Puck Daddy - NHL

Is it just me or is having the goalie "take the shooter" on a 2-on-1 the most ridiculous hockey axiom we all still abide by?

I understand that the defenseman is supposed to provide some level of pressure to the puck carrier, then eliminate the pass so the goalie can concentrate on the shooter. Don't worry, I follow the concept.

It's just an odd concept.

Even if the defender executes the play perfectly -- he takes a few pokes at the puck, blocks the passing lane, and maybe lays down the perfect slide (off the net, so as to not take out his own goalie) -- the player with the puck is essentially left with a short breakaway. Which is an awesome deal for him.

I love 2-on-1's. You put it in coast, get comfortable and go showtime. No pressure.

It's a real treat considering you spend the whole game whittling down the defense trying to find the low-number odd-man advantages all over the ice. Nothing like a subtle pick to create a little space, you know?

A 4-on-3 is more difficult than a 3-on-2 is more difficult than a 2-on-1. And a breakaway? That's your best chance to score of all, and in this situation, your opponent provides that for you. Thanks.

So here's a question: What if we did the opposite? What if we got crazy and actually used that defenseman for something aside from stopping a "maybe" play? 

We know the ultimate goal is a shot, so shouldn't we make one more difficult to come by?

Think, and tell me this wouldn't be more effective ...

A 2-on-1 is coming down on a defender. That D-man waits until they're at least a couple strides into the zone to start applying major pressure. He then plays it more like a 1-on-1, while staying to the inside. He aggressively forces his opponent to make a rushed pass or beat him wide (which he won't, given that he's settled into 2-on-1 legs-on-train-tracks pace), thus forcing his hand and making him attempt to jam that pass through when he's not ready. The D-man waited to apply the pressure until they're a bit into the zone so if he does get beat with the pass, the guy who receives the puck doesn't have a bunch of time to stick-handle, think and shoot. You know, like the puck carrier on 2-on-1's does the way we currently play it.

Doesn't that make more sense?

In that scenario, the worst case is that you're giving a guy a clean look on the goalie with time (after a successful pass), which is exactly what coaches teach players to offer up today with the whole "let the goalie take the shooter" thing.

(It's worth noting that a lot of pro coaches are encouraging a more pressure style of defense on 2-on-1's, but ultimately, the pass is still their responsibility).

The best-case scenario with having the D-man take the puck carrier is just so much better. He could steal the puck, or make his opponent force a pass into his skates or stick. The offensive player could make a bad pass. He could fire an under-pressure shot. Any way you cut it, it's better than giving him a clean look.

Backdoor tap-ins still happen right now under the "take the pass" methodology, because players are downright good. If the goalie were made aware that the pass was now his responsibility, it would help his chances of reacting to a pass and thus, getting over to make a save -- he'd be expecting it. That, and the pass would be made sooner, as in, not backdoor. The defenseman's responsibility needs to become the puck carrier, who would suddenly need to make his decision NOW instead of enjoying a leisurely offensive opportunity.

In football, defenses pressure the quarterback not just to get sacks, but because it causes them to make mistakes. Even if they don't get to him, the QB might rush his pass and throw a bad one, or make a decision before the play has fully unfolded, thus limiting his options. This would be the same concept.

(And just think -- at lower levels, players don't handle pressure as well. It should be a no-brainer for younger kids.)

All I know is, as a forward, I love nothing more than realizing I'm on a 2-on-1, putting it in neutral, and getting my head up to do whatever I so please with the puck. I could pump-fake my little heart out and enjoy my mini-breakaway.

I've never heard of a successful defensive strategy that involved making your opponent more comfortable.

We all fear change, but we need to keep evolving. Pressuring the puck-carrier just makes more sense.

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