I truly enjoy chatting hockey with coaches and sharing my thoughts on the game. I always come away from any hockey conversations with something new to add to my coaching arsenal.
I was sitting at lunch a few weeks back talking to two young coaches about drills and we started talking about the inordinate amount of time we spend doing 2v1, 3v1 and 3v2 full ice rushes. One coach said, “It rarely happens in a game so why do we practice it so much?” It was a great question. But I think I had a good answer for her. 2v1, 3v1 and 3v2 rushes are critical events in a game – both offensively and defensively. If your team has a 2v1 rush it is imperative that you produce a good scoring chance. It is the same with a 3v1 and even a 3v2. Conversely, from a defensive standpoint, these situations are critical in defending them well. So, although they are situations that don’t happen all that often, they become very important events that need to be executed well.
That said, the discussion brought about two tangents that need to be discussed separately. The first tangent is that we should be practicing two things more than I suspect most coaches do. The first is even man rushes – particularly 2v2 and 3v3. There are some very important defensive tactics that need to be learned in order to execute these rushes properly. Primarily, the recognition of responsibilities by the defensive players and not double teaming one offensive player at the expense of leaving another player available for a pass and scoring chance. When I watch NHL games I am continually amazed at how often a scoring chance occurs on an even man rush. Usually, it’s because of a lack on “communication” as to who is covering who or, it’s because a player has lost a one on one battle within the even man rush. Invariably, the mistake is caused, not by poor man on man skills, but because there was some kind of confusion among the defensive players. Offensively, players need to practice creating scoring opportunities within these even man rushes. Finding ways to confuse the defensive players is the key to creating scoring chances in these situations. Dropped passed, crossovers, delays and shooting with purpose are all ways to find scoring chances in situations that traditionally have been difficult offensively.
The second piece that should be practiced more is uneven man rushes from different areas on the ice. For instance, start a 2v1 from the blue line at the boards, or from the corner of the offensive zone. These situations are more likely to happen in a game than a full ice 2v1. They also dovetail well into the second tangent from the initial conversation: the power play.
I have written before about the importance of special teams. In particular, I am very bullish on a lot of power play work in practice during the season. Primarily, having a good power play is simply going to go a long way to win games. This season in the NHL, the league leading Buffalo Sabres are scoring at a rate just under twice that of the Detroit Red Wings (23.3% to 11.8%). With a team typically getting around 4 power play chances a game that means that the Sabres are scoring around ½ a goal more each game because of their superior power play. That is a very significant amount. And, at the minor hockey level, where statistics are typically exaggerated, a superior power play can be a huge advantage over a season and into the playoffs. And, although the Sabres are near the bottom of the NHL in penalty killing percentage, imaging if they were at or near the top again in that statistic. Special teams could literally mean the difference of a full goal every game.
My season plan has my team practicing the power play on the first day of practice. Mostly because I believe we don’t teach scoring goals nearly enough, but also because power play principles will undoubtedly spill into your 5v5 offensive play as well. Principles such as give and go’s, creating uneven man situations (2v1, 3v2), creating passing seams in the offensive zone, net front presence, screening the goaltender and shooting with purpose. All of these principles can be worked on separately and they will all improve your offensive play in even strength situations.
Working on the power play will develop in your players an offence first mentality and develop the most underdeveloped part of most players’ games – scoring goals.