The Goals Against Challenge 🏒🥅

Reducing Goals Against – Not an Easy Task for Teams

The Toronto Maple Leafs need to be a better defensive team before they will have a chance of contending for the Stanley Cup. Reducing a team’s goals against record in the NHL isn’t an easy task. The Leafs aren’t alone in the quest to reduce goals against, Detroit, Ottawa, Florida, New Jersey and others are faced with the same formidable task.

Scoring goals isn’t a problem for the Leafs.  After 70 games when the league suspended play in 2020 they were 3rd from the top in Goals For with a 3.39 GF/GP ratio compared to the League’s best team the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 3.47 GF/GP.

The best team in the league in defending with a GA/GP ratio was the Boston Bruins at 2.39 compared to the Maple Leafs 3.14 GA/GP.

A Planned Approach

Fans generally blame a team’s poor goals against record on goaltending or the team’s defencemen. The truth of the matter is there are multiple factors at play and there needs to be a plan developed to achieve better results.

Identification of Problem(s) and Possible Solutions – Steps

  1. Review Performance Metrics – What do they tell us? Are they the right metrics?
  2. Review of the Current Plan – What is the plan to reduce goals against & will the plan work?
  3. Review of Performance Objectives – Are they Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Timely? Are they the right objectives to improve the team’s GA/GP record?
  4. Video Analysis – Is video being used to drill down to specific problems that need to be fixed?
  5. Meetings – Are players and coaches engaged in the process & working together?
  6. Player Participation – The players are the ones that have to do the hard work so they should be active participants in the Improvement Plan.
  7. Problem(s) Identification
  8. Solution(s) Identification
  9. Improvement Plan
  10. Plan Approval (ownership by players & coaches critical)
  11. Plan Implementation
  12. Monitoring of the plan
  13. Tweaking of the plan

The video clips below are shared because they reveal bad habits that need to be replaced with good habits.

Clip 01 – Bad Habit – CANES score on the Penalty Kill against the Leafs. Review of the clip reveals a bad habit ☑︎Getting caught below the puck as a group on puck turnovers in the offensive zone is a bad habit. 

Clip 01 – Good Habit – ☑︎A fundamental defensive responsibility of the group on the ice is to not get caught below the puck defending. Whether you’re running a forecheck, down low cycle play, pinching down with one of the D or running any other tactic the group on the ice has to be responsible and provide defensive support above the puck in the offensive zone. 

Clip 02 – Bad Habit – ☑︎Allowing an offensive player to get in behind you as defender in the net/slot zones (uncovered).

Clip 02 – Good Habit – ☑︎Keep yourself between your opponent and your goalie (net) in the defensive zone, box out, and defend the net/slot zones by getting position on your opponent.

Clip 03 – Same problem as Clip 02 Example

Clip 03 – Good Habit(s) – ☑︎A fundamental of defensive tactic is “Boxing Out” in the net/slot zones and keeping yourself as a defender between the offensive player and your goalie/net. ☑︎Additionally, a “Swivel Head” is a fundamental to retain line of site on offensive players for the purpose of defending.

Clip 04 – Bad Habit – ☑︎A Rushed or Forced 1st pass is one of the most common bad habits in defensive zone exit play. A fundamental rule in exit play is exercising extreme caution when passing the puck across the middle of the ice surface in your own end of the rink or directly through middle ice because defenders are coached to protect middle ice at all times.

Clip 04 – Good Habit – ☑︎Never rush or force your 1st pass or any pass in the execution of your defensive zone exit play. Players should come back to the puck to set quality passing lanes so that the chance of a blocked or intercepted pass is minimized. You leave the zone when you’re ready and there is offensive puck support.

Clip 05 – Bad Habit – ☑︎Giving the puck away or turning the puck over in the execution of defensive zone exit play. Every well coached team is going to forecheck with a structure that attempts to lock down passing lane outlets/options to force a puck turnover.

Clip 05 – Good Habit – ☑︎A fundamental responsibility of each defensive player in the zone without the puck is to find open ice and set a passing lane option when your team has puck possession or regains puck possession.

Clip 06 – Bad Habit(s) – ☑︎Turning the puck over in the neutral zone,  ☑︎Line change after turning the puck over in the neutral zone, ☑︎Slow to transition from offence to defence on a puck turnover.

Clip 06 Good Habit(s) – ☑︎Make a good puck management decision in the neutral zone, ☑︎Be responsible in managing your ice time to avoid being fatigued on the ice when your team is relying on you, ☑︎Know your role and execute your role when your team has the puck or in a puck turnover situation transition to your defending role within split second(s).


Many of us would like to see the Toronto Maple Leafs contending for the Stanley Cup again but it won’t happen without a commitment to consistently being a better team without the puck. The hope is players and coaches get on the same page in developing a plan to be a consistently better defensive team. It’s about wanting to be great as a team and that only happens when every individual player on the team wants to do the little things to be great, wants to do the hard work, the extra work to be great. Do the Leafs wanna let the little things slide or do they wanna step on them and close the gap to being a great team. I leave you with a video below that speaks to being great. Coach Reid asks some important questions.

Coach Andy Reid, NFL Kansas City Chiefs, Super Bowl Champion Coach

For Andy and the Chiefs it was about working on the culture to create a Championship Team. The video link below speaks to questions players need to answer for themselves. Important to make sure every member of the group is committed to the process of becoming a Championship Team. The link:

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