The NHL Screening Problem: Why Defenses Can’t Contain Recent Offenses


Brandon Carlow Curtain raises in front of the whiteboard Bruins The locker room at the Warrior Ice Arena in Boston. With his index finger, the right defenseman begins to draw a scenario where he and his partner are Hambus Lindholm You face the hack from the left corner.


Pointing to the hole, Carlo says, “If the center is coming from here, if I go over his head while they’re trying to pass the center of the ice and meet him, I can put it back deep.”

“Or I can keep skating and eliminate the play inside this zone,” Carlo continued, pointing to the high hole, “before they get here,” the defender concludes, pointing to the neutral zone. “Then Lindy folds back. She’s just trying to pressure the attacking area. But also setting things up before the red line.”

The concept Carlo explains is one the Bruins call “surfing”. For example, when an opponent starts a deep exit off their end, the Bruins’ strong side defense grabs the wall to shut down the wing. Meanwhile, his surfing partner is on the ice—in Carlo’s case, filming him sweeping from right to left—and stands on the crest of the wave to go over the center. If there is no play, Carlo will stay on his right-to-left course and back at the bottom of the wave.

“We want to stay in the offensive zone as much as possible,” says Coach Jim Montgomery. “So what we want our defensemen to do when the other team starts to have possession is surf over them. You ride a wave instead of going straight at them. You bob over them.”

This technique serves the Bruins well. As of Thursday morning, they are allow 2.09 goals per game.

This is an anomaly though. The team’s second-best is 2.61, and the league average is 3.17—the highest since the 1993-94 season.

What are the Bruins doing that the league as a whole is not doing? Why is it so difficult for modern defenses to stop modern crimes?

Asking the question to players and coaches across the league, the answer seems to be a combination of factors. Everything in the league today is in line with offense: the speed and skill of players, the constant suppression of blockers, the surge in attacking defensemen, improvements in stick technology, and the data explosion that demonstrates the need to kick-start the east-west goalie movement.

There may be one explanation above all others when it comes to increasing the number of points. Take all of the above factors and synthesize them into an average ice scenario: on board Connor McDavidfor example, shouting towards the grid inside the bitmap.

“It’s hard to defend when someone takes the middle of the ice and is looking for the ice behind you,” he says. A legendary sea monster Center Yanni Gord. “What does he see? You always wondered, ‘What’s behind you?’ Where should I put the stick? This makes it difficult. I think that’s the hardest part to defend – guys come at you so fast and you’re a failure.”


On January 7, in a match against ColoradoAnd Edmonton‘s Clem Costin It was bad luck losing the puck in the offensive zone. Before Costin can retrieve the disc, Cal Makar And Evan Rodrigues I moved him to the worst option the Oilers could have made: Nathan McKinnon full gallop.

Cody thisEdmonton’s tough defenseman, was positioned along the boards. Try to recover. But by the time Ceci put his hips down, McKinnon had blown the defenseman’s gap with his video game speed.

Sissy and his partner Darnell Nurse He might have had a chance if McKinnon had carried the puck wide. But part of McKinnon’s greatness is his tenacity in claiming center ice as his own.

He roared past Sissy from the inside. The nurse tried to deter McKinnon’s approach with a stick. But the center, protecting the puck from the nurse, broke away from the defender and went upstairs Stuart Skinner.

“The best players in the world attack mid-ice,” says Montgomery. “If you watch Connor McDavid or MacKinnon when they get a puck in the defensive zone, the first time they get a puck, it’s going to be, ‘Get inside the points.’ And then they read them. So if somebody gets inside the points, now they have more space. Much to their speed abroad.”

It’s not just McDowd and McKinnon that take steps towards the middle. Gord notices how easily he ages 20 Matty Benears He takes inside the ice at his first opportunity.

Then you have defensemen like Makar, Adam Fox And Rasmus Dalin: the brave skaters who greedily grab the middle and keep moving forward. It makes a defensive mission nearly impossible without regular reinforcement.

“We’re trying to slow down the middle of the ice,” he says. Winnipeg Coach Rick Bowness, whose team has the fourth-best defense in the league (2.62 goals allowed per game). “If they get outside, we can live with that. But we don’t want them to cross the middle of the ice quickly. We don’t want them to go east to west when they get inside the blue line.”

“So if they get in on the outside, we’ll take our chances. But when they get past the middle quickly, you back up and it’s hard for the defensemen. Their attackers are allowed to go east-west inside the blue line.”

The problem with medium speed is that it is difficult to slow it down. At slower ages, defenders can shoot puck carriers and drop them into the open ice. If the validator attempts it now, he is at risk of losing it and resulting in a freak rush.

Coaches have advocated taking responsibility for survival. But even this can backfire between points. The outstretched stick requires a one-handed lunge. Today’s puck carriers can cut off the stick and use the cannons as a turnstile.

Perhaps the best deterrent then is hitting an offensive player. It is a technique that is difficult for gamers to master. It requires skating, skating, and a sense of hockey.

long time NHL Coach Barry Trotz, for one, believes in players Don’t fish enough.

“You have to match someone’s speed,” says Montgomery. “You have to make sure your stick is in the right place, so you’re forcing someone to go at the angle you want them to go. Also, being able to throw someone off. There’s a lot that goes into it. The more reps you get where you go. You have to match the pace is really important.”

The art of hunting

to Patrice BergeronAnd the proof is in the dessert. Selke’s six awards confirm that he is Best two ways forward at work. Hunting is crucial to his work.

But the Bruins captain didn’t immediately master this. He credits former assistant coach Craig Ramsey, who was on the bench for Boston from 2007 to 2010, for anchoring him and fostering his angling habits.

“If you go straight at him and he hits you, you’re screwed,” says Bergeron. ‘Cause you’re going that way and he’s going that way. But if you take a corner and he hits you that way, you can always reattack him.

“I was always interested in that, in having good angles with guys. If you don’t get it on the first try, you can always give yourself a second chance. You’re still in the play. You can influence the run again.”

The combination of body position and stick position makes cornering an effective deterrent. But it is not as simple as extending a stick and pointing the opponent in the preferred direction. An attacker, especially in middle ice, has the upper hand for cuts against a defender who ignores the use of his feet.

On the other hand, a checker who skates forward for speed, eliminates crossovers from his stride and uses his stick cleverly, can guide the puck carrier out of dangerous ice.

“You can maintain your speed and stay involved in the play, even deflecting a pass that might come through you,” said the Bruins’ Nick Foligno. “That’s the biggest thing I notice now, how active the sticks are. Guys don’t really go through players as much as they used to, especially in no-man’s-land with open-ice hits. They still happen. But not as often as they used to. It’s more because players realize how important sticks are to deter Passes through them or not removing themselves from the play.”

Whether it’s angling or surfing, one of the priorities is to complete the task as far from the net as possible. It is an active defense state to make opponents travel 200 feet.

The problem is how everything about today’s game collides with consistent, committed scrutiny. Many of today’s players think attack before defense. Meanwhile, coaches have yet to determine which defensive techniques work more often.

“As much as everyone tries to direct offense in the game — which I understand, because watching offense is exciting — I still think defense wins,” he says. Pittsburgh Coach Mike Sullivan. “That’s the challenge as coaches, is to spread that message to our players and our team. I haven’t seen a team score their way to the Championship yet. You have to score goals without a doubt. But you also have to be tough to play against. You have to make sure you get the puck off your net and you’re stingy.” defensive.

“I think that’s an essential part of winning this league consistently, but also winning trophies. That will always be the challenge for teams. Teams that stick to their concepts and team efforts away from the puck are the toughest teams to play against.”

Swinging back into defense may occur. It doesn’t seem imminent.

(Top photo is of Connor McDavid defending him Robert Bortuzzo And Pavel Bukhnevich: Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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