Defence of the Neutral Zone
The neutral zone is often an area of the ice surface that is under coached. Whether you’re even strength or short handed, taking away your opponent’s ability to enter and exit the neutral zone with speed and puck control is to your team’s tactical advantage.
The principles of defending the neutral zone at even strength or on the penalty kill should remain the same, this area of the ice surface should be defended with speed & physicality. These two elements can only be accomplished with the teaching and playing of a tactic that supports angling (checking) between the top of the face off circles at both ends of the ice surface. It is essential to match up speed against speed in the neutral zone.
1-3 Defence of the Neutral Zone Penalty Killing
The video clip below is from a Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers game. The CAPS are on the power play (PP) and the NYR’s are attempting to defend the neutral zone with a 1-3 defensive structure and tactic. The first Forward is in the middle of the ice at the red line backing up and forcing the puck carrier to move the puck to a teammate in an outside lane. The other 3 defenders are backing up (backward skating) from the red line to their blue line across the middle of the ice surface (between the dots).
The 1-3 is a passive structure and tactical play that leaves the PK group vulnerable against a speed and puck control PP breakout. A PP unit provided the opportunity to enter and exit the neutral zone with speed and puck control are a threat for the following reasons:
- The PP entering & exiting the neutral zone with speed & puck control are a threat on the Attack Rush against a stationary 1-3 PK group at their own blue line.
- The PP unit are better positioned to retrieve and recover a strategic dump-in recovery play against a stationary defending group at their blue line.
- The PP are positioned to enter the offensive zone to set up in zone on a speed entry.
In the video clip the cons of running a passive PK 1-3 neutral zone defence would appear to be valid. The NYR’s are almost scored against on the Attack Rush by the CAPS #72 Kuznetsov. A PK unit should defend the neutral zone with speed and physicality with a stacked 1-1-2 or other structure that supports matching speed against speed, proper angling (checking) and pressuring the puck at the point of attack. A good PK unit is aggressive and good at reading pressure triggers, pressuring up individually and as a group to force puck turnovers and reduce the PP unit’s time in the offensive zone.
The more you defend up ice the less you defend in your own end of the rink!
The Video Breakdown:
☑︎CAPS breakout is a drop pass in middle ice to #72 Kuznetsov well inside CAPS own zone☑︎#72 Kuznetsov moves the puck to #77 Oshie in the outside lane (RHS on RHS of the ice) at the red line to work a give and go, Kuznetsov breaks between defenders at the blue line to set a passing lane for a return pass at full speed to take the puck to the net,☑︎weak side NYR defender #42 reads the give and go turns to skate forward to pressure Kuznetsov in the middle lane,☑︎CAPS #20 supports the puck driving middle ice to create a down low two on one but doesn’t receive a pass,☑︎Kuznetsov’s shot on goal misses.
Video of the CAP’s PP and NYR 1-3 Neutral Zone Defence Below: