Tactics

Red Army

Times they are a changin’ in the NHL.

It’s now all about possession and even some long time devotees of “dump and chase” hockey are buying in:

To say Zach Parise has evolved is an understatement.

The Wild winger used to be a big proponent of the dump-and-chase game, reminding critics during a classic rant last year that all teams dump the puck, including the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won the Stanley Cup in 2009, and all four conference finalists the previous year, including the New Jersey Devils he captained.

“We went to the Finals dumping and chasing. We did it more than anybody. And we scored a lot,” Parise said in February 2013.

But as the Wild has transitioned to becoming a better puck possession team, Parise has changed his tune dramatically.

“I read a study this summer that showed shots generated off carrying the puck in as opposed to dumping it in, and it’s like 4-to-1. It’s not even close,”

Read the whole story here.

Another item that caught my eye today concerns the expansion of the “trapezoid”. With a larger area in which to play the puck, goaltenders will be able to stifle an increasing number of dump ins and will reward goaltenders (remember Marty Turco) who can function as a 3rd defenseman and move the puck with alacrity.

Of course, the flip side of that coin is goaltenders who don’t handle the puck well could become more of a liability.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville called the new trapezoid dimensions “an important thing” and it is likely to change teams’ strategies. Like all teams, the Hawks either dump the puck into the offensive zone with a long shot from inside the red line or carry it across the blue line. Now, goalies who handle the puck well will have more room to do so and forechecking and breakouts will be affected.

Quenneville said the Hawks’ frequency of dumping pucks into the zone won’t change much but they way they do it certainly could. For a team that thrives on retrieving the puck and then possessing it in the offensive zone to create scoring chances, it’s an important aspect of the game. More.

So, the question is, how will the new realization that entering the offensive zone with possession, combined with a greater opportunity for goaltenders to play the puck affect tactics and personnel in the NHL?

Very uncertain at this point but I would imagine coaches all over the league, save Patrick Roy in Colorado, are already working on revised attacking strategies.

The Avs think stats like Corsi (percentage of shot attempts), Fenwick (percentage of unblocked shot attempts) and PDO (combined shooting and save percentage) do not accurately reflect their performance.

In short, they believe in shot quality, and their system is designed around it.

On offense, they generate a lot off the rush and do not necessarily funnel pucks to the net. “We don’t just shoot for no reason,” said center Matt Duchene late last season. “We shoot when we have a good chance, and if not, we hold onto the puck.”

On defense, they do not necessarily attack the puck-carrier. They play what they call a “soft lock,” gaining inside position, taking away the middle and forcing shots to the outside. “Varly will take care of those shots,” said forward Nathan MacKinnon earlier this month. More.

The problem with Corsi and Fenwick is that they do NOT account for coaching strategies as outlined above so, while they are a general approximation of possession, a team that hangs on to the puck while awaiting a bonafide scoring scoring chance gets no credit.

Whether or not those coaching strategies are valid will likely be revealed this upcoming season in the play of Colorado and other teams who prefer shot quality.

And, of course, you can bet that other coaches are busy devising strategies to prevent the opposition from gaining the offensive zone with possession.

Once the NHL joins other leagues like the NBA and tracks actual possession through either multiple cameras or RFID chips, Corsi and Fenwick will drop by the wayside much as plus/minus has and we’ll get the real numbers that matter.

A fascinating time to be a fan.

 

 

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