I don’t think this is a particularly original take, but it drives me bananas. It particularly annoyed me at the Hockey East Championship game between Boston University and Providence College this past March.
BU would have the puck below the goal line, and instead of trying to make a play, they’d throw it up the boards and PC would pinch to keep it in or just intercept it to keep it in. When it was deep in the Friars’ zone, though, PC had a set breakout play they used every time and for at least the first half of the game, it worked every. single. time. Their D would have it down low, pass it to a winger on the boards, and that winger would make a clean, cross-ice pass to a teammate near-ish the blue line exiting with control.
I wanted to do a whole post about that, but for some reason the footage of that game does not exist? So I’ve been gathering some instances of it in NHL games instead.
At first I was just going to make this post focusing on the actual decision to rim the puck itself, which places more blame on the D or whoever has decided to send it up the wall. Instead, after talking through certain plays, I’m gonna do a more generic “why rimming the puck didn’t work/resulted in a turnover here.”
I see it happen so often, and I understand the idea behind it, I get it, I do. Sometimes it’s the only option, or it at least feels that way, the D are just trying to relieve pressure down low, the D is trying to move the puck to a less dangerous area were it to be turned over, etc.
But in general, I hate it! Here are some examples of people turning the puck over when trying to rim it out, and I’m gonna try and see what I think went wrong. I’m no expert, so this is mostly going to be what I see.
When I watched this play over again, my first issue was that Mike Green had enough time to settle this puck down and handle it briefly before he just sent it up the boards. This means he consciously made the decision to rim this around, when, with not a ton of immediate pressure on him, he could have done something else. Instead, he chooses to rim it where none of his teammates are. Henrik Zetterberg (the forward closest to the boards) is moving away from them. Maybe he’s out of position drifting toward the middle, but also to me it looked like he was anticipating a pass or anticipating needing to come down for support to win a puck battle.
Again, I’m not an expert, this is just what I’m seeing, and maybe it’s wrong then! But it looks like Green could have made a better decision. You have two teammates down low with you, it might have been a better choice to even bank it off the boards and out instead of just letting the puck travel along them for anyone to snag. If you’re going to turn it over anyway, maybe tap it back and reverse it to try and get it to Xavier Ouellet instead. I realize that were Green to tap it back, or turn around with it, he could risk turning it over in a more dangerous area with the possibility of a pass behind the goal line hitting one of the Flames near the net. In that sense, a turnover along the wall would be much less costly. But I still can’t shake the feeling that this just could have been handled better overall. Green also doesn’t even turn his head when he has the puck, which maybe you’re not supposed to do if people are supposed to be in certain places, but if you’re trying to break the puck out it might be nice to know where people are I think!
The next few gifs are from Game 4 of the Bruins-Lightning series. I was there and noticed some stuff in real time that I wanted to go back and look at after.
Less of a rim, more of an attempted clear on this one. This was obviously following a dump-in so I think Kevan Miller was just trying to clear the puck as fast as he could, but obviously the ideal option is to pass it to Brian Gionta or Ryan Donato in the middle of the ice for a clean exit. However, Alex Killorn is on top of him and Yanni Gourde comes in to force him to make a decision, and I understand not wanting to just throw the puck toward the middle in case it gets intercepted. He loses the puck for a split second, and I think maybe in the time it took for him to corral it again, Gourde was about to hit him so Miller just sent it. It resulted in a turnover and prolonged, controlled entry.
So I think the issue here is Rick Nash doesn’t get over to the boards fast enough? Zdeno Chara takes the puck and flings it around, where it looks like Nash is heading/should be heading so Chara entrusts him with getting there or winning the puck battle once he does. The problem is that Tyler Johnson recognizes this, gets there first, and lower down, so he has his pick of the attempted rim and gets it to Ondrej Palat right by him. Either way, Chara might have been able to turn around for a moment and see Jake DeBrusk totally open for a pass. But again, maybe he saw what was ahead of him, didn’t want to risk slowing down to turn and see DeBrusk and have the Bolts steal the puck away, and sent it forward.
This example is good to look at because Chara actually has David Backes on the wall to support a pass up the boards. However, Anthony Cirelli reads what’s about to happen and jumps in front of Backes to gain possession for his team instead. I’m not sure what the solution is since, again, Gourde is closing in to force Chara to make a decision and he has Killorn pressing around him and near Charlie McAvoy as well. The only way to go is up the boards or to smack it behind him. With someone actually on the wall, this likely looks like a safe, decent play. It just isn’t because it gets foiled by Cirelli.
Here’s a Dan Girardi double turnover. While I feel like most rims get turned over farther up the boards (though the first Johnson interception was lower), David Krejci snags this one right above the goal line. Girardi takes the puck from Andrei Vasilevskiy, sees DeBrusk coming, and just tries to get it away from him. I think this is the difference between a play like this and the first Green one I looked at way up top. Girardi actually doesn’t have time to do much else here on the first turnover. I suppose he could try it backwards, but Nash is waiting along the right wing boards and would probably grab that too. Once Krejci gets it near DeBrusk, Girardi tries to keep him from gaining possession by just kinda slapping it to the corner where Krejci and Nash outnumber Cedric Paquette and can move the puck high for possession. I think the Bruins forecheck did a nice job here forcing Girardi to put the puck right where they wanted him to, and eventually got a shot attempt off as well.
I do have more examples, but I think this is a good place to stop! Basically, if you can avoid rimming the puck around by taking an extra second or two to make a clean pass or carry it yourself, do that because it’s more likely to result in a clean exit, some clean transition, and possibly a controlled entry. If you’re being forced to make a split second decision and don’t really have a choice, yes, the play up the boards to a less dangerous shot location makes sense. There’s not much else to do in that situation except maybe turn it into a puck battle and get some teammates down low with you to support, but in general, please try something else!