I hated playing for coaches who determined how well the team played in a given game by the outcome. You win, practice is lighter, everyone can joke around, and things are on the right track. You lose, well, the effort wasn’t there, we need better conditioning, let’s practice for an extra 30 minutes.
That’s just not how hockey works. Sometimes you get a few bad bounces, sometimes you get a few bad calls, and sometimes….sometimes your goalies just play like shit.
The Blues fired coach Davis Payne on Sunday night and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock, which I thought was curious.
First of all, the Blues were once again plagued by the injury bug a little bit. Not as bad as in previous seasons but it was still not a full squad. More importantly, thanks to an NHL scheduling quirk, St. Louis played nine of its first 13 games on the road. Okay, granted, they only won three of them, but they were also 3-1 at home. They were also, at the time of his firing, just one point back of Detroit.
On the offensive side of the puck, players have a lot of freedom. Aside from keeping a forward high at all times in case of a turnover, there’s not really a set of rules – just find a way to get the biscuit in the basket.
There is one scenario, however, where there’s a script: the 3-on-2.
Everybody wants to be the high guy. He doesn’t have to skate as hard, doesn’t get involved in any contact, and likely gets the puck in the slot for a shot.
Laziness and glory? Yes please.
In rec hockey, it’s a battle. Nobody goes to the damn net. You just float in three abreast, and wait to turn the puck over.
Players are taught to move the puck out wide, have the guy in the middle be the workhorse and charge through to the net - the other forward wins, and gets to be the high guy. (Note that “high” doesn’t necessarily mean he helps the trio form an equilateral triangle. Just gotta find that soft spot.)
The reasons it should (almost) always happen this way are pretty clear: first off, if the defenseman doesn’t go with the middle guy who’s heading for the net, he’s got a short breakaway. You just make the easy pass to him behind the d-man’s wheels.
But he will go with him for the reason just mentioned, so you’ve pushed back at least one d-man, leaving room for the high guy when he inevitably gets the puck.
The other defenseman can’t cover two guys, so he won’t commit to either guy until it’s getting close to the forward’s “shot or pass” decision time.
Some coaches will encourage both forwards without the puck to drive the net (and for a shot from the puck carrier), because they’re idiots and North American coaches adore dumbing down the game for our players. (We play the game the “right” way, grrr!)
But, this is the rare scenario where I feel like one of those coaches, because executing this right is pretty well undefendable. It makes sense to stick with simplicity here. I don’t think I can tolerate my rec hockey teammates refusing to go through to the net for another shift.
Even if the d-man pressures the puck carrier early, he can slide the puck under his stick to the mid-lane drive guy and you have a 2-on-1 (which I’ve written about how to defend here, albeit somewhat controversially).
It’s the most basic, effective script in hockey if you can count on that one guy. Just because you may not get on the score sheet doesn’t mean you didn’t help your team score.
It’s Tuesday, so you know what that means: time for another edition of Systems Analyst, where I break down a particular goal from the night before, and highlight what went right, and more importantly, where the D went wrong.
Today we’re looking at the Bryan Bickell goal that came with just under seven minutes left in the third period of a 3-3 game against Nashville.
For starters, watch the goal in it’s entirety, then I’ll walk you through (with screenshots!) a few thoughts.
Great finish to cap off a great shift by Bickell.
As you can see in the image below, the Nashville Predators have numbers – the 2-on-2 comes complete with a perfectly positioned center (basically making it a 2-on-3). Even if Seabrook jumps up to join the play, nothing is going to come of this rush.
Bickell sees Michael Frolik a few steps ahead of him and stretched out wide, so he makes the smart dump-in: a hard wrap that Frolik will get to first. It’s basically a pass that guarantees you get in-zone possession, assuming you fire it hard enough to get past the goalie.
As you can see, Nashville still looks good here.
The hard-wrap gets by Rinne, and after a quick battle with Francis Bouillon, Frolik establishes possession. Bickell carries on as F2 and provides support, ready to start the cycle and look for an opening.
The centerman, David Legwand has come down to provide low support, allowing defenseman Kevin Klein to take up his position in front of the net. This is defensively ideal – a centerman and a d-man battling 2-on-2 down low with the other d-man in front.
As this develops, they should start playing man-on-man. The guy with the puck should be feeling strong pressure, while the other d-man plays off the puck-less player to avoid the risk of getting picked.
In last nights Toronto Maple Leafs/Philadelphia Flyers game, Jaromir Jagr scored a breakaway goal after splitting the Leafs D with casual grace. That it did not look particularly difficult would be an understatement.
The situation came about because the Flyers had sent a stretch guy to the far blueline on their powerplay, as most teams do.
What this does is take away the defense’s ability to have good gap control (someone has to go with the stretch guy so you don’t give him a clean breakaway), leaving them flat-footed and buttery, so the hot knife that is Jaromir Jagr can come slashing up-ice with a full head of steam and cut through them.
(Though I should mention – I’m not sure what the Leafs neutral zone penalty kill should look like, but I highly doubt the plan is to have two guys keep tabs on the stretch guy while standing near stationary.)
Gap control is nothing more or less than a d-man’s most important neutral zone tool.
Hopefully this isn’t oversimplifying, but “gap” refers to the distance between the defenseman and the on-rushing forward. If d-men back up too much and give too much gap, they’re either going to:
A) Back up onto their goalie, making his life more difficult.
B) Be forced to slow down so they don’t back up onto their goalie, in which case the forward who’s picking up speed is going to roast the d-man wide.
C) Back in deep enough where the forward feels close enough to shoot, and gets to use the d-man as a screen. (Think Alex Ovechkin here. You have to have good gap on him or he’ll feast. He loves to use the d-man as a screen, loves beat them wide. You have to start in the neutral zone within a stick length of him and almost match his speed while going backwards, and that’s very, very difficult to do. It’s why he’s so tough to defend.) Read the rest of this entry »