Archives for July 2014

The Right Way To Play A 2 On 1

2 on 1

2 on 1’s are naturally a tough situation for defensemen, and they are a likely source for a goal against. In minor hockey, I was always taught to take away the pass and give the goalie the shot. After playing thousands of 2 on 1’s over the years (in practices and games), I’ve come to realise this is bad advice. If you think about it, why would you sit back and allow the other team to have a quality scoring chance? Since the defenseman is outmanned, it’s not realistic to expect him/her to be able to take away the scoring chance completely. That is why the goal of a 2 on 1 for a defenseman should be to minimize the quality of the scoring chance. And believe me, the way to do that is not to take away the pass every time. So how should defensemen limit the quality of the scoring chance on a 2 on 1? There are a number of things to consider but some are more difficult to apply than others so I will break this up into basic and advanced sections. The basic section can be applied by almost all skill levels but the advanced should only be applied by higher level players.

Basic

First, we need to consider two principles:

  1. It is easier for a shooter to score from the inside than  the outside
  2. Backhand passes are difficult, often resulting in poor quality passes, and moving from backhand to forehand to make a pass takes time and is slow

The reason it is easier for a shooter to score from the inside rather than the outside is that the opening of the net actually gets smaller at an angle. If you take this concept to the extreme and look at how much net is open from the goal line, there will be none. Please refer to the figure below for an illustration of this concept.

Puck's Eye View

So if we keep this in mind, defensemen need to evaluate whether the puck carrier is on their forehand or backhand. If the puck carrier is on their forehand, defensemen should take away the pass and allow the shot because a pass from the forehand is quick and accurate and has a high probability of success. Additionally, the outside position of the shot reduces the net opening and makes it easier for the goalie to make a save.

In the other case, when the puck carrier is on their backhand, defensemen should take away the shot and force the pass. Defensemen should take away the shot because the inside shot of the puck carrier is more threatening and more difficult for the goalie to save due to the larger net opening. Defensemen can take advantage of the fact that the puck carrier must make a backhand pass by forcing a pass with a lower probability of success. If the puck carrier tries to move the puck to their forehand to make the pass, it’s a great opportunity for a poke check since this is a slow, predictable play.

Advanced

Now, as is usually the case, there are exceptions to every rule. It gets more difficult when you consider the relative skill of the attacking players. This is a difficult concept to grasp since it means the player must get to know each of the players of the opposing team and understand their strengths and weaknesses. That is why this is an advanced method and should only be put into practice by higher level players.

Defenders should not allow the other team’s top scorer to be shooting in this position, it is preferable to let less skilled players shoot. Just think about it, who would you rather give a chance to score, Sydney Crosby or Brian Boyle? I don’t think anyone would pick Sydney Crosby.

Because of this, there are a few additional rules to apply:

  1. If a top scorer has the puck and the second man is a 3rd liner, force the pass to prevent a scoring chance from the top scorer.
  2. If there is a situation where a 3rd liner has the puck and the second man is a top scorer, prevent the pass and allow the shot. Generally in these situations, the 3rd liner will be looking to pass the puck to the top scorer and will often force a pass that is not there. Defensemen can take advantage of that and position themselves to cover the top scorer and intercept the pass.

Putting all of this together, there are four situations and two possible courses of action for a defenseman:

  1. If the puck carrier is a top scorer and the second man is a 3rd liner, take away the shot and force the pass
  2. If the puck carrier is a 3rd liner and the second man is a top scorer, take away the pass and force the shot
  3. If the puck carrier and second man are of equal skill, and the puck carrier is on their forehand, take away the pass and force the shot
  4. If the puck carrier and second man are of equal skill, and the puck carrier is on their backhand, take away the shot and force the pass

Conclusion

Any defenseman who puts these simple rules into action will see an improvement in their success rate at defending 2 on 1’s simply because the scoring chance was minimized as much as possible. It will take some practice to make these reads on the fly but it will certainly be worth it. Remember that preventing a goal is just as valuable as scoring one.

One Play Defensemen Must Use To Their Advantage But Rarely Do

Have you ever heard that the goal post is a goalie’s best friend? Well if that is true, the blue line must be a defenseman’s best friend. Yes, it has tripped me countless times, but as a defenseman I still consider it my best friend. When I was young, coaches always told me to take my man at the blue line, but I wasn’t told even one time why I was supposed to do that. Since I didn’t know why it was so important, all I could think about was how that meant I couldn’t recover if I made a mistake. I pictured myself missing and the puck carrier going around me for a breakaway.

breakaway

Something like this…

My coaches were 100% right, but since I didn’t know why I should take my man at the blue line, and all I could see were the risks, I didn’t follow their instruction. I don’t think it’s their fault, my guess is that they themselves didn’t really know why, that’s just what they were taught to say. So now is the time to shed light on why it’s so important, and hopefully prevent some young players today from ignoring it just like I did. This single action can prevent goals and even generate offense if done well, it could be one of the most important skills a defenseman can develop.

There is one simple rule which is the foundation for why the blue line matters so much. In the NHL rulebook, it is Rule 83 (the Offside rule). The Offside rule is long but can be reduced down to one sentence, “Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone.” In other words, the puck must cross the blue line into the offensive zone before any member of the attacking team.

To demonstrate why this is important, let’s consider a 3 on 2 rush with a late back checker trying to make it 3 on 3 (see sketch below).

3 on 2 with backchecker

Classic 3 on 2

If the strong side defenseman makes a move on the puck carrier right before the blue line, the puck carrier has to make a countermove to avoid the defenseman’s check. With that single countermove, the other 2 attackers in the 3 on 2 either:

  1. Continue skating and go offside, or
  2. Slow down or change directions in order to avoid the offside

In the first case, the threat of the 3 on 2 is over with an offside call, followed by a faceoff with a 50% chance to get the puck back. In the other case, the reduced speed or longer route of the attacker has allowed the back checker to catch up and make it a 3 on 3 which significantly improves the chances of preventing a goal.

Now, if the defenseman can strip the puck from the puck carrier at the blue line, he/she is poised to make a quick transition to offense. If the defenseman can get possession and make a quick pass up to a forward, it will result in an odd man rush the other way and a quality scoring chance.

One important thing to note is that the defenseman doesn’t need to initiate contact at the blue line, he/she just has to make a move to force the puck carrier to make a move. In fact, it is not a good idea to go for a big body check in this scenario. The three best methods to force a move by the puck carrier in this case are tightening the gap, poke check, and fake poke check. Any of these methods will work and will maintain solid defensive positioning for the defenseman.

There you have it, the real reason defensemen should take their man at the blue line. A critical skill that when applied, will make the player much more effective both defensively and offensively. Be sure to check back soon for the next post where I will debunk the myth that the defenseman should always take away the pass on a 2 on 1. Please leave me a comment and tell me if there are any other reasons you think the defenseman should take the man at the blue line.