If you love hockey, and not just the Blackhawks, there are some things happening in team game play that show the direction NHL hockey, and hockey in general, is headed.
Top Performing Playoff Teams Spend Little Time Regrouping in Their Own Zone
The more you play with the puck in your d-zone, the greater the opportunity for your opponent to steal it and create a scoring chance. Puck movement emphasis is on getting the puck up ice as quickly as possible to a player on the move or into an area a teammate on the move can retrieve it. Can the Blackhawks stop playing “patty-cake” with the puck in their own zone and make meaningful breakouts with it?
Top Performing Playoff Teams Establish a “Game Rhythm” with their Footspeed and Quick Puck Movement
Watch how certain defensemen on certain teams absolutely kill the up-tempo rhythm and pace of their team by constantly slowing the game down, standing still, and often putting, or keeping, the puck in their own zone. These defensemen have no clue about keeping game pace going shift-after-shift. Can Blackhawk defensemen not be pace-killers next season and will the Blackhawk front office avoid these types of Dmen?
Top Performing Playoff Teams are Exploiting the Dreadful Behind-the-Goal-Line Defending of All NHL Teams
Shocking, but true, no NHL team seems to have an answer for defending when the other team has the puck behind their net. Often, all of the players on the defending team become hypnotized into puck watching and lose track of where the other players they need to defend are. A key reason is that all of the defenders either are facing the puck=carrier (and have their backs to everyone else) or the defender(s) have their back to the play entirely. If defenders would learn to be parallel, not directly facing the puck possessor behind the net, their awareness of players beyond the man-with-the-puck would greatly expand. The Blackhawks were not good defending plays from behind their net. It’s essential they learn how.
Top Performing Playoff Teams Get the Puck to the Net as Often as Possible
While there are still point blasts that get through and wind-up in the back of the net, teams that direct the puck to the net in hopes of a rebound or redirect are seemingly never out of a game. The Pittsburgh Penguins have tipped or redirected in a crazy amount of goals. This has become a team skillset with players tipping the puck with their blade or shaft – high tips, low tips, redirects from anywhere in the offensive zone. With this as a team skillset, the quality of the initial shot matters little, just that the shot gets past the first defender. Will the Blackhawks develop the art of tips and redirects as a team skillset?
Top Performing Playoff Teams Fuel Their Power Play with Relentless Puck Retrieval
When the Blackhawks surged to the top of the Western Conference last year, much of that surge was led by power play success. And much of that success was the result of Jonathan Toews doing what he does best on the power play: winning 10-foot races and board battles to retrieve shot rebounds and keep possession alive. When one player is “on a mission” to get every rebound, suddenly, all of his power play mates are, too. With that energy, teams not only outwork the short-handed team, they outnumber them in battles. Enjoy the tic-tac-toe puck movement during these playoff power play moments, but be sure to notice if that pretty goal you just saw was really the result of the power play unit just flat-out outworking the short-handed crew on every rebound – and tiring them out – which set the stage for the precision-passing goal.
Top Performing Playoff Teams Have Players that Get to Dangerous Scoring Areas Undetected
How does this happen? One way is by being low, behind the goal line in a corner, with the puck. And then quickly moving the puck along the backboard, all the way up to the point man on the other side of the ice. And then briefly delaying any movement after the pass – before moving quickly to the front of the net for a tip or rebound. Time after time, players behind the goal line with the puck who
move it are then left alone uncovered as the defending team puck watches what the point man is doing with the puck. This allows the undetected player to slip into position at the perfect time to deflect the point shot. The Preds Forsberg and Arvidsson try this play, and variations of it, all the time. Crosby may be the best at “getting lost” as he is able to arrive in the slot at just the right moment. He does this from any angle and position in the offensive zone through the use of constant movement. So, tip goals do not have to be the result of a player standing still in front of the net. There are other ways to get the job done. The Bruins Bergeron is a master at lulling slot defenders into thinking “he’s covered” and then “backing out” away from defenders for a quick pass and shot. He may move only a few feet – but that small space he creates gives him the room to score. Will the Blackhawks have players emerge next year who can get to dangerous scoring areas undetected?