Playing defense involves doing a bunch of stuff forwards hate, which basically all boil down to stops and starts. We’re really good at loops and curls, not so much at making adjustments based off reading opponents. We prefer to read the puck (we shouldn’t).
But that’s the reality of playing defense – you often aren’t doing what you want so much as you’re trying to read and react to what opponents are doing. You’re the ego to forwards’ id. In the corners you have to play the mirror game, in the neutral zone you best be reading your opponent’s speed.
Gap control through the neutral zone is important at all levels because if you you’re backing in too fast you allow forwards to go east-west inside the blueline and create, and if you’re too tight you risk getting your doors blown off wide. It ain’t easy matching someone’s speed in a backwards-versus-forwards race.
In the NHL it’s even more important, because it isn’t too many strides inside the blueline before players are in a dangerous shooting area. And by “not too many strides” I mean like, seven feet of gliding, especially since they intend to use you as a screen. Most of these guys have bombs, which makes that area of the ice a little dangerous.
Carolina’s goal to tie up Buffalo with four minutes left in the third was the product of bad gap control – I’ll get to why it was so bad in the body. And yes, I feel sort of bad about highlighting a Canes goal in a game the Sabres actually won in regulation. Sort of. Read the rest of this entry »