Hockey Special Teams
So I'm finishing up the chart for the first game of the series on Wednesday night. I had Fox Sports Detroit on before I started watching the game on my DVR, which I thought nothing of because it's pretty typical for me to have Fox Sports Detroit on. After I finish charting, however, I hit stop on the recording and the Red Wings game comes on and PRETTY MUCH BURNS MY RETINAS WHY IS THIS ICE SO BRIGHT. Hockey in high def is most definitely not what Fox Sports College Atlantic or whatever it was was broadcasting for these Michigan games. Like Brian said in his post, it was basically like watching a legal stream. That wandering anecdote was my way of saying that the Corsi charts have some values that may not be perfect. I'm not really concerned though, as there are things that I may have marked a shot that missed the net or vice versa that even each other out in the overall numbers. This is why I don't change numbers in the shots column to match the official score sheet; it should work itself out when considering all of the categories.
Friday, 10/18/13 at UNH
- Things that are good: spending time not in the penalty box. Things that are bad: spending time in the penalty box. Of UNH's 37 shots 11 came on the power play. Of their misses, 7 of 21 came on the power play. Of UNH's blocked shots, 7 of 14 came on the power play. That's 29.7% of their shots, 33.3% of their misses, and 50% of their blocks. Worried about being outshot? Try to keep five guys on the ice.
- Even though Michigan was handily defeated in terms of possession, the game was a little more open than the numbers indicate. A lot of this game was played in the neutral zone, with each team trying and failing to create an offensive zone presence. An argument could be made, however, for UNH carrying the play because whoa that third period was rough. Michigan was circling and circling and circling in the defensive zone and I had to keep pausing the recording so I could mark more stuff down for UNH.
- UNH's numbers look pretty dominant in overtime but we're looking at a five minute sample. UNH had possession but I can't remember any part of OT where I thought Michigan dodged a bullet.
Saturday, 10/19/13 at UNH
- This was a game of extended periods of back-and-forth punctuated by furious bursts of offensive zone activity. Michigan looked like they were handily outplayed in the second period (especially the second half of the second period, where they couldn't clear the puck for anything) and the numbers bear this out. At one point UNH went on a tear of four consecutive shots on goal in what had to be under a minute. It looked like the tide of the game may have been turning, but the clock mercifully ran out.
- UNH picked up where they left off and generated a number of chances early in the third period. Their offensive zone time came in smaller bursts, however, and the game transitioned back to an up-and-down affair. Michigan eventually got their own extended offensive zone time and ended up with a slight advantage overall in Corsi for the period.
- Special teams were the theme of Friday night but weren't a factor after the first two periods on Saturday. In the first period 12 of Michigan's 21 shots (57.14%) came on the power play. In the second period 10 of UNH's 25 shots (40.00%) came on the power play. After that? Not even a power play opportunity for either team.
- I like Nagelvoort and his giant leg pads. They're like belly putters in golf; comedically oversized but effective in their own right.
Hockey Special Teams 2: The Neutral Zone and Penalty Kill
In honor of the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting tonight, here’s Volume 2. I saw the Wings utilize both the Umbrella PP and the Diamond PK, so I was inspired to write tonight.
For the first diary in this series, look here: http://mgoblog.com/diaries/hockey-special-teams-1-powerplay-basics
As was covered previously, there are many situations that can lead to a power play during a hockey game:
Any excuse for a SlapShot Clip
The job of the penalty kill is simple:
1. Don’t let the puck into your zone
2. If the puck gets in your zone, get it out ASAP
3. If the other team possesses the puck in your zone, keep it out of the middle and get it out of your zone ASAP.
In this Diary I’m going to talk mostly about the neutral zone, only some about in zone formations. I mentioned that the obvious advantage of a powerplay is the extra man. The advantages of the defense are that 1, you can ice the puck with no penalty to kill time and 2, you can just focus on defense.
2 may seem obvious, but it’s not. Even-strength hockey is a lot like basketball. It’s a very fluid game, transitions happen instantly, scoring chances are often even, games can be up and down or slow. Suddenly with a penalty, the gameplay turns. There is a defined offense and defense. The offense should score. The defense is trying to stop them. Occasionally the defense scores (anyone have numbers on shorthanded goals per pk vs. defensive touchdowns per drive?) but the main goal is just to stop the offense from scoring. The other thing to keep in mind is the line rules. The offense has to cross the red line to dump the puck (or they ice the puck) and the puck has to cross into the zone before any offensive players do (offsides). The PK can use this to their advantage as I explain below.
In the defensive zone
This is your most common defensive formation. A simple zone box, you try to keep the puck to the perimeter and prevent the offense from getting high quality shots. The arrows above illustrate the coaching adjustment if the Powerplay wants to play an Umbrella (see previous diary). The PK plays a diamond rather than a box. This pressures the QB and wing players and prevents the Umbrella from doing what it wants. If the PK shifts to a diamond, the PP shifts the PP, typically trying to create a 2-on-1 out of the corner.
General PK Bullet that belongs here:
- On the PK, you play under extreme control. If a defender gets out of position and makes a mistake, goals happen. That said, the PK has to play with controlled aggression. A good PK can dictate play. The easiest way to kill a penalty is to not allow the puck into your zone (segue alert) but importantly, the PK MUST capitalize on any mistake the offense makes. If a pass isn’t crisp, if it’s bobbled, if it’s dribbling off a stick into a corner the penalty killer should attack and ice it ASAP. If the offense is able to repossess the puck, get back into your formation and wait for your next chance.
Neutral Zone Play
Here is where it gets really interesting. Most of Michigan’s Powerplay problems stemmed from 2 things. 1, they didn’t have an elite scoring defenseman (H/T to JimLahey, read his comments on the last diary) and 2, they couldn’t get the puck into the zone. My high school team ran 4 different neutral zone penalty kills. I’m going to (quickly) go over 3 of them. Critical in special teams Neutral Zone Play are the lines. The offense doesn’t want icing or offsides.
We called this the I, just like the football formation (or something). In it when the PP begins their breakout, the first man waits between the tops of the circles and forces the defenseman to move the puck to one side. The second forward waits outside the zone and reads the first and pinches on that pass, trying to disrupt the break out before it reaches the red line. These players have to be patient and react to the breakout.
Again, your players need to be patient. You have 1 on the offensive blue line, 2 on the red line (or a step towards the offensive zone), and one near your own blue line. Again your front man has to read the breakout, and force it to one side. Once it’s forced the man on the red line steps up before the puck gains the red line. This prevents the offense from chipping it in. Also you always have 2 men back since the man on the weak side should back up and become a defenseman. This formation is beatable though, most simply by sticking an offensive player at center ice. If the man who catches the first pass can make a good touch pass to the man at center, the offense has a 3-on-2 or better. If the PP doesn’t have the passing ability, or a coach who wont adjust his breakout, this formation works like a charm. It was dominant on the high school level, and I just saw the Wings running it tonight.
This formation is extremely passive and can give offenses fits. What this formation says is “you’re not carrying the puck into the zone against us. You have to dump it.” By challenging between the red line and defensive blue line, you invite the PP to dump the puck in. If you have fast defensemen, you can bait the offense into dumping it, win the race to the puck, and then ice it. Many pro teams use this to just slow teams down through the neutral zone. This gave Michigan fits, as they didn’t have an elite puck handler a la TJ Hensick who could beat this with the puck on his stick. This makes the offense work to gain possession in the zone, and can wear down a first powerplay unit.
Those are some basic Penalty Kill set ups. Now for some general penalty kill bullets:
· The Wings ran a bunch of this tonight
I’ve gotten feedback here and on twitter that this has helped some folks already, hope you enjoy the playoffs. I’m a Blackhawks fan, but I’d love to see us meet in the WCF. And hey, I found out that I get CNBC. Who knew?
· The powerplay is a lot like football plays – constraints are huge
As I showed above, a lot of the formations are a chess match against each other. As I write this the Wings were in an umbrella look while Nashville ran a diamond in the zone. Forced a shot from wide.
· While on the Penalty Kill, keep the puck out of the middle
At all costs. Let the other team waste all the time they want in the neutral zone or near the walls in your end. Players don’t score from behind the net (often). Players score from the hashmarks. Always defend inside out, and if it’s close, be patient and stay defensive.
· 5-on-3 situations
The typical defensive formation is a rotating triangle. Think the Box, just with 3 guys. Depending on what the offense runs, you’ll have 1 high 2 low, or 2 high 1 low. The triangle should rotate (you rarely recover to the zone you were in, you just keep moving). Ice it and get whistles. From the other diary: A 5-on-3 is a goal one way or the other. Everything mental I just mentioned about a normal powerplay is turned up to 11. A goal is scored, either by the offensive team or by the team that shut down the 5-on-3. The momentum swing and huge boost is as good as a goal, and I am not exaggerating. Many teams will run their normal powerplay, just condensed.
· From the other diary, still true: A Good goalie can muck all of this up
A team’s best penalty killer is their goalie. Done. At 7:37 central time they even said this during the Wings game.
- A note on individual play
If you’re coaching at all, or just watching, watch the front of the net during a PK compared to 5 on 5. In 5 on 5 you often see players tie each other up and wrestle for position. On the PK the defenseman should NOT lock up with the offensive players. You’re already down a man, don’t get stuck and create a 4-on-3 situation.
There’s the PK diary. Again, please ask questions in the comments and add insight to it. A detailed breakdown of Michigan’s struggles will come as I can get the pictures and videos together. Hopefully you’ve got some of the concepts to work with now.
[Ed-S: Gee golly willickers this guy knows his hockey. Bump Elliott'd]
I know it's not about Trey Burke... but Brian suggested I post it Monday night:
Hockey Special Teams 1: Power Play Basics
Brian recently asked me “What’s wrong with Michigan’s powerplay?” Since that is a complicated answer, I’ll answer it in a 3 part Diary. This one focuses on the Power Play, the next will be on the penalty kill, and once I’ve explained those basics I’ll dive into Michigan’s specifics. There are many situations that can lead to a power play during a hockey game:
First, my hockey resume: I’ve been playing hockey for 20 years. I tried out for the club team at Michigan and was told I was the 2nd best goalie trying out, but they were only taking 1 that year (they might have told that to all the goalies). I played on Sunday nights at the Cube from 2006-2009, so if you played in that student league you probably played against me. I’ve done some coaching since graduation but had to take a break from that when I changed jobs. OK, enough about that. There are plenty of better hockey minds on the board (JimLahey comes to mind) who will hopefully chime in and add to what I’ve put together here.
All powerplays have 3 parts:
1. Establish possession in the offensive zone
3. Profit! Er. Score.
In this Diary I’m mainly going to focus on #2. In my diary on the penalty kill I’ll talk more about #1 (and how to stop it). The obvious advantage of a powerplay is that you have an extra man. The objective becomes taking advantage of that extra man and getting him a scoring change in space. It comes down to spacing and angles. Forgive the Word Art, but a basic offensive zone powerplay formation is the “Umbrella”
In this formation you have 3 players high in the zone, with one in the middle. This formation works best if the man on the left circle is a right-handed shot and the man on the right circle is a left-handed shot as seen here:
Right now the wing players are on their “opposite” sides, which allows them to be open to a pass from the middle and one-time the puck right away. We used to teach our “Quarterback” – the player at the top of the umbrella – to shoot it right away the first time he got it and establish himself as a threat. You make the PK commit to the middle player and he’ll have options on either side. In the above frame against Western, the WMU penalty killer approaching the puck is doing so after challenging the QB up top.
If you’ve got 5 minutes, this video does a good job of breaking down the Umbrella:
In the frame above, Michigan actually ran a different set off an umbrella look that lead to a goal. Rather than just cycling the puck among the top 3 guys, Michigan flipped the puck low and took advantage of what Western gave us. The same principles apply here though – get a scoring chance to a guy in space.
Another powerplay set up I learned as the “Swedish” play. This works well if you want to have 2 defensemen on the ice for the powerplay (like Red does) and you don’t want to have them switch sides (right D man is on the right side)
Again, forgive the word art. This set up lulls the defenders to sleep and sets up a quick one timer for one of your defensemen. The play starts at the top middle with a right handed defenseman. The puck should move between the top 3 players for a while until the play starts. The top defenseman passes to his partner, who passes down the wall, who passes to the man in the corner – who should be a lefty in this case. As the puck works around to the corner a few things can happen depending on what the defense gives you. The player in the corner can drive the puck to the net, look for the man directly in front of the net, or drive hard around the net and find the crashing defenseman for a one-timer. This works because the puck has been busy rotating on the right for a while, and your top left penalty killer can be caught sleeping when the defenseman crashes. Again, creates a scoring chance in space.
Those are 2 basic powerplay set ups. Now for some general powerplay non-bullets:
You have to establish possession in the offensive zone
I mentioned this above, but that is really where Michigan struggled this year. This isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds, as I’ll try to show you in the upcoming “Penalty Kill” diary. It’s a lot like breaking a press in basketball. There are a lot of different neutral zone kills, and the offsides rule really helps the defenders out.
The powerplay is a lot like football plays – constraints are huge
This will come into view with the “Penalty Kill” diary, but depending on what the offense is doing, the defense does something and vice versa. There are ways to break kills, kills designed to stop specific powerplays, etc.
Powerplays can be very mental and high pressure situations
You're supposed to score, you can press, you can play tight, and you can fail. Especially if a powerplay is struggling. Like THJ - when he was in his slump, everyone knew it, when he was open for a 3 he should make it, and stuff like that can become a self fulfilling prophecy. That's the mental part. The physical is more akin to the red zone or goal line football. Everything gets turned up a notch. Again, you're supposed to score and the defense turns it up too. Every little mistake gets jumped on - if you don't have a perfect clean pass the D pounces and you have to try to gain the zone again. As an aside, Michigan’s PK was dominant against Ohio State in Cleveland, we were on every loose puck.
A 5-on-3 is a goal one way or the other. Everything mental I just mentioned about a normal powerplay is turned up to 11. A goal is scored, either by the offensive team or by the team that shut down the 5-on-3. The momentum swing and huge boost is as good as a goal, and I am not exaggerating. Many teams will run their normal powerplay, just condensed. So rather than the umbrella being near the top of the zone, your middle guy is even with the top of the circles and your wings are closer to the dots.
A Good goalie can muck all of this up
A team’s best penalty killer is their goalie. A goalie can affect a series more than any other player in any other sport. Some nights no matter what happens you’re not scoring on a goalie. Sometimes this is awesome and Hunwick takes us far. Sometimes we run into the hot goalie and can’t do anything about it.
Powerplays can get too fancy
Just like a basketball team trying to get a pretty play on a 3-on-1 break, the powerplay can be over thought and fail. Sometimes you just need to make the smart pass, or throw the puck at the net. Dirty goals are still goals. On the powerplay often players will try to go for the beautiful pass for a seamless one-timer… when what they should have done is throw the puck at the net at crash it.
That’s it for my Powerplay Overview. I’ll try to get the penalty kill diary up within about a week, followed by a breakdown of where exactly Michigan struggles.