November 19, 2010
It's not like Steven Stamkos(notes) invented finding a soft spot in the offensive zone and blasting a one-timer, but I think it safe to say we can call the shooting area around the left offensive faceoff dot the "Stamkos Spot".
Going into this season I hypothesized that teams would be on to the way Stamkos scores such a large percentage of his goals and get a guy in that lane, but it turns out that despite knowing the threat, they're still letting it beat them.
He's the face you associate with the weak-side one-timer, but he's not alone in using what's become a more and more common offensive weapon.
When I grew up, Brett Hull was the guy blasting that shot, but Brett was damn near alone on the list of players who could do it (by the way, if I had a time machine, I'd go back to his rookie year and bring him a few hundred current one-piece sticks just to see how many pucks he could lodge in goaltenders' throats - amazing he did what he did with his stick options).
Teams never developed a comprehensive defensive strategy to defend players who lurked in the weak areas of the ice, as his ability to bury that quick one-tee was somewhat of an anomaly at the time.
Today, a large percentage of NHL forwards can shoot it somewhere around as hard, accurate and consistently as Hull did thanks to technology and an evolving game. It's at the point where it's silly not to acknowledge that, hey, if you misplace Alex Semin for more than two seconds in the defensive zone, it might be time to get your head on a swivel. The concept of a "soft spot" is starting to disappear.
In this era of the NHL, teams have developed effective defensive layering strategies that have forced offenses to admit that they might not be able to produce if they're solely relying on the good ‘ol cycle. They've had to evolve, thus, we now see them occasionally giving up the high-man safety valve for the chance to score.
I think we can all see what new form it's taken, as pucks are rifling in from the weak side dot on a nightly basis. Hell, I'm parking myself over there in rec hockey.
With the use of the "Stamkos Spot", you're taking a bit more of a defensive risk by shifting that high man over to the lower, wider spot (especially if the shooter misses the net, breaking out his opponent), but you'll notice players generally only make that shift in times of solid possession.
When that possession is clear, defenses need to huff some smelling salts and figure out that they can't just let that trigger man drift, because it's not no-man's land he's shifting to, he's parking himself on a missile launching pad.
Last night in the Tampa Bay/Philadelphia game we saw a handful of these one-bombs blow past goaltenders, where they were forced to stretch post to post, and defenders were left covering essentially no one. All the shooter has to do is hit the net, and where he's standing just happens to be the exact spot professional hockey players practice one-timers from the very most.
It'll be interesting to see how quickly coaches admit that things have changed and adjust to that cover that shot option. So far, the reaction seems all too slow.
You don't even need to drift all the way out to the shooter, you just need to rotate into his lane. That defenseman used to come all the way out on the high forward (strong side) anyway to prevent a shot, so the adjustment isn't complicated - just shift with the guy. There's no reason that forward should get lost over there.
And just like how teams play D now, you'd still be left with a d-man and centerman to defend the other two opposing forwards, as per usual.
Coaches need to wise up on this or they'll end up losing games 8-7.
Stamkos owns it, but he's not alone in using it - the soft spot on a forward's one-timer side can't go undefended anymore.