Mistakes Were Made – Defensive Fundamentals

Breakdown of Mistakes Made

  1. Forechecker HABS #24 (F3) was too low in the zone to provide defensive support to set a good approach angle to pressure the puck carrier.
  2. F1 Forechecker left the ice to be replaced during the opponent’s Attack Rush. If you’re too tired to support the puck defensively you were too tired to support the puck offensively had the puck been recovered. No time to come off the ice.
  3. HABS D#51 was positioned outside the dots backing up when he should be positioned inside the dots giving the offensive player room to the outside not inside (middle ice). Always protect middle ice. By backing up outside the dots too close to the wall, D#51 is vulnerable against a puck chipped off the wall (indirect pass) by a player getting in behind him or other options through the middle of the ice.
  4. HABS D#6 should have been in middle ice when the puck moved to the other side of the ice to support his D partner & middle ice. The weak side D has to be aware of Bruins #88 in a middle ice high position to get in behind the strong side D (#51) or between the D down the middle of the ice surface.

Offensive Zone Forecheck Objective to Regain Puck Possession & Control 

The positioning of the F3 Forechecker is important for offensive and defensive reasons in support of the puck. In this clip F3 is too low below the puck to have a good approach angle to the puck carrier on the wall. F3 was too low and as a result was late getting to the strong side Puck Carrier on the wall. By being “late” to support the puck (check the puck carrier) he could only stick check and not make a better play on the forecheck.

Neutral Zone & Offensive Zone Defending

The HABS D# 51 doesn’t drop down (pinch) to make a play on the puck rimmed by the D on the wall. Even had the D# 51 pinched down the wall to support the puck F3 (#24) wasn’t in position to cover up top for the D#51. Remember, the objective is recovering the puck on the forecheck. Most teams give their D the green light to pinch down low if they have a good opportunity to make a play on the puck. Teams make F3 responsible for covering the pinching D dropping down (rotation).

The HABS D#51 should be positioned inside the face-off dots backing up. His D partner #6 has to move to middle ice (between the dots) when the puck moves strong to weak side.

Awareness of Players on the Ice & Their Tendencies 

The Bruins #88 PASTRNAK is an offensive threat and you should know the opponent will be attempting to use his skills (speed, shot, puck skills) against you by positioning him to succeed. This goal against the HABS represents a good offensive play to take advantage of the skills of a player like PASTRNAK.



Common Mistakes in DZ Exit Play

As a team you must be able to exit your own end of the rink with relative ease under any circumstances. In the video clip below the defending team turns the puck over to the opponent on a failed 1st pass out of the zone which is a common problem in DZ Play Exit Failure.

Breakdown of the Video

The video below reveals a failure to exit the defensive zone when the defending team has 5 players back in the zone. The pressure forecheck structure is basic:

  • F1 in hard pursuit of the puck carrier pushing the D to the weak side side of the ice surface,
  • F2 drops down low below the goal line weak side to prevent the D from carrying the puck out the weak side and forces a pass in a blocked (stick in lane) passing lane,
  • F1 moves from strong side puck pursuit to weak side to provide 2nd man puck support. F1 recovers the puck, takes the puck behind the net and makes a quality pass to F3 uncovered in the slot,
  • F3 finds a “soft spot” in coverage to receive the pass and scores,
  • The defending team demonstrates a lack of awareness on how to defend against players without the puck getting open in behind them on the puck turnover,
  • The defending group over play the player with the puck and do not cover the player whose the biggest threat to score unfortunately.

DZ Exit Play Basic Fundamentals

  1. Don’t rush or force a pass because there’s no need, don’t panic.
  2. Five players in the zone set a structure to exit that takes advantage of the ice surface (width & depth).
  3. Five players in sync exiting the zone against three defenders should be easy.
  4. Four players without the puck come back deep into the zone to set quality passing lane options for the puck carrier. Quality passing lanes are open and provide a good angle to complete the pass.
  5. Exit the zone when you’re dam ready to exit as a group and support the puck. Not before.
  6. Remain calm.
  7. Communicate with each other.
  8. The players without the puck must be positioned so they’re looking at the puck carrier, stick on the ice to provide a target to receive a pass.
  9. Timing in the execution is critical, exit play works when 5 players are in sync as a group.
  10. You need puck support wide and in middle ice with quality lanes.

Coaching of DZ Exit Play

  • No resistance
  • ADD 1 Forechecker
  • ADD 2nd Forechecker only after exit success rate is 100% after multiple reps
  • ADD 3rd Forechecker only after exit success rate is 100% after multiple reps
  • Coach the fundamentals- it’s all about skill, structure, timing and execution. Execution must be mastered to build 💯 confidence.

Failed Exit Play Defending 

  • Swivel Head
  • Puck recovery mode
  • Man coverages
  • Structure to support puck recovery and defending

Let’s Clean Up The Defensive Zone 

It’s doable, but only if we focus on roles, responsibilities, skills, structured puck support and execution.

Defend the Neutral Zone

Defence of the Neutral Zone – Neutral Zone Forechecking 

The neutral zone is an important area of the ice surface to be coached to improve a team’s offensive game and defensive game. In the clip below you see a poorly executed Neutral Zone Regroup by the offensive team and a well executed Neutral Zone Forecheck (Defence) to regain puck possession and control, counter attack and score against the opponent.

Regroup Execution Mistakes

  • Two players in the defensive zone take themselves out of the regroup by skating below the puck and by not setting quality passing lanes for the puck carrier.
  • Strong side F is stationary at the red line and fails to set a quality passing lane option.
  • Weak side F is stationary at the red line and fails to set a quality passing lane option.
  • Puck carrier forces/rushes his pass which is intercepted by a forechecker blocking the passing lane and initiates a counter attack on recovery of the puck.

Neutral Zone Forechecking Keys

  • Pressure at the puck with inside out control protecting middle ice by F1
  • F1 depth and approach angle on the forecheck takes away the weak side passing option of the puck carrier and forces or pushes the play outside the dots LEFT.
  • Effective Angling with speed & physicality (inside out control) protecting middle ice (between the dots).
  • F2 depth and approach angle (level 2) on the forecheck takes away middle ice and blocks the cross ice pass option.
  • F3 locks down on the opponent’s strong side Winger (level 3) to remove a passing lane option.
  • D Pairing plays a tight GAP to support the forecheckers and counter attack on the recovery.
  • The clip below is an excellent example of a team forechecking with a purpose. Clear evidence of strategy in the tactical play by the depth and approach angles of the forecheckers and the defensemen coming up to play a tight gap.

Good Reasons for Defending the Neutral Zone

  1. Preventing your opponent from entering and exiting the neutral zone is an important tactical advantage because it reduces the opponent’s Attack Rush ability to score off the rush and set up in your own end of the rink.
  2. Provides an excellent opportunity to create puck turnovers (forced and unforced) with an effective forecheck that takes away middle ice (between the dots). Puck turnovers in the neutral zone provide scoring opportunities when a team can effectively transition from defence to offence.
  3. Creates the ability to regain puck possession and control and play more with the puck than without the puck.

Give & Go Tactical Play

Give and Go Outnumbered Play

A Give and Go Play is an example of an offensive tactical play to create a player advantage in tight space to advance the puck. The play essentially isolates on a defender to work a 2 on 1 give and go (return pass) play to advance the puck. There are two examples of a Give and Go Play in the offensive zone to take the puck to the net and both end up with a goal being scored. The player without the puck in the low position by the net or goal line area I refer to as the Anchor or Low Position to receive and return the pass to the player attacking open space. 

The Give and Go play is under coached and an effective play in all three zones of the rink to get out of tight spaces to advance the puck. Remember, the higher the level of competition the harder it becomes to beat a skilled player One on One so create outnumbered situations to advance the puck and retain puck possession and control, be smart.

Neutral Zone Give and Go Video Clip

Structure Key to Outnumbering

Structure Supports Outnumbering

The easiest play to defend against in hockey is a One on One. Players are taught to play the body not the puck, protect middle ice and stay between their opponent and their net. So, a reasonable strategy should dictate avoiding one on one situations and creating more favourable options for advancing the puck out of tight spaces and on the opponent’s net.

Outnumbering the opponent is an offensive and defensive tactic of the game to provide a player(s) advantage in an area of the ice surface around the puck.  Offensively, the ability to create outnumbered situations is necessary to be able to advance the puck on net and in or out of tight or full ice situations. Let’s look at the clip below to examine the outnumbered situations that present themselves through a half wall set up in the offensive zone on a 5 on 4 Power Play advantage.

Whether you’re setting up a Power Play Structure in the offensive zone or setting up Even Strength in the offensive zone, structure is important to being able to isolate on defender(s) to create outnumbered man advantage situations to advance the puck.

In the Power Play clip below the offensive team sets up on the half wall to create the following outnumbered situations:

  • 3 on 2 above the hash marks,
  • 3 on 2 below the hash marks,
  • 2 on 1 and 3 on 1 opportunities above and below the hash marks,
  • examine the video to identify the outnumbered opportunities presented from this basic structure.

Ability to Take the Puck to the Net

From this basic structure the offensive team has a number of different options to take the puck to the net to create the best scoring opportunity. The following are options and you may see other options:

  • Walk out by F in the down low position,
  • Give and Go between player on the half wall and the F in the down low position (2 on 1)
  • Down low F takes the puck behind the net for a wrap around or create the option of passing to teammates driving the net from above the puck. There are lots of options to take the puck to the net in outnumbered situations and you likely see others.

Key for creating scoring chances is players without the puck setting passing lane options for the player with the puck and that is done by finding “soft spots” or open ice in tight spaces by moving their feet and isolating on defender(s).

Outnumber to Advance the Puck & Create Scoring Chances

Outnumbering to advance the puck on net or out of tight spaces is an offensive tactic used by smart hockey players. In the clip below a 3 on 3 is turned into an offensive 2 on 1 because the two offensive players isolated on the strong side defensemen to create a quality opportunity to advance the puck on net to create a scoring chance. The result, a goal is scored and the offensive team exploited the defending team with their execution of a quality offensive tactic.

Players without the puck must find open ice and support the puck carrier to create outnumbered situations and set passing lanes to advance the puck. You’re a better offensive team when you support the puck as a group in all areas of the ice to advance the puck.

Outnumbering your opponent to create an odd man advantage is a basic fundamental offensive tactic that is under emphasized by coaches. You don’t need systems to create scoring chances you need players with strong technical hockey skills combined with sound knowledge of fundamental tactics of the game that haven’t changed in the past 100 years.

Excellent Example of Outnumbering & Offensive Puck Support – 3 on 3 becomes a 2 on 1 

Neutral Zone Forecheck

Establish a Forecheck in the Neutral Zone

There are good reasons for a team to establish a strong forecheck in the neutral zone, especially, after a face-off loss in the zone, not limited to the following:

  1. Puck possession and control matters, the team that wins the puck possession and control game generally wins the hockey game. You’ve lost possession of the puck and you need to execute a plan to regain puck possession & control.
  2. You should always defend entrance into your own end of the rink (your blue line) aggressively to prevent the opponent from attacking off the rush or setting up an offensive attack in the zone.
  3. It’s a significant tactical advantage to prevent the opponent from entering and exiting the neutral zone with speed and puck control.

Good teams pressure the puck in the offensive zone with an aggressive forecheck to regain puck possession and control. Why wouldn’t you deploy similar strategy and a tactical approach to regaining puck possession and control in the neutral zone?

Breakdown of the Video Clip Below Reveals:

  • Lack of a neutral zone forecheck deployed to put pressure at the puck and push their opponent left or right into an area outside the dots to force a puck turnover opportunity.
  • No defence of the blue line & entrance into the defensive zone by the Defensemen.
  • The defending forwards don’t pick up their man coverage assignments entering the defensive zone.

Neutral Zone Forecheck

The concept of forechecking in the neutral zone is no different than forechecking in the offensive zone. The goal, push or force the puck left or right into an area of the ice surface outside the dots to create a turnover over the puck. Whatever neutral forecheck structure is deployed, 1-2-2, 2-1-2, or other structure there should be pressure at the puck to force the puck into an area that provides the best opportunity to contest a puck recovery battle situation. Passing lanes and exit lanes should be blocked by the forecheckers.

Neutral Zone Forecheck Keys

  • Protect middle ice (between the dots),
  • Right structure based on situation,
  • Pressure at the puck to force or push the puck left or right to a confined space or area,
  • Skating & checking (angling) skills of the defenders,
  • Puck recovery battle plan for the confined space,
  • Exit play upon recovery of the contested puck,
  • Defensemen moving up to close the GAP between the puck and themselves to support the forecheckers,
  • Forecheckers taking away passing or exit play options.