Please try not to rim the puck on the breakout

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.

May-11-2018 00-32-59

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.

May-06-2018 09-28-36

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.

May-06-2018 09-36-50

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.

May-06-2018 10-27-06

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.

May-06-2018 09-47-26

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!

An ode to the crisscross entry

For those who have spoken to me about zone entries more than once, or for those who have listened to me talk about zone entries more than once, this post will come as no surprise to you.

I’m in love with a zone entry. I’m still not 100 percent sure that this is the correct name for the entry I’m talking about, but this is what it’s called in my Hockey Plays and Strategies book so this is what I’m calling it.

The crisscross entry in hockey is so pretty and so effective and I could watch a well executed one forever. It probably shouldn’t be as effective as it is, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about how much I love it!

To immediately illustrate the effectiveness of this entry, here are two (2) separate times in which a crisscross entry has led to a game-winning goal for the Vegas Golden Knights this postseason.

Round 1 Game 2  vs. the Los Angeles Kings:

Apr-14-2018 02-49-20

You can see above that James Neal begins to carry the puck into the zone and draws his defender, Kevin Gravel, toward him just long enough for that right wing side to almost completely open up for Erik Haula, who then has a clear shot at the net and makes the most of it.

Round 2 Game 3 vs. the San Jose Sharks:

May-03-2018 00-00-26

So obviously this play happens in the neutral zone and not as a literal crossing the blue line play, but the result is the same. Again, James Neal takes the puck toward the middle of the ice and gets his defender (this time Paul Martin) to follow him there. He makes that right side totally vacant for William Karlsson to come streaking through, carry the puck in, and get a Nice shot off for a goal to end the game.

There’s clearly a whole other discussion to be had about defensemen falling for this play repeatedly, but again, not what I’m here to do right now! Instead, here are four more examples of this zone entry.

Kucherov to Killorn

So Nikita Kucherov uses this entry like no other. The Tampa Bay Lightning as a whole use it as well, but he really, I think, likes to work with it. He’s the reason this post is a thing. I was watching a game between Tampa and the Kings and I noticed he tried it over and over again,  and each time he tried it, it worked. I started wondering why more players didn’t try to use it since it works so well for him (maybe it’s because he’s Nikita Kucherov and no one wants to lose him, but I digress). This just led me to notice more often when players use it, and so I have a bevy of gifs to choose from and show you.

Apr-14-2018 02-52-19

In the above gif, one of Kucherov’s entries from that game, he makes room for Alex Killorn by having Alec Martinez keep with him toward the middle of the ice before dumping it off to the right. Killorn takes the puck in with relative ease and gets a shot off. Great!

Haula to Neal

This one is fun because it’s Neal and Haula again, except this time Haula is making space for Neal. I didn’t record long enough to see the end result of this entry, but you can see Haula has allowed Neal to enter with control and continue on into the zone with possession.

Apr-21-2018 19-47-34

Crosby to Letang

For all the qualms I have with the Penguins, they play some pretty hockey.

Apr-23-2018 19-37-39

In this example, Sidney Crosby’s entry pass to Kris Letang isn’t what directly leads to the shot (some nice passing does), but the crisscross gives the Pens the space they need to enter with possession and move things cleanly enough to give themselves a chance.

I have more Penguins gifs, but I am limiting myself to one in this post.

Johnson to Lindholm

Apr-24-2018 19-54-47

This is a special all-dman zone entry, but it worked! Erik Johnson comes up the right wing boards, carries toward the middle, gets Josh Morrissey to come with him, and passes back to Anton Lindholm for a shot.

***

I have plenty more gifs where those came from, but I think the level of analysis I’m giving doesn’t really call for too many more examples so I will stop here! For now.

I hope I have made you love crisscross entries at least 1/4 of the amount I love them. And if not, I hope at least now you notice them!

Intro

This is just a quick intro to this blog, nothing too in-depth.

I made this page a while ago, but every time I think of something to post here, I convince myself it’s not good enough and it never sees the light of day. So! Here we are.

Some posts are gonna be more serious than others. Some are just going to be observations I make or things I see that I like and want to talk about. Maybe some of the not-so-serious posts will spawn more serious posts, but I’m really just reaching the point where I need to put things out there and get things flowing regardless of how thought-out they are.

So without further ado, let’s start.