Hockey is a puck possession game. Every young player has to understand the importance of making good decisions with the puck to avoid turnovers. In the video clip below the Puck Carrier enters the offensive zone and has limited puck support so he moves the puck to the weak side corner for the weak side Winger to recover the puck. Under check pressure, the movement of the puck weak side created time and space to recover the puck and reset a structure to support the advancement of the puck on net with puck support in zone. The Puck Carrier avoided turning over the puck under check pressure when there was an absence of quality puck support.
The use of the width and depth of the zone (ice surface) is one of the keys to creating time and space to make plays, retain puck possession and control and advance the puck in zone.
As line mates you should talk about how you can work together to support the puck in different situations in different zones of the rink. Be creative and use your speed, skills and work ethic to support the puck as a group on every shift.
In the video clip below you see a goal scored by an offensive player going to the net for a rebound. The offensive player gets offensive position on the defenders by getting between his opponents and the net to score. This is an all too frequent scenario that happens on the Attack Rush when defenders fail to get into their coverage assignments. Defenders must get defensive position on their opponents when defending against the Attack Rush. Know your roles and how to execute them to become a complete player.
Roles & Responsibilities of Defenders – Blue Line IN
Forwards must pick up their individual player coverage assignment entering the defensive zone. Leave the puck carrier to the strong side D.
The weak side D moves into middle ice when their partner pressures the puck carrier to take the puck outside the dots.
Forwards entering the defensive zone get defensive position on opponents entering the zone, to support the D pairing.
Communicate player coverage assignments (verbal and/or non verbal).
Defensive position means getting on the opponent’s inside shoulder (shoulder to shoulder), boxing out the offensive player (protecting middle ice). The defensive player should be positioned to get their stick under the opponent’s at any time to tap up to take away a stick on puck opportunity.
Defensive players take their check assignment to the net. No offensive player should be allowed to skate past a defender uncovered into open ice in the net or slot zones.
If the offensive player stops, the defensive player stops, and gets defensive position on the offensive player. Head always on a swivel and be in a strong hockey position.
If a defending player is late catching up to an offensive player, don’t stop skating and at the very least get position from behind to get your stick under the opponent’s (tap up) to prevent stick on puck opportunities.
Once the Attack Rush threat is thwarted and there is a loose puck opportunity, defenders pressure up as a group on the loose puck to regain puck possession and control to exit the zone.
A Look at the Boston Bruins Puck Possession Game in the Offensive Zone
When the 2019-20 NHL season was suspended after 70 games the Boston Bruins were in 1st Place in the league standings. The Bruins under Cassidy’s leadership had a goal differential of +53, best in the league and the best goals against record at 167 or 2.39 per game played. This Bruins team is highly skilled, hard working and a highly competitive group. These guys hunt pucks and are relentless in their support of the puck offensively and defensively in all three zones of the rink. Cassidy has to get a lot of the credit for the team’s play. It’s the coach’s job to play tactics that support the skills and abilities of players.
The video clip below from a Bruins-Islanders contest is shared because it shows some of the tactics deployed by this skilled group to support the puck in offensive zone to create quality scoring chances. The group on the ice in this clip for the Bruins:
Tactical Support of the Puck by the Bruins – Breakdown of the Video Clip
☑︎High cycle from below the hash marks by #37 and #63 – Bergeron doesn’t panic on the puck recovery on the wall and recognizes he has support of the puck below and above the puck, ☑︎Marchand carries the puck up the wall and passes to the weak side D #48☑︎Pastrnak moves through middle ice into the net zone to set a screen☑︎#48 Grzelcyk moves the puck to his D partner and makes room for #72 McAvoy in middle ice up top, ☑︎#72 McAvoy runs a “switch” with #63 Marchand and drops down low into quadrant 2 to get away from coverage up top. The Islanders are in a 2-3 zone defence and fail to switch into man coverage when McAvoy drops down below the hash marks.
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:
Triangulation Puck Support – The formation of or division into triangles of the ice surface by Offensive Players without the puck for the purpose of:
Setting quality passing lane options to support the Puck Carrier,
Advancement of the puck and,
The ability of the Offensive Team to retain puck possession & control.
Introduction of the Concept with Players
Young competitive players benefit from learning how to support the puck offensively early in their development. The geometric term to triangulate in sports has been used by coaches in many different sports like soccer, basketball, hockey and others for years. The higher the level of play and competition, the greater the need for support of the puck/ball offensively to advance the puck/ball in space. One against one is one of the easiest plays in sports to defend so we should encourage the learning of how to support the puck offensively as a group. Every offensive player on the ice benefits from structured support of the puck because when executed properly these players get the opportunity to play more with the puck to create scoring chances. Fun, right?
Triangulation Puck Support is necessary for the successful execution of offensive tactics and not limited to the following:
☑︎Defensive Zone Breakouts, ☑︎Neutral Zone Regroups, ☑︎Attack Rush Play, ☑︎Offensive Zone Tactics like the Cycle, Down Low Game (below hash marks) to advance the puck on net down low below the hash marks, taking the puck to the net from above the hash marks, ☑︎Power Play Breakouts, ☑︎Offensive Zone Play, and ☑︎Puck Recovery Battle Exits, essentially all offensive tactics.
The concept of triangulating as an offensive tactic is important for the following reasons:
Players should only be taught set plays in specialty game situations or for key moments.
Players should be creative in their play making to read and react to what defenders are giving them in situations.
Encourages players to use common sense in their movement of themselves and the puck to make plays.
Supports players finding open ice (space) above, below, adjacent to the puck offensively to set quality passing lanes (good angle).
Players can apply the concept when the group contracts (tight spaces) or expands the ice surface to advance the puck.
Supports players moving their feet into open ice to set a quality passing lane which opens up ice and opportunities for members of the Offensive Group.
Players exploit Defensive Zone Coverage Schemes (seams/lanes) forcing teams to play more man coverage.
Supports a player’s development.
Use of the Ice Surface – Set a Good Passing Lane (Angle)
Whether you are in tight space or using the width and depth of the ice surface it is absolutely essential the player with the puck has a minimum of two passing options. Use of the ice surface to set a good passing lane may require players to come back to the puck or be creative to find open ice to set a good passing lane angle.
Timing in Execution
Passing lanes open and close in the matter of seconds. The timing of a player’s movement into open space to set a passing lane (triangulate) is one of the keys to supporting the puck. Players need to exploit seams/lanes in zone coverage and separate from their man coverage to support the puck offensively. The process requires players to work hard to move their feet to find open ice and develop an awareness of the importance of timing in their execution of player and puck movement.
Give & Goes & Change of Direction
Players should be encouraged to be creative in their support of the puck. We don’t see enough give and goes in today’s game. There should be more outnumbering/overloading puck side and in tight spaces to advance the puck by working two on one’s and three on two’s. Better support of the puck in all three zones is critical to positioning a team to win the puck possession and control game. More stops and starts in tight spaces to work give and goes.
A term often referred to in defensive play but equally important in offensive play and support of the puck. Having a “Swivel Head” is a term used to describe improving a player’s line of sight to quickly see the positioning of players on the ice surface. A Swivel Head is essential for Offensive Players to recognize a defensive structure, location of defenders and offensive players and open ice to make plays.
Strong Technical Hockey Skills
To play a strong offensive puck support game players’ need to have strong technical hockey skills. Passing (giving and receiving), puck control (stick handling), skating skills (change in direction, tight turns, acceleration).
Application of the Concept
The Triangulation Concept should be coached with age appropriate groups capable of grasping and executing the concept. The concept fits in nicely when running SAGs.
The video below is shared to demonstrate a few situations where the players without the puck are moving to support the puck carrier and advancement of the puck.
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
Review Performance Metrics – What do they tell us? Are they the right metrics?
Review of the Current Plan – What is the plan to reduce goals against & will the plan work?
Review of Performance Objectives – Are they Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Timely? Are they the right objectives to improve the team’s GA/GP record?
Video Analysis – Is video being used to drill down to specific problems that need to be fixed?
Meetings – Are players and coaches engaged in the process & working together?
Player Participation – The players are the ones that have to do the hard work so they should be active participants in the Improvement Plan.
Plan Approval (ownership by players & coaches critical)
Monitoring of the plan
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Don’t rush or force a pass because there’s no need, don’t panic.
Five players in the zone set a structure to exit that takes advantage of the ice surface (width & depth).
Five players in sync exiting the zone against three defenders should be easy.
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.
Exit the zone when you’re dam ready to exit as a group and support the puck. Not before.
Communicate with each other.
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.
Timing in the execution is critical, exit play works when 5 players are in sync as a group.
You need puck support wide and in middle ice with quality lanes.
Coaching of DZ Exit Play
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
Puck recovery mode
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.