3 on-ice situations where players need to change how they think

July 29, 8:21 AM

A major problem with coaching today, particularly in North America, is the stasis of thinking. Most today simply pass along what those before them shared without ever really evaluating if the ideas make sense.

And, this happens at all levels. While a lot of those tried and true rules of thumb were effective in their day and make some sense today, many could use a little tweak.

Below are three mainstays that coaches still harp on players about that could use a little revision.

#1

Standard tip: On a 2-on-1, the d-man takes the pass, the goalie takes the shot.

Updated version: I’ve written about this before, but the crux of the point is, the d-man simply can’t back in and give the puck carrier a breakaway. He has to provide some pressure. The key paragraph from that post:

A 2-on-1 is coming down on a defender. That D-man waits until the offensive players are at least a couple strides into the zone to start applying major pressure. He then plays it more like a 1-on-1 while consciously staying to the inside. He aggressively forces his opponent to make a rushed pass or beat him wide (which he won't, given that he's settled into 2-on-1 legs-on-train-tracks pace), thus forcing his hand and making him attempt to jam that pass through when he's not ready. The D-man waited to apply the pressure until they're a bit into the zone so if he does get beat with the pass, the guy who receives the puck doesn't have a bunch of time to stick-handle, think and shoot. You know, like the puck carrier on 2-on-1's does the way we currently play it.

Most pro coaches these days do advise that the defender apply some pressure early. At the NHL level, players are too good to give an offensive vacation. At the rec level, early pressure is going to have a crazy high success rate. 

If the goaltender understands that this is how their defenders will be playing 2-on-1s, then forcing players to complete a successful pass and shot will be more effective than just asking for a successful shot.

#2

Standard tip: Get that cycle going.

Updated version: Defenders today would be happy to see a line of offensive players spin themselves dizzy in the corner. Staying there allows the same two defensive players to just rotate around with them, “keeping the puck on the paint” as they say, and call it a shift.

You have to get the puck “east-west” now, as in, from one side of the ice to the other, and using behind the net is a great way to do that. When players switch sides defenders have to make switches, which means communicating, which means swapping checks, which means trouble. Now you're opening up momentary soft spots in front of the net, and you're cooking with gas.

#3

Standard tip: On a 3-on-2, get the puck wide, mid-lane drives the net, the other wide forward stays high

Updated version: This is still the tried and true staple, it just needs to be expanded. That mid-lane drive forces the D-men to decide - is someone going through with him, or are we letting him go? If they let him go, you can give him the puck, if they don’t, you’ve created a shot. Good.

But always moving the puck wide is a little like starting X’s and O’s by filling in an outside square. Players should be cognizant that if the D-men they’re coming down on have bad gap and they can gain the blue, it’d be silly not to get the puck to the middle of the ice to maximize your options. 

If the wide player with the puck recognizes this situation and can cut to the middle or just dish the puck to the mid-lane guy, then both players without the puck should head to the net to force the defenders to make a handful of decisions. Are neither of us going to step up on the puck carrier? If someone is going to, should it be you or me?

That puck carrier is then free to read the situation - if the D stick with the players going to the net, cool, you’re getting a free rip from the slot. If one guy steps up, that means there’s an open player in behind a defenseman, and you can dish.

It’s really not so much about a set play as it is having an open mind to read the situation. Hockey players are often so eager to please their coaches (as they should be, they alter their future success) that they get stuck like bubble hockey players in the tracks of the recommended offensive plan.