For those of you that don’t know, I’m currently in the infant stages of a project in which I’m planning on watching every single NHL regular season game in the 2015-16 campaign. The scope of it will be focusing on how defensemen influence the territorial battle decided in the neutral zone. In other words: how they defend their own blueline from oncoming attackers, and how they attempt to transition the puck other way by getting it out of their own zone. It’s an exhaustive and probably overly ambitious endeavour, but also one which will hopefully help shine a light on an underappreciated area of the game.
While backtracking this morning I finally got around to watching the Wild vs. Avalanche game from the first week of the season. I came across a rather interesting example of how defending the blueline can be a collective team effort. I also rather topically given yesterday’s news came across a prime example of just how big of a discombobulated mess the Avalanche can be whenever they don’t have the puck. Despite the fact that they boast a pretty spectacular combination of young talent on their roster, it sure seems like there isn’t much foresight put into how they’ll defend certain situations by their coaching staff.
Below is an example of that. I was going to make this point via a series of tweets, but I figured this was an adequate alternative to allow me to expand on it a bit further.
After jumping on the Wild early to the tune of a 3-0 lead – thanks to a couple of ill-advised penalties by Minnesota – the following took place:
Matt Duchene gets caught down low in the offensive zone, but makes a good effort in keeping up with his center duties to backcheck the play:
So how exactly did this play escalate so quickly. Within a span of 4 seconds it went from being completely under control from Colorado’s perspective to a 3-on-2 for the Wild (spoiler: the puck winds up in the back of the net).
Here’s a look at the play unfolding from a different camera angle. In the first still, Duchene has intercepted the puck and is clearing it up against the boards..
Then, rather inexplicably, Blake Comeau decides to go for a change while Duchene and Iginla take the scenic route..
The Wild easily enter the offensive zone on the odd man rush as Colorado’s defensemen sag back and let them have it. With the Avs only having four players on the ice – and two of them gliding back into the camera shot – Varlamov has no chance as Parise zipping a wicked wrister by him:
The Avalanche went on to lose this game by a 5-4 score, opening their season in absolutely fitting fashion. Just yesterday Patrick Roy put his foot in his mouth by saying that that he was more worried about the shots his team wasn’t taking as opposed to the ones they were giving up.
What’s the saying, missing the forest for the trees? The ironic thing is that it’s awfully difficult to take said shots when you never have the puck in the first place, as evidenced by their 37.1 score-adjusted possession rate (easily the worst in the league).
And while Roy also seems to think that Corsi may be flawed because it doesn’t account for where the shots are coming from, it’s worth noting that War on Ice also has the Avalanche currently giving up the most scoring chances against per 60 minutes (33.4), and having the worst scoring chance differential (-50).
The internet can be a useful tool.