Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Canucks at Bolts: Recognize the Situation

The Bolts came back to get a hard earned point against the Canucks.  Lots of chatter about how it shows the character of the team, how it's a positive, blah blah blah.  Horse dookey.  This team should be pissed off because this is a game that the Bolts should have won.  This team has to recognize that the goaltending available will not bail them out of idiotic mistakes.  And quite honestly, Roli (for once) is not to blame last night.  1st goal against...can't do much about.  3rd goal against, you can say was bad D by Brewer, but Brewer was in good position, you have to give Malhotra some credit on that play.  2nd goal against (the short handed goal), should NEVER happen.  Clark makes a weak pass to Vinny, Vinny makes a weaker backwards pass to Marty.  Marty mishandles it and loses the puck battle to the forechecker, there are 4 Bolts players back and nobody picks up Hansen who's wide open to put home the rebound.  A collective brain fart of epic proportions.

However, despite this (and despite a PP that gives up more goals than it gets), the bolts get back within one, scoring in the last minute of the 2nd.  With less that a minute left, do you try to tie the game going into the third, or do you realize you should be quite happy going into the third, down only 1 and make sure you close out the period being down only by 1?

The second the puck dropped after Vinny's goal, I already knew the decision the Bolts made.  They were playing *way* to aggressive given the situation and I knew they would give up a good scoring chance to close out the period.  Unfortunately that good scoring chance turned into a goal against and the Bolts enter the third down by 2 again.  

After putting some pressure, the Lightning dump the puck deep in the Cancucks zone and circle the blue line to get back onsides.  There is freaking 16 seconds left. Drop back to your 1-3-1, defend the neutral zone, end the period and pat yourself on the back for making this a 1 goal game going into the third.

Instead, Stamkos rushes in and almost gets injured on the play.  Marty can back off and support the puck but instead chases the puck, and Vinny rather than staying high moves into the slot to try to get into scoring position.  Ok....14 seconds left, puck is in Canucks' end, they are scrambling a bit.... put a little pressure on, no problem.  It's not the safest thing to do, but safe is death right?  Not too big of a risk, right?

Marty gets to the puck first and with 12 seconds left, he has a few options.  I would have liked Marty to either a) eat the puck in the corner and let time run out or b) throw the puck behind the net (blue arrow) and let time run out.  Instead he chooses c) make a backwards pass to Vinny through 3 defenders.  Remember when I said Marty and Vinny could have peeled back a bit to be safe?  As you all know, the difference of 4 ft of ice can be the difference between a goal or a great defensive play.

So Marty turns the puck over, the Canucks take off, we have 2 defensemen back and there's only 8 seconds left.  All is good. Defensemen lay back, defend the rush, and let the clock die.  Except Clark idiotically pinches at the red line and loses the battle (green circle).  Leaving Gilroy the lone man back.  Gilroy will have to pick up the puck carrier.  Clark, when he gets up will have to pick up the guy circled in blue (he does, but will be 4 ft behind) and Vinny has to back check to cover the other forward (circled in yellow).

Vinny will remain 4 ft behind the eventual goal scorer.  Gilroy will let the pass go through (a no-no on 2 on 1's, but of course, that is way easier said than done) and the Bolts will have to enter the third down 2.  

Watch it in real time.  As outlined above, within about 8 seconds of time, the Bolts had 4 opportunities to recognize the situation and determine that playing it safe would be the best option.  Instead, they make bad decisions at all 4 frames outlined above and end up with a horrible goal against.

This goal should never happen.  All the credit in the world to the boys for not hanging it up and battling back to get the point.  I don't want to take anything away from that.  But the fact of the matter is, the Lightning should of made it their number one goal to keep it 3-2 going into the third. Instead, they press at the end of the 2nd like it was the end of the game and it costs them.

And don't even get me started on the SHG against.  Marty says it was a bad bounce.  I say it was laziness all around the power play. And if anything, the power play is extremely lazy, which is probably why it's so bad this year.  Particularly in the defensive and neutral zone.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Canucks Scouting Report

Bolts host the Canucks tonight.  Time is starting to run out on the Lightning if they want to even be relevant in the playoff discussion this year, but they face a pretty tough foe tonight.  The Canucks did play last night, a loss against the Florida Panthers.  If we're lucky the travel, plus being the 2nd of a back to back plays into our favor.

For the Canucks, obviously, the big line is H. Sedin, D. Sedin, Burrows, but they really bring a full 2 (2.5 depending on how you look at things) lines that can score.  The group of forwards are good at cycling, creating space by passing, and their movement away from the puck is extremely strong.  It's one of the best passing teams I've seen.  They will perfectly execute a ton of drop passes to create space (see my write up on the game against the Canadiens to see what I'm talking about) and pull off crazy east/west passes as well.  They can score every way.  Off the rush, shots from the points with screens, or just grinding away and getting pucks to the net with traffic (which their bottom 2 lines will typically do).

Rush coverage will be huge, similar to when the Lightning played the Flyers.  And gap control against the rush will be paramount.  Extremely important to get sticks on pucks against the rush to take away time for the opposing forwards creativity.  

The Canucks definitely are *not* a dump and chase team, which is really the best tactic against the Lightning's 1-3-1, so it will be interesting to see if they change up their offense at all for this game.

Their goaltending is strong, but their D is so so.  They are slow footed (like the Lightning), so they can be beat with sheer speed.  And number 23 on defense, Edler...while a great d man, is definitely weak along the boards.  If he is on the ice, I would get the puck past the red line, make him turn his back and hit him, because he *will* give up the puck that way.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bolts at Maple Leafs: Failing to pick up the trailer

So the usual suspects showed up at the game last night.  And by the usual suspects, I mean, shaky goaltending (Garon could have stopped *at least* half of the 4 goals he let in), bad puck management, and swiss cheese defense. 

Like I mentioned in my scouting report, the Toronto Maple Leafs score a ton of goals out of 'nothing' chances.  They do it through sheer hard work, puck dangling, and crisp passing.  It doesn't help when you make bad turnovers and follow it up with bad defense.  But that's exactly what happened when the game was tied 3-3.  The Lightning just tied the game and should have had a "0-0 mentality" as coach Boucher often puts it.  Make simple, smart plays.

Now as a disclaimer, it's easy for some bloke like me to sit here on my iPad and tell these guys they need to do this or that after i've watched a goal against in slow motion 8 times.  I by no means want this to be a "bash the pro hockey players" blog.  But again, my goal here is to break things down so that when you guys watch hockey games, you can see things "as they develop". I said.  3-3 game, all tied up, Bolts have the momentum, what do you do?

Well here Marty has the puck and he has a number of options.  The simplest of these options is a hard dump down red arrow for Downie (circled in green) to retrieve.  He could also just carry the puck to the defender since he's giving him a decent amount of room.  You also have Stamkos busting up the center as you can see the opposing center is trying to slow him down a bit.  Marty will pass to Stamkos, and while it's Marty and Stammer and they can pull off most things....sometimes you want to just do the simple play.  It's cliche that Detroit is the "gold standard" of puck management.  But the reason they are is because they play such a meat and potatoes game and sprinkle in talent like Zetterberg and Datsyuk.  The Lightning have a talented team and sprinkle in some meat and potatoes hard work.  Watch a Red Wings game and count how many times Zetterberg and Datsyuk will dump the puck.  Then watch a Lightning game and see how many times Marty and Stamkos dump the puck.

Now you can say this is a potential 3 on 2 since Stamkos has beat his man, but his man is RIGHT there, not to mention there is a winger back checking at full speed equal to Stammer's depth.  I've seen Marty play enough to know what he is thinking here.  He wants to play a give and go.  Dish the puck to Stamkos in the center....Chances are both D men will converge to Stammer and Stammer can dish the puck back to Marty who's gonna skate as fast as he can down the wing.  This will draw the defender back to Marty for either a) Stamkos to be open or b) Downie to be open since he will be the trailer.  All sounds awesome, right?

Except Marty misses the mark on the pass.  :(

Well, no big deal because Stamkos is the only one that gets caught (his nose is at the very edge of the frame).  Bolts have 4 guys back and Toronto was backchecking so hard they only have one forward (guy on the near boards where the puck is going) going the other way.

Brewer ALMOST loses the foot race, but makes a great pivot and forces the puck carrier to the corner.  There's a late man (circled in green, just at the edge of the frame) heading towards the slowt but Kubina, as the other defender, has the slot covered...  ummm......

Yea...not sure what Kubby was thinking there.  Now, it could be a systems thing, because, yes the Lightning do send 2 d men to the corner at times.  If you do that, then you need to be damn sure a forward is covering the slot and as you can see, Marty is not even close.  Kubina was better off staying where he was and I think he knows it.

Anyways, here's the video for you to watch.  Again....turnover from Marty isn't the end of the world (tho you always hate to see them).  Brewer does a good job forcing the puck carrier to the corner, and then Kubina inexplicably leaves the slot to leave the

So next time you watch a game, cringe whenever the Bolts turn the puck over at the offensive blue line (they do it quite often).  Sure, lots of times, it's harmless.  But it's a mistake nevertheless.  I hope you can see by some of my past posts that the "anatomy of a goal" is often one team makes 2 or 3 small mistakes in a row.  So, it's best if the team (and individuals) play in a way that eliminates as many basic mistakes as possible.

And you know what?  Kubby knows he's supposed to cover the slot there, but in the heat of the moment, sometimes everything you "know" goes out the window and you forget about the trailer or you think the forwards got it, when he's a good 6 strides behind.  But that's where 'hockey IQ' comes in.  Everyone can have hockey IQ looking at the play frame by frame.  But can you interpret the situation and make the correct decision in a split second?  

FYI, from my first screen shot to the when the goal is scored is 9 seconds of game time.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Maple Leafs Scouting Report

Watching the Maples Leafs highlights from December was interesting. There really doesn't seem to be much of a pattern of how they generate goals. I did see a few point shots with traffic in front, but there isn't a single NHL team that won't score a goal like that once in a while.

The oddest thing I noticed while watching Toronto is that their forwards have an uncanny ability of making something out of nothing. As a collective group, they are a highly skilled bunch. A lot of their goals and scoring chances come off of dangles, improbable passes and sheer determination. The Bolts will have to expect these guys to deke and dangle. Gap control and strong body positioning will be paramount for the Bolts D tonight and defensive zone coverage will be important as well. Like I said, the Leafs make some of the most improbable passes and a lot of them are east-west passes to a late trailer.

This is a team just a few points ahead of the Bolts that are also fighting for their lives to stay relevant post All-Star break. They haven't played too well lately, winning just 3 of their last 10, but 2 of those other 7 were lost in the OT/SO and they were definitely in the game for their 5 regulation loses (losing by either a goal or a goal + last minute empty netter).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hurricanes at Bolts: How a poorly played aggressive forecheck will kill you

Friday night the Bolts played one of the few teams trailing them in the standings. If they want to make any kind of push to the playoffs, these are must win games.  The Hurricanes are an aggressive forechecking team.  Sending in 3 forwards to the same corner and keeping their D at the offensive zone blue line.  However, the whole game they were unable to establish any kind of forecheck.  The Bolts did a great job with a quick transition game, but the Hurricanes were also pretty horrible at executing their forecheck.  If you forecheck aggressively, and you make mistakes or you don't hustle, you will get killed.  Case in point....the Lightning's first goal of the night.

The play starts with Carolina doing a good job of getting the puck deep and forcing the D to turn their back to chase the puck.  Now it is up for the Carolina forecheckers (circled in blue) to haul ass and either cause a turn over, or at least make it tough for the D to cleanly break out.  Urm...these two guys circled pretty much coast the whole play.  If i'm a Carolina fan, I'm pissed at the serious lack of effort  here.

If forechecker circled in blue would have actually hustled, he'd be 1 or 2 ft away from Gervais when he plays this puck instead of the 6 ft away he is currently.  Gervais is going to play the puck up the boards (red arrow) and then it's forechecker circled in green to attack.  Forechecker in green coasts...the...whole...way...there.... 

So instead of reaching for the puck like he is here, 59 on the 'Canes should be all over Downie.  Instead Downie has plenty of time to play this puck up the boards.  To make matters worse, the player circled in green here is a D man who stepped up and the guy circled in blue is the forward "covering" for the D man.  Leaving defender circled in yellow the only man back.  Downie will flip this up the boards and Marty and Stamkos take off (red arrows) and start up the 2 on 1.  And when you give Marty and Stammer a 2 on 1, you usually give up a goal.

Here's the whole thing for you to watch.  Keep an eye on the 2 forecheckers and see how they totally coast, making their aggressive forecheck, not only ineffective, but also a huge liability.

Hockey is often a game about details.  Here's a small mistake here that leads to Stamkos' 2nd goal.  It starts with the Hurricanes getting the puck in deep (successfully) and being first on the puck (successfully), except the Hurricane forward will lose the one on one battle to MA Bergeron of all defensemen.

Here the Hurricanes are in a good position to start a cycle and get some offensive zone pressure.  Except...

MA Bergeron wins the one on one battle, moves the puck up to Downie (red arrow).  Almost similar to the goal we looked at above, the defender and third forward high will move to Downie and will drop the puck down to Marty (yellow arrow).  Stamkos and Marty are off to the races as soon as the Bolts get control of the puck (green arrow).  The play will unfold and quite honestly, even tho it's Stamkos it is very embarassing to see him walk through 2 defenders to get the shot off on Ward, but kudos to Stammer for pulling it off.  (and kudus to Purcell for his goal too, tho those 2 defensmen he walked through should have received an ear full from the Canes' coach)

So while an aggressive forecheck might be fun to watch, if you don't hustle the whole time and if you aren't smart about when you pinch you will get burned.  The Lightning usually don't play with an aggressive forecheck.  However, even when they are aggressive on the forecheck, Boucher does a good job of reminding the players to go hard and to not over commit to let an easy rush go the other way.

Hurricanes Scouting Report

Here is an unedited version of my scouting report on the Hurricanes.  I got a little sick this weekend, so I didn't get a chance to take these notes and turn it into a blog post proper, but since I took the time to write these notes down, I suppose I might as well post it.  The first Hurricanes PP goal came off of a good screen from a fwd who got behind the Lightning D.  And I tweeted that the Hurricanes played a crap game.  A large part of their identity is a strong forecheck and they totally failed at it.


They are very good at getting good position in front of the net.  They will force themselves behind the D to be in a good position for a rebound.  Important not to leave the D zone too quickly, because they will have one forward stay in front of the net and if their D holds the puck up at their offensive blue line that forward will be wide open if our D starts flying out of the zone prematurely.  The fwds actually float in the slot if the puck is down low to try to set up a shot to a forward in the slot.  However, if the puck moves back to the point, the forwards will then quickly try to get behind the defense for a rebound.

Hard forechecking team, will send all 3 forwards to the boards in one corner to dig the puck out.  Extremely fast transition team.  If the Bolts turn the puck over they will rush up the ice very quickly.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

Canadiens at Tampa Bay: puck mismanagement and rush options

The goal I really wanted to talk about had the Lightning failing to pick up a trailer but the camera angle available on the replay sucked, so I'll have to save that topic for another game.

In my scouting report of the Canadiens I said their chances will come off the PP (they scored a PP goal and had a few good shots off their chances), or off of puck mismanagement by the Lightning.  Well Desharnais' goal came off of puck mismanagement by the Lightning which resulted in a 3 on 3 rush.

What do people mean when they say puck management?  It's a blanket term for making the smart, safe play while having possession of the puck.  On top of making the smart play, it's being able to execute it.  So while it's a team thing, it requires a certain skill level of all individuals.  You can make the right or "smart" pass, but if it's a crappy pass, it doesn't matter.  You can dump the puck in when it's the right or "smart" thing to do, but if it's a crappy dump, then it doesn't matter.  In summary, puck management is a team's ability to make smart plays and execute them well to move the puck forward and avoid costly turnovers.

So let's take a look.

The play starts with the Canadiens actually failing to get the puck in deep (see my blog from the game against Colorado for a discussion on that).  So Gilroy picks it up and the Lightning have a chance to have a 3 on 2 the other way since all 3 Canadien forwards are up ice (numbered for you that need assistance counting ;)  )  Giroy has three options.  Two of them are in the frame and labeled with blue arrows.  The best option was probably Marty making a cut towards center.  The 2nd option is the forward who's leg is just at the edge of the frame.  The 3rd best option?  Is Stamkos who is on the near boards outside of the frame, which is where Gilroy decides to go.  The pass is off, the Candiens D picks it up and now all of a sudden instead of gaining a 3 on 2, we give up a possible 3 on 2 (which actually ends up being a 3 on 3)

3 on 3 or 3 on 2 drills are a fun one when you are young and play hockey.  And they are a good way to practice set plays because 3 on 2/3 on 3's happen way more often than 2 on 1's, and they require a little more creativity than just skating with the puck and trying to pass it cross ice to an open man like a 2 on 1 usually plays out.

So here's how it starts out.  Anytime you are on the rush, having the forwards swap places is a great way to break down defensive coverage.  The lightning actually do a really good job of swapping coverage, but the criss cross pattern the Canadiens run here accomplishes a few things regardless.  The puck carrier (blue arrow), will skate between the other two forwards and drop the puck to Desharnais who is taking the path of the green arrow.  Bergeron, who is currently on the puck carrer, will puck up Desharnais as he should, but because of the criss cross, it creates a little space for Desharnais as you can see in the picture below.

Look how far off Bergeron is to Desharnais (circled in blue) once he gets the puck.  This gives him time and space.  And a lot of hockey is about creating time and space on offense (or taking it away if you're on defense).  At this point, the defense coverage isn't as clear cut as the picture above.  Sometimes the defense will botch up swapping coverage, but like I said the bolts do a good job.

But even if the bolts swap coverage well, the play Canadiens run is effective because it created some a few  options.  The puck carrier can shoot and Cammalleri (green X) is driving the net, or he can pass to blue circle (which is probably the first option since east west passes on rushes really screw a goalie).  In fact, if you see Desharnais' head, he is looking at blue circle the whole way (again, kudos to I think Moore, in this case for taking making that pass option not the best one).  This probably throws Garon off a bit (and the goal is one that Garon would probably like to have back).  But either way, the play gives Desharnais time to look at the pass, realize it's not a great one, and get a shot through with all sorts of traffic in front of Garon.

Here it is all together.  Watch how Gilroy has a great chance to make something happen. Unfortunately, he makes not only a bad pass, but not the smarest one either.  Then watch the Canadiens rush pattern and how it creates space and options for Desharnais (and watch his head for a cool little detail of how he telepaths pass to Garon all the way before taking a quick shot that surprises the goalie).  

The Lightning get a ton of 3 on 3 and 3 on 2's.  It's something that as a fan I wish they worked on.  They usually do a drop pass to create time for whomever receives the drop pass, but they rarely skate any criss cross patterns, giving the defenders an easy job of maintaining coverage.