Last week, in part one of my hockey systems posts, we talked about forechecking strategies. We learned teams have some very different philosophies on how to attack the opposition when they don’t have the puck and wish to retrieve it.
This week we are going to talk about the tactics coaches employ when their team does have the puck.
Unlike forechecking, this aspect of a hockey system has a lot of variations from team to team. A 1-2-2 trapping team may actually use the same tactics as an aggressive 2-1-2 team. At the end of the day, every team wants to create chances.
Regrouping = Puck Possession
Puck possession essentially takes place in three phases that are all connected to each other. The three phases are called Regrouping, Support, and Flow.
“Regrouping” is having the puck and keeping control of it until you can gain the “Flow” (or cycling). Really good teams will cycle you to death in the offensive zone until something opens up on the weak side of the ice. Having proper puck “Support” is what makes all of this work.
If you watch an NHL game or a high level game of any sort, the forwards often look like they are forming a triangle wherever the puck goes in the offensive zone. The point is so that the puck carrier has two passing options. He can lateral across for a one-timer or he can pass down low to a teammate who will take over as the distributor.
If the low and lateral options are covered, the puck carrier can dish it back to the defensemen at the points, otherwise known as the high options. Doing this is often part of the “regroup” phase of puck possession.
Essentially the puck carrier is thinking…well I don’t have any options, so I’ll pass it back to the points. The offense will then shift around and the process starts all over again.
Elite teams constantly regroup until something opens up or a coverage mistake is made. Some teams like Detroit, will often pass the puck all the way back to their defensemen in the defensive zone to maintain possession if they can’t get gain entry into the OZ.
Here’s a video of the Rangers regrouping (which is rare).
Dump and Chase
When your forwards are at that critical point on offense when they are trying to generate a scoring chance, but have zero options, a team that doesn’t like to “regroup” will instead opt to dump the puck into the offensive zone. The skaters will then converge on the puck, hit an opposing defensemen, and hope in the process a coverage mistake is made.
If you have watched the Rangers since John Tortorella took over, you’ve probably recognized this strategy. It’s his bread and butter.
Dump and chase teams are generally less skilled and more physical than teams that regroup a lot. As a result, they tend to cycle less, will shoot from any angle, and have no issues attacking the “dirty” areas of the ice.
Here’s our bread & butter at work.
Both strategies work and teams will employ both tactics (as seen in the videos), but their propensity to do one over the other is what generally separates them.
Offense From Transition Rushes
Last but not least, how teams attack off the rush is another strategy where there are noticeable differences between coaches and their respective systems.
More aggressive teams with very skilled offensive defensemen like to send four skaters on the rush. Typically the team’s best defensemen is the one carrying the puck. More conservative teams, or teams with less skilled offensive defensemen, will only rush two-three forwards. Again you’ll typically see that triangular attack.
So does having Brad Richards on this team mean any of last year’s tactics will change?
Yes and no. I think the Rangers will continue to be an aggressive team that will forecheck relentlessly and continue to win those battles down low. Richie’s line will probably cycle and regroup more than Boyle’s line, but the general philosophy of hunting for the puck in that 2-1-2 formation will likely stay the same, as it should.
The biggest difference tactically will probably come on special teams, which is the last aspect of hockey systems we will discuss. More on that to come in part three…