Welcome back to class here at DSM. This week we want to talk about that scary team defense you have, and all the pucks that are getting to your net. If you are relying on the guy in the Jason mask to bail you out more often than not, then this article is here to help you.
Let’s start with what we are trying to accomplish. You want to limit the amount of high quality shots your opponent gets, which gives your team the best chance of winning each game. You need to clog up the shooting lanes and take away the inside passes to ensure success. Be sure to keep your players at home, as in playing their actual positions. You really don’t want to be scrambling with a forward down low in your own end, or a d-man up high. That is a mismatch for the offense, and things can break down in a hurry if this ends up happening too often.
Clog the lanes, but let the goalies see shots you cannot block. It is tough to tell what shots you should and should not try and block at times, so things to keep in mind are: can I get enough of the shot to keep it from the net? Am I out of position if I slide or leave my feet to block this shot? If I can’t block it can the goalie see it so that he still can make the save? If any of these answers are “no” then it is probably best to just clear the lane and let your tender see it -- be aware of fake shots in these instances though. You can still try and get your stick blade out there to clog the lane, a deflection close to the epicenter of release on a shot can really throw off the trajectory of a puck. It also gives the goalie enough time to react if the shot does end up on net, where as a deflection closer to the goal is tougher to stop.
The next pointer is, own the front of your crease! That is your area; you have to take control of it. This game makes it hard at times to really tie up players or hit them when they are stationary. It is even tougher to do it without taking penalties, but that is life. You need to do your best to keep the opposition away from your crease by tying up sticks, and bodies. You have to clear out rebounds before the offense is able to get a second crack at it. You also have the tough task of making sure that nobody is screening your goaltender. If you get good at this -- while also taking away the pass to the front of the crease -- then you are so far ahead of the game that Scotty Bowman himself would applaud.
Now for a quick crash course on a few defensive situations. Pencils ready?
If you are facing an odd man break coming down on you, it is your job while playing as the defensemen to take away the pass. Make the shooter take the outside shot at all costs, you have to clog that lane and prevent the pass from going across. Remember the toughest save for a goalie is one where he has to move side to side quickly.
Never chase someone behind the net unless you can either A). Guarantee that you will get to that puck first if it is loose. Or B). You have adequate coverage in front of the net. If one d-man is behind the goal-line, then it is the other defenseman’s responsibility to cover all the area up to the closest goal post to the puck. Don’t go past that post if the other defenseman is already beyond it -- that will get you burnt.
Use the net as a base. If you take over a puck and have people bearing down on you, the easiest way to escape and buy yourself time to set up a breakout, is to go behind your own net. Use the net as a screen to pinch off the opposing pressure. Then read the pressure to decide which direction you can escape and bring the puck out. Also try using defenseman to defenseman passing behind the net. Just be sure you can get the puck to where it needs to be, because there is nothing worse than having 2 guys trapped below your goal-line.
Also, never clear pucks up the middle! Always go to the sides and boards. A turnover up the slot is deadly more often that not, and a quick way to get your behind riding pine. Be aware of what hand your defensive players shoot with, it is harder to wrap a clearing attempt out of the zone on your off hand -- in these instances try passing it out rather than just throwing towards the blue-line around the boards. As always, in the case of emergency ice the puck. It is better than not clearing the zone.
Finally, back to the positioning of your players; you can rely on your talent to do the job. The wingers are responsible for covering the two opposing defensemen. Wingers have to pressure that long shot from the point, or guard the pass back to the blue-line. Your d-men can be staggered on each post. Each takes one half of the ice from the center of the net to the boards. The other is responsible for everything else when the one is drawn to the outside or behind the net, just like a zone defense. Your center is the guy that you can sometimes control manually and bounce around the zone with. Use him, as he is usually your best 2 way player, and probably rather fast. You can go for the hit with him on the boards, or come back down to the goal-line or crease to pick up the extra attacker that may drop low on your team. Your center is your miscellaneous defender more or less. Give him a little bit of free reign and have fun. If you are going to get caught out of position with anyone then it should be your center.
Using some of these elementary hockey fundamentals, but with an advanced twist, should result in a bit less rubber marks on your goalie's jersey and pads. Just remember to limit your big hit attempts to when the timing is right, and play the body and not the puck on a dangler, or it will be trick and treats for the other team…as in hat tricks. Alright, alright booooooo, pun intended. Happy Halloween everyone, and have fun!