Archive for the ‘Systems Analyst’ Category

Systems Analyst meltdown

In hockey there are very few set plays on the offensive side of the puck, particularly at even strength. The game is too fluid and fast to communicate with your teammates without the help of headsets, so the best you can do is try to create chaos in the hopes of disrupting things for the team on the other side of the puck, where there is actually a plan that requires people to work together within in a system. As you can see above, when things break down desperation takes over, and everyone collectively drops their bowling balls on the panic button. In that instance, the Lightning would score amidst the chaos with four seconds left to take the game to overtime, where they would eventually win in a shootout. You need everyone doing their job, or that sorta thing happens.

With the year winding down, I thought it’d be fun to add to the mass of year-end lists by sifting through my 2013 Systems Analyst posts and taking some suggestions on Twitter, then dialling in the 10 gaffe’s that most made hockey fans wince. Hopefully it makes us all feel a little better about our own hockey playing abilities as we enter the depths of true hockey season this winter.

Before we get to the top 10…a few other plays of note.


Worthy Mentions

Disconnected Ovechkin

Didn’t make it because: Not so much a “breakdown” as a hilarious half-ass effort

The play below became an internet sensation when someone – and I say someone, because I can’t for the life of me find the original source (feel free to put that in the comments if you know) – added the perfect graphics to Alex Ovechkin’s “backcheck” on this Rangers goal. What the…what the hell happened here, exactly, Alex?

Aw, such a crappy time for someone’s little brother to rip the controller out of the consol. Underrated part of this goal: it’s an awesome play by the Rangers. Like, really awesome.


Matt Duchene miiight have been offside

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It’s really easy to sit in front of the computer and make fun of a play that happened at NHL pace and be a jerk while pointing out who messed up where.

…No seriously, it’s really easy, and I enjoy it.

But things do happen fast so people naturally make mistakes, meaning there’s usually no reason for me to belittle them. That doesn’t mean I don’t, but it’s usually a bit unfair. Today…today I think a little belittling is okay.

The Ottawa Senators gave up three even-strength goals to the Detroit Red Wings (as well as an empty-netter to Daniel Alfredsson in his return), and each one of those three can be traced back to the exact same issue: line changes. Yes, in an NHL game. Multiple times.

Poor changes can make a coach go squirrely, because there’s not a damn thing they can do about them when they’re on the fly aside from letting everyone know who’s up next and trusting the guys to get on and off in responsible fashion.

[A quick overview on what's supposed to happen for those who aren't familiar with being on the bench: Coaches call lines by the center's name. So, "Bozie, you're up" means Tyler Bozak and his two wingers are going next. Then for clarity, each of those guys will shout-out who they're changing for - "I got Kadri" or whatever. If the coach is shuffling the lines, he'll get more specific. "Bozie, you're up, Smitty, take the left side." The left winger who's normally on the line then knows he's sitting this one out - when coaches aren't clear enough here, you end up with Too Many Men penalties. The players calling their change out should be a safety valve in case someone missed something.

You're only supposed to change when the play is headed in the right direction - towards the o-zone - with the puck hopefully getting deep, whether by someone skating it or dumping it in. A good change can mean a simple dump, followed by a quick exchange at the bench and the next line getting in on the forecheck. You only change headed back into your d-zone if you're so tired you're going to be of no use to your team even if you get there (sometimes you're so far behind the play you'll call for a lacrosse-style change to gain ground). But if you can even function halfway-decently, they'd rather you take a long shift and help in the d-zone than leave your team without a skater for 10 seconds while the guy you're supposed to be covering is having a free-for-all. (At least in a full-time 5-on-4 situation the team knows they're down a guy and can react accordingly. When some defenders think they have numbers back and don't, players get awfully open awfully quick.)]

Anyway, those are the basics. Let’s take a look at how poor line changes cost Ottawa two points in a game they played fairly decently otherwise.

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Koivu goal

It takes a lot of earned trust to be given shifts late in hockey games, but there’s a real kicker with getting it – at some point you have to be given the opportunity to acquire it. You can’t apprentice forever, so eventually the scalpel has to be handed to the young surgeon so he can do it himself, if you’ll allow me to grossly overstate the importance of trying to whack a piece of black rubber into some twine.

Last night Mark Schiefele was on the ice with a little over three minutes to go for a defensive zone faceoff in a tie game on the road, playing between Evander Kane and Michael Frolik. I’m not exactly sure why there was a d-zone draw, but I’m assuming it was after an icing, and not that they voluntarily let one of the league’s two worst faceoff men take a draw at this time in the game.

A quick add-on to that – here’s the bottom of the last page of face-off statistics. Those last four categories are wins, losses, total draws, and win percentage:

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 12.06.01 PM

Either way, this was a Scalpel Moment for Mark Scheifele, who’s struggled for an offensive forward averaging 15:03 per game. (He’s currently sitting at one goal and four assists for five points. He’s shooting 3.2%, but I find it hard to believe the type of shots he’s generating are all that great. He’s just doesn’t seem to be able to get to scoring areas yet. BUT, all this is unrelated, so let’s get back to his little gaffe.)

Anyway, one of his early Scalpel Moments didn’t go well, as you’ll see. To the screenshot machine! Read the rest of this entry »

Patrick Kane

When the puck dropped to start the 2013-14 season, I can’t say I ever though I’d have to write these words in this order: yesterday the Calgary Flames beat the Blackhawks 3-2, in Chicago. Did not see that coming. Reto Berra won his first NHL game between the pipes, Kris Russel scored the OT winner and that was all she wrote.

There was one play that really stood out to me, and unfortunately for you, Flames fans, it wasn’t your team that scored. Nay, it was Patrick Kane, he of the ample puck possession time and curious wrist shot that put the Hawks up 1-0 to open the scoring.

It stood out to me because the Blackhawks executed a “double scissor,” which isn’t that difficult to defend, but every time you force the defense to make reads and switches, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to open up an opportunity for yourself.

On this play in particular, Curtis Glencross demonstrates both the right, and wrong way to defend a scissor play.

Give it a look, then let’s discuss:


Here’s where we’ll start: Patrick Kane has solid possession of the puck in the corner. He’s being defended by TJ Brodie, while Curtis Glencross has his eye on Blackhawks’ defenseman Sheldon Brookbank. The Flames coverage is, to say the least, spot on in the frame below. Stajan’s on Shaw, Butler’s marked Saad, and Jones has sagged into perfect position in the slot as the weakside forward with Leddy up above him.

Muah. Perfecto. Read the rest of this entry »

Steven Stamkos

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Oilers win

Oh, the hockey puck. One inch thick, three inches wide, and the gravity of a thousand dying suns. That thing will suck you in.

If you really break down a coach’s job, he’s basically spending one-to-two hours a day trying to get players to not stare at it, to not obsess over it, to think beyond its alluring blackness. But, her siren song forces teams to bag skate because guys handle them while coach is talking, it makes players oblivious to the presence of large humans skating at them with ill intent, and it causes teams to lose games. Try as coaches might, it’s awfully hard to get players to see beyond the black.

That’s basically what happened with the Devils last night when the Oilers scored their fourth goal in under nine minutes of the third period to claw back from a 3-0 deficit before winning in a shootout.

Below I’ll breakdown Taylor Hall’s goal that put the Oilers up 4-3 with six minutes left to highlight New Jersey’s breakdown.

You can take a look at it in full first:

Hey that guy probably shouldn’t be that open. What happened?


The goal all happens off what should be a relatively harmless neutral zone draw.

I’d love to break this down black-and-white and say “Here’s what Brunner’s job is, here’s what Loktionov’s job is…” but teams defend differently off lost draws, and I’m finding it impossible to know if Brunner is thinking about jumping a play and going for a steal, or is just woefully out of position. Let’s talk.

First, we’ve got everyone lined up for the draw. The puck isn’t won immediately, but it ends up being cleanly knocked back to Justin Schultz.


First on the offensive side of the puck: Schultz gets the puck and his job, 95% of the time here, will be to gain the red line and get the puck deep. That’s his first priority. If that involves a pass, so be it, but the red is to be gained and the puck is to get deep if the Oilers get cut off. Obviously if they don’t, party on, but they’re going to receive pressure there almost every time.

Here’s where the defensive questions begin.

The vast majority of NHL teams will send one forechecker in to pressure the defenseman (in this case Schultz) with the puck. His role isn’t to chase him down, it’s to get between him and the other d-man to stop the D-to-D pass (when the puck changes sides after a D-to-D everyone has to rotate, rotating means humans have to think which causes problems, so the less rotating the better), and to push him up the wall and into their pressure.

It’s pretty apparent by the initial routes that Clowe, the winger in the middle, is assigned that role, while Loktionov appears to be responsible for staying above the opposing center (that’s pretty common – only real alternative in a 1-2-2 neutral zone forecheck off a draw is the center goes through, and the board-side d-man gets above the opposing center). That would mean that one of the Devils’ defenders (the one in the middle of the ice off the draw) is likely supposed to push up on Hemsky and deal with him, likely to force a dump-in instead of allowing a carry-in. I’m guessing they’d prefer the pressure before the red, but it doesn’t always go down as you have it drawn up.

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2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three

Today’s not your typical Systems Analyst post in which I break down a play that led to a goal or scoring opportunity. Earlier in the week I wrote this post that goes over the “Bruins’ defensive system” that you always hear about, and explained that they use layers to stop the opposition from cashing in after a single defensive breakdown. That was last Wednesday.

That night the Stanley Cup Final opened, which saw Chicago win the game in triple overtime by a score of 4-3. I thought the Hawks did a good job at times of making quality support passes to soft areas in the Bruins layers, so when I did my 10 takeaways from Game 1, I wrote this:

3. Blackhawks passes to soft areas in the offensive zone

One thing I noticed early (and I wrote this note about 10 minutes into the game) was Chicago creating opportunities by finding the soft areas in Boston’s coverage, and making great passes. And to be clear, I don’t mean the usual soft areas, this was different. It’s something elite teams can do that the dregs can’t. Use vision and skill to pass to areas you don’t usually see players. It was pretty clear they’ve taken a long, hard look at how Boston defends and decided to make the conscious effort to avoid the normal “set” offensive spots.

I don’t love how I worded that, because when I wrote it I was really thinking about a few three-to-five foot passes the Hawks made to get the puck to dangerous areas, and it was effective. Read the rest of this entry »