades are crisp and easy to wield, so the talented monsters using them in the NHL have basically learned how to make a mockery out of the hockey puck. Some guys in the NHL can one-time slapshots into the same quadrant of the net from the blueline with relative consistency. What I’m saying is, everyone now can do what Lemieux did then.
And, they’ve started to.
I’ve been noticing this more and more lately, and what used to be looked at as harmless shots seem to be finding the back of the net with regularity.
I can’t be the only person around hockey to notice this, and I’m wondering if it’s not affecting how teams attack and defend. I’d certainly be coaching my forwards to look for soft spots farther from the old staples, and I’d also be coaching my defenseman that simply standing between a player and the net is not really covering him anymore. It may draw defenders farther out from the net than you’d like, but I just don’t believe you can allow clean shots from distance as frequency as teams used to.
I’ll be keeping my eye on this going forward, and you should too – more and more players are going Lemieux, and capitalizing on their great shots by using the more obscure sweet spots.