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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